By Judith C. Campbell. Used with permission. From UU & Me!: Collected Stories, edited by Betsy Hill Williams (Boston: Skinner House, 2003). Originally published in uu&me, Volume 3, Number 3, December 1999. UU&Me! is published by the Church of the Largeer Fellowship.
Hello. My name is Bettje and when you say it, it sounds like "Bet-tay." I live in Transylvania, in the village of Kadacs where my grandfather, Biro Josef, is the Unitarian minister. We say our last names first here, and then our given names — or what you call a first name. My mother teaches first grade in the same school that I go to. For the last three weeks, she has been teaching me and my friends a song in English called "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean." We learned it so we could sing it for some American visitors who are coming to our village today.
One of our visitors is a lady minister from our partner church in America. I've never seen a lady minister before. I didn't know there was such a thing. My grandmother, Biro Anna, has been writing letters to her for over four years. They are pen pals. She has sent things for the people in our village from the people in her village of Norwell, in Massachusetts. And she has been selling some of our folk art embroideries and beautiful tablecloths made by women in my village in America. The money from those embroideries really helps us.
We have enough to eat because we all have gardens and most of us keep pigs and chickens. Everyone works in the garden. Almost nobody has cars. We walk everywhere. It's hard in the winter and spring because it's so muddy, and the roads in our village are not paved.
Anyway, today is the day. We have all been practicing our English song. Everybody has been doing something for the visit. The ladies have been cooking all week. The men have been repairing the fences and the beautiful carved gates called szekley kapu that many people in the village have outside their houses. The teenagers have been practicing the folk dances of the village so they can perform them. We don't get to see them except at weddings and times like this. People are beginning to forget how to do the folk dances. The grandparents remember, but there are so few of them left.
Unfortunately, today is also the day that the sheep are driven out to pasture for the summer, and they are going to leave a lot of "stuff" on the road as they go. My grandmother is worried that the visitors, especially the lady minister and her husband, will think our village looks this way all the time.
Here they come! I can see the van and I can see hands waving out the windows. I wonder, which lady is the minister? The van is stopping and they are getting out. Lots of people are coming out of their houses to see and greet them. They don't look that much different [from] us. Oh, that must be the lady minister, she and my grandmother are hugging each other and crying and another man is taking their picture. Wow, there are flashing lights everywhere!
The man taking pictures of the lady minister is her husband and back in America he has a garden that he loves. He spends many hours each week in that garden making all kinds of things grow. Anyone who has a garden knows that you need more than water and sun to make things grow well; you must have fertilizer. And some of the best fertilizer in the world is the "stuff" that farm animals drop wherever they go. The lady minister's husband saw the sheep droppings in the road and explained that he doesn't live on a farm so he has to pay for fertilizer for his garden. He thought it must be wonderful to live in a farming village with so much free fertilizer on the road for anyone to take. Well, I guess that's one way of looking at it. It sure cheered up the people at my grandmother and grandfather's house who were worrying that the visitors would think our town was a mess!
The Americans stayed five days, and the lady minister was actually speaking some Hungarian words by the end of the visit. Her husband looked at all the gardens in the village, but he only learned one word, Palinka. That's a grown-up drink. I think it tastes awful, but like many other things, I guess it depends on how you look at it. I hope they come back. The lady minister said she'd write to me ... in Hungarian!