He told me one last story. He used his aged, ruined voice like an old man’s hands to pick the lock on his past.
Smoking his old tobacco pipe with the tarnished brass handle, he mentioned a dusty old tale that had only been heard by a select few. “Well”, he said, “I was born and raised in a tiny, aged country, tucked away in a small part of Europe, named Yugoslavia. I was still living there when the war hit. I was barely a teenager.
The Nazi’s were beginning their takeover of us and surrounding nations, city by city, village by village. I remember the event vividly; I was giving my father, Otto, a hand on our families vineyard on the outskirt of town, when we felt a stampeding rumble surge through our bodies, we both glanced straight at each other with a puzzling yet worrying look on each of our faces. This was the rumble of fear and terror that Hitler’s army convoy’s brought with them wherever they ventured. Dad was a WW1 veteran, he served for the Austro-Hungarian army, and I recall him taking them out of their faded and stained cardboard box once a year, dusting them off for the V-day memorial”. Pa said this was the European equivalent of ANZAC Day. “Well back to the story”, he mentioned, “Dad knew exactly what we were up against, he said go home and grab your suitcase and head for the hills. Don’t you worry about your mother and I, we’ll be perfectly fine. So I did exactly what he said and journeyed up the mountains on my lonesome. I fondly remembered Otto constantly saying, “always remember son, A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step”.
Mountains surrounded my town of Bela Crkva (meaning little white church) which was named after the small church that sat on the hill that was visible from anywhere in the village. So as I was saying, I headed straight for the snow capped, foggy mountains in search of safety and refuge.
Once I made it into the shallow peaks, I came across other young fella’s who were also escaping. It turned out that they were a part of the Guerrilla army that fought in the mountains; their job was basically to piss the German’s off. The boys had well worn and rusty Nazi MP40 machine guns stolen from previous ventures. I decided to join them in the battle, because I could just hear my father whispering in the back of my mind, saying “make us proud, son”.
That night, it was perfectly still, not a breath of wind to be felt. I was attempting a forgotten activity some called ‘sleep’, when Franz woke me up. It turned out one of the scouts noticed a German supply convoy on the damp, dirt track many called a road, leading into Bela Crkva. We quickly made our way down the well beaten tracks that wound their way down the hillside, upon reaching the road, we spotted the kraut convoy. Half of the Guerrilla’s held their position behind the tree line of pines, providing a distraction, while the other half, including me, snuck down to the trucks and officer cars. I dived into a clunky old transporter truck, crawled over to the driver’s seat, turned the engine over and began driving off in the opposite direction. What I didn’t realise though was that a Kraut threw a Potato Smasher (hand grenade) into the back of the truck. With only thin, moulding sheets of plywood between me and it, the grenade detonated and sent shrapnel rocketing in all directions, one of those directions was straight into my ‘lower back’. The shards are still in there today. We got out of there as soon as we could. The boys carried me into a hut owned by an elderly lady who lived in one of the many quaint villages that were scattered over the mountain. She was kind enough to stitch the wounds up with cotton wool that she had gotten out of her sewing kit. I’ll never forget that night, and the little old lady who saved my backside, literally.
A few days later, still having not sitten down in an orderly fashion, I received a note stating that my family were safe, although the German’s had stolen, burnt or broke most of our possessions including our house, the vineyard and cellars, and even Caesar, the dog. I can still picture his dopey little face. So you can thank Hitler for taking your inheritance”, he said jokingly.
This was all such a shock to me, because I had never heard or even thought that there was a side of his life such as this. He muttered to me that the only reason he had kept these stories from me for so long was because I was a bit too young to understand but more recently he thought I wouldn’t have been interested, which hurt me.
He passed away a few years ago, and I still think every now and then, I wonder what else he wasn’t telling me.
A year 11 english assignment that is actually a true story that my granfather told me a short while before he passed away, almost 2 years ago.