Around thirty years ago, one cosy autumnal evening, my brother and I were sitting on the wooden floor, with photo albums spread around us, reminiscing about the good times that passed, whilst mum and dad chatted away, snuggled up on the sofa.
We hadn’t long lived in our new home. Everything was still shiny and new. I remember I kept yearning for my favourite and my most comforting smells, but they were missing in this new home. My heart was aching. I wanted to be where we once lived, where we were the happiest.
I came across this particular page full of my parents’ wedding photos. I looked at these beautiful pictures for a while, caressing them with my little fingers. I admired the way my parents looked; they both looked so young and stunning. I looked at the dates written under the photos and I got intrigued. My parents got married in January and I was born in August.
I piped up: “Ah, you never told me that I was a premature baby!”
My mum went bright red in her face, she mumbled something and left the living room very quickly; she apparently suddenly had something to do. Dad found this whole situation very amusing. He laughed and laughed. He eventually said: “There was nothing premature about your birth. Everything was done and happened on time, and at the right time.” He winked & carried on giggling. Mum was nowhere to be seen ;-).
My mum was only eighteen when she had me, and dad was only twenty-one. Two years later they had my brother.
When they met, they were these two beautiful young souls, who couldn’t have been any more different to each other, and they still are.
He is the fire, she is the earth.
Mum was this gentle, beautiful, slender young woman who came from a very quiet farming family, whose parents absolutely adored each other and their three children.
She was their only daughter. She was adored, protected and doted on. Mum was quite shy and still is, but now she is very funny. Her favourite source of entertainment is her hilarious, perfectly timed self-deprecating humour.
My father…my father was this very handsome, strong-willed, fiery, hardworking, untamed, stubborn force of nature. He came from a blended family, full of very strong characters.
My father is one of seven, he has two sisters, one brother, one half brother and two half sisters. They all shared the same father. To begin with, they all lived on the family farm which was situated high up in the hills, on the edge of a small hamlet. From our farm we could see our beautiful mountainous valley enveloping us, steep hills in the distance and a mountain river slowly flowing through our village called Pljeva. I miss those hills so much; I always felt so save in their arms.
When my mother was pregnant with my brother, my paternal grandfather passed away. Dad was only in his early twenties, he was then appointed to run the farm and look after everyone else. This was a lot to take on for a young family. Those were very challenging times.
To everyone around them, my parents appeared to be too different to stay together, but underneath it all they had this undying love for one another that would ultimately pull them through some unthinkable times. They had the same moral values and they both had massive hearts.
This year they celebrated their fortieth wedding anniversary. I am pretty sure that there were many people who doubted that their marriage would last this long. But It has. Their love for each other has proved everyone wrong and overpowered everything that came their way.
Out of this young passionate love, their first child was born, on time; Me. Their wild child.
I apparently hardly ever slept as a baby. As soon as I could move, I never sat still; I started walking at nine months and I never stopped talking. Oh, I never stopped climbing trees or dancing either. Apparently, I didn’t walk like other girls did, I skipped, kicked stones along the road or I danced. I quite like the idea of me like this, but I can see now that I have a wild child of my own how “refreshing” this must have been at times.
One of my aunties tells me this story every now and again of how when I was a toddler I had tones of curly hair, and at one point it desperately needed cutting; she was and still is a great hairdresser. However, the only way she could get me to keep still while she cut my hair, was to pin me down and keep my head in between her legs. So, she did. You get the picture!
Luckily for my parents, when my brother was born, he was this perfect child who slept really well, behaved really well and he was always very calm. He is still the same, but now he is 6’4” tall, a true gentle giant.
When we were little, we absolutely adored each other, but as we got older, we started to fight a lot. By fighting, I mean proper physical fighting. This used to worry our mum sick. When we were in our early teens we fought so much, until my brother got taller than me. Even then, I would try and launch myself at him, but he would calmly put his hand on my head firmly and keep me at arm’s length. I still tried to reach him with my hand, fist, foot from underneath, but I no longer succeeded. It was time to let go. It infuriated me that he was stronger than me. I know, I was a girl, he was a boy, boys eventually grow up and get stronger, but none the less, it was a hard pill to swallow. I wanted us to be equal, even in strength.
My brother has grown into a wonderful human being and is a great father and husband. We named our first son after my brother; Dragan.
Until I was ten, we lived on this big, family dairy farm. There were two cottages on the farm, right next to each other. In one, lived my grandmother and my youngest aunt, my dad’s sister, and my parents and my brother and I lived in the second cottage. Our granny looked after us when mummy & daddy worked.
The two cottages were shaded by these huge, ancient linden trees. We used to spend absolutely hours playing underneath them, making houses out of twigs, sticks and stones. We also had this outbuilding which was narrow and long, with vertical wooden slats for walls & a red-tiled roof on top. This is where we used to keep our corn and firewood. This type of building is called a košana (koshanha). During the summer our košana was empty. I used to make it into our house, for my brother and I. Our granny used to let me take her net curtains down and she used to give me her rugs and cushions too. I used to sweep the košana first, mop it and then lay the rugs down, use cushions as our seats and I used the net curtains to separate the košana into three different rooms. It was amazing! We spent so much time here, playing for hours. Baba, our granny, used to make us some “coffee”, which was made out of milk and cacao, and we used to drink this in our house. She used to come in and sit with us on the floor too, sipping our coffee away.
Right opposite of our cottages lived this elderly couple; they were called Dusan and Jela. They and our granny didn’t speak to each other; apparently, they were sworn enemies. Nobody remembers why they fell out in the first place, but, they were always lovely to me and my brother and always so kind and generous.
They used to like their long walks; depending on the season, every time one of them ventured out, they would bring us either some wild strawberries, some cobnuts, some wild mushrooms or some wild berries. After their walks, they used to come close to our picket fence and call us to come out. They never came back empty handed. I always thought that it was so lovely that even though they didn’t speak to our granny, they were always very kind & generous to us, and to our parents. I will never forget their kindness.
I can’t tell you how much fun living on the farm was. There was an endless supply of food, drinks and stories. My grandmother told us some wonderful stories.
Our farm was an organic farm. We grew all of our organic vegetables and we had a massive orchard very close to our cottages. We had apple trees, pear trees, plum trees, cherry trees, mulberry trees and walnut trees. It was amazing! We climbed so many of them and fell off them so many times. I still don’t know how we never broke a single bone! Especially during the cherry season. Well! We used to dare each other to see who would climb to the highest branches and get the juiciest, the most sun kissed cherries down from the top. I am yet to find cherries as sweet as the ones from my farm. Oh, and, I was the village cherry thief!
Mum and dad were always so busy. We were mostly left with our grandmother. I would say that we were true free-range children. We could go anywhere, and we absolutely went everywhere. Those times were wild, organic, muddy & pure.
I spent most of my time with my brother, but as we got older, we were joined by a group of boys from the neighbouring farms. I was the only girl amongst them. There was only one other girl who also lived in our hamlet, but she was not wild like me. She was pretty much attached to her mother’s skirt. To me, she was no fun. I’m sure she was lovely though, but I needed a brave, wild companion and she needed a well behaved girlie girl, therefore we never became friends.
I was one of the boys. I could do anything that they could, and I made anything that they made. We were equal, in my eyes. We would make guns out of planks of wood, a couple of nails and a rubber strip, cut out of my father’s truck’s inner tube, that I would steal from the garage. I know; I was naughty. But these were blissful times. We would walk for hours, climb trees to look for birds’ nests and observe them and we would sometimes take some crumbs and leave them in the nests. We would sometimes look for the fox burrows too. We used to find quite a few burrows, but I am not quite sure which group of animals they belonged too. We had fun none the less.
Autumn on the farm was so beautiful. This was a busy time for our family. The fruits had to be stored safely away in our cellars and the fruit and nut trees had to be prepared for the winter. The barns had to be prepared for the winter too; full of hay to the brim and very well insulated to keep all of our animals nice and warm.
The grownups used to collect all the leaves in the orchard into these huge piles and they used to let us run really fast and then jump into them. I still remember the feeling of falling into these massive, soft beds of leaves. I remember the smell too.
This was all usually done before the first frost. But the first frost, oh my goodness, it was magical. My brother and I used to imagine that it was made out of real silver and diamonds. It shimmered beautifully in the morning sunshine.
Winters on the farm were so much fun. If we weren’t out skiing or tobogganing, we were inside sitting near our granny’s wood burner either listening to her stories or to her radio. Baba told the most magnificent stories, she used to get us to close our eyes and just listen to her magic.
She used to say to us: “Just close your eyes and imagine, see with your eyes shut.” This memory fills me with such content and warmth.
The quiet snowy days, were my dressing up days. As well as for my košana, granny would get her net curtains down for my dressing up days too. I would tip my head forward, wrap one curtain around my head, twist it and make a vale. I would then wrap another curtain around me and make a wedding dress. This was such fun for me! Also, I would often wait for my granny to fall asleep next to the fire and then I would sneak into my aunt’s bedroom and I would try on lots of her clothes. I would twist her dresses at the back, to make them tight and fitted around my small body, and I would also put her shoes or boots on and strut my stuff around the bedroom. On one of my dressing up days, I got into so much trouble! Baba was asleep as usual, so I snuck into the bedroom & I quickly opened my aunt’s wardrobe, only to find the most amazing pair of high heel boots in it! They were brand new, Italian brown suede boots. I could not resist them! I quickly put them on and I quietly tiptoed outside, into the snow in them! Ha! I walked in them to the barn to check on some newly born piglets. Well, needless to say, the boots were ruined.
To me, in my head, I was only taking a walk in London. Whenever I imagined my life somewhere else, it always had to be London. So, everything was perfect; I went back in & I just put the boots back into my aunt’s wardrobe, as though nothing had happened. Granny woke up and I just carried on playing.
Well, everything was fine until my aunt got back from work and saw them. She absolutely screamed murder! But my poor granny tried so hard to protect me and she absolutely insisted that she wore them herself to the barn! Looking back, this was all absolutely comical. I got a real big rollocking for my little outing.
Winters were also spent in our barns, helping out with the animals. This was so nice, and this was also one of the most calming places that I have ever been to. The barns were wooden, and everything was always so quiet. I loved it! We also used to go into the hay barn, which was full almost to the beams. My brother and I used to swing from a beam to a beam, from one end to the other, and then fall into the hay. This was endless fun!
I remember I always loved climbing trees. One of my granny’s late friends used to love telling me this story of how one freezing winter’s day, when she came for a visit, she found me sitting on a branch of one of the apple trees near our cottages, decorating it with Christmas tinsel, wearing just my pyjamas, a woolly hat and a pair of wellies.
As we got older, our springs and summers were spent exploring. When the weather was warm, we’d play in mud a lot. We’d play near our local streams and get absolutely covered in mud and before we had to go home, we’d walk into the stream and wash ourselves fully, wellies and all. I still remember the noise of the water squelching around in my wellies, all the way home.
Also, during the summer holidays was when almost all of our three million cousins would come to stay with us. This was AMAZING! It was an absolute chaos and I am sure this was a nightmare time for my parents and our granny, but we, the children, LOVED IT! We explored the local woodlands; fields and we would explore this marshland that we were told not to go anywhere near it!
We would find a shade free, sunny patch of a nearby stream and we would use rocks and sticks to make a dam. Once the dam was full enough, we would then swim in it. In these streams or the small rivers near us, we used to catch lots and lots of crayfish. We used take them home in our plastic buckets, for our granny to cook them for us in this beautiful sauce of garlic, parsley and cream. I also used to scare some of the school children by holding the crayfish up in my hands and I sometimes chased them too, whilst laughing so hard. I’m sure some psychologists would have had a field day exploring me as a child 🙂
At times, things were tough. My parents had to work really hard and we had to work hard too, but they protected us from the bad news, or from “bad”, negative people as much as they could.
This truly allowed me to wear my heart on my sleeve. They also allowed me to be free spirited and wild.
I was strong, most of the time I looked like a boy, fought like a boy and I climbed like a boy. I loved spending time with our horses, cows and sheep. I loved our woodland. It was enchanting, full of wild life & full of birds’ song. We spent hours on end exploring.
The most beautiful part of my early childhood was the fact that my parents let me be me. They let me be wild and free. They told me that I could do anything, be anything or anyone I wanted to be. They knew that one day I would grow out of my crazy, wild phase and morph into a different kind of creature. They just let me be.
I am forty now; my heart still aches for this carefree life. I loved every second of it. I sadly never fully appreciate it until I became a parent myself. Oh, how I would love my children to be wild and free of social constraints and experience this organic, muddy, free range life.
I still miss the most delicious smells of my grandmother’s cooking and I miss the smell of our beautifully handmade cottages; my most comforting touch-base.