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Mum, aka Baby (in this photo), Tootie (when brother Louis replaced her), Joanne, daughter, sister, aunt, wife, Joan, grandma, great-grandma

December 3, 1924 – the date of my mom’s birth, the anniversary of which slipped by with only a hiccough of melancholy. Probably there are many other dates in her life that deserve more note, particularly the date of my sister’s birth and especially the date of my own, which to my way of thinking, had to have been the ultimate accomplishment. (I’m only half kidding as I did present a rather difficult delivery)

A date that inspires more celebration than her birth would be the date of her death, October 1, 2019. Just shy of the 95th anniversary of her birth, she had been longing for death for many years. Dementia, of which she was acutely aware, had robbed her of all joy in life, despite a position of utter ease. She was able to live almost independently in the granny flat she had designed and helped build (she dug most of the septic pit) to the day of her final exit. But she had lost herself.

In the years between 1924 and 2019 she confidently parlayed her cloistered farm upbringing and narrow religious views into an adventurous life that might be admired by many men. I don’t think it ever occurred to her that there was anything a man could do that she couldn’t do better. From her choice of professions, first studying at an all Japanese school for chick sexing, the tuition for which she borrowed from her father, to becoming a real estate agent and ultimately investor, she simply did whatever she wanted.

By today’s standards, my sister and I grew up rather feral though not without some essential training in manners and hygiene. We knew better than to be cheeky with our elders and not to chew with our mouth open. Beyond the basics, we were left to the village to shape our understanding of how to make our way in life. When the time came, we were taught the fundamentals of procreation and the avoidance thereof. I took the lessons seriously; my sister not as much.

When Mum first noticed the symptoms of dementia, she took great pleasure in reading the memoir she had written while still agile of mind. She, like the rest of us, marveled at her chutzpah and reveled in reading about adventures she had almost forgotten. As the disease progressed though, the protagonist of her biography became a stranger to her and she lost interest. She gradually lost interest in everything as nothing in life related to her. She had evaporated.

My sister and I have both made attempts at writing a memoir, but both of us are better at chronicling our days via blogs, journals and correspondence. Now that Babs is anticipating moving into her own tiny granny flat, she’s consolidating decades of writing into cohesive digital files. We both expect that we will enjoy them as we decline but we have no expectation that anyone else will ever read them. None of her daughters are big readers but our epistles will have served their purpose when we’re finished.

Spreading Christmas Joy Wherever He Goes

Is there anything more crazy-fun than going to Costco between Thanksgiving and Christmas? I think not! First of all, you need to put on your big girl panties and gird yourself for the madding crowd. Personally, I rather enjoy the mad scramble as people ignore the “normal flow” and navigate their boat-sized shopping carts like a New York cab driver.

Starting with the grid locked parking lot, a great deal of equanimity is required. Drivers cruise the lanes like tiger sharks looking for prey. Since there is no preferred direction of travel, it’s common for drivers from both directions to aim for the same spot.

Coming from the newly designed gas station, we were funneled into the slowly moving carousel of parking space seekers. I spotted an empty space in the row next to the one we were in, but held out little hope that we could claim it before someone coming from the opposite direction spied it. At the end of the row, the line of vehicles making their way towards the exit blocked our progress but since there was no oncoming traffic, I figured it was safe enough to bypass the outbound vehicles and scoot into the next row of parking spaces. Evidently, one of the gentlemen waiting in line to get to the exit, resented my scofflaw behavior and followed me in spite of the fact that it took him away from his intended route. I saw him and assumed that he had also seen the vacant spot and intended to park, so I passed it by to allow him first access. I pulled into the next spot but, noooo, he was intent on enforcing the rules.

He pulled up behind me and leaned out of his window to inform me of my infraction. Of course, I said I was sorry but he responded, “What if I had not seen you and hit you?!” (never mind that he hadn’t signaled an intent to turn and had ample opportunity before I passed him)

Always irrepressible, I replied, “Then I would have been REALLY sorry.” Oh, dear, wrong response.

“Sorry doesn’t cut it!” he retorted with more vehemence than I thought was warranted. He followed up with some profane language and I realized that de-escalation was in order so I quit with the flippant replies.

Since my adorable great-niece was in the back seat, I briefly considered inflicting her charm on him, but thought better of it. A hostile jerk is in no way deserving of her supernatural charisma. I don’t think I’m biased when I say that this woman can melt the most unhappy man. By her definition, she “blows sunshine up his skirt”. And the reason she’s so successful is because she is sincere.

When my great niece turns her attention your way, she makes you feel like you are the most lovable person on the planet. Her interest in what you have to say is genuine and her enjoyment of your company feels like the real thing.

For a few minutes after the unpleasant encounter, we all felt a little deflated. After all, it’s sad to think that there are people driving around, seething, rather than enjoying the spirit of the season. But, once inside, we were caught up in the happy frenzy of material acquisition and the poor man was almost forgotten.

Vanishing Places

When the wealthy, mostly older, white men of influence and power made the decision to place yet another dam on the already beleaguered, but still rambunctious Colorado River, in 1952, there was little consideration of what would be lost. The only thing that the decision makers weighed heavily was the value of the hydroelectric power it could generate. United States taxpayers would foot the bill for the dam almost without question as the area to be inundated was so remote that very few people had ever heard of it, much less seen it. Barry Goldwater, one of the few, admitted after the awe inspiring Glen Canyon and its tributary canyons were drowned, that he regretted his vote to build the dam.

By the time I visited Lake Powell, the reservoir was filled to capacity for the first time. This was June, 1980, seventeen years after completion of the dam.

My uncle Ted had a small inboard motor boat and eagerly agreed to meet my husband and me at the lake for a week of exploration. It was early spring and the water was frigid and the main channel was mined with dead trees, recently floated down river by the high water. Waterlogged, they floated just beneath the surface and could only be detected by a stub of a branch that might be visible at close range, making traveling on plane a bit hazardous. I sat on the tip of the bow to scout for underwater obstructions, directing our path upriver.

Our craft had a small cabin at the front and upholstered seats at the back. It valiantly carried my mom, cousin Dan, husband Perry, me, and our captain, Uncle Ted AND all of our camping gear and food for the week-long trip. My husband (now ex-husband) was the life of every party. He could keep everybody laughing and so, made a great travel companion. But, he was heavily dependent on beer to maintain his equanimity. So, we burdened, or maybe overburdened, the USS Minnow with several cases of beer. We were riding low in the water but the lake was calm and we figured that the load would become lighter as the days went by.

In those days, Lake Powell was a remote wilderness, and even though campsites were few and far between for tent camping due to the alluvial deposits being below the water level, we had little difficulty finding suitably level sites for our tents. A particularly memorable site was on what had become an island in Forbidding Canyon. As the water level had pushed all of the wildlife to the top of the ever-shrinking hill that we had selected for our campsite, our tent was besieged by mice as soon as the sun went down.

The marinas where gas was available were approximately 50 miles apart. There was a marina at Rainbow Arch in those days (it has since been relocated to Dangling Rope) where one could buy gas and much appreciated ice cream. It’s crazy what a luxury ice cream is when camping in the desert. Utah regulates alcohol strictly, so there was no beer sold at any of the marinas. By day three, we were out of beer which constituted an emergency for my husband. The closest state liquor store was fifty miles north at Bullfrog, so we headed upriver to buy what passes for beer in Utah. The dramatic canyon walls fell away as we approached the broad flat bay at Bullfrog. The state liquor store was perched above the lake on the opposite shore from the marina, so we first purchased the beer and then went to get gas. Considering that we couldn’t have made it back to our camp on the fuel we had left, it’s telling that we risked the gas station closing before we got there rather than the liquor store. I think both closed shortly before dusk as travel on the lake is discouraged after dark.

The gas station at Rainbow Arch was moved to Dangling Rope canyon for a couple of reasons, the main one being that floating gas tanks are sitting ducks for drunk, inexperienced boat pilots, and Rainbow, with its vertical canyon walls, offered no escape should the dock become an inferno. Though there are signs posted at least a half mile from the docks mandating wakeless speed, pilots driving rented boats occasionally misunderstand their meaning and come into the dock at full speed. As we stood on the dock, we observed a 45′ houseboat approaching with Captain Nemo at the helm. Beer in hand and all hands on deck, he roared towards the unsuspecting, ice cream-licking tourists that had just disembarked from the tour boat. As luck would have it, he wasn’t very precise in steering his craft and managed to overshoot the dock and merely sent a wave over it. Shore patrol was on him like stink on poop and the crowd applauded as he was loaded onto the hoosegow. (or would it be called hoos scow in this case?)

At the end of the week, sunburned and craving a restaurant meal, we loaded the boat and nosed into the main channel. High clouds had cast a shadow over the lake turning the sparkling green water an ominous black. A chill wind whipped the waves into white caps as we plowed our way across Wahweap Bay. Water was precariously close to coming over the side of our intrepid little craft but thankfully, everyone except our captain was unaware of the danger we were in. The little inboard motor couldn’t overcome the weight and the rough water to get on plane, so we chugged along, fervently hoping the tour boat didn’t pass us and swamp us with its wake. When at last we reached the safety of the dock, retrieved the tow vehicle, dragged the bedraggled USS Minnow up the ramp, Uncle Ted discovered that he had a bilge full of water, having forgotten to turn on the bilge pump.

Today, just as Glen Canyon vanished under Lake Powell, Lake Powell is vanishing due to years of drought. The water level is just thirty feet above the level necessary to turn the penstocks and power generation is already down to 25%. It’s a very real possibility that the water level will drop to dead pool level in the next few years. There are few people left alive who remember the canyon and its glorious side canyons but I would wager that every one of them is experiencing schadenfreude at the prospect of the canyon’s restoration.

Thanksgiving

Photo by Brad West – Unsplash.com

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. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Popovi%C4%87_(diplomat) 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.

Vladimir’s Story Continued –

Allied Bombers over Yugoslavia

The second wave of bombers attacked and we huddled under an outside staircase that remained standing as bombs exploded all around us.  I grabbed one of the chickens that was sheltered under the stairs with us and held it to my face, using its feathers as a dust filter. When the dust finally cleared, we could see that there was nothing left of our home.  We joined the exodus from the city to seek shelter with relatives who lived about a mile and a half away.  We slept on the floor with about thirty other people who had lost their homes.  Out of a population of 16,000 people, an estimated 600 lost their lives in the assault by the allied bombers.  They called it collateral damage but if you have ever suffered the effects of it you know it means utter devastation to the people who survive.

My mother salvaged what clothing, linens, bedding and household items had not been destroyed and loaded them onto a hired truck.  We moved in with my aunt and uncle and two younger cousins who had a small house about 50 miles south of our town.  We slept on mattresses on the kitchen floor that we picked up during the day.  We stayed with them until November when we moved to a beach town to the south where I joined the army.           

In July of 1941 the Communist Partisan forces staged a rebellion and beat the shit out of the Italians.  They were no soldiers.  The German troops had been pulled out to fight in the Soviet Union.  The Italian Army was comprised of two types.  The regular conscripted soldiers wore green uniforms and the elite storm troopers wore black. 

Fifty of these Black Shirts were captured by the Partisan forces led by a former artist named Lekovic.  Having barely enough food for themselves, the Partisans took the captured leader, by ferry, to Albania where they convinced the Italians to load their boat with food to feed the prisoners.  The prisoners were held in a school until they were brought before a tribunal and convicted of war crimes.  Whereupon, they were marched to the top of a cliff and summarily executed.  Their bodies were dropped into caves below.  Later their decomposing bodies had to be roped out for burial.  It was terrible!

The Italians regrouped and returned, captured Lekovic, and brought him before their tribunal.  He was convicted of war crimes and sentenced to life in prison.  He was freed by allied forces two years later to return to power in Yugoslavia.

Yugoslavian Communist Partisan forces had taken control of the area as the Italians and Germans lost ground to the allied forces.  My uncle Tomas held an influential position with the new government.  He was a district leader in the Frontal Organization which was made up of people who were not Communist Party members but followed the party line.  He was able to secure a position for me as a courier, which kept me in the rear while most men my age (almost 14) were on the front fighting the Germans. 

In March of 1945 I was sent to Belgrade with a column of trucks that came from the Adriatic port city of Dubrovnik.  They were delivering aid and ammunition to the front west of Belgrade.  Mixed in with the military personnel were refugees returning to now liberated areas to the north including some Jews who had fled the Germans.  My mother, who accompanied me, and I endured five very cold days of travel before arriving at our new home in Belgrade.

We were given a tiny furnished apartment that had been confiscated from the Germans.  Belgrade was a bustling city with all the amenities including a movie theater.  We settled into a comfortable routine.

It had been more than a year since we had heard anything from my father.  My cousin worked at the railway station providing refreshments to the troop transports that were returning refugees and POWs to Yugoslavia.  One day as she stood on the platform serving juice, she was stunned to recognize my emaciated father among the throng.  He had no idea that we were living in Belgrade (or still living at all for that matter) and had she not spotted him, he might have passed right through Belgrade in his search for us.

He had been imprisoned in a POW camp in Munster, Germany, just south of the Netherlands, with American and Canadian soldiers.  While he had not been treated too badly for the most part of the war, as the Germans began to lose the war, their resources dwindled to the point that they couldn’t feed their prisoners.  By the time the allied forces stormed the prison, my father was so starved he was unable to stand.  Machine gun fire pierced the wall above his cot as he lay there too weak to move.  The Canadian soldiers, with whom he had made friends, carried him downstairs where he was hooked up to an IV and given clear broth.  After being fed liquids for a week, he was finally able to start eating solid food again.

In the summer of 1945 a Yugoslavian Partisan delegation visited the camp recruiting Yugoslavian prisoners to return to help the army.  When the infrastructure was restored my father returned.  Our joy knew no bounds.  At last it looked like we could resume our life as a family. My father, who was a socialist, was not a member of the Communist Party so he was barred from holding public office.  He was given a position as legal advisor to the Minister of Materiel.  In 1946, I enrolled at the University of Belgrade on an army stipend majoring in mechanical engineering.  One of my minor fields of study was English.  We were given a somewhat larger apartment where life regained a sense of normalcy. (author’s note: Though Vladimir spoke at least seven different languages, his English was so accented that transcribing the video was labor intensive. As his Parkinson’s disease progressed, he grew increasingly difficult to understand.)

In 1947 we moved to Zagreb so that I could transfer to the University of Zagreb and switch my major to shipbuilding.

University of Zagreb

A Bit of History

Many years ago, I was between jobs and occupied my time with doing interviews with veterans for the Veterans History Project for the Library of Congress, as a volunteer at the local senior center. At that time there were still several WW II vets around with stories to tell, and some Korean conflict and Vietnam vets as well. Having lived through the Vietnam never-declared war, I had too many opinions to be a really good interviewer, but I could talk with the older vets more dispassionately. To my lasting regret, I turned in all of my video interviews when I resigned my position, without keeping copies.

However, I stumbled upon the transcript of an interview I conducted, over the course of several months, with the father of a friend, that might be of interest to any history buff. While he narrowly escaped being a victim of the Korean conflict, his story is nonetheless engaging. The following is the first chapter of my interview with Vladimir Popovitch, a most remarkable man.

The King’s Palace of Montenegro By Damjan Damjanovic – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5663691

I was born in the King’s Palace of Montenegro on November 4, 1927, in Podgorica, Yugoslavia.  (Podgorica was renamed Titograd from 1946 to 1991) Not that I was of noble birth; the king had been deposed in 1918 and kindly left the palace so it could be converted to a hospital.  My uncle on my mother’s side now reigned as head of the hospital.

I was my parent’s only child, perhaps due to my prodigious size at birth.  I weighed nearly twelve pounds.  The first two weeks of my life were reportedly uncomfortable.  I vocalized my discomfort all night every night until my grandmother came to give my mother a much needed rest.  She was a pragmatic peasant woman from a small village and, seeing that my mother was thoroughly exhausted, poured a pint of good red wine for her.  When Mother had relaxed, Grandmother brought me to her for my evening breast-feeding.  That night we both slept through the night in comfort.

My early childhood was one of relative privilege.  My father, a graduate of the renowned Montpelier Law School in France, was a State Supreme Court judge.  He and my Uncle Tomas had a friendly relationship with the President of Montenegro.  My mother’s family was also well educated and prosperous. Our home was one of only three or four houses in the city with running water. 

Our water was supplied by a cistern on the roof that collected rainwater.  There was a public well with a hand pump to serve the needs of neighbors who had no plumbing of their own.                  

Our electrical power was supplied by a generator donated by Austria as part of WWI reparations.  It ran, more or less reliably, from dusk to dawn and when it failed, the generator operator could be heard shouting “The same to you!”  When someone asked why he stood around shouting instead of repairing the generator he responded “Because I know they (the electrical customers) are out there cursing at me.”

Since there was no electricity during daylight hours, there was no refrigeration.  Wood was the only fuel used for heating and cooking.  On Mondays the farmers from the area around the city would bring their products to the city.  Vegetables, fruit, cheese and live fowl made for a colorful sight.  Meat was purchased for immediate consumption.  Fish was either consumed fresh or smoked for preservation.  We kept some chickens and, in the less affluent neighborhoods across the river, each household would keep a pig, but on our side of the river that was not a practice.  Later, during the war, my uncle built a small pen in our yard so my mother could keep a pig but that was in a different lifetime.

In our home my parents spoke only French.  My father, having gone to school in France, spoke the language fluently, and my mother had spent five or six years in a convent in Nice, France during WWI. 

My maternal grandmother had died of natural causes (perhaps childbirth) when my mother was only six years old.  Her father, seeing the war descending upon his country, sent her and her brother to live with his younger brother, wife and three cousins in Italy.  My mother’s uncle was a successful merchant and the additional dependents posed no financial hardship.  Later the family moved to France for reasons unknown to me.  Perhaps it had to do with the fact that the government of Montenegro was set up in exile in France.  However, when the Germans overran France in 1916 the King moved to Italy where his daughter was the Queen.

My childhood essentially ended in April of 1941.  German bombs exploded in our city heralding the arrival of WWII.  At 13 years of age I saw the horrors of war in the streets where I had played with my friends only days earlier.  I watched in shock as mangled, bleeding neighbors and friends were loaded into commandeered taxis.  The Yugoslavian army collapsed and the government went into exile in England.  Ten days later, posters appeared that announced that Yugoslavia was no more.  We were allowed to be governed by Italy as a protectorate.

My father resigned his position though some of his associates remained to cooperate with the new powers.  He was arrested a couple of times and held for as much as two weeks in an attempt to coerce him to fall into line but he remained resolute.  In 1942 the Organization of Collaborators tried to enlist my father and when he still refused, a party was sent to our house in the middle of the night to arrest him.  This time he was sent to a prison camp in Albania and then to Italy.

We received a postcard from him every three or four months via the Red Cross, and even a letter once, until the allied forces advanced on Italy.  He was then transferred to Germany where he was not allowed any communication with us.

To be fair, I would have to say that the Italian government was benign in comparison with the Germans.  They took no Royal Yugoslavian Army troops prisoner; they were simply disarmed and sent home.  Similarly, a civilian who loudly vocalized dissent in the public square was hauled off to jail, yelling anti-government sentiments all the way.  The Germans would have shot him on the spot.

My mother and I were left to survive on our own.  She kept food on the table by selling her jewelry.  Her brother and cousins helped when they could.  One of my uncles was a merchant who traveled to the villages in the North where they made cheese.  He would bring wooden barrels of cheese to our house.  Other relatives from the villages provided us with fresh vegetables.  While we never went hungry, the poor families on the other side of the river suffered to a greater degree.

Under Italian occupation we were required to study Italian in school.  I didn’t consider it a hardship since I had already mastered French and Yugoslavian and had learned some German in school.

Life fell into a pattern even as we lived under constant threat.  Allied bombers droned overhead daily on their way to Belgrade and the oil fields in Rumania (Romania is maybe a more common spelling).  We eventually learned to ignore the air raid signals just as we adapted to other war-induced hardships.  One sunny afternoon in May of 1944, I was outside when I saw a formation of bombers thunder across the sky so low the ground seemed to shake.  With horror I watched as bombs exploded around me damaging our home and the homes of our immediate neighbors.  The bright sun was obliterated as dust darkened the sky.  When the deafening noise abated I heard my mother calling me frantically from the rubble that had been our home.  The breeze wafted in and out clearing the air until I could see clearly enough to look for her.  Miraculously, she was uninjured except for a bump on her head.  I had been struck in the face by some flying debris and was bleeding profusely but was not seriously hurt.

Still Good Advice

The only reason this poster remains on the pole this long after the election must be because it’s over the heads of most of my neighbors. I never noticed it before so I’m guessing the flag-whipping, 4X4 truck drivers that roar through town never look up either.