A Pebble in My Shoe

 

On the other side of the house is a huge garden. A white picket fence separates the garden from  the black-tiled, covered gangway which runs along the inside of the fence. There are doors to the living quarters, the wine cellar and the Wirtshaus (tavern). Grapevines spin their way up the picket fence, reaching the roof. Vegetables  such as carrots, beans, squash and beds of strawberries  share their valuable space with flowers that beautify the garden. Running alongside the garden is our bowling alley. It has only  one lane. The balls are made of wood and fit into palm of a man’s  hand. The pins are  set manually by the neighborhood boys who want to make a little money. On Sunday afternoons in the summer  the men come to bowl. There is a lot of raucous noise as they wager and boast of their abilities to knock down the pins. That is usually the time my mother takes my sister Erna and me to visit the relatives.

 My parents own a Wirtshaus, a large room with tables and chairs where townspeople come to enjoy a glass of  wine, play cards on the weekends and discuss the news of the day. Occasionally, some guests getting off the train will enjoy a simple meal prepared by my mother. She usually cooks chicken goulash with dumplings and potatoes, or stuffed peppers  and noodles, or sauerkraut and ribs. Homemade bread  and a glass of good wine usually accompany her rib-sticking fare. When people are in a hurry, a serving of bacon and eggs, or a plate of smoked ham, sausages and cheese would do.

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My father is a busy man and has little time for  his children. It is not the custom for the father of the family to play with the children. He must work  and provide while the mother  tends to the little ones. I  cannot remember that my father ever held me on his lap. We have the mealtimes together and often talk and joke, but during the day  and in the late  evening, he sits and works on the books for the business. There are no adding machines, or typewriters in our house, so he must do everything manually. My mother helps him after we are in bed.

The majority of the townspeople  make farming their livelihood. They live in town but their land is outside the town limits surrounding the area. Each family has inherited or bought acres of land  and some have more than others. On the acres of land  usually sits  a Salasch (a small house) – inhabited  during  the summer months by Salaschleut – workers who lease the land for percentage of the harvest. These are people who don’t own any land outright. The owners drive out to the Salasch  with their horse drawn wagons to help with the various jobs of the season. They plant the seeds in the spring. Then when the weeds begin to grow between the rows of corn, beets, hemp, sunflowers and potatoes, it takes a lot of man power and horses to remove them. There is no weed killer available at the time and all labor is by hand. The hoeing also loosens the dirt to absorb the moisture during the rainfall.

The town of Gakowa in Yugoslavia, about five kilometers south of the Hungarian border, is occupied by people who arrived here about 200 hundred years ago from Germany. They were given land by the Emperor of Austria, who owned this part of the country, and asked to settle and cultivate it. During the Turkish wars and occupation, the country was devastated. But finally, in 1718 the German and Austrian forces under the command of  prince Eugen of Savoy conquered the Turks.

My mother often tells me stories about our ancestors, who came from the Alsace/Lorraine  Valley in Germany to establish the town of Gakowa in 1763. They arrived in small wooden boats called Ulmerschachtel – (Ulm is the city from where they started and  Schachtel stands for box). They traveled on the Danube River because there were no roads going to this area. My great-grandfather, Phillip Hoeger, was a shoemaker. Many others, mostly farmers, carpenters, bricklayers, blacksmiths, cleared the land and dug ditches to drain the water which flooded most of the area. Many died from  hunger and illness before any crops could be harvested. But they persisted and , finally, small houses were built and livestock

multiplied, crops grew in abundance and provided for their livelihood. The houses had to be built according to the specifications of the plans provided from the Emperor’s architect, therefore, most towns and homes were similar in style and size.

I always like listening to those stories. They are better than fairy-tales. I cannot imagine how many ancestors managed through all their hardships and sickness in the cold winter. I often dream about how I would have survived.

I was soon to find out.

 


(Excerpt from the Chapter One, pages 1,2)

A special thank to Ms Katherine  Hoeger Flotz for the permission to publish excerpts of her novel.

HISTORY OF COLONIZATION        

German merchants and miners started to settle  in the Kingdom of Hungary at the beginning of the 12th century, but this migration was not extensive. The colonization of Germans along the lower Danube area started intensively after the long period of Turkish rule (1552-1718)...