Nostalgia, the colour of wine

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“No revolution can possibly last forever. The young wine at the table told me that. It was a link to my merchant great-great-grandfather, who had built a public fountain in the 1860s. It was an assurance that there was someone who cared to carry the bottle — and the cake too — across four hundred kilometers as grandmother did. It brought back memories of warm sun rays, caressing my face as I fly high up in the air on a swing tied to the old cherry tree of the mansion. It smelt of a crispy wind in barley fields. It was freedom from society’s pressure, the right to be different, both as an individual and as a family. And it made me tipsy.”

By Miodrag Kojadinović

All night she travelled on a rickety train, and now we are getting up early to meet her at the station on a gloomy autumn morning. Whereas my father’s mother lives about a mile away from us, in the same dreary and sad Belgrade’s residential and food processing satellite town, granny-Ruža comes from the East, where the family originated. She herself does not live in the old bishopric see where I was born — her sister does — but stays with my aunt in a newly built industrial and administrative centre nearby and only occasionally goes back to our family mansion, lost in the vineyards on the sunny slopes around the Timok, whose now heavily polluted waters remain forever beautifully clear in my early school holidays memories.

At the station, an electric engine heads a long train of wagons in. Among the few passengers who get off is grandma, radiant with joy. Dad takes the large leather bag from her and she hugs me and tells him to be careful: there is a cake inside. “Mum is still teaching, eh?” asks she as we walk to the car. Later we are all at the table, and I blow at the eleven pink candles on top a heavily coated, deep green birthday cake in the shape of a shamrock. A party for the kids will be on Saturday, so this is a family affair. I got the presents from mum and dad the previous night, after I sulked for having to wait till actual birthday. This evening I may even have a small glass of “young wine” grandma brought, which at this stage is actually just sweet-sour fermenting grape juice, the colour of mom’s coral necklace, and only slightly sparkling. It was pressed five days earlier from the grapes in our own vineyard, although, of course, grandma had to hire people for the picking.

The vineyard, the land, woods, wine cellars, shops, money at the bank, cars, stables with horses, and the family house amidst a large yard with a high wall all around, everything was confiscated long time ago, before I was born, because great-grandfather had fled to England (where the king was). Later, because it had been a part of great-grandmother’s dowry, the house alone was returned, and in a decrepit state, having suffered substantial damage at the hands of the communists. Whimsical and lacking all husbandry, those young men from the highlands could not run the prototype safe world of the green valley. Proclaiming hiring workers as exploitation, and being unable to actually do anything themselves on their collective farms, the few crops that, by the very fruitfulness of nature, did grow they let rot in the fields. The vineyard had grown wild. It took grandma two years after she bought it back from the “people’s chancellery” to bring it to cultivation again. But she did, and it mattered. It had been ours before the tragedy of the war and there it was in the family again.

No revolution can possibly last forever. The young wine at the table told me that. It was a link to my merchant great-great-grandfather, who had built a public fountain in the 1860s. It was an assurance that there was someone who cared to carry the bottle — and the cake too — across four hundred kilometers as grandmother did. It brought back memories of warm sun rays, caressing my face as I fly high up in the air on a swing tied to the old cherry tree of the mansion. It smelt of a crispy wind in barley fields. It was freedom from society’s pressure, the right to be different, both as an individual and as a family. And it made me tipsy.

When I tucked myself in to bed and grandma came to wish me goodnight, I knew that as long as I carry that grain of stubborn will I’ll be human.

Mine is a generation that could make no bond with that of our parents in most countries, especially those that have experimented with communism. But some of us were lucky to have had a chance to bridge that gap with our grandparents. Even now, though very old, my grandmother writes me long, wise and loving letters from across the ocean which help me get through the exile to the Canadian Pacific. Cares about me. Shares my joy when I get scholarships to escape from the country she never left. And I still like my wine rosé, semi-sweet, and slightly sparkling.

Miodrag Kojadinović is a Serbian-Canadian academic researcher, poet/writer, translator/interpreter, working towards finalizing his Ph.D. thesis in Anthropology, but he prefers doing fieldwork in faraway places, travelling for fun, surfing the Net, writing, and occasionally teaching at universities. By May 2015, his several hundred pieces of writing have appeared in English, Serbian, Dutch, Slovene, Hungarian, Hebrew, French, Russian, Frisian, Portuguese, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese in Canada, Serbia, the US, India, Israel, Mainland China, Macau, the Netherlands, England, Scotland, France, Russia, Slovenia, Austria, Australia, Montenegro, Germany, Spain, and Croatia. This story was one of the winners of, and first published at, Intergenerational Story 2011.

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