Real people Real Experiences

In Dubious Honor of Karl Marx’ Birthday…or…Escaping Tsarist Russia Before the Bogeyman Cometh: Conclusion

My mother was born in Zagreb in 1930.

She grew up on the small “farm” that her parents had…I suppose that “farm” is an overstatement. They had a barn, a few chickens, a few goats, and pigs. They had fresh eggs, and the Doctor got a daily delivery of fresh milk. She wasn’t fond of Sundays…aside from going to church, one of the chickens would be slaughtered for dinner.

She remembers that on Sundays, it would be normal for a family with an “eligible” son or daughter to travel into town (Zagreb) in order to “promenade” in the town square searching for a marriage partner.

Afterwards they would all embark on a now terribly un-PC activity. They would converge on the Grand Hotel to marvel at the doorman…A Black Man (the only one for miles and miles), resplendant in his bright red uniform with gold piping and shiny boots, opening the polished brass doors of the hotel. She remembers that it was quite a sight!

She had another important duty…when word arrived that the Gypsys had come to town, she was to lock the gates, get the animals into the barn, lock the barn doors, and get inside the house. Gypsys were known, or said, to kidnap children, especially blond female children, and generally steal anything not nailed, tied, glued or locked-down.

One day, my grandmother was paid with a piglet. My mother fell in love with the tiny thing. It was a cute pet, until it became a VERY large pig. His name was Orlik. One day, my mom came home from school, and could not find her pig. It was gone! Until she went inside and discovered that dinner was a pork roast. She was devastated! To this day, when we have pork roast, I think she remembers her pet pig.

War was coming. My Grandfather joined the German FreeRussian Corps. He was a decendant of a Polish noble family that was deposed by Tsar Alexander I. In exchange for his son’s and daughter’s lives, the Polish king allowed his daughter to marry Alexander’s’ son, the crown Prince who would become Constantine I. (Constantine, in turn, was forced to abdicate…a Polish and Catholic Queen did not sit well with the Russian Nobility). The Polish King’s sons would live, but be exiled to Manchuria, and serve in the Tsars Military. My mom told me stories that her father had shared of how my great-great grandfather, the eldest of the bunch, wanted to show off his skills…they were eating in a restaurant in Khabarovsk, and he ordered from the menu in Chinese…only to have 3 different bowls of soup arrive at the tablel

My grandmother, by virtue of her farflung housecalls, made the acquaintance of a woman whose son was fighting Germans in the hills, a partisan. She became her physician. Her son’s name was Tito. Later to be known as Marshal Tito.

My grandfather had been wounded, but was able to return home thanks to efforts by Tito. The three of them packed what they could carry into backpacks, and left their lives behind following the German withdrawal.

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