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.

Explore the challenges and joys of a farmer's life in a bygone era through vivid storytelling. Discover the resilience and camaraderie that defined their daily struggles

Satisfied Despite Difficult Living and Working Conditions

As mentioned in the previous chapter, the farmer, during the period we are recalling, performed more and harder tasks than today. Almost everything was done manually, or with the help of oxen and horses. Machines were still a rarity, such as those for sowing and harvesting wheat and planting corn. Threshing was done by machines, but it was still a laborious job. Tractors were a real rarity, with only 3-4 in Novi Bečej, and even fewer in Vranjevo. In Novi Bečej, only my father, Boško Mečkić, had one, and in Vranjevo, there were perhaps 2-3, owned by Gavra Vlaškalin, Milan Nešić, and Branko Bunjevački.

Horses pulled wheat and corn seeders, or self-binders for wheat, and these machines were owned by more advanced and wealthier farmers. The poor, middle-class, and even some wealthy farmers sowed and harvested wheat manually. The work during wheat and corn harvest, or sugar beet harvesting, was very demanding. It was exhausting even under favorable weather conditions, let alone when working 16-18 hours a day at a temperature of 40 degrees Celsius. To make matters worse, there was no shade anywhere during breaks for breakfast and lunch to refresh oneself. The only shade came from horse-drawn vehicles, over which someone would throw a piece of cloth to protect themselves from direct sunlight.

In the shade of the cart, food was spread out - bacon, tomatoes, onions, salt, and bread, quickly consumed. The bacon was almost an inch thick, dripping with melted fat from the sun, making the bread hard. At that time, bread in farming families was kneaded once a week and remained fresh only on that day and a little the next, while the remaining five days it was dry, especially if exposed to the sun all day in a bag. After strenuous physical work in high temperatures, eating such bread and fatty bacon, cold or at least fresh water would be a real relief.

Water, that water, was a special problem for the farmer at home, not to mention in the fields. Water for the field was carried in buckets or jugs. Even back then, it was known that wood was a good heat insulator, but despite the wood, the water in the bucket or jug would reach a temperature of about 30 degrees.

The lunch break was slightly longer than breakfast, as it was necessary to take the horses to the well, which was located on one of the important parcels. If the field was closer to the well, the break was shorter, and vice versa if the well was farther away. This explains the need for wells characteristic of the Vojvodina landscape - wells with a pulley.

Oxen and horses, for the Vojvodina farmer, especially the Banat farmer (known for being more thrifty than other Vojvodina residents), were almost more important than the farmers themselves and their family members. Fresh water from the well was essential for the oxen and horses, while stagnant water carried from home was sufficient for the family. Many may argue that it was harder to carry such a quantity of water from home to water the livestock, but it seems to me that I am still correct. It was important to provide fresh water for the horses to endure the heat, and the man, well, he knew he had to endure it without much pampering.

The life of our farmer was hard and laborious, yet we often claim that life was slower back then - compared to today's pace. Perhaps this statement holds true for urban dwellers, where life was once slower and more peaceful, but when it comes to the villager and farmer, I assert the opposite. The dynamics, not to mention the effort, were incomparably greater than in rural areas today.

Many will argue that tractors and attached machines make it easier and faster for the farmer to do tasks that used to take much longer, but they quickly take on other tasks, hence the race that causes many troubles and misunderstandings.

The pace of life should not be judged by how quickly one can get, for example, to Zrenjanin by car or bus, compared to the time it took with horse-drawn carriages. It should be understood that in those times, every trip to Zrenjanin required getting up at 2 am to feed the horses and leaving at 3 am to arrive around 7 am at the market or for some other business that required starting the journey. The journey took 3-4 hours, and the same was needed for the return. Imagine how a person feels traveling on a sunny road in a horse-drawn carriage.

That journey was undertaken by the farmer back then with only one break to water the horses on the way there and the same on the way back. He didn't take care of himself; instead, he ate bread and bacon from his bag along the way, and he would drink water when he stopped to water the horses. At the well, he needed to work again to pull 3-4 buckets of water with a pulley to water the horses, and he would just take a few sips himself before putting on the harnesses and moving on. The journey didn't bother him; it was only when he returned home, if he arrived "too early," that he immediately continued with another task.

Is today's farmer even in a comparable situation to the past, and why do young people in rural areas complain about the pace of life? Can we compare the workday of today's farmer, who spends several hours sitting on a tractor, and when that task is done, moves on to another, with the past? Today, plowing takes 2-3 days, sowing is done with a tractor seeder in a day, and harvesting and threshing with a combine are also done in a day. For such work, it used to take at least 20-25 days, including sowing, harvesting, transportation, and threshing. Many days, a much longer workday, and the job was several times more exhausting.

Fattening livestock today, with the existence of running water in every feeding area and prepared food, is quite different from the fattening that was done in the past when it was necessary to manually shell corn, crush it, or throw it into the pigsty in grain form and maintain some semblance of cleanliness without water. Water was needed, even if in smaller quantities, and it had to be carried from the well in buckets by hand.

The workday of the farmer back then lasted from 14-15 hours from spring to late autumn, with the grain harvest and threshing lasting up to 18 hours. Today, even in the peak season of agricultural work, when all household tasks are taken into account, the farmer doesn't work more than 14 hours.

In addition to all this, the farmer back then was not tired, nervous, or irritable. He simply didn't have time to think about whether someone bothered him or who stood in his way. Adult children got along with their parents, daughters-in-law with mothers-in-law and fathers-in-law, even if they lived in the same house. Compare that to today's families, where immediately after marriage, one "leaves" the house and lives separately, and yet many negative stories about mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law can be heard.

It should be emphasized that a special spiritual strength was felt by the farmer even during work. The plower, at that time, plowed alone and did not have the opportunity to speak a word to anyone for the entire time. In a radius of several kilometers, there was no "living soul." The plower didn't think much about boredom or what bothered him in life because his whole life was planned. He mainly had work to do, and in work, he felt great satisfaction, which he expressed through song and, even more often, through particularly melodious whistling. These plowers knew how to whistle so beautifully that today, every owner of a tape recorder or cassette player would eagerly record them to enjoy that gifted musicality during moments of relaxation. Today, you can no longer hear it, not even imagine how great a skill it was. It was delightful to be in our fields where only the buzzing of bees or flies could be heard, and from a distance, the whistling and competition of plowers and magpies. Perhaps the magpies were inspired by the plowers' whistling.

Especially towards the end of the day, these young people were ready for song and a beautiful whistle, making it seem simply incredible from today's conditions. When he's most tired, or when he should be most tired, he then shows an exceptionally cheerful mood. There's something logical about that. Plowers were usually young but grown-up family members, so the end of the day represents the time when it's getting closer to returning home and meeting their beloved young wife and small children, or if it's a young man, meeting with friends and a sweetheart on the corner. Perhaps it's important to know that he fulfilled what he needed to do that day. The joy of work and creation was especially present at that time.

After ten hours of walking behind the plow and covering 30-35 kilometers, the plower, upon returning home, hitches the horses, quickly washes his hands, has dinner, and then goes to the corner.

The 'rogalj' is a crossroads where, especially in the spring, young men and women gather in the evening, around a specific time of the year, with a double-row accordion to dance a waltz or circle dance. All of this lasts a little over half an hour, and then they disperse. But it's not just a dispersal, like tired people after work, but joyful young men who are proud of successfully completing another workday. If there was no accordion at the 'rogalj,' they would sing. Singing was mandatory, especially when leaving the 'rogalj.' At that time, young men, embraced and illuminated by the spring moonlight, go home and, on the way, sing 'rogalj' songs with wonderfully harmonized voices. Today, these songs are occasionally attempted to be revived on television, but I must say that it's not the same as the 'rogalj' singing. Perhaps, in this assessment, there is some subjectivity due to forgetfulness, and even more so because it was a period when, as a boy, I had little opportunity to listen to something more beautiful, so that singing remained unforgettable, something exceptionally melodic, with beautiful solo voices, and even lovelier accompaniment. It seems to me, let the readers correct me if I'm wrong, of course, those who remember bachelor songs, that they, with their sweetness, influenced even village dogs not to bark when young men passed by singing in the evening. Night, in general, was made for barking dogs in the village, but probably, even dogs got used to these young people, and perhaps they sensed something noble and harmless in that song. In contrast to this, village dogs were particularly sensitive to the village barber, whom women often called flirtatious. When barbers go through the village before dawn to shave their clients (kuntos) before going to the fields, the whole street is disturbed by barking dogs.

Not only plowers in the fields and young men at the 'rogalj' sang; the song could also be heard when female day laborers returned from digging or even picking corn in the evening. As mentioned earlier, Hungarian female day laborers who returned on Saturdays from Rohonci (Pearl Island) regularly sang from Pearl Island to the entrance of Novi Bečej.

Binders on threshing machines sang while sitting on the dres during the relocation of the thresher from one street to another. It was not uncommon to hear binders on threshing machines sing in the evening during threshing. Three or four of them (those who carry straw or throw sheaves) would gather while waiting for their turn to carry bundles, expressing their joy through song that another tiring workday was coming to an end.

Today, during work or when returning from work, songs are not heard, even though the work is much easier, and the workday is shorter.

So, this is just a brief, although quite simplified, overview of the hard life of our farmer. But even here, it can be seen with how much strength he easily endured everything. He was prepared for the hardships that awaited him in everyday life from a very young age. Patience was a characteristic of the people of that time because that was the only way to live in a community, and thus, toughened, they entered life without any special problems. No one bothered them, and no one was in their way. If there was a conflict of that kind in a family, then the whole neighborhood knew about it, and it was condemned.

They had the strength to understand and accept life as it was, which is not often the case with today's young people. Perhaps today's life and its difficulty should be understood as an expression of human fragility and unpreparedness for the efforts that await in life. In this so-called pampering, there is more complaining than it is really difficult. Many complain even though their life is fundamentally good. Those who have the best often complain the most about the hardships of life. It's normal for someone who is bothered by their position in society to try to change it, while most of those who complain don't even think about it. They just want to blame others or complain about urbanization and everything it brings. Today, this is just a facade for all the selfishness, comfort, and, fundamentally, unpreparedness for life, so the culprit is not sought where it is - that a person needs to be toughened from an early age for the living conditions that await them.

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