Photo by Brad West –

Behold our family here assembled.

We are grateful for this place in which we dwell,
for the love that unites us,
for the peace accorded us this day,
for the hope with which we expect tomorrow;
for the health, the work, the food and the bright skies
that make our lives delightful;
for our friends in all parts of the earth.

Give us courage and joy and the quiet mind.
Keep us to our friends, soften us to our enemies.
Bless us, if it may be, in all our innocent endeavors;
if it may not, give us the strength to endure that which is to come,
that we may be brave in peril,
constant in tribulation, temperate in anger
and in all changes of life, and down to the gates of death,
loyal and loving to one another.

Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850-1894

Winter Joys in Southern California

Morning on Mountain Home Creek Road

Winter in Southern California is a season of freedom: freedom to sleep in as late as you want because there’s no need to hit the trail before it gets hot; freedom to traipse through brush and rock without fear of stepping on rattlesnakes; freedom from applying sunscreen.

Camping in the Mojave Desert
Exploring Afton Canyon – Mojave Natural Area
An outdoor shower after a bike ride
Happy Dogs

And this one just because I like it though it has no relevance to anything.

Vladimir’s Escape

Because of my “crime”, I was discharged from the army and my father was forced to resign from his position.   I took a job in a tool and die factory and my father opened a law office.  In 1950, I returned to the university, now at my own expense.

At this time many Yugoslavians who had fled the country during the war began returning from Australia and America.  They regaled us with tales of making $200 – $300 per month working in the mines, a small fortune by our standards!  I could only imagine how much an engineer might make in those countries.

Sometime in 1952 while staying in a student vacation home in the port town of Bakar near Rijeka I met Ernest Traina who was to become a life long friend.  Our house was a sort of co-ed dorm where girls lived on one floor and boys lived on the other floor.  We held loud parties with live bands that attracted the attention of the seamen who were in port.  It was during the course of one of these parties that I struck up a conversation with Traina who was an American of Sicilian descent who spoke Italian.  At that point my Italian was better than my English.  He and his buddy Richard were in port for a couple of days so we rented a row boat the following day and took some girls out and had a good time.  In the process of getting acquainted I confided to them my distaste for life under Communist Tito and the reasons for it.  Traina and Richard were sympathetic to my plight.  The next evening we hung out together drinking until about midnight.  Then the three of us headed for their ship.  As a disguise, they put a loud necktie on me that no Yugoslavian would have ever worn.

Emboldened by drink, we sauntered nonchalantly past the native guard who was standing near the bottom of the gangway, armed with an automatic rifle.  My companions made small talk and as we passed the guard I said loudly, “Yeah” in my best American accent.  As we approached the steeply pitched stairs, the guard took a step or two in our direction as if to demand ID but seemed to think better of it and turned away. 

The merchant marine ship was named Tuskegee Victory from Alabama.  She was floating high in the water as she had disgorged her contents and the top of her prop was showing above the water line.  We clambered up the steps with our hearts pounding more from fear than exertion.  If possession of anti-government flyers nets a prison sentence of 6 months and 15 days, one can imagine that the sentence for fleeing the country could be exponentially more severe. 

At the top of the gangway there was an American guard who let us pass without comment.  I was hustled to a four bunk cabin and stashed beneath one of the beds across from Traina.  It was July and beastly hot under that bunk.  The wine that had given me courage earlier, now begged to be set free.  Sometime during the night, I felt I couldn’t stand another minute.  They convinced me to tough it out and stay put, though my bladder was ready to burst.  In the morning Richard came in with an empty champagne bottle saying, “Congratulations, we’re in Trieste!”.  If I hadn’t perspired so much during the night I surely would have overflowed that bottle.  My clothes were wringing wet.

During the course of the day, Traina managed to smuggle some chicken into the cabin where I remained hidden.  I waited in the cabin until 5:00 P.M. when work on the ship finished.  Traina gave me his identification card and I shaved my mustache off to more closely resemble him.  Then Richard and I disembarked.  The Italian guard at the gate on the dock made a cursory inspection of our ID and let us pass.

We caught a trolley car to the house of a distant relative whom I had never met.  He was a wealthy merchant and a friend of my uncle Tomas.  Our knock on his door was answered by his grown daughter who welcomed us warmly when I introduced myself.  She called to her father who invited us in.  Richard, being polite, declined to intrude and left.  I told them my story over refreshments.  My relative was sympathetic but explained that as a foreigner doing business in Italy, he could suffer if he were to take me in.  He took me to the police station and asked them to grant me refuge.  The police, all in civilian clothes, were cordial, and agreed to take me, along with four other people who had crossed the border on foot, to the refugee camp.

Vladimir Imprisoned

In 1948 Tito broke ranks with Stalin which created some instability within the government.  In an effort to ferret out any dissension, the secret police anonymously distributed anti-government flyers to monitor the response of the recipients.  One of my cousins passed several of these flyers on to me.  He was arrested and beaten until he confessed to having distributed the flyers and to whom.  The police then proceeded to arrest anyone who had received a flyer from him and had not reported it to the government.  While I had not distributed the flyers, I certainly had not turned my cousin in to the authorities either, so in April 1949, I was arrested and questioned. I was handcuffed so tightly that the circulation to my hands was cut off.  The cuffs were left on overnight and I suffered some nerve damage that made the tops of my hands tingle for several months They slapped me around a bit to intimidate me then asked me what I had done with the flyers I had received.  Though I had shown one to a friend, I dared not reveal his identity for fear he would be arrested too.  So I told them I had torn them into small squares and tossed them into the latrine.  At that time toilet paper was a nonexistent commodity so my story was entirely plausible, but I was convicted of the crime anyway.

During the first three months of my sentence my mother was allowed to bring parcels to the jail for me.  She was permitted to see me only once.  We were allowed one hour of daily exercise in the courtyard.  After the first three months of my six and a half month incarceration, security was tightened.  I was confined to a cell designed for one, with four other fellows.  We were allowed no books, no paper, and no contact with the outside world.  The barrel that served as our latrine was emptied by other more fortunate inmates.  I was not allowed the luxury of a job.  As to food, bread was the staple; everything else was poor and not enough of it.  There was a thin tepid liquid in the morning, a tin of coffee or tea, a watery vegetable soup at noon, and runny corn mush in the evening.  Wednesday was the best day: A few bites of meat, and beans infested with some kind of corn borers that crackled between your teeth.

My fellow prisoners in that filthy place were a broad cross section of society.  Some were political prisoners like me, others were thieves or real criminals.

My father and uncle worked tirelessly to obtain my release through the influence of their highly placed friends and relatives.  One relative, who shared my name, was a diplomat and later an ambassador to the United States. Eventually, they were able to obtain my release. I came out an embittered young man.  My mother came to pick me up in a taxi and I told her I was going to leave the country by any means possible.  She was brokenhearted and cried knowing the danger I faced and that I would not be dissuaded.