October 18, 2010

USA: Grandson finds grandmother's stories never get old

LAFAYETTE, Indiana / Lafayette Journal & Courier / Living / October 18, 2010


As I get older, my interest in my genealogy increases.

My mother's side is Croatian while my father's side is a bunch of stuff. So, being the strapped for time guy that I am, I've been concentrating on my ties to the small eastern European country along the Adriatic Sea. Croatia used to be part of Yugoslavia for those who got a D in world geography like I did.

My late grandfather traveled to America when he was 17 while my grandmother was born here. But she was born to Croatian immigrants herself during the Depression.

Virginia Drazich is my last living grandparent and I was lucky to celebrate her 87th birthday this weekend.

Not as fast as she used to be, my grandmother is still a "pistol" as she always says. She's has lived an interesting life. Of course, most grandmas have lived interesting lives. For us grandkids, stories about life in the 1920s and '30s seem very bizarre.

Grandma Ginny has a "greatest hits" of stories she likes to tell. I've heard them dozens of times but they are always pretty funny. I often prod her a bit to tell them. Here are my favorites:

•Grandma loves talking about how she didn't learn English until she was 5-years-old and that she had to pick it up in school since her parents didn't speak English at the home. Grandma claimed she got in fights every day due to the other kids making fun of her.

•Grandma grew up in the Walnut Park neighborhood in north St. Louis. It's now one of the roughest parts of the STL but then it was a mostly Croatian neighborhood with old ladies hanging out on porches. According to Grandma, my great grandfather was a bootlegger and quite the character. He would carry my grandmother on whiskey deliveries because how could the guy carrying the baby be dealing hooch? No Heathcliff Huxtable, Great Grandpa would kick my grandma out of the house, lock the doors and pull down the shades when guys would come to pick up their booze, she would say.

•Croatian food is very meat and potatoes. And sort of strange at times. Grandma would say she would be sent to downtown St. Louis to get dried cod for a dish called bacilli where they would soak it in water for five days in the garage. Grandma said the house would smell like fish for the whole week and no one would sit next to her on the bus ride back from the market carrying a week's worth of cod on her lap.

In her adult life, she could never adhere to other tastes. She claims to have thrown up after her first and only time ever eating pizza, and she never tried Mexican or Chinese food. But stuffed cabbage over sauerkraut is like candy to her.

Of course, details to these stories could have been lost or changed over the last 80-plus years but I love hearing them every time.

Storytelling is what I do for a living but I doubt I will have yarns like grandma's, especially the cod fish one.

Tim Brouk is the arts and entertainment writer for the Journal & Courier.
E-Mail:  tbrouk@jconline.com

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