Discovering Novi Bečej: Stories, people, history

By the paths of the past: Discover the rich history, interesting events and unforgettable people who have shaped Novi Bečej through time, as we return together to the heart of this beautiful city on the banks of the Tisza.

Kovačev Joca – Bača

A farmer from Vranjevo, the son of wealthy parents. He inherited a large estate, but his lifestyle did not contribute to the enlargement or preservation of the inheritance. I remember him as of medium height, already in his years, and in his youth, he must have been a handsome man. He was always on the move, cheerful, and ready for a joke.

He enjoyed company, and in Novi Bečej and Vranjevo, the easiest place to find it was in the tavern. Sitting in the tavern cost him, as being in the company always resulted in spending more than one initially thought. He especially had to do this while the inherited estate was still present, for the sake of reputation. He loved singing, particularly stories. He had a knack for being a attentive and patient listener to others' stories and jokes but was an indefatigable storyteller himself.

With his stories, he always added a special touch to ensure they were listened to with utmost care. This wasn't difficult for him, as he was a good talker and had a somewhat unusual way of speaking. He did not pronounce the letter "r" correctly; instead, he did it like in the French language, along with the letter "h," giving it a constant "hr" sound. Additionally, he often repeated the last word in a sentence, which was quite unusual but sounded charming. When he recounted a simple event without any embellishments, it still captured attention and, above all, laughter. The audience, enjoying his stories and jokes, encouraged him with their attention to continue narrating.

Being in company provided him with the opportunity to hear and remember a lot - to refine and retell all of it as new experiences of his fellow countrymen. He was known as a jolly fellow in nearby villages.

He left a considerable amount of money in the taverns, partying and treating others. Granted, I remember him when he wasn't exactly rolling in wealth. His cheerful spirit could truly shine only in the company of taverns.

Due to such a lifestyle, his older peers often condemned him. He paid no attention to that, as the constant desire for company, jokes, and joy was always stronger than the will of an ordinary person. Because of this, he would occasionally face criticism not only from his closest ones but also from those - so-called - serious people.

To the younger generation, he spoke about his youth, the jokes they used to play, the pranks he pulled on others, and the attempts of others to trick him. There was a lot in his life, but it was always about pranks not aimed at mocking or humiliating someone but to evoke laughter and merriment.

During the First World War, Bača, like many other able-bodied Vojvodinians, served in the Austro-Hungarian army. In that war, Serb soldiers in the Austro-Hungarian army willingly surrendered to the Russians as prisoners of war. Thus, Bača and several other residents of Vranjevo found themselves in Russian captivity, among whom it is interesting to mention Vasa Glavaški - Veliki (because there was another Vasa Glavaški who was somewhat shorter).

Russia did not keep prisoners of war in camps but assigned them to various tasks. The war and the vast expanses of Russia meant that those closest to each other were rarely found in the same place. Typically, these were significant distances. Vasa Glavaški, for example, worked as an auxiliary worker in the kitchen of a hospital in Tsaritsyn (Volgograd), while hundreds of kilometers away in another city was Bača.

The war lasted for a long time, and after some time, they learned each other's addresses and began corresponding. Children of the affluent, unaccustomed to being away from home, especially abroad, lamented and complained in every letter about not being together or closer to each other, which would have made it much easier for them to bear the foreign land. Time passed. In their correspondence, they never missed the chance to remind each other of the pranks they used to play in Vranjevo and thus inject a bit of cheerfulness into the monotonous, lonely, and sad life of a prisoner of war.

After two years of captivity, an opportunity presented itself for Bača to embark on a journey to visit Vasa. Naturally, in line with their relationship and way of life, he decided to come unannounced, unexpectedly. After a difficult and exhausting journey, one winter evening, Bača arrived at Vasa's place in Tsaritsyn. It is worth noting that they referred to each other as "Jetrva," which fairly illustrates their mutual relationship.

Bača's arrival in Tsaritsyn occurred in the winter, and there's no need to elaborate on Russian winters or the challenging travel conditions during the wartime irregular train traffic. However, to avoid boring the readers, let's move on to their encounter.

Vasa had a small room in the apartment of an old woman, and since he worked in a hospital, whenever the opportunity arose, he would steal some meat and make rural Banat sausages. The room was small, with no place to keep the sausages, and he had to hide them from the landlady. He hung them under the mattress. The mattress was wire, so Vasa made shorter pieces to hang the sausages without touching the ground. In the winter and the unheated room, the lack of airflow – drafts – didn't bother the sausages much.

Bača arrived in the evening, and Vasa, "Jetrva," was working the night shift. He introduced himself to Vasa's landlady as Vasa's fellow countryman and said he had come to visit him. Although she was an old woman, she noticed from his speech that Bača was not Russian, so she let him into Vasa's room to spend the night.

Exhausted and chilled, Bača eagerly waited to reach the bed. He placed his bag containing travel food, intending to surprise "Jetrva," as he didn't know how well he was managing. Sitting on the bed, he bent down to untie his shoes, glanced under the bed, and saw the sausages. He thought to himself, "Look at these rogues, how well he lives; he's not without sausages even here in a foreign land!"

Despite his fatigue, he bent down, crawled under the bed on all fours, gathered all the sausages, and stuffed them into his bag. He undressed and lay down. Overwhelmed by exhaustion, he slept soundly. When Vasa arrived in the morning and saw who had come, he cried out of happiness and joy. Bača jumped up, they embraced, and they cried like never before.

After shedding tears, Vasa, being a true host, wanted to prepare breakfast for the guest. He took a pot and was about to bend down to retrieve the sausages from under the bed when Bača jumped up, stopping him and pointing to his bag.

"Wait, I brought some sausages so they don't spoil from sitting and the long journey," Bača said seriously to Vasa. Vasa resisted, wanting to be the host and prepare breakfast with his own sausages, but in the end, he gave in. He took sausages from Bača's bag, cooked them, and sat down to eat. They ate and talked. Vasa praised Bača's sausages.

"Hey, these sausages of yours are good, just like mine!"

"Well, these are ours, Banat sausages. We can't really differ there. A bit of garlic, peppers, the finest pork, and salt, and there you have our Banat sausages," Bača replied.

They filled their stomachs and lay down to sleep, of course, in one bed. Sometime in the afternoon, Bača woke up but pretended to be asleep. After some time, Vasa woke up and slowly slipped out of bed, got dressed, put on his shoes, all very slowly not to wake the guest. He wanted, while Bača was asleep, to prepare lunch from his own sausages.

Vasa tiptoed to avoid waking "Jetrva." He bent down to look under the bed – and Bača observed all this through half-closed eyelashes. Vasa quickly stood up, glanced at Bača, and when he saw that he was still asleep, he left the room. He returned, looked under the bed again, then at Bača, seeing that he was still asleep. He left the room again, and he asked the landlady if anyone had entered his room while he was at work. She told him that no one had come in except for his fellow countryman, and she swore to God in Russian.

Vasa entered the room, and "Jetrva" pretended to snore. Vasa turned and twisted, struggled, but couldn't wait for the guest to wake up and tell him about his embarrassment and misfortune.

When Bača thought he had tormented Vasa enough, he began to pretend to wake up tired, acting surprised that Vasa had gotten up so early despite working all night. Vasa, looking defeated, said he had rested well but couldn't bring himself to tell Bača what had happened due to shame. Especially because he was aware that Bača knew him well and wouldn't believe him.

Bača pretended to insist on hearing what had happened. Vasa swore on his dearest that he had sausages, but someone stole them yesterday. Bača asked where he had kept them. When Vasa started explaining where he had hidden the sausages, Bača couldn't hold back his laughter.

Vasa cried from excitement and cursed "Jetrva" (Bača) for making him suffer so much. He said the worst part was that it happened right now and that he embarrassed himself in front of "Jetrva." That was Bača, always wanting to play with people, even in the most touching moments with friends.

In his later years, when money ran out, the children got married and took their share, only Bača and his wife, whom he called "my old lady," remained. Accustomed to milk, and with cows being expensive, they decided to buy a goat.

There was a fair in Stari Bečej, so Bača took a boat to buy a goat. After purchasing the goat, he slowly walked back to Vranjevo with the goat on a leash. When he reached the ferry, he tied the goat to a pole and went into a tavern to have a shot or two. After having a drink, he noticed the ferry arriving, so he untied the goat and took it onto the ferry.

Upon arriving home, he tied the goat in the stable and lay down to rest. In the evening, Velinka, his wife, went to milk the goat and quickly returned.

"Aren't you ashamed, you've aged, and you still haven't settled down, yet you do as you please," his wife shouted.

Bača, still half-asleep and wondering what he had done wrong, was startled by her yelling. She got even angrier.

"Aren't you blind or crazy? You bought a billy goat!" she angrily explained.

"Why would a billy goat bother me? Are you crazy? Of course, I know what I bought," Bača replied.

Even angrier, she couldn't believe that Bača didn't see that he brought a billy goat. She began hitting whatever she could find. He went to the stable.

"It really is a billy goat, by God, a billy goat!" Bača angrily concluded and thought that only that guy from Bačka could have tricked him while paying.

With no choice, the next morning, before dawn, Bača set off from Vranjevo to Stari Bečej. When he crossed the Tisa River, he stopped by the tavern to have a shot, and he tied the goat to a pole in front of the tavern. He quickly drank and, to arrive sooner, untied the goat and started walking. When he reached the house of the man from whom he bought the goat, still shouting, he cursed him.

"Would you deceive an old man like this! I guessed right and paid for a goat, and while I was paying, you slipped in a billy goat. Do you think you can get away with this, and do you think it's easy for me to walk 20 kilometers from Vranjevo to Stari Bečej and back?" Bača angrily yelled.

The man, surprised to see him and especially by his shouting, didn't know what he was talking about and tried to calm him down. But Bača got even more agitated.

"Do you think I'm crazy?" he shouted.

The man calmly told him that he really didn't know what Bača wanted. Bača, about to explode, just as he was about to curse again, glanced at the goat and noticed that it was a female goat.

Bača apologized to the man, thinking to himself and cursing his wife Velinka for making a fool out of him and forcing him to walk 20 kilometers unnecessarily from Vranjevo to Stari Bečej and back. He headed back to Vranjevo, and when he reached the ferry, it was on the Banat side. While waiting for the ferry, he tied the goat to a pole again and went into a tavern for a shot. When the ferry arrived, he untied the goat and took it home.

When he opened the door, he called his wife.

"Where are you, old lady? What do you think? How long will you make a fool out of me?" he shouted.

His wife Velinka came out of the house and, upon seeing the goat, was furious.

"You really are not all there. You had the audacity to lead a billy goat from tavern to tavern all day!" she retorted, not believing that Bača had been to Stari Bečej.

Bača cursed her thoroughly.

"What billy goat bothered me? Can't you see?" he shouted and, after glancing at the goat, quietly added, "A billy goat, by God, a billy goat!"

He pondered what it could be. He couldn't tell Velinka that he stopped at the tavern every time he crossed the Tisa, but he concluded that it could only have happened there.

The next morning, he crossed the Tisa River again by ferry, tied the goat to a pole, sat at a table near the window in the tavern, where he could observe what would happen to the goat. "Uncut Pišta," as Bača called him, the ferryman, untied the goat and raced it to a nearby flock of sheep, among which grazed two or three goats, including the "unfortunate" billy goat. Pišta released the goat and quickly put a leash on the female goat's neck and ran to tie her to the pole where the billy goat was tied before. Bača rushed out of the tavern, cursed Pišta for mistreating an older man, and had a heated argument with him.

"I would have fought him, but where could I, considering he was a tough guy, and I could only end up on the losing side. Everyone in the tavern and outside laughed, but I wasn't in the mood for laughter. I told Pišta that I would never forget this, and I would take him to court!"

This is how Bača's goat adventure ended. He didn't sue Pišta but used the incident to entertain others. That's how Bača was. His closest ones suffered from his way of life, but today, when all that is a distant past, they probably often think about how he knew how to live. Bača, with his stories, experiences, and actions, remained a fond memory for many Bečej residents long after his death.

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