Annas in the Village

Ida Miro Kiss, Hungary

The Oak Tree by Ron Kitaj


In the village all the women are called Anna, as if the German ancestors, humble servants of the Archbishop of Vac, did not dare to call their daughters by the name of God`s mother: only by the name of the grandmother. The others, the "came-and-will-go" people do not count, their names do not speak about the village. To be true, the Germans were also newcomers two hundred years ago. They came, and stayed in the eastern slope of the mountains, in the place of the not-less-humble Hungarian servants of the Archbishop of Vac, whose names disappeared.

The Hungarians were probably killed or taken as slaves by the Turks, who, in those times, invaded the country and stayed for a hundred and fifty years. Roses, almond trees, some new words of the language, high cheeks in some Hungarian faces, and the memory of refined cruelty remain.

"Stork, stork, storky-stork, why are your legs bleeding? It was cut by a Turkish boy, it is healed by a Magyar boy, with flute, drum, and fiddle" -- this is one of those few traditional songs which still are sang by mothers, and not just kindergarten repertory.

In the middle of the summer, all those who are not called by the name of God`s grandmother buy huge bunches of flowers in the town of Vac, and bring them to Annas. The flowers are not taken from the tiny gardens which decorate the streets, as it is Anna who looks after the flowers. It would be indecent to cut those. There are only a few flowers. In the mountains, there is not much good soil, and vegetables are more important.

Annas (usually the grandma-Annas) prepare a dozen different sorts of cookies for the guests, who arrive dressed in white shirts and black pants, their hair still wet from the shower. Such cookies can only be found in villages: those made in town kitchens never have the same flavour.

Some "came-and-will-go", after years of observation, may be qualified to be invited to the marriage of an Anna - there one can admire and taste the infinite variety of those cookies. So, Annas are cheered on the day of God`s grandmother. Don`t worry about how to distinguish them: in fact, they are called Anni, Antzi, Anita, Annush, Nushi, and several other names -- still, they all are Anna, and all will be grandmothers once.

When grandmothers walk slowly up to the church, or down home, the slope adjusts their steps; the swing of their skirts -- three, at least -- is a reminiscence of the polkas and walzers they danced once. Most of those dancers disappeared forever. Some of them are under huge white stones in the graveyard, on the slope which is over the church, looking towards the highest peak of the mountains. It is pleasant to be in the cemetery, watering flowers, cutting weeds, or sitting beside a grave, with a tool in the hand, a token of being at work.

When the sun sets over the peak, the mountains are transparent blue under a golden sky, which is never empty. Birds have finished their goodnight chat. The bats of the church tower silently leave their shelter, and follow the work of the birds, catching flies and mosquitoes.

Grandma-Annas are having a rest only on the way to the church, and back, chatting in their heavy, archaic German mother tongue.

The great-grandmothers warned the young men: times are changing, don`t get involved with politics, don't join SS. Still, some of them did. A common memorial site bears the name of those who disappeared in the war.

Then came the winners, and punished the remaining Germans.

Some of them were expelled from the village. Hungarian settlers were installed in their houses - Hungarian families from Slovakia, where these had been living for centuries. They were punished by the winners, because the Hungarian government was an ally to Hitler.

Grandma-Annas, and their husbands worked still harder, and bought back from the Hungarian settlers the houses where their families had been living for two hundred years.

Winners established quotas: how many persons should work for them. In the village there remained mostly maidens and young women. So, in order to fill the quota, young Annas were also taken, together with the remaining few young men to work -- forced work camps in the Soviet Union. Just a few survived. Near the graveyard, there is another memorial stone with their names.

Grandma-Annas prohibited their children to speak their mother tongue. So now only God, and perhaps God`s grandmother, know what are they chatting about in their heavy, archaic language when they walk home from church in swinging black skirts.


Ida Miro Kiss, clinical psychologist and journalist, was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1949. Today she lives in Berkenye, Hungary, with her husband and two children. Ida is associated with the Green Spider Communications Network in Hungary, and she is the International Editorial Assistant for Moondance.