Once upon a time in my Grandfather’s village – Beata Stasak

When he died, their father had two requests. But my aunty could not wait to close his eyes.

“He was always cheating on your poor grandmother, he has no right to ask anything of us.” She nodded towards my mother who quickly took his hidden stash of bank notes from underneath his pillow before other mourners arrived.

“What did he want you to do?” I asked.

“You’re too young to understand,” was my mother’s reply.

When I reached adulthood, I went back

to my Grandfather’s village and there suddenly I understood…

The inspiration one always finds in art and love…

Time stopped here

The few houses next to

an ancient limestone quarry

the cobblestones

and market square

with folk craft stores

and fresh fruit and vegetables

all produced by a few families

on the top of the hill

their majestic catholic church

its wooden floors

certified with age.

The Turks attacked

but people remembered them

as they burnt the previous village

they left back in Croatia

so they welcomed them this time

and the domes were erected

on their beloved church.

They would do anything

just to survive.

The Austrian kings

didn’t bother them

their quarry was used

to build the Hapsburg palace

and they let them be

tax free.

The Germans passed through

during the big wars

and the village welcomed them

as foreign lodgers

who would soon move on.

They killed a few men

and took their women.

It was the price to pay

to keep the village safe.

The Russians came after

and never really left.

They killed more men

and took more women

leaving behind unwanted offspring

and many haunted memories.

Then peace came

but was it really peace?

My grandfather was a train master

seeing all the horrors of the war

passing through his train station.

Soldiers, Jews and prisoners,

thirsty and starved and bayonetted to death

and he could do nothing

but stand there,

whistle and wave them off,

something that haunted him

to the end of his days.

The last train came in the 1968

with some party officials

all the way from Moscow

to make him their representative.

He stopped his clock then

and waited. His communist superiors

had forgotten them again.

The village was too tired and old

for propaganda

and people lived their lives

like before.

Nothing changed

in the village again

except one angry

Gypsy woman

climbed up the belfry

of their beloved church

and set fire

to the ropes that held

the bells in place,

you may ask why.

Her name was Valeria

most of her family were

imprisoned, and died in camps

a long time back.

Her husband and his brothers

still roamed the countryside

with their fiddle and their cymbal

playing every wedding

or funeral

but one day she left them go

and stayed behind

settling in next to the quarry

in the abandoned cottage

keeping to herself

out of the village folk ways

and their suspicious,

unwelcoming eyes.

My grandfather used to take

long walks troubled by war memories

and his wife’s long sickness

that took over her body

and mind.

It was all those soldiers raping her

he thought, and she knew

but nothing was said.

Sometimes he painted little watercolours

of nearby woods.

Valeria spotted him there once

and dropped her basket full of berries

examining every inch of him,

his white moustache

and his satchel with the strap

crossing his chest

where he kept his brushes and his paints

he looked up

and his eyes caught hers

she felt her face flush

they both had been

in their late fifties

back then.

He must have recognised her

she thought

but she never seen him before.

Valeria held her breath

when she approached,

attracted by the vivid colours

on his easel,

I can mix the colours for you

out of this,” she pointed at the berries

‘just like gypsies do.’

Thank you, dearie.

You are a vision come true.

I’ve never seen a lovelier woman.”

He nodded his head

and smiled wildly.

Valeria stood still for a moment

and suddenly she was gone.

He picked up her basket

and decided to follow her

but when he approached her cottage

Valeria had stung him with chestnuts

and curses so he left,

leaving the berries and the painting

on her doorstep.

Valeria was a beautiful girl,

when gypsies stopped by

for the first time.

The old men


with a wink

when he mentioned

his encounter

the next day

in the village pub.

Most of the young men

didn’t believe it

having never seen her young.

Over the years

everyone was accustomed

to seeing her grimace,

her sneer

and hearing her curse

before being pelted with rocks.

And the villagers payed her back

with the same hand.

She had made herself

an easy target of contempt

by being so contemptible.

For years they exchanged love letters

leaving them in the hollow of a tree

on the clearing they first met.

She kept mixing up colours of him

and he supplied her with the small gifts

of his watercolours.

Once they met secretly

under the ancient church

on the moonless night

and he took her to his train station

she found it dull and grey

so he painted the inside of it

in the bright colour

and hanged the portrait of Valeria there

to everyone’s dismay.

Valeria heard about it

and came unnoticed,

mingling about the gossiping,

unimpressed villagers.

She had seen her beloved painter,

now the important trainmaster,

issuing the ticket

for the mayor’s wife

clasping her hands

in his,

ever the flirt

oblivious to the effect

he was having on her.

He seen her blush

if only for a moment,

in her mind she wondered

what those big hands

of his

could do.

Valeria heard him

collecting the coins

with his regular:

Thank you, dearie.

You are a vision come true.

I’ve never seen

a lovelier woman

than you.

It was that night

she climbed up

the church tower

the villagers could never

forgive her

for cutting down

their beloved church bell

in a rage

she left the village

and her little cottage

straight after that

never to be seen again.

She never heard

what the train master

said to his wife that night.

Maybe I was selfish,”

he tried to explain,

There is a special connection

I have found

late in life

in that free-spirited gypsy,

somehow she made me understood

my mere playing with paints

could become more,

my new focus in life

being able to create

and make something


at will.”

His sad sick wife sighed,

as he kissed her hand

as in forgiveness,

“You are my wife

I always take care of you

with my every breath.

She was a woman

who challenged me

with her every breath

and changed me forever

in the process.”

She never heard what he said

to the village folks

the next morning when they came

to tear the painting down

from the train station wall.

I didn’t want to offend any of you,

neither Valeria or my wife.

This painting I needed to make

of Valeria

for her,

for you,

and for my wife too

it belongs to all of you

if you destroy it

I leave this village too…”

“Why her?

Why did you waste

your talent

your time

on her?”

People shouted out.

“Aren’t there

more respectable

more important

ladies in town?”

The Mayor’s wife asked.

I had to,

My grandfather said,

I am inspired by her.

I love her.”

And there it was.

As easy as that.

My grandfather felt

a load lifted from him

the moment

he uttered the words,

that instant

he could breathe again.

Life was easy after all,

or was it?

The painting of Valeria


on the train station wall.

Even the angriest of them all

could not argue

with the power of love.

Beata Stasak is an Art and Eastern European Languages Teacher from Eastern Europe with upgraded teaching degrees in Early Childhood and Education Support Education. She teaches in the South Perth Metropolitan area.

After further study in Counselling for Drug and Alcohol Addiction, she has used her skills in Perth Counselling Services. Beata has been a farm caretaker on the organic olive farm in the South Perth Metropolitan area for the past twenty years.Beata is a migrant from post-communist Eastern Europe, who settled in Perth, Western Australia in 1994. She came with her husband and children to meet her father, who she never knew. He was a dissident and refugee from Czechoslovakia, after his country was taken over by Russian communists after the unsuccessful uprising against the communists in 1968.

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