There was once a kind lady named Visnja (Veeshnya), (translated means sour cherry), who lived in a village in Herzegovina, at that time part of Serbia, circa 1940. A cetnik (chetneek) army commander named Bacevic (Bachevich) also known as “Baco” (Bacho) and a group of his soldiers, which included Dusan Popovich, our grandfather, went to her door hungry from battle against nazi invaders and Tito’s Communist Partisans.
As all gracious Serbian hostesses do, she displayed typical “gostoprimstvo” (hospitality). She welcomed them, fed them with humble yet hearty Serbian staples, gave them a place to rest, and most importantly made them feel at home. Commander Baco was so grateful for her generosity, patience and understanding that he proceeded to thank her endlessly for those few days. However, he confused her name and kept referring to her as “Baba Tresnja”, (Tresh-nya which means sweet cherry). “We can’t thank you enough for the delicious yogurt.” Then again the next day, “Baba Tresnja, the kacamak (cheese polenta) that you made today was absolutely mouth watering.”
Finally, after several more thanks, Baba Visnja, a sweet lady who could have become quite sour, politely interrupted the commander and said, “My name is not Tresnja, dear, it’s Visnja”. Baco replied with a wittily incisive, “Well I knew you were some kind of fruit!”
Granted, this was all in Serbian, and Deda Dusan and the platoon never made a peep that night at Baba Visnja’s table out of respect, of course. However, at their home on Schiller Street in Wicker Park, it was a classic World War II story, which Baba told often, especially when kacamak was on the menu.
War stories, jokes and fables were popular at Baba’s table. It was a way of breaking the ice with guests or just plain entertaining when the theme of politics was exhausted. Just this week while making kacamak for her great-granddaughter, Baba laughed and retold the story with her signature comic timing.