At the edge of our world, where village life melts into the wild, a hunter’s lodge perched – a beehive of noise that night. Local heroes gathered, marking the anniversary of Operation Storm. A bare-knuckle, tooth-and-nail defiance that finally laid the war with Serbia to rest.
Center stage was a character, as round as a harvest moon and barely taller than the beer-soaked tabletops. Legs patchworked in red and black from relentless diabetes, but the twinkle in his eyes told a story of a man who savored life, especially when he got to roast the younger pups.
A few steps away, in the midst of this bawdy spectacle, stood my grandfather, Martin. His laughter was the bass line to the evening’s symphony, a deep, joyful sound that resonated above the clatter. The old man was bursting with pride, his finger jabbing in my direction every so often, “That’s my grandson, from Canada!” he’d announce, a contagious twinkle in his eye. His punchline about our gathering being a horde of ‘Turks’ – an all-men affair – had the whole crowd doubled over in laughter.
Tales of wasp encounters buzzed around the room. One unfortunate soul, we were told, had met his end courtesy of an allergic reaction, while another bloke bragged about his honey-badger-like immunity. But the rib-cracker? An allegory about horseflies that had everyone in stitches.
The story went that these pesky critters, while a constant bother to donkeys, seemed to have no effect on horses. The sting that would send a donkey reeling was no more than a mild annoyance to a stallion. And with a mischievous grin, the storyteller gave an unsuspecting man’s behind a firm smack, instantly translating his words into action. In that moment, if the laughter was any indication, the room was full of horses, save for one surprised and momentarily indignant ass.
Ante, my cousin, sauntered over to check out my tan, or the lack thereof. His tan arm against my Canadian winter-white was a joke in itself. “Finally you left the house,” he chortled, his mockery hitting the mark.
When the chuckles subsided, Martin found himself deep in chat with a fellow wanderer. Both had sought their fortune post-war, dida finding his in Canada, the other in Austria. Their sons, now fluent in English and German, had grown up with a foot in two worlds. There was a shadow of regret, but the silver lining of economic prosperity gave them a reason to smile.
Dida, however, had a bone to pick with the chef. The lamb was saltier than sea water and, at 40 Euros a pop, had him grumbling. But even that didn’t spoil the vibe. The laughter and tales flowed, the evening a classic village party to remember.
As the last chuckles ebbed, the sky above decided to join in with a flash and bang. A storm, right on the anniversary of Oluja. You couldn’t make this stuff up. Grins widened, glasses clinked – the salty lamb forgotten. It was a thunderous end to a memorable day, a nod from the cosmos, adding an extra sparkle to our raucous celebration.