Can winter make you realize you’ve grown into an old, crotchety fart? Quite so, I assure you.
See that above? It’s what the landscape around these parts has looked like in the past few days. When I woke up on the morning after the first heavy snowfall, I glanced out of the window and my first reaction was, “Holy cow, this is marvelous! So white, peaceful, and clean!”
And a few seconds later: “Bloody hell, how am I supposed to wade through this to go get beer??!”
When I was a kid, the first heavy snowfall brought jubilation, with squeals of delight echoing around the neighborhood all through the day. We were outside till dark – sleighing, staging snowball fights, making snow figures, or just wallowing around in the white fluff, then rushing home to change into dry clothes and dart back outside for more fun and games.
Now, in my early 50s, I look out of the window on such days and the first few seconds of wonder are quickly replaced by thoughts such as, “Huge electricity bills again…I probably need to buy new boots, the old ones seem to be giving up the ghost…Will trains run on time?…Eff it, I’ll have to do without beer today cuz I’m not going out in this!”
I catch myself thinking these thoughts and I feel sad. When did I get so old, in spirit, that is? Why doesn’t the sight of this sparkling white canopy compel me to bolt out and make snow angels or engage in some other frivolous activity? Ah, never mind, I’m sure learned people have produced countless volumes to answer such questions.
But I’m not totally depressed. You know why? I can still remember how it felt and the longing lurks in there, so maybe one of these winters I’ll throw decorum to the wind, sprint out, and act in a completely age-inappropriate way.
Well…not quite. But I am sort of there, in a place where old-fashioned ways are alive and positively thriving. Where the stars shine blindingly bright at night, and the quiet is so pervasive you can hear your brain cells working.
Do I like it? In general – not that much. Not that I mind the clear night sky, the stars and the quiet. Still, I’m not a village person at heart. I’m also not a big city girl. I gravitate towards the middle ground, so I feel happy in the town where I currently live. It’s modest in size, and you get all the conveniences of modern life minus the crowds, the traffic jams, the overwhelming distances and the general feeling of isolation we associate with big cities.
But this place where I’m at right now…It’s special for me. This is where I spent the best summer of my life. My heart still aches when I remember those days. It’s partly because the person who kept me company all those years ago is dead. It was my grandma, who needed constant care because of her poor health. The two of us spent three months here, with family members visiting once a week or so. I was essentially tasked with looking after her, but I think I got the better deal.
A quarter of a century later, I’m back here, all by myself this time. The assignment: housesit for my parents. Oh, I think I forgot to mention this. Yes, the house belongs to my parents, who are in Italy right now. Being a freelancer, I have no problem packing and relocating temporarily. As long as I have an Internet connection, I can work anywhere. Lucky for my parents, I guess.
I should explain a couple of things. I’m not a people person. That said, I’m not some rude cow who delights in insulting people and behaving like a jerk in general. No, I have proper manners, and I’m perfectly civil to strangers. It’s just that I’ve always been a reserved person, and I don’t make friends easily. I am quite content to spend time alone, and I never get bored.
This peek into my character has a point. It’s meant to tell you that I don’t mind being here alone. In fact, I relish it. I just miss my cats, but I have made friends with two local felines. There are other animals around, and I’ll tell you more about them in a minute. As I write this, one of the kitties is sleeping in my bed. It must have come through the window last night because I woke up with it curled at my feet.
I’m not telling you the name of the place because it won’t mean anything to you. Administratively speaking, it’s not a village. It was declared a town in 1984, but that’s just a label — this is a village in every sense of the word. It’s very modest in size. I think it only has two blocks of flats, and those are four or five stories high. The rest of the population live in houses. They all have vegetable gardens, animals in their barns, and hens and roosters roaming in the yards. Each house has at least one guard dog and horse-drawn carts traverse the streets. People here make their own wine and hard liquor, as is the case in every Bulgarian village and out-of-the-way town.
And you never have privacy in such places, not really. Sometimes it’s annoying. Other times, you can’t help but marvel at the bond people have. You get folks dropping by every day, sometimes several times a day, to check up on you. They bring you produce, ask how you’re doing, and offer to take care of this and that in the yard. You look at them and think, “I wish they’d leave me alone!” Then they go away, and you actually start feeling happy that you matter enough to these people, who are essentially strangers.
You know what I smell of right now? Donkey shit. No, I’m not joking. About an hour ago, I was shovelling donkey shit. My father has one of these animals. A friend of his takes her out in the morning, ties her somewhere (no idea where) to graze and brings her back in the evening. There is also a massive dog, another girl, who I rely on to guard me at night. The donkey is called Marussya, which seems to be a very popular name for her kind around these parts. The dog is Maya. The cats have no names, so I just call them all Kittie. Two are constantly around, and a few others pass through every day, mostly to get fed.
Almost three decades ago, I had my grandma for company here. Now it’s these animals. Over the years, the village has changed. Not in its essence, though, just some physical upgrades. It’s cleaner, the centre has been spruced up, and some nice shops have cropped up.
But you can still sense that the spirit of the place has remained intact. I like that. I couldn’t live here all the time, no way. Still, I’m blissfully happy right now. More important than the preserved spirit of the place is the spirit of the past I can feel. My own past. A time when I felt useful and needed because a frail human being depended on me. A time when the peace and quiet of this place were a welcome respite. A time when I was truly happy.
As melodramatic as it may sound, it feels as if traces of my past happiness still linger here. I walk around the yard at dusk, and it’s as if no time at all has passed – I’m young, beautiful, free and full of hope. I look up at the clear, starry sky at night, and it overwhelms me in a good way. And I can’t help but think that we really don’t need much to be happy. As long as we’re open to it, happiness will find us anywhere.
I’ll leave this place in a few days. When I visit my parents, it doesn’t feel the same. It’s not my place then; it’s theirs, and I’m just a guest. However, I’ll keep hoping that my future holds more of these solitary retreats. Maybe I won’t have to wait for another 26 years before it happens again…