This is a sample from Part I of the book, in which Línka tells about her life.
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     But it was when Línka came of age that she really began to come into her own as a singer. Because she was a good singer, and because she knew so many exceptional songs from her father, she quickly assumed the position of the one who gave the words to the other singers at the dance. (2) “Then when I got a little older, I’d sing for dancing—and I was always the one who gave the words to the songs. Daddy would tell me a song, or I’d sing something with Mama, and then afterwards at night when I went to bed, or in the evening, I would go over it and over it and over it— And the next day I’d go to the dance with the girls, and I’d start up that one and we’d sing it. We’d sing and sing and sing, and all the older women and the men would stand around and listen. They’d even look to see which girl was giving the words. And they’d say, ‘Aha, it shows that it’s dédo Géko’s daughter!’”
     “So how many times would he tell you a song before you’d remember it?” we asked.
     “If he told it to me once, I’d remember. I’d remember it, my brain was sharper then and I’d remember it. And besides, I was interested.”
     From her childhood Línka had sung with her cousin Ménka, and they remained constant friends and singing companions until Ménka’s death in 1986. “We were cousins, after all—our fathers were brothers—and our voices really went together. She was younger than me, but when I was married and she was not—at the dance if we’d start to sing, she would come over to sing with me, and I’d do the same with her. Then later she married into the same part of the village, she lived right close by. We’d always look for each other if—oh, if she had something to complain about, she’d come running to me, or if I had something to crow about I’d go to her. That’s how it was! We were very close, and she’s the one I sang with the most. I sang the best with her, too. When the two of us sang together, you just couldn’t tell who was doing what, you could hardly tell when one stopped and the other started! We just matched so— It was really something special! She was the one I sang with the best.”
     Línka remembers Ménka wanting to learn to dance, as a little girl. Línka used to sing with her brother Borís, who played tamburá (a long-necked mandolin-like instrument), “and Ménka came to us to learn—she wanted him [Borís] to play and me to teach her to dance. But I didn’t want to, I said, 'I’m not going to teach you! Figure it out yourself! I figured it out myself, nobody taught me!’ ‘Aw, come on, sis, come on!’ Well, one time my brother slapped me for this, he just up and gave me a good one! ‘Come on, now, you take hold of each other there, and the two of you are going to dance, you’re going to teach Ménka to dance!’ So I started to dance. I wiped my tears— ‘Now you two sing, and dance too! So I can see if you’ve got the tune. Just the way I play it on the tamburá, you’ve got to pick up the—the beat from me.’ 

     But Línka had other friends and other singing companions, particularly during her adolescence, when the girls who would soon marry formed a rather tight social unit. There were Nikolítsa and Gergínka, beautiful Gergínka who died young, when she bore her second child. There were two older cousins who liked to sing with her. “When we went to the dance, I was the youngest of the ‘big girls’. Yes, I was, but the older ones always wanted me to sing with them. (3) I sang the top part, and two of the older girls (two of my cousins, my mother’s brothers’ daughters) would say, ‘Come over here, Línka, come sing with us, you sing so well!’ I knew the songs. My father had taught me many beautiful songs, those lo-o-ong Márko songs—I would start up one of them and we’d be singing for half an hour!”
     These children grew up during the misery of World War I. “When I reached my teens there was such misery—just like there is now,” Línka told me in 1990. “It was wartime. And there was such poverty—we had nothing to wear, nothing to put on our feet . . . . But we young ones had a good time, we didn’t feel it too much. It was the old folks that worried the most about it. We just sang and danced, it didn’t bother us a lot. We’d go out dancing anyway, we’d sing, and— I’d sew a patch onto my sleeve, patch up the holes, and wash it so it was nice and white, and I’d just put it on and go dance. The girl next to me wasn’t any better dressed, either. In those days we didn’t have many clothes. We didn’t just make something new and put it on right away and go out, the way people do now. You’d keep it! You’d keep one thing as ‘good clothes’ for at least three years—save it for Easter, for Christmas, for those more official holidays. Otherwise you’d just wear your everyday things—and you’d put on clean clothes on Sunday.
     “We girls would get together and go to the dance, and we’d sing— Down in the square—but it wasn’t a proper square then, it was just stones. We’d trip when we were dancing, stumble over those stones . . . . 
     “Was that on Sunday?” I asked.
     “On Sunday, after church. Whoever wanted to go to church would go, and then come home and have a bite to eat, and—that’s when people had free time. We’d dance, and sing, and dance, and sing— There was a dédo Lázo Matéin that played the gúsla. He’d come along eventually, the guys would get him some wine, and he’d start to play. He’d play and play and play; we’d dance until we got tired and hungry. Then we’d run home and eat something, whatever there was. And then everybody had some animals: a cow or something—you’d have to come home to bring the animals in—milk the cow if you had one, let her in for the night, maybe get some wood ready for the fire. And then we’d be off again! Or we’d get together somewhere in the neighborhood—the girls and the young wives would get together, and we’d dance and we’d sing— The war was somewhere far away, but we—people had to go on living. If you had family that was at the front—you’d think about them, of course, think about them and wonder what was going on— I had one brother at the front then. For three months we didn’t get a letter or anything, we were so worried— He had—there was a girl here that he liked, and she was waiting for him. He came back during the war and brought her home. He brought her home, and then he went back to the front. Then he didn’t come and he didn’t come—for two months. No letter, and he didn’t come himself—that’s when we panicked. And then at one point he came home and we had the wedding, and then he went back again. Left his bride with us—those were the worst days for us.”
     Besides the dance, there were other amusements for young people. The daily chore of getting water was not the least of these. There were a number of wells and springs in this mountain village. There was Línka’s family’s well, there was a spring higher up above them, there was the one they called the “white fountain” at the edge of the village where they also dug white clay for making the baking tiles called pódnitsi, and the Terzíjski well down in the lower village. And there were others, some with spouts, some “with no spout, no nothing—you’d just scoop the water up with your pitcher and pour it into the jug, scoop, pour, scoop—until you’d filled your jug. Then it was the next one’s turn, and so on. But we kids weren’t really interested in the water: what we cared about was the fun! The girls were there, and the boys, we talked and laughed, maybe we sang something, maybe we danced a little— Different couples would go off to one side, one over here, one over there. Others would gather in a bunch, and talk, and laugh, tee-hee, tee-hee! As much fun as you could want! Yes, that’s what we used to do! That was our entertainment—we didn’t have televisions and radios, then.”
     New Year’s was the time-honored occasion for Bulgarian girls to work various magics to discover who they would marry. In Bístritsa they did not do the practice called “singing over the rings” which was done in Dragalévtsi and in many of the other villages around Sofia. (4) But the Bístritsa girls had their own tricks: “The first bite of food you took on New Year’s—this is what the girls would do: you’d take it out of your mouth and tuck it into your front. You’d sleep with it. And whoever you dreamed about that night was the one you were going to marry. It was just pretend! There was nothing in it, but that’s what they used to do!
     “Or you’d take off your belt and stretch it across some water, if there was a stream nearby, some kind of water—at our house we had that little trickle in front of the door, and I could put my belt over that. I’d put my belt across it, and I’d say, ‘Whoever I cross this bridge with is the one I’m going to marry.’ Then you’d gather up your belt and see who you dreamed about.”
     The young people took full advantage of any occasion to get together and enjoy each other’s company. In the late spring during Rusálja (the week following Pentecost) there were the baking tiles to make—a messy job which became the occasion for all sorts of jollity and tomfoolery. In the summer there was the field work, and when harvest-time came the Bístritsa youth helped out in the lower-altitude villages until the grain ripened in their own mountain village. This, of course, meant a trip to another village, and contact with other young people . . . .
     On Good Friday there was a time-honored tradition of going to the big market in Sofia. Young and old came together there from all the villages in the region, making this perhaps the year’s biggest gathering. And there were other traditional feasts and fairs throughout the year on the holidays, each celebrated with particular magnificence in a different village: at the Dragalévtsi Monastery on Pentecost (fifty days after Easter), in Plána on the Day of the Holy Spirit (the following day), in Bojána on St. Panteléjmon (the Sunday after Ilínden), in Bístritsa at the St. Ilíja and St. Pétka Monastery on Ilínden (July 29) and Petkóvden (October 14), and at the Malí Dòl Monastery on Maláta Bogoróditsa (the Birth of the Virgin Mary, September 8).
     In the fall, after the harvest was in, the girls began to gather for sedénki (and of course, where the girls go, the boys go too . . . ). Working by the light of that flickering vidalé (kerosene lamp), spinning or embroidering or making lace—Lord, what lace they made to deck themselves out with when they went to the dance! Even in those poverty-stricken years they somehow managed to find thread to make lace—extravagant lace that showed beneath their heavy outer garments, almost from the knee to the ankle! They vied with each other, hiding the full splendor of their handiwork until Christmastime or Easter came, when they would unveil their newest finery. Whose sleeves were the best? Who had discovered the most wonderful lace pattern, set in beads or sequins or tiny coins in the most ingenious way? “Oh, at those sedénki we’d just sing and sing and sing—the boys would come, every boy would sit down next to the one he liked, we’d knit and crochet, and spin, and do our work. The boys would sit with us, and a-a-all night long we’d sit there and work, and sing! M-hm, right till morning—or however long we wanted to, we’d sit.” “And after that would you sleep during the day?” I asked. “Well, you might sleep if you had the chance, but if you didn’t, you wouldn’t. I’d always think, ‘I’m not going to go to the sedénka tonight, no, I’m not. I’m really sleepy today!’ But then—evening would come, and, ‘Let’s go again! Let’s go to the sedénka! ” If there was a girl who had been abducted or who had eloped, the whole sedénka would go to see her: “ ‘So-and-so got stolen from the sedénka!’ Some girl whose father and mother wouldn’t give their permission for her to marry the fellow, so the boy and his friends just carried her off. And we would set out, with a whole lot of racket: ‘C’mon, let’s go see, let’s go visit the runaway! See if she’s happy or not—’ We’d pick up the whole sedénka and move it to where that girl was. (She was called béganitsa [‘runaway’—regardless of whether she had gone voluntarily with the boy or had been abducted]. Not godenítsa [‘engaged girl’] but béganitsa.) We would all go there, she’d be—they’d have sat her down under the icon (5) and she’d be looking very serious. Maybe her folks would come and wouldn’t let her stay there, maybe they’d raise a ruckus and bring the mayor, or the local police, to get her out—plenty of times they did get her out, too. Her father would win out, and they’d take her away. But many times she’d resist—if she was happy there and didn’t want to leave, she’d stay.”

     Línka must have enjoyed this time in her life to the fullest! “I was kind of a wild one, when I was a girl! When I was still a child the boys started chasing me, they were always hanging around me. Mama would get angry—she’d even beat me a little sometimes, if she caught me with some boy on the road. She’d flick me with a branch . . . . But—I knew how to sing. And when we went to the dance—that’s what we used to do then, there wasn’t any music, no theater, no movies, no place for the young people to go and have fun. So on the holidays, any time a holiday came along, soon as we finished breakfast (around ten o’clock) we’d head for the dance. We’d get dressed up, with that big wide lace, tuck a little bouquet into our hair— If a boy liked you, he’d take your bouquet. Then you knew he was interested in you!
     “The boys just flocked around me—and I was still a child! One wanted to marry me—I didn’t like him because he was very fat, he disgusted me. Another one wanted me—I didn’t like him, he wasn’t handsome. There was one old bachelor, a lot older than me, maybe ten years older, maybe even more—he was a real dyed-in-the-wool bachelor. He was after me. He’d buy me things. He bought me a bracelet—we had bracelets then that we called stotaéta, made of silver coins. He bought me a pin. I took them at first—took everything, but I never even considered marrying him. I was just leading him on because he bought me things!
     “And he stole me from the dance! Two or three of his buddies grabbed me at the dance and took me off to his house. Fine, but I—I didn’t want them trying to persuade me to stay there, I didn’t want the women hovering over me—and besides, people said the women knew some kind of magic, they’d put a spell on you to make you stay. So I just sat still under the icon and looked at the ground—y’ know, when they bring a girl to a boy’s home, they put her under the icon to sit there like a good girl.” (When we asked her how you do that, Línka showed how she sat with downcast eyes, looking exaggeratedly serious—and immediately burst out laughing.) “Only you don’t laugh, you just frown a little. And then the women from the neighborhood come in, and then my husband-to-be comes in: ‘You're not going to leave, are you?’ ‘Oh no, I won’t, I won’t, I won’t!’
     “When my folks came—my brother and my father—they brought the mayor with them. Daddy scattered the people: ‘Step aside a little, let me have a look! You, girl, you tousle-head, did they bring you by force or did you come on your own?’
     “ ‘By force.’ [with downcast eyes and half a voice]
     “ ‘Are you coming with us?’
     “ ‘Yes, I’m coming.’ [the same way]
     “ ‘All right then, you first!’ And I got up and went. And we came home.
     “Well, a year went by and they stole me again, for the same fellow! Three guys brought me, and they said, ‘If you think you’re going to get away this time—well, you know what we’ll do to you! We’ll fix you so you can’t get away!’ And I got scared, then, I saw that things might get pretty hot. ‘Why would I try to leave?! I left once, I’m not going to leave again! This is it!’ And his mother (that man didn’t have a father, only a mother)—his mother was home, she came out, I kissed her hand and everything—
     “That time it was my brother and my sister-in-law that came. My brother was a forest ranger. He had a pistol—and they brought the mayor again. ‘What’s up, Líša?’—he called me Líša, Línda—‘What’s up, Líša? Have you gotten yourself stolen again?! How’d you manage that?’
     “I said, ‘How should I know? They stole me.’
     “ ‘Well, are you coming with us, or will you stay?’
     “ ‘Oh, I’m coming!’ And I got up to go. Fine, but the boys threw themselves on me. They hung onto me, they wouldn’t let me out! But then my brother pulled out his pistol and fired into the air, and he said, ‘Come on, make way for the girl, let her out, come on!’ And they backed right off.
     “And so I came home again. But still I led that fellow on! He hung around me, and I—I was a kid! No head on my shoulders! I was only fifteen or sixteen . . . . I still gave him cause, I stood around with him on the street— And at one point I got angry—there’s a street called Bánovets, we were standing there, and I got mad and I just threw those things at him, I said, ‘Here, take your bracelet, take your pin, I don’t need any of it! And get lost!’ And after that I started to run away from him.
     “But then the fellow I later married started hanging around me! I was still pretty young— I liked him the best, but Mama and Daddy were dead set against it, because his folks were awfully poor. They were so poor—if you poked around with a thorn in their place, there wouldn’t be a thing for it to catch on! And he had five sisters—he was the only man, besides his father. And there was his mother, too. (6) But their house was just falling down. Mama said, ‘Girl, girl, if you go there, child, the house will fall down and squash you! What’ve you taken after that boy for, aren’t there any others? What a headache you are! You’re still a little bit of a thing!’ But I said, ‘It doesn’t matter how poor they are—the boy’s really something!’ 
     But there were other stumbling blocks, and other adventures, before Línka was to marry Tsvetán Gérgov, the lad she liked the best.

     “When we were girls, on Good Friday (the Friday before Easter) everybody, but everybody—every young person, at least—used to go to the market in Sofia. Even the older folks would go. We’d put on our finery, do ourselves up nicely, everybody in what she’d made. We girls would get all dolled up, fuss over ourselves—y’ know, you’d put on a little make-up, a little rouge and powder. And you’d put a basket on your arm, so if you bought something you’d have a place to put it—we didn’t have shopping bags or anything then, you just wouldn’t know where to put your stuff. And off we’d go to the market. There was a street there called Legé (it’s still there, but it’s all been built up now). But at that time there was a little—like a little square there, a clear space, with Jewish stalls all around it, those little shops. The Jews used to sell things there: ‘Come over here! Come on over here, I’ll—sell you this!’ One would call you from here, one from there, one—”

     It is worth taking a little time to imagine the scene, when everybody showed up dressed to the nines for the big holiday.
     In those days the heavy homespun woolen suknó (wide, sleeveless outer garment) was going out of style—but there were certainly some still to be seen. These were black, or if you could afford the more expensive and difficult dye process, dark blue, with copious bold designs appliquéd in white braid along the seams (obtóka) and curlicues fashioned of black braid at the hem (ojmí). At one time, Línka told me, human urine was used to dye the dark blue ones—there was a bába Gjúra Krúškina who knew the technique. In order not to waste dye on scraps, the cloth was dyed after the garment was sewn. The homespun wool was woven with four harnesses, and then it was taken to a special place to be felted into the dense bálo. After you had woven your cloth, you would hire a tailor to come to your house to cut and sew a suknó for this one, a menté (sleeveless coat, open in front, decorated like the suknó) for that one, pants for the men—something for everyone. He might spend a whole month cutting and sewing for your family.
     “Could you wash those heavy woolen garments?” I asked Línka. “Ah! Of course we washed them! They were—they were made out of our own homespun. No problem! You’d wear it for a while and then wash it. Smooth it all out. We—but at one time we didn’t have such a thing as an iron. I’d fold it up nice, put it under the rug—under me. I’d fold it, dampen it a little and put it under the rug and sleep on it, and when I got up in the morning it would be as stiff as a board! That took care of it!”
     During these years of Línka’s adolescence, partly as a result of the scarcity of wool, the heavy suknó was replaced by a lighter-weight, narrower-cut liták, made of finer-spun wool woven more simply and not felted, decorated with elaborate ojmí at the hem and perhaps some colorful embroidery.
     Under the outer garment was the košúlja (also known as ríza), the shift, with lavish, predominantly red embroidery on the sleeves. In Línka’s day they had started to put in little spots of other colors, when they could get the thread: blue, white, green. All of this, of course, wrought by the light of the kerosene lamp. “And that kind of work is really hard! Slow, painstaking work!” On the sleeves and at the hem was the lace—maybe narrow, maybe as wide as a handspan or more. “When you worked, it would wave so nicely in the breeze . . . . ” The unmarried girls with their hair braided—perhaps with coin decorations sewn into the braids—or, as was the fashion in Línka’s day, simply tied at the neck with a ribbon and flowing free. The married women with their many-colored kerchiefs—one of the few things that were not homemade, that might in fact be bought at this market.
     “But I was telling you about the market. Everybody would go, by hook or by crook—you just had to go to the market on Good Friday. You just had to!” “On foot?” I asked. “On foot, of course. There was no transportation then. You went everywhere on foot. And while we were there, you might meet somebody from a different village, and you’d go off around town together, and talk— Sometimes people even got married. They’d just take the girl home, steal her right from there. I—they even tried to steal me that way, on that very day!
     “I had a sister who lived in Sofia. And I was at her place most of the time: I’d stay there awhile, and then be here awhile, in Bístritsa. So we went out to the market. There was this fellow from Dragalévtsi who—well, he was after me. But I didn’t like him because—oh, he was kind of a swarthy fellow. Well, they took it into their heads they were going to steal me. So those people from Dragalévtsi—there was a tavern there that only people from Dragalévtsi went to. There was another just for Bístritsa people: Béžo Béžov ran it, a Jew. And the Dragalévtsi tavern was run by baj (7) Trájko—only people from Dragalévtsi went there. The Dragalévtsi folk were a little richer than we were. Both of those taverns were on Pozitáno Street.
     “And so this guy decides to steal me-e-e. There was a bunch of boys and young married men with him. ‘Come on, we’ll treat you!’ They invited us in—me and my brother-in-law and my sister (I introduced them, said they were my brother-in-law and my sister)—so they could—so they could figure out some way to get me out of there and take me off to Dragalévtsi. Fine, we sat down, they got us something to drink. I noticed that they kept going in and out, in and out, those men. Well, at one point my sister had to go to the bathroom. And she overheard them: ‘You’ll all go outside, we’ll stay behind to pay, and the girl will be with us, and the minute we come out you just grab her by the arm and off you go up to Dragalévtsi!’ So she came back and told me. And then my brother-in-law (we told him too)—he said, ‘Wait a minute! Just a minute. You’ve been treating us—now let me order a drink all around, and then we’ve got to go.’ That’s what he said, just to fool them a little.
     “And I said to my sister, ‘Hey, sis, why don’t we go and get a ball or two of thread, for lace? C’mon on, let’s go!’ She said, ‘OK, let’s go.’ And we up and left! They let us go by ourselves. ‘We’ll be back, we’ll be right back! We just want to get a little thread, we’ll be right back!’ And we went out, and we just high-tailed it for home! They waited and waited, and when we didn’t come back, they said to my brother-in-law, ‘Baj Spas, you’ve tricked us!’
     “He said, ‘What d’ you mean, tricked you, how’ve I tricked you? You treated us, I treated you, we had a little drink, we stayed awhile—’
     “ ‘Well, your sister-in-law’s gone, and your wife—’
     “ ‘Hey, I can’t always be running after them! They went out to buy something, maybe they’ll come back.’ Fine, but they waited and waited, and when I didn’t come back, they left . . . .


1. There is a single, simple Bulgarian word for a girl of marriageable age who has not yet married: momá, and another for the period of time during which a girl is at that age: momínstvo. There are no good English equivalents for these words, so I have had to resort to a series of subterfuges in order to convey the meaning without using long and clumsy expressions in English.

2. The dance songs, as well as many others, were sung by two alternating groups of singers, the second group repeating the words that the first group sang. Since the texts were part of a living tradition, they were not crystallized, but to some extent were re-created each time a song was sung. So in order for the singing to go smoothly, it was necessary for someone in the first group (usually the lead singer) to sketch out for her singing partners the next line of text, while the other group was repeating what they had just sung.

3. The girls who were ripe to marry (that nice Bulgarian word momá) were the primary singers at the dance—in part, their abilities as singers showed that they were really ready for marriage. Once married, they might continue to sing for the dancing, but it was the not-yet-married girls who were showcased at the dance.

4. Each girl makes a bouquet and identifies it by tying a ring or other token to it. These bouquets are left outside in a kettle of water overnight, and in the morning they are taken out one by one to the singing of a sort of riddle which reveals who the owner of each bouquet will marry.

5. Bulgarian village homes always had one or more icons in the central living area. Putting the bride-to-be under the icon symbolized placing her under the protection of the saint in the icon.

6. Línka is pointing out that life would be difficult for her as a young wife in that home. First of all, she would have to help make wedding gifts and dowries for the five sisters, who would eventually marry and go to live in their husbands’ homes. Then she and her husband would be left alone with the old folks to do all the work and care for the babies, without the support of other young families.

7. A term of respect for an older man.

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