Saturday 8th November – Buttons, bobbins and other bits….

Looking through some photos last night and reflecting on the journey. Imagine having a little cottage like this sitting on Brac waiting for us to come and throw open the shutters. Damp wipe the dust off the sills and shake out the cloths covering the furniture. Greet our summer neighbours and cook for family and visitors from afar who would come to gape at our beautiful corner of the world. Imagine….

I found these pictures. Rina told us Zarko had recently bought the house that used to be owned by Marića. He had stripped it out and then would be redecorating. It is just around the corner from Rina so a perfect position for extended family. Marića was Grandpa’s sister. I told Rina that Marića is the reason we have contact today. Marića wrote to her brother Dragomir (Dick) and told him how things were there in Dalmatia, on Brac. That would have been about 1968. Grandpa showed the letter to Maureen, my Mum. Turned out Grandpa was a bit of of favourite of his older sister. She said she missed him and would he come home for a visit. I was about ten at the time and remember the arrival of the letter well as it prompted so much discussion.

Mum encouraged him to go. He said he couldn’t leave Emily or Francis. Francis was Dads brother and so my uncle and was born with Down Syndrome. Despite being told at his birth he would amount to nothing and best advice was to leave him in an institution where he would be well cared for, as was the practise of the day. Grandpa apparently told them nobody could care better for Francis than his family and that’s exactly where he would be staying. I loved this strength that Grandpa had. This certain knowledge of family and responsibility. There was no question.

Grandpa was a big man. I am going off my childhood memory but I see him as tall and broad as Tony. Strong from a lifetime of hard toil and yet tender. As far as I could tell Grandpa did most, if not all of Francie’s, as we called him, care and he went everywhere with Grandpa. When he was at home he had a bit of an obsession with ripping newspaper up and folding them into squares and he had them stacked up around him. He played some kind of card game over and over and he sang a range of songs on request. The one I most remember was ‘Goodnight Irene’. He was pretty much always happy unless someone teased him by pretending to take one of his papers. The boys teased him delighting in his response as had his brothers. Des told us once he and Dad would make up a trolley of sorts and put Francie in and push him off down the hill. Like brothers the world over no doubt Francie loved them and hated them. He lived past Grandpa who died a year or two before Dad and was put into a home where Mum was a regular visitor and he lived well beyond his expected years.

Nana,(Emily) suffered from a range of maladies that never really had a name. I heard her often say her Lumbago was playing up and it became a game where as children we would mimick Nana and bend over slightly and one hand on back we would lament over the pain of our lumbago. It sounds like an Italian pastry now I roll it over my tongue dragging out the ending, but I discover, not surprisingly, it is pain in the lower back. Nana had pill bottles lining the window sill above her bed of every shape and colour and the current ones in use on a small round table by her bed. We would visit with her in her room on days she wasn’t well enough to rise. While we understood she was too sick to get up, she greeted us with such enthusiasm, as if we had made her day. Dad had her dark eyes and when she smiled she looked a lot like him. I remember Mum always worried about the pill bottles with the tiniest pills out ready for her to take and in rainbow colours they looked very attractive to us who very rarely had lollies.

It seemed Grandpa took care of most of her needs also. He did most of the cooking and probably cleaning. Nana also suffered from some forms of depression and there were times she went out to Kingseat hospital for a couple of weeks for shock treatment. I never knew why but this was discussed in whispers. I watched a documentary recently about the horrors of this treatment tho I do remember she always came home feeling better. How this worked I don’t know but I do know she was tormented at times and had she been alive now and with todays medical knowledge I’m sure she would have been diagnosed and treated more effectively and her life and those around her would have been easier. I’m quite sorry I never really got to know her as a person. From the sometimes twinkle in her eye, not dissimilar to Dads, I think she would have been full of mischief and fun and life. I loved her and I know she loved me as she always made a fuss of my more Lebanese features. Dark eyes and skin and thick black curly hair. Tho less than two years separated us at birth, Lindy and I were as opposite as you could be. Lindy had wispy straight blonde hair and the fairest of skin and blue blue eyes. We were like chalk and cheese, chocolate and vanilla, though we often joked which among us got her Lebanese nose.

Grandpa was devoted and I’m sure he loved her and wasn’t there just out of obligation. I’m sure she had times of her old self, and the woman he married returned to him at these times, but he didn’t feel able to leave either of them to visit the old country. Mum assured him she would make sure both her and Francis would be cared for. I remember Mum saying this but Grandpa wouldn’t go. With a seven year gap since the last baby Mum had a baby girl soon after and named her Marića. Thick black lashes and dark curls she was quickly spoiled by all and Mum wrote to tell Marića of her namesake. After Grandpas passing Mum wrote to Marića of his death. He had a stroke and it was quick if I remember rightly. Dad did a wheely right outside the cemetery and Mum gave him such a telling off and we all giggled in the back seat. I remember Dad turning his head and looking back at us cheekily.

After grandpas death Mum began to write to Marića. Her letters would have been chatty and full of the weather and the garden. Tatjana, Luka’s grand daughter wrote looking for a penpal in about 1980. She was between Marica and I in age and tho we had quite an age gap I was glad to be her penpal. After Marićas death I think Lilly who was Lukas daughter began to write to Mum and was why Mum wanted to visit Croatia when her and Maree went to our Marića’s wedding in England. Maree went with her but by then, in around 1991 Croatia was war torn and entry was difficult. Tatjana had met them in England and then again off the train in Croatia to ensure their safety. Mum was so glad of this. They managed to meet Lilly and her brother Josip among others. They had saved long and hard for this trip and it was such shame to now be restricted in one of the places that was so important to her. Her travel diary recounts this trip and we have followed in some of their footsteps.

The picture is of Marićas sewing machine. Apparently Luka bought this for her to have a source of income other than her husbands. Important to me as it is so like the machine my Irish Nana left. The one she taught me to sew on. A beautiful piece of engineering as well as useful. I also have her sewing bobbins, buttons and other bits, but that’s another story…

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