A short time ago, I interviewed another баба, Баба Седефка (Sedefka). Here is some of her story.
• Седефка was born in 1936 in Село Табан (Taban), a small village near the town of Драгоман (Dragoman).
• She was the youngest of three children. They generally got along very well, but only because her sister refused to take the bait and fight with her and because her brother was good at keeping the peace.
• As the youngest member of her immediate and extended family (Седефка’s family shared a home with an aunt and uncle and their six kids, all of whom were at least ten years older than Седефка), Седефка was really spoiled. Her aunt really loved her and went so far as to anoint her the “Golden Child,” and Седефка was excused from the hard work and manual labor which her brother, sister, and cousins endured.
• They lived without electricity or running water, and Седефка’s work primarily consisted of gathering and carrying firewood and bathing her cousins.
• They ate most of what they produced, only rarely selling a chicken or sheep.
• Even though it was a four kilometer walk each way to and from school, Седефка was happiest when she was in school. That lasted until the seventh grade, which was the highest class available at the local school. She wanted to continue her studies, but the family had no money to enroll her in another school. This depressed Седефка, and she spent a lot of time alone crying. She rarely left the house, prompting her aunt to tell her, “No boys even know you exist.”
• She met her future husband when she was twenty-one and he was twenty-five. He was her brother’s best friend, and was serving in the army and living in Plovdiv. Not wanting her brother to know of their relationship, they kept it secret as long as possible. He even sent letters to a neighbor’s house so no one would know of the relationship. Two years after first meeting, they were married.
• After getting married, Седефка and her husband tried for more than two years to have a baby. She suffered a pair of miscarriages and spent much of the time crying. Her husband was supportive, but she worried that he would divorce her (apparently a high percentage of husbands left their wives under such circumstances, leaving the wives shamed within the community).
• Седефка gave birth to the couple’s first child when she was twenty-five and had their second child when she was thirty. She also has four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
• There was no work in Село Табан, and Седефка and her husband decided to move. But they argued over where they should live before she ultimately persuaded him to move to our town because of its strategic location along the railroad. Despite this, life remained difficult. Седефка says she was miserable. There was very little available work, forcing her to work in a factory for three years before finding a job as a cook.
• Седефка provided an interesting perspective when I asked her to compare life under communism versus life under democracy. In the early years, communism equaled hard work which in turn equaled bread and cheese. Even so, her family was able to build not one home but two. Still, she describes life under communism as a lot of hard work for little in return. By contrast, she said that she now receives a pension of approximately 200 BGN per month. Her medication alone costs her 100 BGN per month, and there is no way she could survive without the help she receives from her children and grandchildren. But now, she says, other people are working for her.
• When I asked her of what she is most proud, Седефка said it used to be building homes but now it is her kids and grandkids.
• Седефка is hardly alone when it comes to having pride in building. All the баби and the lone дядо with whom I’ve spoken built the homes they still live in today. They did so with very little money and a lot of hard work and are justifiably proud of their accomplishments.
• Седефка is hopeful that the world in general and Bulgaria in particular is changing for the better. Her advice to her grandchildren is simple: slow down, take your time, and enjoy life – you can learn everything by watching television.
• The best advice Седефка ever received came from her beloved aunt who told her, “When you get married, never let your husband know you can cook. With six kids and a husband expecting me to cook for them, I’ve spent most of my life in the kitchen. Don’t waste your life in the same way.”
I was constantly distracted while listening to Седефка tell her story because I couldn’t stop looking at her hands. Like many of the Bulgarian баби, including several of the ones I’ve interviewed, Седефка has huge hands. They are working hands – the size of and as leathery as baseball mitts but with a vice-like grip. When I got up to go, I extended my hand toward hers. She took my hand and it disappeared, first in her right hand and then in both of her hands. As I thanked her, she clasped my hand, giving me a nod, look, and gentle squeeze that told me without a word that telling her story had meant far more to her than it did to me. And that’s what makes this project fun.
Баба Седефка and her husband at a friend's wedding.
Several photos of Баба Седефка's husband.
Баба Седефка's brother.
Баба Седефка's daughter on her wedding day.
Several photos of Баба Седефка's son.