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Glasilo Magazine Excerpt:
When Jesus Threshed Wheat in Slovenia

by Anne Urbancic: Canadian Slovenian Historical Society

This article was published in the July / August 2005 issue of
Glasilo Magazine. Our magazine helps build community. We value your support.

Canadian autumn arrives, it seems, without warning. One day the summer still invites us with long hot days and short nights. Then Labour Day. And as evening falls on Labour Day, we all know that summer has ended, unofficially of course, and the Fall with its cooler, shorter days has crept in and settled itself into our mindset. School starts and children are scurried off to bed at an earlier hour, not yet ready for sleep.
I think my father and mother knew how much we wanted to stay up just a few more minutes in those first few weeks of school. Wisely, they put us to bed but allowed us our few minutes by telling us stories in Slovenian about themselves and their families, about flying slippers, Kralj Matjaz, witches and fairies and elves. Our favourites, however, recounted the travels of Jesus in Slovenia’s Kras region. I still hear my father’s deep melodious voice, the well-timed pauses, the colourful Slovenian adjectives and verbs and dialect cadences.
I don’t do his stories justice when I tell them, in English, to my daughters. Allow me to try, however:
Jesus and St. Peter traveled on foot through the villages of Slovenia preaching the Gospel. They had no money, but they happily worked for food and lodging.
One evening, at nightfall, they stopped at a tiny village, not far from where my father grew up. They were tired. They were hungry. A light in a neat little cottage invited them, and they decided to ask there for food to eat and a place to sleep. Now, the cottage was owned by a smart, old, obsessively clean, cunning, shrewish but kind, greedy but generous (never mind the contradictions) widow. She had two small fields of wheat but no sons or daughters to thresh them. Jesus and St. Peter arrived at her doorstep just at threshing time, and she thanked God for the miracle of two strong young strangers who promised to work for a meal and lodging. She shared her simple supper with them and told them they could sleep on the clean hay in the barn loft. But she warned them that they had to get up early the following morning to make most of the day; she wanted one whole field threshed the next day, and the other, threshed the day after. Up the loft ladder clambered St. Peter, followed by Jesus. But St. Peter was tired and agitated and just couldn’t find the right position to sleep. In the meantime, Jesus was already snoring. (My father apparently knew exactly how Jesus snored for he imitated the rumble and wheeze loudly, much to our delight). “Wake up, wake up”, said St. Peter. “I can’t sleep. You snore too loudly. And I’m squished on this side. Maybe if we changed places...”
Jesus agreed and soon the two fell fast asleep. At cockcrow, both of them were still in the land of dreams but the widow in her house had already breakfasted, made her bed, done the dishes, washed the clothes, swept the floor, prepared some food for them and waited. And waited. And waited. No Jesus. No St. Peter. “Ah” she thought to herself, “They’re very tired. I’ll just go call them.” She shouted to them from halfway up the ladder. “Wake up, wake up; you promised to thresh today.”
“Don’t worry” replied Jesus, “We’ll get up soon. The threshing will be done.”
But when she checked on them again at 6 am, St. Peter and Jesus were still in bed. At 6:30 am, the woman began to be impatient; fearing she had struck a bad bargain that would cut her profit from the sale of her wheat, she went outside, cut a long willow branch from the tree in front of her property, climbed up the loft ladder and said angrily, as she whipped at the man nearest the loft edge:
“Get up, get up, you lazy loafers; the field needs to be threshed today.”
“Ow, ow, ow, we’re coming. Ow, ow, ow. Stop beating me!” yelled St. Peter as he tried in vain to protect himself from her thrashing.
“Don’t worry,” said Jesus calmly. “The work will get done. Have faith.”
At 7am, the two were still in bed. Up the ladder went the old woman and began to whip St. Peter again, with more force and greater anger. Once more Jesus told her not to worry. And he stayed in bed. Even St. Peter, rubbing his bruises, was surprised and said:
“Are you sure, Jesus? Shouldn’t we get up and start to work?”
“Have faith, Peter,” Jesus said. “We will finish the threshing today as we promised.”
“Well, in that case,” replied St. Peter, who by now had a fascinating arrangement of black and blue bruises and red welts on his body from the two beatings, “Would you mind switching places with me? I don’t relish the idea of having her come back, finding us in bed and beating me again.”
“Are you sure?” asked Jesus. St. Peter nodded determinedly and the two switched places.
At 8 o’clock, back came the widow. By now she was livid, angrier than she had ever been in her life, convinced that she had been duped by these two strangers and knowing that the longer her wheat remained unthreshed, the less she would get for it at the market. Perched on the last rung of the loft ladder she began to scream at the top of her lungs, calling the two all sorts of names and waving her willow stick:
“I beat the first guy twice with no results,” she shouted, “Now I’ll beat the other one to see if he is any less lazy than his friend.” Whack, whack, whip, whack!!!!! Poor St. Peter.
“Stop, stop,” said Jesus. “You have no faith, and you are so impatient. However we will keep our bargain.”
Soon the two men were out in the field. The wheat was piled high ready for threshing. Jesus took a match out of his rucksack, struck it against the sole of his sandal and threw it into the wheat. Smoke billowed out, and flames licked the pile, higher and higher. The woman, half crazy by what she saw, ran out of her house, screaming, shouting, cursing. But then, miraculously, the smoke died down, the flames disappeared and there were two neat piles: one pile of wheat all bagged and ready for market, and in another spot, the straw. The woman couldn’t believe her eyes. But she was still very angry and so she sent Jesus and St. Peter away with no breakfast. She decided she could thresh her other field all by herself, without the frustration of feeding and waiting for the two strangers to help her. And so the next day she did exactly as she had seen Jesus do. She lit the pile of wheat. The smoke billowed out and the flames licked the second pile higher and higher. After a while, the smoke died down and the flames disappeared. Nothing but black ashes remained. Only then did the woman realize who the two strangers had been...
“What happened after?” we would ask our Dad, although our eyes were heavy with slumber. But he would point to the youngest sister, already asleep, and tell us we would have to wait till another bedtime.
Some months ago, I came across a recent volume of Slovenian folk tales collected by Nada Ker{evan and Marija Krebelj entitled Düsa na bicikli: Folklorne pripovedi iz Brkinov, doline Reke in Okolice (Ljubljana: Kmecki glas, 2003 ISBN 961-203-261-0). Accompanied by a wonderful CD that captures all the nuances of tales told in dialect, it contains over 450 stories including the one above (Kristus in svioti Piotor Mladtla´sta zitu). I thought my father had made it up and so I was surprised to find that it belongs to a rich repertoire of Slovenian stories, each one a linguistic and ethnological delight.
The collecting and recording of similar tales, which began almost 200 years ago with the Austrian Grimm brothers, is a vital aspect of archival work. The stories hold important clues to culture and language. Have your parents or grandparents tell you their favourites; the archives of the Canadian Slovenian Historical Society would be pleased to receive the tapes/cassettes and conserve them.
The CSHS gives all Canadian Slovenians an opportunity to cherish their stories forever. We invite you send us your family documents, or pictures or artifacts or your stories. Originals or copies are acceptable and will be placed in a special box identified by your family or organization name.
You can help carry on the important work of the CSHS by becoming a member or by donating documents and artifacts of your own or your family’s immigration history to the Archive.
You do not have to be famous to be important to us and to Slovenian-Canadian history.

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