On taking back what’s always been mine.

It’s strange sometimes to imagine that, despite being born half a world away, my love for the country of my ancestors runs so deep and strong. It’s not a blind head-in-the-sand kind of love, unfortunately Croatia has all the same economical problems facing other European countries, and don’t even get me started on the corrupt politicians who deny citizens their hard-earned rights. Croatia is beautiful beyond words but it isn’t perfect, but then neither is Australia, yet I love them both.

In some ways the last few trips here have been less simple for me than in the past. With all the shit with my parents and the feelings of rejection and hurt, the idea of visiting the places where my grandparents and great-grandparents were born suddenly became a complex tangle of emotions I can’t even begin to put into words. Last week I decided that, while here this time, I’d like to see if I could find the grave of my paternal great-grandparents. I was sure that the old cemetery was still there, but didn’t hold out much hope.

To be completely honest I also decided that I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of saying hello to anyone while I was there. Not even my late grandmother’s sister, who has long been my favourite person in the whole village. I tried to explain it to my husband but couldn’t even explain it to myself, and in the end I insisted that we’d try to find the grave and then be on our way.

Of course I was an idiot to think I could walk around the village in broad daylight and not run into someone I was related to.

Long story short: we visited with my grandmother’s sister. It was super emotional but heart warming, and I felt guilty that I had for even one second entertained the notion that I’d sneak in and out without saying hello to her. This is the woman I first met in December 1993, waiting for us in pouring rain who, after giving me a massive hug on first sight, leaned back and joyously proclaimed that we had the same big nose. I’m so glad I got to see her again.

Armed with some dodgy-sounding directions we set off to find the old cemetery. And after some unexpected and ill-prepared-for trekking through a narrow and long overgrown pathway we found it. As we walked around the graves and headstones I started thinking that it would be a wasted trip after all, as there were many graves that were long forgotten, that had no names or markers of any kind. But then my husband called out “I’ve found it”, and as he began reading the names aloud to me while I made my way over I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Because my great-grandparents’ son {my grandfather’s brother} died at just 32 years of age during WWII, he was buried according to local custom and tradition, i.e. with his parents. His wife was buried with him many years later in 1995, and it’s thanks to the children of this great-uncle that this is one of the largest and most well tended graves there.

I was not expecting to find much, least of all a photo of my great-grandparents, but there it was. I was always told growing up that I’d been named for her, and whenever I’d be stuffing my face with potatoes my father would tell me that his grandmother had been the exact same, she loved potatoes and ignored the meat just like me. Seeing her face and her name was huge for me. It was the first time I’ve ever seen any picture of her, and even just seeing that they’ve been given a beautiful resting place and that their names and faces remain to this day was so incredibly moving.

Desperately in need of a drink we headed into the main town of Pag, and I blown away just like I was last time I was here at how beautiful it is. It’s one of the cleanest, brightest, most immaculate cities I’ve seen in all of Dalmatia. Every building has been meticulously maintained or restored, and the effect is stunning. The island itself is known for it’s lamb and cheese as well as it’s unique lace. In some places it can resemble the moon in it’s imposing starkness while in others it’s lush and green and a beach party haven.

And it was while sitting in a cafe looking out at this beautiful town that I decided that I refuse to let anyone make me feel like I can’t or shouldn’t claim what’s always been mine. Pag is my island, it’s long been my ancestral home, and I love it.

And the village where my great-grandparents are at rest will always be in my heart, long after there’s anyone left to visit there.

#HomeIsWhereTheHeartIs

xxx

  1. Ok…. Just scrolling through “Croatia” blog posts and came across this. We could be related as my grandmother is from Vlasici. I visited Pag last year. What is your surname? This could be interesting….

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    1. Hi there! I’d rather not divulge my maiden name online, but I do know that while our surname is one of the common ones, our particular branch of the family isn’t so big. But hey, you know these villages, anything is possible! Thanks for reading. Ana. X.

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      Reply

      1. Oh of course, I don’t use my name online either. Maybe we will bump into each other in vlasici one day. Cheers.

        Liked by 1 person

        Reply

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