Life's journey of an uninteresting man - By Milan Lorman

English version.    Slovak version.

Family background
Early Childhood
Boyhood in Lazy
Student years
Leaving the nest
Eastern front
Six Days Behind Enemy Lines
A Little Light Relief at the Front
A Close Brush With Disaster
The Story of the Lifesaving Grapes
Prisoner of War
My French and American experience / One year in Austria
Four years in England
To the end of the Earth

Boyhood in Lazy

Life's journey of an uninteresting man
By Milan Lorman

My boyhood years in Lazy were very happy and in my memory to this day have retained all their youthful bright colours. It was there that I have experienced all the wonderful things that give the country-boy such an edge over his city-bred cousins. Like, for example, the pleasant days I have spent lying in the grass under a willow-tree on the bank of a babbling mountain brook simply called Potok (engl.: the Creek), with only a couple of dozen geese for company. For the most part they were such well behaved flock that a boy could just read one book after another of adventure stories or travel yarns and lose himself in whatever fantasy world he decided to dream up for the day. My favourite author was Alexander Dumas, whose stories of the Count of Monte Christo, continuing as Master of the World, just went on and on, then The Three Musketeers, TTM after Ten Years, TTM after Further Twenty Years, The Sons of Musketeers… The man could teach Hollywood a thing or two about sequels, and how to keep people asking for more. Living in a country town we saw films only very seldom and television was yet to arrive on the scene, but – what you don't know, you don't miss, and books were everywhere, especially in the home of a schoolteacher.

One day, in addition to the geese I was given a little lamb to look after. But the little thing was homesick and soon run away from me. Luckily, on that day my friend Peter was keeping me company, his flock was grazing nearby, so I left my geese in his care and took off after the runaway. You don't realize how fast these little beasts can run until you try to catch one. Cross-country, over hill and dale it ran, across grassy paddocks and ploughed fields until it arrived at its old home. I have eventually caught up with it at its mother's side in the yard of a farmer who has given it a few days earlier to my father as payment in kind for some little service. That baby animal had found its way home in a straight line like a bee without hesitating for a moment.

Just there, on the opposite side of the road lived another farmer, whom I remember for an entirely different reason. In September 1937 Czecho-slovak postal authority issued two stamps in memory of the republics first president T.G. Masaryk. The lower value was common enough, but the 2 crown, large one was in a village mailbag rather a scarce item. So that when the postman showed me a registered letter bearing one of them, even cancelled with a special commemorative postmark, I decided to follow him on his route all the way to the house, to which it was addressed. And I did not get it! The farmer, even though he was not at all interested in stamps, must have assumed that because the teacher's boy came all that way, it must be worth something. Well, it isn't, not even today, after more than 65 years.

During the years I spent in Lazy I started to get interested in foreign languages. That is, my father awoke that interest. At one stage it was Hungarian. Father found in the district city of Púchov, where I was at the time attending the "burghers' school", a kind of lower grade high school, a teacher of violin and asked him to accept me as a part-time student of his art. This Hungarian gentleman agreed, what's more he was going to do it for free, all he wanted in return was that after each lesson I should spend some time playing with his two sons, both about my age, and teach them to speak Slovak. Alas, in my life nothing ever goes according to plan. I gave up trying to learn how to play the violin when the lessons reached the little finger and I have decided that the joy of (my) music wasn't worth the pain. As for the language lessons, who knows if the boys got anything from me, but I have learned a little Hungarian from them.
Milan Lorman 1941
Milan Lorman 1941

It was a similar story with German lessons. The Forestry Engineer in Certov (the extreme eastern part of Lazy, right on the border with the Czech Republic) a German, like many forestry professionals in Slovakia were at the time, had a son, about five-year-old. I was about three years older. The boy was suffering from a syndrome called hole-in-heart. His parents were, perhaps a little too protective of him, he was not allowed to mix with any other kids for fear that during some rough game he may suffer some serious damage. But time doesn't stand still for anyone and the day was fast approaching for him to start going to school. And the boy could not speak Slovak. His father himself was struggling with it right to the end. On one occasion he brought down the house when he was telling his mates in the pub about the fine trophy, which he brought home a few days earlier. He used the wrong one of two very similar words: srnec and hrnec. In English the first means roebuck and the second – cooking pot. But we are talking about his son. For several months I have travelled by bus to their house and at night, at times very late, the boys' father brought me home in his car. I have enjoyed those visits very much. The house was full of wonderful toys and games. The boy was molly-coddled due to his precarious heart condition and, perhaps because he was so spoilt he didn't learn very much from me. I, on the other hand, have at least began to learn German. When it was time to enrol the boy into first grade, his father gave up his job and returned with the family to Germany.

One day, during school holidays a group of Boy scouts from Púchov organised a camping trip to the top of Javornik Mountain. They were going to spend three weeks there. My father somehow managed to talk the scoutmaster in charge to take me along although I wasn't a member. There was no scout group active in Lazy. And so my mother packed a rucksack with a few bare necessities of life and a lot of the kind of foodstuffs that last a few days even without refrigeration, - salami, cheese, sardines, hard-boiled eggs, home-baked brown bread - and off I went. I had a great time. Everything was a new minor adventure. What impressed me most of all was the day a general paid us a visit. A real live army general in uniform and all! General Klecanda spent the whole day among us, ate with us, walked the mountain trails with us and at sundown as we sat around the campfire he was telling us at length and in fascinating detail about his travels in South America. It was obvious that he fell in love with that continent. When the time came to say Good Night, he asked if anyone had any questions. I was the only one who asked for more and more. As he was leaving us he patted me on the shoulder and said: You, my boy, will amount to something one day! Well, sadly, I did not amount to anything much, but that is not his fault.

I am still collecting stamps and postmarks. Perhaps I should say that in my old age I have once again started collecting stamps. And one day, as I was rummaging through some boxes of assorted envelopes in a stamp dealers shop, I came across an envelope posted in Chile sometime in early 40-ies and addressed to the Czechoslovak Government-in-Exile in London. I turned it to look on the back and found the name of the sender: Dr. V.V. Klecanda. Obviously the same gentleman, stationed at the time as a civilian official in his favourite place in the whole world.

It is difficult for me to wind up this collection of memories from Lazy. There are so many of them! Like the time when I rode a pushbike along the road to Certov to meet my parents and their party as they were returning from one of their hiking trips. Suddenly there are in front of me three drunks weaving their way along, only moving more sideways than forward. I was manoeuvring as best I knew how, but in the end I bumped into one of them, fell from the pushbike, cracked my head on an iron rail serving as a safety barrier and continued my fall about two metres down onto a gravely creek bed. Luckily there was little water in the creek at the time. To top it off, the bike fell on top of me. When I came to, someone had already pulled me up to the roadway, carried me across to the other side, where there was a water well with a pump in front of Kohns Convenience Store. Mrs Kohn was bathing and dressing my cracked forehead and torn earlobe. And that was where my parents found me not long after. To this day I carry those two identification scars.

Lazy can even claim a modest place in the history of Slovak literature, thanks to a poet, Pavel Kokeš-Kýcerský (read: ko-kesh – key-tcher-ski). I have recently seen this quote from a letter written in the early years of 20th century by the foremost Slovak poet Hviezdoslav to another leading light of Slovak cultural life, "Batko" ("Poppa") Škultéty: "(You ask…) Who is this Kýcerský? Brother, now, there is one real poet! One's heart feels a warm glow when one reads his verses. If only he'd start paying more attention to form!" Well, maybe Pavel Kokeš, son of local lutheran pastor, didn't pay much attention to form. He didn't pay any attention to a literary career either. He spent his life as a humble farmer, and instead of "poet" he referred to himself as a "songster". But he left us a legacy of two volumes of "Songs" (without music), which still warm the hearts of lovers of fine classical poetry. And I am just a little proud of the fact that my mum helped him in his final years, if only by writing down his verses as they were born, using a typewriter, which his own arthritic fingers no longer could operate. She often spent long afternoons with the old man while I was stuffing myself with fruit in his orchard. He derived his literary name from one of the peaks bordering our village – Kýcera.

But, the years are passing, and I have to say "Good-by, Lazy pod Makytou! I love you dearly, I shall never forget you, but Košice, Prešov and Bardiov - Bardejov are waiting for me."

© 2006 Milan Lorman