Tales from the Old Country
My grandmother's birth certificate read "Austro-Hungarian Empire." She attended a school across the border in Hungary as a girl. The first two stories are ones she passed down to me through my mother. The third is by an unknown author, but of the same ethnic origin.
The Returning Bride
Once there was a young man who had lost his fiancé by an unknown cause.
The young woman had had no noticeable illness. One morning, though, her parents found her dead in her bed.
The priest administered last rites, and the body was prepared by the local coroner for burial.
The next three days were solemn for the young man, the girl’s parents, and the entire village because the young woman not only had been kind to everyone, but she was exceedingly beautiful in her prime. It was heartbreaking that one so young and spread so much joy should be taken from them.
During the evening of the burial, the young man had troubled thoughts about losing his love. What was he to do now? He pondered these things, but his thoughts only went in circles without resolution. Finally, he grew weary and fell asleep.
As the grandfather clock in the hallway chimed twelve, the young man stirred. There was a strange chilliness in the room. Thinking he was going to get up and fetch another blanket, he opened his eyes.
There sitting on the foot of his bed was his love! Her face seemed to hold a bitter sweetness as she was so close to him but not touching. She had no body! Indeed, she was quite transparent.
The young man was startled. What could this apparition mean?
The presence of his love stayed for several minutes not touching, speaking, or moving—just sitting and emanating a soft glow of light. Eventually she faded and disappeared.
Well, if you think the young man had trouble sleeping earlier, he had an even greater difficulty now!
Having forgotten about getting another blanket, the young man rested as best he could. The grandfather clocked chimed the hours, and before he could fall into a deep sleep, the cock began to crow. It was time to rise.
The next night was similar. The spirit of the young man’s love reappeared in silence and, again, seemed somewhat sullen. After several minutes, she finally faded from sight.
As much as the young man had loved this woman, he was continually losing sleep and could bear no more sad visits. So, he decided to go to the priest and tell him the story.
“Her love has been unfulfilled,” explained the priest gently. “When she comes to visit you again, say the rosary and accompany her to the graveyard as you are saying the prayers. She will be comforted.”
On the third night, just as the apparition of his love appeared, the young man took out his rosary and did just as the priest had advised.
Once at the graveyard, which was not too far away, the young man saw the spirit of his love return into the ground where her mortal remains lay.
She was never seen again.
Folk tales were often told to children to encourage good habits. The story "The Returning Bride" teaches the power of prayer. Whether or not there is any truth to the tale, a child or young adult hearing the story will remember it because of the imagery and emotion conveyed in its telling.
The Crooked Smile
There once was an elderly spinster who kept so much to herself that the people of the village began to speak of her as a witch.
The woman kept a beautiful vegetable garden. It was so beautiful that, in spite of the rumors, people from the outskirts of the village came around just to see the varieties of herbs, greens, and tubers growing there.
One late summer day, the woman went out to her garden to pick some sweet peas and chives for her dinner. Entering the garden gate, the woman could see her vegetable patch had been disturbed—a squash vine lay broken and there were footprints leading to the far fence.
Upon closer examination, it appeared some of the vegetables had been taken.
Now, not everyone would consider this transgression important, but this woman wanted neighboring villagers to maintain a respect for her privacy. So, she got a large metal cake pan and shovel, carefully scooped up the earth containing one of the footprints, and took the footprint into her kitchen.
Then she went to the fireplace and began boiling some herbs in the large, cast iron kettle she kept there. As the concoction boiled, she sprinkled bits of earth from the footprint into the pot and chanted:
Whosoever did this deed,
Crooked shall become
His mouth to feed.
Over and over she repeated this incantation until the cake pan was entirely empty. Then she went back into the garden to pick the things she needed to prepare supper.
The next day around the noon hour, a middle-aged man came desperately to her door.
“Please, please,” he begged. “Remove this curse from me. I’m sorry—I’ll never disturb your vegetables again!”
The old woman opened the door and observed that the man’s face appeared twisted to the left.
“So, you are the thief who stole into my garden without even asking!” the spinster exclaimed. “Have you learned your lesson?”
“Yes, yes! Please return my face to normal.”
“Very well, but I cannot cure a greedy heart—only you can do that for yourself.”
The old woman kept her word and over the following days, the man’s face began to relax and return to normal. His smile never completely straightened, however, for he failed to wholly forgive himself.
"The Crooked Smile" teaches the importance of respecting other people's property and to not steal. The possibility of there having been a witch who was able to discover the culprit thief by using an incantation is doubtful, but, then again, no one wants a crooked smile. So, the image leaves an impression that encourages the listener to think twice before barging into someone's potato or watermelon patch without permission!
The Waternick (Audio Only)
The Waternick is somewhat similar to "Hansel and Gretel" by The Brothers Grimm. The girl's yarn replaces the bread crumbs in the Grimm's version. Instead of just a witch, a couple named Waternick harbor the children, but have no intention of eating them. Capturing souls, however, points to a kind of witchcraft. To hear the ending, you'll have to listen to the recorded story above, if you haven't already.
Which of the stories did you find most interesting?
The Austro-Hungarian Empire
© 2013 Marie Flint