It hit me like a ton a bricks Friday afternoon. The flu? By Saturday I was immobilized. I lay in bed unable to get warm, drifting in and out of sleep. The clock said 6, then 9, then 1, then 4.
Sunday, I felt a little better but I ached all over. I couldn’t get comfortable in bed and I couldn’t find anything to entertain me. My book felt too heavy and the print too small. TV noise gave me a headache. I reached for my laptop and got onto Facebook, settling onto a page I hadn’t visited in awhile.
Mike Savoca is a young man in New York City whose roots go back to the same small fishing village on the Adriatic Coast that mine do. Although he is in his early 20s, Mike definitely has an “old soul.” When he is not studying for his college classes, he is researching our ancestry and posting the history of our parents’ obscure Croatian hometown on his Facebook page called Zablace Geneology.
If I want to know anything about my Grgas relatives, I go to Michael’s page. There’s an ongoing chat with relatives literally from all over the world piping in and posting photos. Mike is the geneology authority and sets us straight about why someone is a first cousin twice-removed or how a woman I’ve never met living in Ontario, Canada, and I are related (“your grandfather and her father’s grandfather were brothers”).
As I took my time Sunday afternoon scrolling through photos and comments that have been added to the page, I was surprised to see a picture of my grandmother taken in 1973, just two years after the first and only time I saw her.
My recollection of Baba (grandmother) Gara (her nickname, which means “dark,” was bestowed on her because she was always tan) from my two-week visit when I was 21, was that she was aloof and a little grumpy. I could speak some Croatian and understand more, but we definitely weren’t able to sit down at the kitchen table and have a conversation. So we didn’t really interact much.
She got up at 4 a.m. and by daylight was walking briskly down the road to go to work in her garden. In this coastal town homes were built near the sea and farm plots were cultivated a few miles inland where the ground was not as rocky. Or perhaps it was once just as rocky but generations of toil and determination eventually yielded rich earth that produced sweet tomatoes and cucumbers, red wine grapes and olive trees.
Widowed for over 20 years and living alone, my recollection of Baba was that she was totally self-sufficient in her mid-80s. She sewed her clothes and baked her bread. She took care of herself. She had the rough hands of a field laborer and a face darkened by the sun and carved by time.
She was old enough to have lived through both world wars. She had survived the occupation of Zablace first by the Italians and then the Germans. She had watched her two sons leave on ships bound for America seeking better lives.
The photo Mike posted from 1973 that I discovered Sunday makes me happy. My grandmother is standing in front of the door to her house. The door is slightly open and I recognize the tile floor. She is standing very straight, wearing the old-style traditional Croatian dress that she wore to church on Sundays. And she is grinning from ear to ear.
Being sick is certainly no fun, but this time it afforded me the opportunity to reach back 40 years and reconnect with my Baba Gara on a day she seemed to be enjoying very much. Nothing wrong with spending a Sunday like that.