Of all the events, holidays and gatherings I have been to since my arrival in the Village, I had not been in attendance for a funeral. A neighbor of mine, passed away last Sunday. He was 72 years old and had been very ill for the last couple of years. I had never met him or even seen him for that matter, due to his illness he was restricted to his bed. It is custom here in the village for the corps of a body to remain in their home for three days after dying. During these three days, family and friends come by the house of the deceased to pay respects and grieve with the family, in this case my neighbor left behind his wife. All of the women neighbors of the deceased arrived with sugar, flour, apples, cabbage, meat, rice etc. to make food for visitors as well as to prepare for the gathering after the funeral. Yesterday (November 4th) was the third and final day of grieving and was the day of the funeral. As I made my way to school yesterday morning the church bells rang in unison for about 5 minutes...I am not sure the direct meaning of the bells but they are to let the village know that there will be a funeral that day. At 12:00 noon, the funeral services began. Outside the house of the deceased there was the Priest, the Mayor as well as friends and family. The corps was enclosed in a hand made wooden coffin, made by the neighboring men, with a special design cloth laid over it. On top of the cloth were candles and a cross. There was about an one hour service by the Priest, the whole time everyone in attendance burning long, thin candles. Once the Priest was done with his service the family of the dead passed out candy/sweets to the kids in attendance...they told me this represents the gift of life and youthfulness from the dead. The Priest accompanied by the children led the procession down the streets of the village followed by the pall bearers (men who were either close friends or family to the deceased, using long wooden poles to carry the coffin) followed by the men who were in attendance, followed by the women who were in attendance. Once we arrived at the cemetery, in the middle of the village between the old wooden church and the new modern church, the coffin is taken to a pre-dug grave where it will be buried. Two days before the funeral, while the women are cooking and preparing food the men dig a hole where the coffin is to be buried. There are pretty strict regulations as far as how deep and wide the hole must be, all directed by the Priest not the government. Also, it is customary for villagers to be buried in the same hole as their family, one on top of the other. Thus, in this situation, the hole must be deep enough to allow room for the widows coffin when she passes away. Before the coffin is lowered, there is one more prayer led by the priest. As the pall bearers were preparing the ropes to lower the coffin, the widow was hysterical, not letting go of the coffin while pounding her fists at the wood. Watching all of this was obviously very intense, it took three other women to restrain her and allow the coffin to be lowered...again I was told this is normal for a woman when she loses her husband, her cries were very rhythmic almost like a song. Once the coffin was in place in the ground, the Priest blessed it with holy water and everyone picks up a piece of dirt and to toss on the coffin. The pall bearers stay behind to fill in the grave while the rest make their way to the village banquet room next to the post office. I passed on an invitation to sit at the head table with the Priest, Mayor and other village big wigs, for a seat at the ˝old man˝ table. Most of these men are over the age of 70, walk with canes or should walk with canes, have not one tooth, are unable to get out of the house very much and have personalities like you would not believe. With the celebrity status that I receive being the American English teacher at school, it was very refreshing to be seated next to these gentlemen who had no idea who the hell I was! One man, yelled into my face (oh and most of the men at this table are losing their hearing as well so everything is a yell) ˝Who the hell are you?˝ As I was explaining my situation, I was cut off by another old man yelling in my general direction but not necessarily at me ˝Where the hell is the horlinka? What kind of funeral is this?˝ Luckily the horlinka arrived and I was able to finish the rest of my introduction. It was great, none of them cared less about what I was doing, where I came from, what my story was...they just wanted to talk, I mean yell. They were impressed with my language ability as they went on to tell me how much has changed around the village during their lives. ˝The kids now-a-days have no respect˝ yelled one of them, ˝The horses I see around now are weak, thin and have no power, not like what we used to have˝ uttered another, all of them shaking their head in disappointment. I just sat there listening, trying to understand all of the yelling that was flying around my head. I noticed the man sitting next to me, pulled a plastic bag from his pocket, I was curious what he was going to do but did not want to stare. I watched out of the corner of my eye as he filled his bag with all the different types of cakes and sweet breads that were placed on the tables. Another man across the table called him out asking him what he was doing. The man with his ˝hand in the cookie jar so-to-speak˝, yelled ˝That Ion was a son-of-a-bitch while he was alive! He always took things and never gave them back, I am getting even!˝ I wish I could describe to you the roar of laughter that followed in words, but it is impossible. I was in tears I was laughing so hard!
All the women prepared a delicious meal for the guests. Not only did the prepare the food they also served it to the guests. First up was a traditional sour soup (not rally that sour) with hard boiled eggs and lamb meat. Every guest each had a place setting in front of them, a bowl with a plate, spoon and napkin. As one of the women placed the large soup bowl in front of us and walked away, you should have seen all the distraught looks on the old men´s faces. They are defiantly from a different generation where women cook, clean and serve the men. So when the woman who brought the soup bowl left with out serving each of them, they were confused, dumbfounded, and a little angry. One of the them started yelling for his wife to come over (oh ya, so all the men sit on one side of the room and the women on the other side of the room)and serve the soup, I jumped up and started to serve the soup myself. Again more looks of confusion and disbelief! They got over it quick, when one man yelled to tell me I need to serve more broth than I did, I guess beggars can be choosers! While we were waiting for the cabbage rolls to arrive, another around of horlinka was coming around. It is tradition to only use one shot glass to serve horlinka. Once one person has drank it, then it goes to the next and so forth. I like this tradition in large group settings as it gives me a break while the glass is getting passed around to all the others...as for drinking out of the same glass as hundreds of others have, I have gotten over it, much more of a community feel! So as I was saying, the glass returns to our table and a man with very shaky hands manages about half of the glass and hands it back to man serving from the bottle. Another old man, even older and more shaky handed, sitting next to him speaks up ˝What the hell is that? What just because you are old you cannot finish your glass like a man!˝ He snatches the half filled glass and throws the remaining horlinka down his throat! The cabbage rolls were delicious as usual here and then it was time to go home. I shook hands with all the men at the table, thanking them for their company/entertainment, I was told to come over to each of their respective houses for a shot when I can. At the door of the banquet hall as we were exiting, the man sitting next to me who drink his as well as other´s fair share of horlinka was meet by his wife who yelled ˝How many shots of horlinka did you have? You know you are not supposed to drink!˝ He leans on her shoulder to help support him as he walks down the stairs and whispers ˝I did not even have one˝ while giving me a wink. As I walked up the hill to my house, all I could here was this mans wife yelling, ˝speak up, I cannot hear you, how many did you have?˝
PS - On a completely other note, Congrats newly elected Mr. President, Barack Obama! I love the hope & Change that is in the air!