The Kitchen – The Family
The kitchen, among Romani people, is the actual centre of family life. So in my little kitchen, you can meet the members of our family of musicians.
Jožka and I have been together since 1968. Life with him was not easy. He had been raised as if he were an only child even though he had six siblings. What’s more, all the Fečos always were and are quite proud people. They speak Slovak and they claim to be Slovak and to not know how to speak Romanes. I am a Romani woman, body and soul, so that was something for me. The condition of my marrying Fečo was that he would learn Romanes. He learned well. With time, he spoke it better than I do because he was composing and writing lyrics. However, one bad habit stayed with him: He was insanely jealous. He had grown up in a family where the man was able to do anything and the woman, nothing. Now he came into a family where all of that was different. Egalitarians – the children, the woman, then the man. For a long time, he was unable to comprehend it. He justified it by saying that as the breadwinner of the family and the father he works and therefore he should come first in everything. I worked too, though, and more. I was a cleaning woman at a theatre, I did laundry for the actors, and in the evening I was a cleaning woman at a butcher’s. I had the children and the household to take care of on top of that.
Later, though, he got it, and he reconciled himself to it. Otherwise, Fečo was an extraordinarily honest person, I don’t know another like him anywhere. He was a very big believer. He lived according to the Ten Commandments, he prayed every evening, and he went to church on Sunday.
We lived for 20 years in Truhlářská Street. In the kitchen, we had a coal and wood-burning stove and I bought a diesel stove to heat the room. Because our apartment was small, I did the ironing and laundry in the courtyard. Because all of us in that building were like one big family, it would never have occurred to me to do otherwise. When I went at 4 AM to work, for the morning cleaning shift, my neighbours knew the keys were under the mat. If anybody ran out of eggs, or milk, all we had to do was call to the others in the courtyard or the gallery. After the morning cleaning shift, I stopped in at Na Poříčí Street, where Mom was living. I got the heat going, I made her breakfast, because she was already ill then, and then I went home to get the children ready for school. Then I cleaned and did laundry for the actors in the theatre on Dlouhá Street. Then I fetched Liduška from nursery school. Erika went to school at the end of our street, so she walked home on her own.
Here I am with Fečo and my older daughter, Erika. From childhood she sang beautifully, she studied singing and violin at music school. She was even accepted into the conservatory, and she sang for a long time in the choir conducted by Mr Košler. They performed in concert a great deal and toured all over the world. Her husband Martin is a bass player. They have three children, all excellent musicians. She worked for a long time in gastronomy, but she mainly sang in those different ensembles of Fečo’s and also with her husband and her son Pepa. Currently, she is a foster mother as well.
Fečo also put together a cimbalom ensemble with these same musicians and under that same name. For him, the violin was supreme. The violin came first, followed by nothing else, followed by the violin second, third and fourth, then came me, and then came the children, in his priorities. He would sometimes play the violin 14 hours straight. Monday through Friday he went to the factory in the morning and in the evening he performed with bands at the Interhotels.
Because I am from a family of musicians, I had been raised to understand that a man must have the things he needs in absolute working order, always. Fečo most frequently wore a tuxedo and a white shirt when he performed. That meant preparing 20 shirts a week for him and his shoes had to be cleaned and shined daily.
Fečo and I are both from families of musicians, so in our home there was always a lot of playing and singing. Essentially, everybody in our family plays a musical instrument, frequently more than one, or sings. When we celebrate something, it can’t happen without music, and it’s cheerful.