Somewhere In Time
still unsettled. Yugoslavia was rebuilding from the effects of war that tore
country into pieces. People were trying to meet their needs. Communists took
over the government but people were allowed to retain their religion and go
church, if they wished to do so.
In those days during the Post-World War II era, George was fifteen, my
Swan, thirteen, I came next at eleven. Because George was the oldest, mother
depended on him to help with us children. We thought he was a mite bossy,
loved to hear our mother talk about him when he was a little boy before we
along. As we listened, we could see the sturdy blue-eyes brother with thick
hear and spunky independence.
"He dressed chickens in doll clothes?" we exclaimed incredulously when
mother related some of our brother's amusing behavior. Chickens to us were
fat, feathery, picking, pecking, cackling not so lovable fowls who were no
at all until served brown crisp from the frying pan.
"Well, you know," out mother would begin, and we knew then that we were
going to hear some more about our unpredictable brother. "We lived on a
farm several miles from Belgrade. There were no houses close and George had
one to play with, so he made do with what he had - chickens! At first, the
hens were disagreeable and didn't want to cooperate, but they didn't reckon
with our determined brother. (We could picture the fat chickens running and
squawking in loud protest) The poor things would finally give up to the
procedure and allow George to dress them and push them around in his wagon."
Sometimes, during the long days, he would hear the sharp whistle of a train,
away he would dash, his brown hair flying. Puffing heavily, he would reach
fence row that separated the farm from the railroad right-a-way. As train
past, he waved his hands vigorously at the engineer. Frequently, to his
they would throw a shiny apple or an orange in his direction and he would
retrieve it after the train disappeared in the distance.
Mr. Vasich, the plump, friendly iceman was always a welcome break on a long,
summer day. Skipping along behind him up to the back porch, George chattered
away like a magpie, waiting for the refreshing bit of ice he always chipped
One day mother overheard him telling a story with great emphasis and drama.
had related how his Dad was fixing a loose board on the front porch floor
hit his finger with the hammer. He finished with "-and he hit his finger
the hammer and him just tussed and tussed! Not a little put out with this
intimate bit of sharing, mother frowned and told him he couldn't watch Mr.
Vasich next time unless he kept his mouth shut.
Mr. Vasich was a little surprised at his usually talkative, little friend
he kept his lips sealed.
got your tongue," he asked. George shook his head negatively, but kept his
mouth closed tightly, even when he handed him the coveted piece of ice.
"You can imagine the super human effort that took!" The mother
laughingly finished her story.
we liked the best was one about an old-fashioned Saint Day dinner at our
grandmother's house. George was really excited for there was new fallen snow
and he would get to ride in the spring wagon behind their old mare,
time mother was dressing him and combing his hair, George could hardly stand
still and asked endless questions. They were at least ready, and mother
the instructions that she had gone over several times before. There would be
minister and a school teacher at the Grandma's as her guests, too. George
remember to act like a little gentleman.
they went, the harness crackling in the brisk air and Hajduk kicking up
sparkling bits of snow. Across the big Danube River they sped with George
happily between our Mother and Dad. When at last they drove up to the big,
farmhouse located near Zemun, George smiled and wiggled happily as Grandma
Grandpa hugged and kissed him, and exclaimed what a pretty little boy ha was
getting to be. He was most polite when he was introduced to the grave-faced
minister and the spinsterish looking school teacher.
delicious aroma of apple strudel and roast pig filled the old farmhouse.
could hardly wait until time to eat. At least, all were seated about the big
table and after a long and ponderous blessing from the minister, the meal
It was not until the middle of the meal that our Mother began to relax.
was behaving like a model child. For dessert, George and Dad chose pink
food cake and a sauce dish of peaches. As the last crumb of the delicious
and the last spoonful of sweet peach juice disappeared, George smacked his
and with a happy and blissful look at his father said loud and clear, "Isn't
this good soup, daddy?"
living on the small farm became difficult as each new child arrived. A move
finally made to Belgrade where our father found work at the Politika
Company. Though his salary was small, we had the security of a regular
and happy times from year to year as we grew up.
it happened! We vaguely knew there was something called depression going on,
we became acutely aware of. The long established Politika Newspaper Company
closed down and our family faced a grim crisis. Making our situation loom
more ominous was the fact that Christmas was only a few weeks away. I can
remember the worried looks upon my parent's faces, and I overheard my Mother
say, "It will be hard on the children with no money for Christmas. George
Swan can understand, but what about little Tony?" Tony still believed in
didn't make it any easier for me. I felt hurt and disappointment. As the
went by, my Father could find no regular work. An odd job happened along now
then, but our situation grew more serious by day. Fortunately, my Father
planted a large garden and on the shelves in our cellar were shiny jars of
tomatoes, green beans, corn, and several pecks of potatoes. There was also
almost full bushel of Jonathan apples that Dad picked earlier in the
time, there were no pros and cons about the manner in which Christmas should
celebrated. We spent exciting days in our classes at Radoje Domjanovich
where we all attended. We made shiny stars and bright red candles with
flames from construction paper to put in our classroom windows. Across the
of the room we draped red and green paper chains that we had laboriously
together. We learned new Christmas songs and sang the old familiar ones with
sweet nostalgia filling us. At the St. Nevski Church we, with other cherubic
faced children, practiced the Nativity scenes and sang carols with
and yearned for the night of the program to arrive for there was always a
for each child. This year I was to recite a poem. I knew every line and it
sing-songed its way through my heart over and over again. In spite of
pointing to a bleak Christmas was always a magical time and somehow there'd
way. but how could there be? My heart ached in the presence of grim
bit of magic did start about two weeks before Christmas. George, though
age, was given a job at the Little Macedonia Bakery. A distant relative
of our desperate plight and having some influence managed to secure it for
We were all very excited. His job was at the front of the store at the hot
stand. It sounded like so much fun to us. We envied him and our mouth
the thought of the delicious wieners with spicy mustard oozing out at the
of the bun.
course, George's small wages were a mere drop in the bucket compared to vast
need of our family. Daddy found a few days of work on the county roads and
Mother washed and ironed shirts for several different families. Every penny
any money earned went to pay the unending bills. A traditional Christmas
impossible and the small bit of hope inside me grew smaller and
activities at the school came and went and on Friday before Christmas Day on
Sunday, we presented our Christmas program. The love of our school teachers
participating in the beautiful portrayal of the Nativity brought a temporary
lessening of my haunting pain. I recited my poem without a hitch and felt a
of pride at how well I had done.
following morning Dad left to try and find a snow shoveling job. In spite of
gloom that had hung over our household, there appeared a mysterious
heart in mother's manner. She hummed as she prepared breakfast. As George
for work there was hurried whispering at the door. My heart lifted a bit.
Whispering was always a part of the magic of Christmas.
mother gave us the job of cracking black walnuts. It was good to be busy and
hoped mama didn't catch us popping a kernel into our mouths now and then. We
knew there would be apple strudel on Christmas Day and mashed potatoes and
vegetables from the cellar, but there was no sign of pig or chicken or any
meat around which to build a meal. The mother allocated several other jobs
each of us. "We can at least have a clean house for Christmas," she
remarked. Swan, you carry out the ashes, and Tony, you.. You water the
begonia. The begonia sat on the sawing machine beneath a sunny window and
just recently produced several blooms among its shiny leaves.
didn't take us long to do our chores in sparsely furnished house so after we
were finished, we settled down to a game of chess. By mid-afternoon, there
loud stomping on the back porch and our father burst into the kitchen
gunny sack. Our mouths opened wide in astonishment for out of the sack came
cackling and struggling from something within. Daddy's cheeks were red from
the cold and his blue eyes danced enjoying the big surprise on our faces. As
told the mother how he had done some chores for an elderly couple and they
paid him with a big fat hen, happiness shone on mothers' face. I could
taste the delicious Holiday meal to be. Roast chicken and mashed potatoes,
George got ready for work that last morning, he made plans. He was
there would be a present for everyone no matter how small. He felt like
as he went to the corner to catch the streetcar, but he didn't for he was
almost sixteen and had a job! It was fun serving hot dogs and mustard to
shoppers who couldn't find room at the crowded bakery counter. He felt
especially proud when he efficiently served friends and neighbors and
the cash register to provide the right change. Today, being the last day
Christmas, there was more hurry and bustle than ever. The very air seemed
electrified. Christmas was becoming a reality. The sharp clang of the beggar's
bell came and went. I'll drop a nickel in, he planned. I can't afford more.
He watched the clock as the hours went by, the excitement growing inside
would be off at seven, receive his check and be able to shop until
teary-eyed little boy called anxiously for his mother. A little girl
touched the fresh, pink dress of a doll with a lacy white hood.
George's legs were growing weary. it had been so busy. ten 'til
seven. just ten more minutes. "Oh, hello, Mrs. Jovanovich. Yes, she's
well. And how's your family? Merry Christmas to you too."
seven o'clock! With his wages clutched tightly in his hand, he began his
shopping. No one had bought the little wooden wagon with big wooden wheels
painted in red. Tony was going to love it. The wooden wagon would be Tony's
last toy. George smiled as he remembered his own last wagon. It had been
to Tony and was as big as he was. What a funny sight, his chubby, little
made dragging it around the yard with rear wheels not spinning. They were
broken. It didn't take as long as he thought it would to purchase
Pretty print material for Mother, a blue shirt for Daddy. It had to be blue.
was his favorite color. But what about Swan? He had to find something
for him. Loaded with his bulky packages, his heart became anxious for
time was nearing. When he had almost despaired, he spied something that
just right. If only, it didn't cost too much.
soccer ball," he said, "the one with the shiny brown color. How much is
it?" he asked clerk, afraid of the answer.
marking them down," the clerk smiled at George's anxious face. "They are a
steal at that price."
relief, George handed the clerk the right amount. Nothing left but a nickel,
some pennies and his streetcar fare home, but Swan could play with his own
soccer ball to his heart's content. He would still put the nickel in the
night air was exhilarating and the crunch of the snow under the shopper's
added to the other happy sounds of the very special season. As he waited for
streetcar, big angel flakes of snow began to fall, at first ever so lightly
gradually growing thicker and thicker until the old, trampled snow was
fresh and white everywhere. A shimmering halo surrounded each streetlight
casting an enchantment to the city streets. "Everything is so beautiful at
Christmas," he whispered to the world at large.
happy, George climbed on the streetcar; his packages were slipping and
A wheel from Tony's wagon had poked through its sack. An elderly woman
him get settled in his seat and other passengers smiled at his obvious
happiness. The conductor stopped the car at almost every corner, letting off
passengers and their Merry Christmas wishes became a happy refrain in his
Once as the doors opened he heard the sound of childish voices come faintly
beautifully through the velvety night. He repeated the words of their song,
"Oh little town of Bethlehem, " and wondered about the other beautiful night
when Christ was born. When she reached her corner, he descended from the
streetcar and found the snow was coming down faster then ever and he hurried
the direction of home and his loved ones. The wet snow clung to his
and stung his cheeks, but he didn't mind for in the oldest brother's heart
was a warm glow. There would be Christmas after all!
stepped on the snow-covered porch, taped lightly on the door and his mother
quickly opened it.
son! Aren't you about frozen?" his mother whispered, helping with the
packages. "The others are in kitchen having popcorn. Dad has strict orders
keep them there until we give him the sign."
delicious smell of freshly popped corn and happy chatter of the children
the little house. George was glad to be home. He and his mother quickly hid
packages in the armoire and then joined the family in the kitchen. Bedtime
soon after that, but no one wanted to go to sleep. I was worried about how
could come down the small stove-pipe that rose from our pot-bellied
find a way." George promised his little brother.
probably won't even stop. You've been bad all year," teased Swan.
haven't, have I mama? Have I Daddy?" I asked tearfully. The mother gave Swan
a reproving look and got them off to bed, comforting her smallest who still
believed in the magic and wonder of Santa.
hour later when all was quiet, George and his mother began to unload the
are we going to put everything, Mom?" George asked.
been wondering where it would be best." Mother answered. "We are so crowded.
We wouldn't have much room for a tree if we could have afforded one." They
both looked around the small room. George's glance fell on the sewing
about there, Mom?" he asked. Some things on top, some on the foot pedal."
it will have to do." Mother replied thoughtfully.
Mom, cried George, seeing more possibilities, "there are four drawers, we
could pull them out, put a name on each and put their candy and nuts in
and their orange, too."
a good idea," mother agreed. "What will we do with my sewing equipment?
Under the bed?" She laughed and George laughed with her. After working as
quietly as they could, they stood back and took in the effect of their
looks pretty, doesn't it, mom?" As an afterthought, he took a bright ribbon
bow from last year's wrapping and attached it to the begonia pot, giving it
George," his mother answered, with a noticeable tremor in her voice. "You
and my old sawing machine saved Christmas." Then she added brusquely, "It is
late, we'd best get to bed."
when the children awoke the next morning, their eyes opened wide when they
the humble old sawing machine attired so splendidly, and cries of delight
happiness filled the modest home. The happiest of all, of course was the
brother who watched in quiet contentment. Around his neck he had a bright
his mother had knitted for him. He caught his mother's eye amid the clamor
you, Mom. Isn't everything more beautiful at Christmas?" His mother smiled,
the anxiety of the last few weeks gone from her face.
everything is more wonderful and beautiful at Christmas." she said softly.
worn, old sewing machine, so gladly bedecked, said nothing.
Somewhere In Time
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