My father’s stories
by Rosina T. Schmidt
Edited by Cornelia Brandt
When George was a little lad of ten or so, growing up in Daruvar as a merchant’s son, along with his pals, he sneaked into the neighbouring farmer’s cornfield to pick some fresh corn on the cob.
The farmer must have been expecting such a visit, because he was hiding between the cornrows and grabbed the first would-be-thief by the collar. While he was trashing the screaming youngster, the others dispersed, including our terrified ten-year-old George. He scrambled up the closest large tree and hid successfully in the leafy branches.
He must have fallen asleep up there, because when he woke up he was on the ground and it was pitch dark. George must have been unconscious for quite some time. Later he found out that, when he came to, it was already past midnight. In the darkness he could not find his way out of the fields and was walking in circles. Where was the road that leads to home?
Just then someone shouted, “Freeze or I’ll shoot” loud enough to make George’s blood freeze in his veins. It was the neighbouring farmer passing by with his dog and gun, who assumed the person in the dark was an all to frequent burglar.
After George explained to him, that he must have fallen off the tree while climbing it, the neighbour was happy with the explanation and took the aching boy home to his frantic parents who were assembling a search party.
As his father was soldiering in WWI a few years later, Georg was living on his grandfather Kosmacin’s farm. Just when the apples were seductively shining through the leaves in another farmer’s orchard, our fearless George and his two year’s older brother Franz sneaked into that orchard and tried to ascend the first apple tree on the way to school. But the farmer caught Franz by his pants and thrashed him with a thick stick. George found a pole close by and hit the farmer in return, until both of the brothers could run out of the danger zone and to their school located in the next village.
Knowing that they surely would be punished after returning home, George managed to talk all the boys in his class to meet him after dark in that farmer’s orchard.
And so they did. They stripped the heavily laden apple tree of all the apples they could reach and as quietly as they came, sneaked back home.
A policeman came knocking at George’s parents’ home the next day and searched the house. Alas, no apples were to be found for the apple stealing evidence. Surely, said his mom, her child was innocent.
No such a thing, though, as George had hidden the apples in his father’s suitcase, which the good policeman failed to investigate… And Franz… it took him a whole week to be able to sit again.
Some years later, our Franz and George were already in their teens, the wolf packs were attacking many a farmer’s livestock and there was quite a reward for a killed wolf.
Now there was an opportunity for our two Heroes to earn some pocket money. Lo and behold they managed to kill a wolf, skinned the felt and run with it to the major’s office to get their earned reward.
They did not stop there, though, but went from village to village, from one major’s office to another for at least a week; at which time the felt smelt so badly, that even they could not stand it any longer.
In George’s words:
“When I finished school at 14 my mother arranged for me apprenticeship training at a mill close by. I was to become a miller. My brother Franz was learning the baker’s trade and my mother taught that we could help each other out later in our lives. I would have a mill and supply my brother with flour for his bakery.
Young George ready for his apprenticeship, 1926
At the mill there were older boys working who were finished with their training. They were already fully grown sturdy fellows, while I was at 14 still a small boy. The practical jokes those fellows tried on me were very unpleasant, almost brutal. Whenever the miller was not around, they would push my face into a sack full of flour and kept my head there, until I almost suffocated. After one of too many of those occurrences, I just walked out.
Now, I could not have gone home to my parents. They would immediately bring me back. But I knew that the road in front of the mill lead to the city of Sisak some 35 kilometers away and I headed for there. After quite some time of my walking along the hot and lonesome road, a farmer with his horse and buggy overtook me and asked me where I was heading to. I told him I was going to Sisak and he offered me a ride. He too was going to that fair city.
Seeing, that I seemed to be worried, he soon found out what my troubles were. Just before the city gates of that old Roman town, he let me off, gave me a whole dinar and wished me good luck for the future.
As I had nothing to eat since breakfast time and it was already past midday, I was ravishingly hungry. At the first inn I decided to see if I could get something to eat. When I entered Mrs. Proprietress greeted me charmingly to whom I told that I was looking for an apprenticeship position but at the moment was very hungry, and if I could have a dinner now I would pay her back as soon as I could.
“Well son”, she said, “let me talk to my husband first. You just sit down here and I will be right back.” She returned in a little while with steaming and fabulously smelling goulash and great slices of freshly baked bread, which I wolfed down in no time. I can still taste that dinner to this very day. The Proprietor joined me after I finished that well remembered meal and wanted to know, just what trade did I want to learn. The question came as a surprise and the only thing that came to my mind at that very moment was the word “butcher”. “Well, well”, said the portly innkeeper, “you just came to the right place, because I am a butcher as well as an innkeeper and am looking for a butcher apprentice.”
The Mistress of the house did show me the place in the attic where I was to sleep. She also gave me the appropriate white butcher uniform and she promised to wake me up next morning at five. I was to accompany her husband to the market to help him with his meat-booth there. In no time it was five in the morning and after a very hearty breakfast, we were on our way to the market.
It was a busy day. There were many Jewish ladies bringing the purchased live poultry, which they wanted to have butchered the kosher way. My boss showed me the right technique with the first hen and let me keep the three-dinar fee we were charging for this service for my self. I have collected that day quite a few three-dinar-fees and at the evening felt like I was a millionaire. See, I was a whole of 14 years old and never had more than one dinar in my pocket that I could call my own. My master seemed to be happy with my performance and of course so was I with him.
In the meantime my mother found out that I left the mill and was frantic, as she did not know where I went to. A few weeks later the very same farmer who gave me the lift to Sisak did some shopping in our store back home and found my mother in tears. So he told her, that perhaps the fellow he gave a lift to Sisak the other day might be her son. She did find me too and was happy for me that my new training place turned out so well. But did she ever give me a talking to, because I did not let her know where I was!
My new boss and his lady did not have any children of their own so they considered me a part of their family. Yes, I had to work hard, but I liked working and soon gained their appreciation and respect. The master was very thrifty. Only at card playing time with his buddies did he show a spendthrift nature. In the evening of the day when the restaurant was closed, his three friends would come over for poker playing. Drinks were very generously served.
Late in the evening the lady of the house called me down from my attic place and inquired if I needed any clothes. Now, as part of my training I was to receive free food and lodging, and the uniform necessary for my butcher trade. My master insisted I should be always impeccably dressed when at work, so I had three or four uniforms to change into. But my personal clothes, that was a different matter. I had none except those I was wearing when I came to Sisak. And those did not fit me any more after all that good food I was fortunate to receive. So I said I needed some pants. She in turn advised me to go then and there to the card-playing Innkeeper and tell him, that I needed some pants. Of course, it was understood between the Mistress and myself that I was to ask for money for the uniform pants but to purchase the street clothes instead.
There I stood in front of the tipsy four card players and between them in the middle of the table was a huge stack of 100 dinar bills. I told my boss as instructed by his wife my need for a new pair of pants whereupon he took the top 100 dinar bill, gave it to me with the instruction, that I am to give all the change back to the very last dinar. And so I did. To the lady of the house, though, as I had been advised by her. After the next card playing time I acquired a new shirt and gave all the change back to the very last dinar to the lady of the house. So she was very happy with me too.
In the weeks to come I was not only the very best dressed dandy in the city, my pockets were always full as well with all those three-dinar-fees.”
George finished his apprentice training three years later and left for his journeyman guidance to the big city of Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Lady Luck was on his side again. In no time he found an excellent place in an upscale neighborhood to improve his skills. He was very well liked by his new boss and by their clients as well.
Each summer most of the clients would go down to the Adriatic Sea to their villas and hotels. Of course George wanted to go and see this marvelous “Adria” as well. It was easy to be done, he thought. He would continue his journeyman training on the charming Dalmatian coast he heard so much about. By now he had saved enough money to go on a holiday but thought to work his way up the coast would be much wiser to do. George was saving towards his own place after his journeyman years were over and he would become a master butcher. He quit his position and off he went.
George purchased a train ticket all the way from Zagreb to Rijeka, the large port on the Adriatic Sea. Already at the Zagreb’s train station he met other young people who had the same brilliant idea. The train tickets were not controlled until almost Karlovac, the halfway point to Rijeka. As it turned out George’s brand new pal, also a butcher journeyman, did not have a ticket, so the new friend was booted out with most of the other young crowd from Zagreb. George decided he would go off too and pay for his new pal’s train ticket to Rijeka. The next train was to pass by the next day, so George invited his new buddy for some generous drinks to speed up the time until they could be on their way again. The whole gang slept in the station’s waiting room. Some slept on the wooden benches and others on the floor.
The next day came and the time to purchase the ticket for his pal. But, oh, what calamity, all the money George had on him was gone. Stolen during the night. What to do? He still had the ticket to Rijeka and off he went with the arriving train on an empty stomach, though. Rijeka was even more charming than the rumor he had heard and the many islands in front of it sparkled magnificently in the shimmering Mediterranean sun.
George set off to visit one butcher store after the other and asked for work. No one had an opening, as thousands of other butcher journeymen did pass that way prior to George. It was a custom at those times when a journeyman came and asked for work even if work was not available at least he was given some dinner. But in Rijeka, such customs were not practiced. By the end of the day George was starving. He had to sell his fine butcher knives one by one for a pittance, bought some food and with the rest of the money the return train ticket. Alas, the money went only for half of the way.
The train back to Zagreb was full of young penniless people like our wandering George. Shortly before the old Military Frontier city of Karlovac the train stopped. All passengers with no tickets had to leave the train. There were quite a few of them. Not a house in sight but the little place of the train switch man. The shunter was amused seeing all those youngsters with famished looks and shouted to his wife across the fence to go and milk the cow to feed those kids.
George stayed a few days in Karlovac and worked there at a butcher’s place until he had enough money to return to Zagreb. He was surprised to meet his old boss at the Zagreb’s main train station who was hoping that George wood return sooner rather than later as he wanted to have him back.
George worked for him for the next two years until he was drafted to the army.