by EZ II
This is my imagined version of my Great Aunt Theresa leaving Sova
July, 1905 SOVA, a small Serbian village in Batschka about twenty miles from the Danube river in the middle of flat farmland. The breadbasket of Europe.
In the 1800s there had been three major waves of immigration as Germans were promised land and abundance and encouraged by the Austrian Hungarian Empire, the ruling empire of the area at the time to come and settle along the Danube river. Donau Schwabs. Donau for Danube and Schwab for the state in Germany where most of the German peasant farmers came from. The area was known for its fertile land and ideal growing conditions for crops such as corn, soy, hops, barley, and wheat. The Germans came and settled in small Serbian villages. The Germans built houses out of brick, clay and straw with tile shingled roofs and corn cribs attached to the back and other buildings to house the animals built off the back of the house. They all had the same design with a long porch running down the side of the house and four or five large rooms with a wood burning stove in the middle of the house. There was always a small room reserved for canned goods and sausages hanging from a metal rod hung across the room.
No matter what your nationality or heritage, it takes a certain type of person to believe in the unknown and to exchange the known for the unknown based on positive thinking and a belief that there is a better opportunity or life somewhere else. That the unknown challenges and problems will be an improvement on the known ones. The Scherer family had that spark of imagination and belief in the possibility of a better life. It that spark and had moved the family in the 1800s to leave Germany and to travel for many hours to the Danube river then on to the village of SOVA. SOVA had been abundant in the lands ability to produce vegetables and fruits. The trees in the summer hung with cherries, plums, peaches, apricots and pears. The raspberries grew thick and juicy in all sorts of forgotten places in SOVA. People lived simply and well. Even in the most desperate of times, there was always food on the table. And that was an improvement for many from their lives in Germany where peasants were destined to have many difficulties in putting food on the table abundantly and consistently. These peasants were glad to hear about offers of land and abundant produce. The move from Germany to SOVA was a good one for the Scherer family. They had built their houses and raised livestock and had gardens that produced a great variety of fruits and vegetables. The Scherer women had always been known for their excellent cooking and hospitable manner. Mutti was sought after by the wealthiest villagers to cook and take care of their households. She had talents in the kitchen and home that had she been living in 2006 would have more than outdone Martha Stewart. Mutti’s recipes were all in her head. Her soups and goulash and breads and sausages were exquisite. The chicken soup and dumplings tasted so good that people bragged about it in neighboring villages. Once the mayor had come to her house and begged her to make the soup for his daughters wedding feast. Mutti had finally agreed after settling for what she thought was a good price. The soup was so celebrated and raved about that the bride became a little upset that she had been upstaged at her own wedding.
The Serbian native people in Sova and the German “Donau Schwabs” got along well with each other. They were all people used to existing and living off the land. The Serbians taught the Germans and the Germans taught the Serbians and together they created a life that although simple was a good life for just about all of the citizens of SOVA and the many other villages settled by Donau Schwabs that dotted the flat countryside of northern Serbia. There were intermarriages and the intermingling of traditions and recipes. The area only grew richer with the infusion of the German heritage. During the 1800s the area was prosperous and peaceful. The villages like SOVA thrived and the people enjoyed a life style that was simple but prosperous. Money was not needed in great amounts, because the hardworking villagers knew how to garden and grow their own produce. The women knew how to preserve the produce through canning and curing techniques. And when there were big jobs that needed to be done, the people knew how to help each other and support each other.
To be a child in SOVA in the 1800s was to truly be a child discovering the world and the wonders created by mother nature on a daily basis free from supervision. The cat yawning in the sunlight as its babies nuzzled into her belly finding a nipple to latch onto. The baby goats mawing and insisting on tasting ones clothes. The horses grazing lazily while having their manes and tails meticulously combed through and decorated with flowers. Children digging holes in order to dig holes and for no other reason.
She was a little thing at 6 years old. Her curly brown hair framed her quizzical little face which more often than not was smiling. She was a happy child and well loved by her family and neighbors. Little Theresa. Or Raisa as her grandfather called her. He would bend down from his great height of 6 foot three and look into her eyes and tell her she was the best little girl he had ever met. Then he would put his finger to his lips and whisper, don’t tell your sister I said that.
Her days were spent mostly looking for adventure and mystery and treasure along the street in front of her house. Her little body and mind longed for freedom to explore and her Mutti was constantly having to rein her in and gave her very strict instructions as to how far she could wander from home.
Her mother did not have to ask her twice to come in that morning for her breakfast as it was her favorite, fresh soft biscuits and home made cherry jelly. Raisa noticed tears in her mothers eyes and asked her Mutti, what is the matter. Oh sweetheart don’t worry, it’s a grown up problem. Don’t worry your pretty little head over it. Finish your biscuits.
Her sister, Susan made a face at her and she made a face back and soon they were involved in a brawl over who started it. Mutti finally quieted them with a stern look and a fresh plate of biscuits. Just then her grandfather came in and Raisa noticed the sad look in his eyes also. Suzanne, he said to her mother, It is time to go. I will start loading the wagon. Their old mare, Lolly was outside hitched to their wagon. Raisa heard her mother say something in a soft voice to her grandfather. He said, What, because he had not heard her and then Raisa heard her mother say, Daddy I don’t know if I can do this. Raisa was shocked because her mother could do anything. She had never heard her mother express anything but strong opinions and determination. When her mother wanted something done, it got done in their household. She, unlike Raisa’s father was the mover and shaker in the household. There was never any discord in the household because Raisa’s father never even questioned his wife. He did what she said. His only rebellion occurred at the bar down the street where he spent many evenings drinking and smoking with his friends. He would come home with a gentle smile on his face and love in his eyes. Raisa loved her gentle father. His drinking only made him sweeter and his family accepted his weakness and loved him anyway.
“I don’t know if I can leave again.” Her mutti said alittle louder.
Raisa now focused all her attention on her mother. Where was she going? She was leaving? Did this have to do with the cleaning out closets and activity that had been going on the household. Did it have to do with the trunks inside the front door packed to the gills with blankets and clothing and kitchen ware. Raisa began to feel uneasy. She started to cry, Mutti, where are you going, don’t leave me. Her mother tried to brush her away, but Raisa was determined and kept crying to her mother, Don’t leave me mutti. Finally her mother picked her up on her lap and told here, Raisa, I would never leave you. I am your mother. But we are going on a great adventure. We are traveling to another place where we can have a better life. Raisa had no idea what she was talking about. A better life. What could be better than their beautiful village and house and street. She could not understand her mother. But she did understand one thing. They were leaving their home and going somewhere far away. Raisa knew deep in her heart that this was big, major. Everything was changing. It was toomuch for her little head to handle and she began to cry. But Mutti, is Pappa coming with us. Yes, sweetheart, Pappa is coming with us. But Mutti, is sister Susan and brother Mike coming with us? Yes, sweetheart, your brothers and sister are all going. We are all going. But Mutti, is Blossom, the cow and Lolly the horse, and Walter the cat. Are they coming with us. Raisa did not like her mother’s answer and began crying in loud wailing sobs. No Mutti, we can not leave them. Who will take care of them? Raisa, I need you to be a big girl for mama, Mutti said. Raisa, your grandma and grandpa are going to take care of Blossom, Lolly and even Walter the cat. Raisa was temporarily comforted until her little brain put two and two together and then she wailed even louder, You mean grandma and grandpa aren’t coming with us? Her mutti, looked down at her and for the first time, Raisa saw tears in her eyes. No, Raisa, your grandma and grandpa are staying here. They are too old to move away. This is their home. They are not coming with us. Raisa looked up at her grandfather was was standing behind her mother. He was looking at the ground, blinking his eyes. Raisa ran to him and grabbed him around the legs, Grampa, grampa, you are not that old, you have to come with us. Please grampa, come with us. He picked her up and hugged her tight to his chest. She smelled his familiar tobacco and sweat and felt comfortable and safe. It will be alright he told her. You are going to have a great adventure. You are going to America. You will be able to have a good life there. But don’t ever forget your beautiful little village of SOVA and don’t ever forget that your grandpa thinks you are the best little girl in the whole world.
Her papa came into the room and announced that everything was ready and it was time to go. The men loaded everything into the wagon and Raisa looked around at her house. She looked at the porch and the beautiful grape vines climbing up loaded with grapes not quite ripe. She looked at the mulberry tree in the front yard full of blossoms and the flowers blooming in the garden. She felt strange as though she were walking in a dream. She was a good little girl, so she did as she always did, what her mother told her to do. When her mother told her to get into the wagon, she got into the wagon. As they all got in and her grandfather took the reins, they all looked back at their house, the only home Raisa had ever known and after a quiet moment, grandpa picked up the reins and with a little encouragement, Lolly their mare started walking down the road away from their house. The wagon ride was a long one as their was no train depot in their village. They passed through the village and people came out to the street and waved to them. Everyone was quiet and even the old gentlemen who sat on the benches in front of their houses, stood up and tipped their hats as they passed.
They were leaving their beautiful and simple life in the village of Sova for the unknown but hoped for prosperity of America. This move, this decision and the action that followed was made with the greatest of intestinal fortitude. Suzanne and Nicholas Scherer had made the decision together, but really Suzanne was the one who decided. She had made her decision when she had tried to buy the farmland behind their house and was told it was not for sale. She had saved her money for five long years. Stretching the family budget to cover meals that were always light on meat and heavy on the cheaper calories of potatoes and cabbage. A nickel here a dime there. Everyonce in a while a whole dollar had been put aside. There house backed up onto land that had the gorgeous black soil that the area was blessed with. Suzanne had imagined the field filled with Poppies and corn and green beans and potatoes and beets. She could imagine how her expanded garden would look and had even laid it out in her mind. She would have the corn in neat rows at the western end and then the rows of carrots radishes, potatoes and then the peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes and then a small patch of poppies with some sunflowers along the edge. She had gone to the city clerk office and stood waiting in line while the guy in front of her smoked his cigarette and blew the smoke right in her face. She had waited her turn and then had approached the clerk and requested the name of the owner of the property. When she was told that the information was private, she had not taken no for an answer and had argued and persuaded and cajoled until finally the clerk who was one of her friends eldest daughters had broken down and given her the owners name and address. Suzanne was not to be deterred. She went to the ma ns house and immediately asked him to sell her the land behind her house. He had laughed at her. No ma’am, I will not sell this land to you. In fact I can not sell this land to you. You are a Donau Schwab and this land is Hungarian?Serbian land and you can not have it. Sorry lady, you can not have this land. Suzanne argued and badgered him, but finally realized it was hopeless , she could not have the land. In the disappointment that settled upon her after this realization, a new idea started to explode in her head. She had heard about this new country, the land of opportunity. Where hard work was rewarded. Where everyone was treated equally and land was abundant. Her uncle Billy had been there and returned. He told great stories of the abundance awaiting them on the other side of the ocean.
Suzanne and her husband Nicholas had four children. At six years old Raisa was the youngest. The decision had been made and they had sold their house and packed all their belongings that they could take. As the wagon headed out of the village, Suzanne reflected on her many years in the village. They had been good years. Happy years for the family. But they had also been very hard years. Their prosperity was so dependant on the weather. A heavy rain on the wrong day of the growing season and their harvest could be diminished in half. Last winter they had had several days where food had been so sparse that even Suzanne could not hide it from her children. They had run out of flour and had to grate the few remaining potatoes and cook a few apples and had lived on potato pancakes and apples for several weeks. They needed more land and Suzanne had run out of ideas as to how to obtain it. All the land was taken and none was for sale.
Raisa sat in the wagon on her grampa’s lap. As they approached the train station, she began to feel kind of sick in her tummy. Grampa, I feel sick. Maybe we better not go now. She whispered in his ear. He hugged her tight and told her Your mommy will take good care of you Raisa and you know I will always have you in my heart. As the wagon pulled up to the trainstation, Raisa noticed other families similar to hers unloading wagons and making piles of their possessions at the train depot. Her mother and father started unloading and her mother said to her grandfather, Pappa, take Raisa for a walk would you while we unload, so I don’t have to worry about her. Her grandpa lifted her up into his arms and pulled her out of the wagon. He didn’t immediately put her down which surprised Raisa, Grandpa, put me down. She squirmed and he set her down and knelt down next to her. Raisa looked and saw the tears coming down his face. He looked at her and cried openly. Raisa cried to and then petted his cheek with her hand, Grandpa, it will be OK, she said over and over again. He held her and sobbed and she felt his embrace and his tears falling on her head. She smelled his warm familiar smell and somewhere in her little brain the realization that she would never see her grandpa again began to seep into her consciousness. Dear grandpa, I will see you again. I promise. She told him. He nodded and pretended to agree. My sweet little Raisa I will never forget you. You will always be in my heart. Raisa lifted her big brown eyes and said very seriously in her six year old voice, Grandpa I will never forget you either. I love you. Her little voice was drowned out by the screech and hiss of the train pulling into the depot. Her mother and father began moving very quickly and Raisa felt her mother’s arms taking her from her Grandpa. She looked at him and tears were falling from his eyes as he gave her and her mother a big bear hug. His tall lean body seemed to age in that moment as he said goodby to his daughter and her family.
When watching the clock time can move so slowly that each second seems to take forever. But in that moment of farewell, time rushed forward at the speed of light. There was not enough time in the universe for that moment and afterwards, all Raisa remembered was the sadness in her grandpa’s face and the tears welling up in his eyes and running down his face. She could not recall how she got on the train, how long the train ride took, what they ate. She could barely remember the large boat that they boarded and the picnics on the floor of the boat that they had eating hard German bread, her mother’s sausage and dried plums and apples.
At the age of six she left SOVA and she never returned. She never saw her grandfather again. At 92 when she told the story of leaving and of saying good by to her grandfather she again wept at the memory. The pain of that moment never left her.