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

Family background

Life's journey of an uninteresting man
By Milan Lorman

When a man faces his eightieth birthday, he notices that his thoughts are turning more and more to the past instead of the future. His mind, as far as it still works, is fishing out of the depths of memory events and impressions with which during the long decades of busy life he had neither time nor reason to occupy himself. Now, when the end of the journey is near, it is, the old man thinks, appropriate to sit down on a rock by the roadside and turn his gaze back to the distant horizon, where his life's journey started. He will search his memory also for all the bits of information about his forebears, which he has gleaned long ago from his parents, because only when he knows his roots can he make sense of the course of his life.

I don't know if it has always been so, but in these our times, when the future is becoming the present every day even before the sun goes down, young people are, with rare exceptions, not showing any particular interest in the past. And that is a pity! We oldies, around my age, feel that something of value is lost forever when any part of the past is forgotten. And even greater calamity happens when into the memories of people is implanted some distorted version of the past.

I am similarly guilty in that I have not "pestered" my father during my childhood years to tell me more about his early life's experiences and beyond. Still, I am thankful that at least something about him and the Lorman family was entered into my memory banks, most probably second-hand, by my mother. So, if I now begin to tell the story, I shall start in the seventeenth century. Please don't go away, after only two or three sentences we shall be in the twentieth.

The rulers of Hungary decided to open, what was until then, a rather dormant mining activity in the mineral-rich northern highlands of the kingdom, in the territory of today's Slovakia. When they found that the local inhabitants could not easily be persuaded to dig like moles underground, they proceeded to invite and settle in the most promising mining areas families of experienced miners from German Lands. It was then that the Lorman family came from Westphalia and established their new home in the district of Gelnica. Over a few generations they have spread into nearby towns and, as human nature will have it, inter-married with Slovak families.

Some branches of the Lorman family still live in the Gelnica area. Among them my younger brother and his son's and daughter's families. Although he was never a miner, he is something of an amateur mining historian and he deserves credit for the establishment of Gelnica's Mining museum. My grandfather, František (read:Frank) was, according to the limited amount of information available to me, the first Lorman who has decided to earn his and his family's living in the fresh air and sunshine. He became a postal official, at first in Bardejov and later in Prešov (note: both are district administrative centers in Eastern Slovakia).

My father was born in Bardejov in the year 1894. He always argued that the correct form of the name of his birthplace should be "Bardiov" and in his lifetime he sent countless letters to editors of every form of printed word you can think of, pushing for its adoption. But, to no avail. It seems that no-one apart of himself has considered such minor issue worth bothering with. And I, as I write this story, like to think that his spirit is pleased to know that the son has not forgotten his fathers lifelong vain crusade. My father was one of three brothers. The fourth child in the family was his sister Elizabeth. The eldest of the boys lost his life when about 25 years old in WW I on the Eastern front, somewhere in the north-east of present day Poland. He has no gravestone, not even an unmarked grave, because he simply disappeared together with thousands of his comrades in the endless, bottomless swamps in the polish-russian borderland.

My fathers younger brother, František, named after his dad, worked at first as customs officer at a border crossing to Hungary and later looked after the export contracts for the salt producer Solivar in Prešov. On the last occasion when I have visited his family in Giraltovce (another Eastern Slovak town) when I was about 17 years old, uncle Frank was the government inspector of weights and measures. From that visit I remember most vividly one Sunday morning when their god-fearing Baptist family was preparing to go to church. I was ready and waiting, sitting on the lawn in front of the house, when I suddenly noticed a four-leaf clover . Naturally I picked it and not having anything better to do, I set out to find another one. I was very lucky that Sunday morning. When the family was finally ready, I held in my hand twelve four-leaf and three five-leaf clovers. Alas' it became obvious in time that I have used up my luck just finding that unusual bouquet. Nothing particularly lucky happened to me in the following few years. Then again, on reflection, perhaps even the absence of any particularly bad luck is a form of good luck. And maybe they were a promise that I shall survive the looming war with only a few minor scratches.

I still have to mention my fathers sister Elizabeth (aunt Beth). She attended schools in Budapest (Hungary) before and during WW I and after graduation decided to continue living in that city. She came to Slovakia only later, in her late thirties, when the calendar was showing mid-thirties. We were then living in Lazy pod Makytou (Lazy under Makyta) in the Púchov district, in north-western Slovakia, right on the border with present-day Czech Republic. For a brief period aunt Beth lived with us, but soon she met and fell in love with the local postman, Ján Nošík (read Yahn Noshiek). They have lived out their lives in peace and harmony in Lazy and now rest side-by-side in the local cemetery. The only thing that marred their happiness was the fact that they were not blessed with any children. When I was finally able to visit Slovakia in 1990, I have found their grave site overgrown with weeds and barely marked. I had it restored to a respectable state but, I am afraid that while I am back in Australia, no-one shall think of visiting them.
Milan, parents and sisters.
Milan, parents and sisters.

My father after graduating from High school has opted for ecclesiastical life. He signed-up as a novice in the Franciscan seminary in Košice. But he didn't keep it up for very long. As he told us kids later, when we were a little older and he was in a good mood, he could not resist temptation. He recalled how, every day, walking along the footpath with his fellow seminarians, in orderly two-by-two's from their living quarters to the church and back, their teachers would instruct them to turn their eyes down to the ground. Which they dutifully did, and so were not distracted by the faces of the passing parade of girls of all ages. But, he continued, they ended up concentrating even harder on the feet and ankles of members of the fair sex. Come to think of it, those boys must have had some extraordinarily developed imagination when dealing with the pre-WW I long skirts and dresses.

Be it as it may, father abandoned his plans involving priesthood and enrolled in the teachers college in Sárospatak (read:Shaarosh-patack) in present-day Hungary. On completion of his studies, however, he had to postpone the taking up of a teaching post because WW I was raging and he had to enlist in the Austro-Hungarian imperial army. In that outfit, in those days, even his modicum of academic education gave him an immediate rank of sub-lieutenant and after a brief accelerated training he found himself facing the Russians on the Eastern front. Of his frontline experiences, to my knowledge, he never spoke to anyone. The only keepsake from the war, with which he didn't want to part, was a saber. It stood, propped up, in the corner of the wardrobe. We children, on occasions, were allowed to admire it and play with it, under supervision, of course. I remember that it was not sharpened, obviously father had ever carried it only as part of his officers uniform.

The only part of his war-related experiences, which he ever spoke about, and then only very rarely, was the time he spent as a prisoner of war in Siberia, at first in some un-named camp on the Trans-Siberian railway. He spoke of the day when in the camp arrived a General wearing a French uniform, but with a Slovak name, Milan Rastislav Štefánik. In my original story, written for Slovak readers, there is no need to present the man, but in this English translation, I feel it will be helpful to insert a few words. At the end of WW I the victorious allied powers were re-drawing the map of particularly Central Europe. Among other changes a new country was taking shape made up of historic Czech lands, until then part of the Austrian empire and the Slovak districts of the Hungarian kingdom.

It was to enter the world scene as Czecho-Slovakia. Of the three most prominent "fathers" of the new state, Masaryk, Beneš and Štefánik, the last named was the only Slovak. Large part of his role in the liberating struggle was the creation of a nucleus of the new Czecho-Slovak army. And that was the purpose of his trip to Siberia. He traveled from camp to camp, recruiting, as he went, volunteers legionaires, Czechs and Slovaks from the ranks of Austro-Hungarian POW's strung-out along the Trans-Siberian railway. The volunteers were gathered together in Vladivostok and as respected units of a new army they have returned to their liberated homeland by boat to Trieste and the rest of the way by train.

After his return from the war sometime in 1919 father started teaching at an elementary school in a small village of Kračúnovce, only two or three kilometers south of the district centre of Giraltovce in Eastern Slovakia. Kračúnovce is today a fair-sized town, since the post- WW II construction of a major highway to Poland, but in the 1920's it was a cluster of not more than perhaps 40 houses. The school "boasted" a single classroom shared by children of all ages and grades. Under the same roof was also the accommodation for the teacher. It must have been a roman catholic church-run school, because it was situated barely a stones-throw from the church, in which my father was also the organist. As such, he was a regular visitor at the parsonage and it was there that he got acquainted with a comely young lady, Helena Vasily, when she came with her mother to visit her uncle, the local priest, Mikuláš Hodobay. The old man was fond of my father and fully trusted him, so much so, that although Helena was at the time only 16-years old he blessed their marriage in the year 1921.

My mother had also a younger sister, Mitzi, and both girls were born in Košice, the second largest city in Slovakia. One year after the wedding, the young Mrs.Lorman gave birth to a little girl. whom the happy parents named Magdalena. Sadly. Little Magda did not survive for very long. The baby died after only five weeks. Healthcare, in those days, especially in the small villages in Eastern Slovakia was in a very primitive state and great many first-born babies didn't make it past the first few weeks, even days. But "time heals all wounds" and after another two years had passed in the spring of 1924, April 27-th to be precise, there appeared in this world a boy, whom the proud father had christened Milan, after his general. And it is here that my life's journey finally begins.

© 2006 Milan Lorman