Tuesday, September 15, 2020

 MY GRANDFATHER FRANJA'S 100th BIRTHDAY...

A few days ago I celebrated my 44th birthday. I distinctly remember my mom turning 44. My sister and I wrote her a card. It said: "Happy birthday, mama, this is the year when you will be sitting on two chairs." I think we drew that 44 to resemble two chairs. And I drew a small flower. It feels so far away now, like it was a hundred years ago!
Today, if my dad's dad - Franja, was still alive, it would have been his100th birthday. I just recently discovered September 15th was his exact birth date when my sister stumbled upon a Wiki page about him. Well, instead of 100, my grandfather lived to be only 26. He caught tuberculosis during the second world war, and died from it, along with his wife, Kornelija, my grandmother, who outlived him by only a few years. She died at the age of 33. My dad lost both of his parents to tuberculosis - dad at 2 and mom at 13. The story of their lives holds so much power for me now, especially at this time when the world is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The passing of time and its relativity is so very strange. What is - a long time, what is - only a little bit? Regardless whether there is a way to answer that question - it is so apparent that our (human) fragility is very real. Every moment truly counts. My grandfather lived to be only 26, he was on the battlefield, fighting the Nazis, probably completely starved, wet, cold and miserable, like so many around him. And though he had a short life, he studied Slavistics at the University of Zagreb, he passionately wrote poetry, and in Vinkovci, the city where he lived, where my dad was born and where I was born - a street was named after him. He left a little mark. Not to mention, he had my dad, and so without his existence I wouldn't be here, my sister wouldn't be here, our own children wouldn't be here today. Franja and Kornelija made our lives possible.

I don't know much about my grandfather Franja, my dad never really got to meet him. We only knew stories from other people. That he was incredibly bright, passionate, that he would be stuck indoors and devour literature, while his siblings were playing outdoors. His younger brother would tell him - "Franja, why don't you come outside, get some sunlight, play ball with me?" But he was so driven and obsessed with his books, he would just forget to get out. I only have this small selection of his poems. It is so unusual to read his words, see his handwriting and his young face on a black and white photo, see my grandma's name (Kornelija) mentioned in some of these poems.

The two of them, though I never met them, were at some point in time perfectly real, and alive, had their loves, and passions and joys and sorrows. And they lived a very short life. 

It is so strange to think I am already - so much, much older than either of them got to be.

 

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