the Slovenian
glasilo magazine
radio glas
info centre
who we are

Glasilo Magazine Excerpt:
Remembering a Place: A Healthy Exercise in Nostalgia

by Richard Vukšinic

This article was published in the November / December 2004 issue of
Glasilo Magazine. Our magazine helps build community. We value your support.

Someone prompted me with a simple question the other day. “Rich, of all the places you’ve been and seen in your travels, what place has affected you the most?” Like an efficient computer I sorted through a long and sometimes blurry list in my mind. I worked chronologically backward, quickly scanning countless memories that had had an impact on me until my mind stopped at one specific place, simply because my heart told it to. Bo`akovo, Bela Krajina, Slovenija. Bo`akovo is the village where my father was born. It is the place where I spent my summers, where I experienced my own Huckleberry Finn adventures, where I felt most like a little boy immersed in the joys of youth. My insides tingled at the mere thought of this place and, before I knew it, I was adrift in thought, my memories flowing through me as warm and clean as the Kolpa River, a reflective stream of consciousness…


… its smells: the tractor diesel and its idling, rattling, red-hooded engine. Its big, knobby tires caked with mud and that constant fear of someone, namely myself, driving it accidentally off the cliff at our property’s edge, down the slope to the Kolpa River snaking below. The smell of the barn, the rich, soothing, nostril clearing smell of cow farts and pig manure! The smell of Teta Pepca’s fresh, warm loaves of bread, the mini sized one baked especially for me to slap honey on. Oh, the sweet smell of honey and smoked bacon hanging in the cold room. The smell of vino, the moist barrels and the calming scent of the stale wine that dripped and dropped into the steel tray after Slavko filled another drink for himself in a smeared and dirty glass. The smell of the wine itself: earthy, sweet, dry, heavenly! And the deep-fried, hunger-teasing scent of Jo‘ica and Pepca’s chicken! The arid, dusty smell of slama, that itchy, hot smell of drying grass, so similar to the smell of wheat grain drying on the floor of the stara bajta, the old house. “Keep the chickens out!” someone would holler. The aged smell of the house in which my father was born! Musty, full of history, thick with my father’s essence. The Stara Bajta. It captured my imagination like no other place. It’s worn, bone yellow-white walls, the creak of the wooden floors. How I wish they never tore it down. Right outside the front of the house the old, discarded tiller sat rusting, where the young Partizan took an Italian bullet to the stomach and cried “O joj, mama moja! O joj, joj, joj…” so many years ago, right in front of the porch that led to the stinky out house. Under that porch I hid with a cigarette in my mouth. 57 brand. Sedem in pet-deset. The green complexion and nauseous sensations that arose when I smoked those cigarettes for the first and last time. The only one who saw me was Tarzan, the German shepherd, a most vicious dog that struck fear into my heart with his sharp toothed, saliva-spraying barks and gnarls. A sense of danger and adventure trying to get past him to visit the pigs in their sty, where they ate egg shells, soppy bread and a whole lot of nasty, murky slop! Gallons of it devoured in a minute. Their manure made for great fish bait when Ati and I would head down to the kotec, a fish pen of sorts, to nasipat, to toss the scented grain into the water. Wow! How those fish followed the smell of pig manure and found the riverbed full of grain to eat at the base of the rapids. What a feast. We tricked them, we did, and we trapped them good. Stealthily, without flashlights, hours after baiting it, we’d approach that kotec, keeping low, not to startle the fish in their feeding frenzy. Ati would jump in first, in his white trunks with blue stripes and a crappy pair of running shoes. With surprising agility he’d be on that door in a flash, with his mre‘a at the ready. On cue I’d jump right into the kotec, water up to my knees – ooh that first uncomfortable, chilly shock when the splash would wet me. I didn’t enjoy those goose pimply, cold awakenings at 10 pm, or midnight, or 2 am. But, when you began to feel those fish bumping in panic against your shins the rush of excitement took all chills away. Ati’s frantic, inspired “[e, {e, {e” – keep moving - “O, kok so velike!” There was such excitement in his voice when there were big ones swimming about. His face always with one eye shut, because of the splashing tails of panicked fish thrashing at the gate, now blocked by a man and his net. The bigger ones jumped up and over the stone wall, over Ati’s shoulder and past his ear!! The thrill it gave us! We caught over 30 fish on some occasions! We fried them up good, deep in oil. So tasty were Slavko’s pomme frites in that yard high above the river! Walking there, barefoot, out back of the house, on the tiny sharp gravel, deftly avoiding, well sometimes avoiding, chickendropping mines. Karmen and I arguing over Stric Jo‘e’s attention. Mala Karmica. The scalpy, sweaty smell of Stric Jo‘e’s bald head: cigarettes, sweat, hay dust, all of it stuck to that moist hollow where his boney collar bones converged just below his neck. Him, sitting on a wooden bench in the sacristy during mass. He’d never sit up front in the pews with the women. In the city of Metlika, on Sunday mornings, is when he liked to share a drink with buddies. I sat with him once, at the bar, with Mass ongoing across the street. Teta Pepca was not impressed. A strong woman full of life, full of love, full of vinegar. Her embrace! Those kisses to each cheek that rattled my skull. “Copate!” “Da ne bo{ la~en Riki! Jej, da ne bo{ la~en!” Always worried about me having cold feet and an empty stomach. Karmi’s little barn kittens. The excitement of watching a cow give birth. Soccer in the street just in front of the house at Bo‘akovo 4. Sitting on the cement retaining wall, staring up at the stars with Erika and Marjanca. Stric Jo‘e’s overly expressed desire for me to marry one of them and work on the farm, forever. My idea of building a trgovino, from which to sell cigarettes and sladoled, where they now stack wood. My very first beer. Eating lunches of cheese, bread and cold cuts while we heard bombs bursting across the river, nad Hrva{kem. I recall the neat thrill of swimming across the Kolpa to another country, sitting on the bank of a river in a war torn land. The Croatian side of the river was nicer for lounging and swimming, but our side had the Tarzan rope swing. Swinging and swinging until it felt like my shoulders would rip apart. Those thick, yucky weeds that grew on our side, below the white water of the slap. The mud, the bugs, the relentless kopriva attacks, the hot, snail infested steep walk back up to the house. The only path to the river began at Bo‘akovo 4. The entire village used that path to make their way down to the water. It was a communal effort in clearing the trail every year. Those darn thorns! There was the fox that sometimes got hold of a wandering chicken or two. Stumbling across a patch of scattered feathers and blood. I found an entire chicken on the trail without a head to be seen. I grabbed the slingshot and a pocket full of stones and headed out to hunt that fox in the mid-afternoon sun. A wagon full of gypsies pulled by two fine horses – Karmi and I scared to death that they were coming for us as we peeked out the window of the stara bajta. We dashed to the house where Mala Marjanca was alone and she took care of us, spreading that white egg-in-a-tube stuff on fresh bread for us when the doorbell rang. Was it the gypsies coming for us? We ducked low and didn’t make a sound. We closed our eyes and held our breath…

…I opened my eyes again and found that the memories had come and gone across my mind in silence. I had a deep desire to share what I could with my inquisitive friend, but all I could do at that moment was smile at my fortune. The way we all do when we have been given something that is ours, something priceless and meaningful to share. And so in closing, I say that though this article may seem strange, my need to share these memories speak of the depths that they reach in me, but also, I am sure, they reflect what many of us recall when we think of those special places that have affected us in positive ways: fondness, warmth, love. Roots. Thanks for listening.