Monday, September 12, 2011

There was a time ...

Back in December 1995, in "Croatia Today," someone from the Croatian Embassy to the United States wrote "There was a time, not so long ago, when expressing the desire that Croatia be free, or identifying one-self as Croatian, could be dangerous, not only in Yugoslavia, but even in the United States."  Politicians and diplomats are sometimes so good with understatements. 

At the time I was born, no one much knew where the Croatian lands were.  But Croatians knew. Croatians all over the world in the diaspora knew.  We always have known.  The frustrating mystery to us was why no one else seemed to know.  We were invisible a lot of the time in those days.   I was not born in the Croatian lands.  I was born in the lands of the Este Mvskokvlke.

At the time I was born there, no one much knew where was the Este Mvskokvlke. Most people still do not know.  The Mvskoke knew.  Mvskoke everywhere knew.  The frustrating mystery to them was why no one else seemed to know.  They were invisible a lot of the time in those days.  The Mvskoke were not invisible to my father.  He was a professor in the only college designed to serve their people and he was a missionary to them as well.  Do you know what sofki is?  Or osofki?  I do. 

 Father learned their language.  Father spoke and preached and taught and sang with Mvskoke people on Mvskoke jezik.  While he encouraged the people to learn also english, he encouraged them to never abandon their heritage. Father was outraged when the Amerikanski sent agents to teach Ashiwi dances to Mvskoke people. It seemed to him that the Amerikanski government not only wanted the Mvskoke to be invisible but they perhaps wanted them to disappear altogether.  If you wonder why that today many of the Muskogee "stomp dance" songs sound awfully much like "ganga," well now you know. 

In the 1990's, after about a thousand years of foreign domination, our beloved Croatia began the journey back to freedom and democracy.  At the same time the Amerikanski stood out of the way after almost one hundred years and the Mvskoke began the same journey toward the rights and responsibilities of a sovereign nation. Beware invisible people.

Dr Wolff said I had polio.  He said I had to be in the hospital but I was going to die anyway in about six months.  My parents had lost one child to cholera and another to a miscarriage.  An assassin's bullet between the eyes of still another child made it's point. If I was going to die anyway they would pack me in ice to control the fever and just go daleko daleko and that's what they did.  I think some persons might have been disappointed but I lived.

Father told a story about how some lady the family knew went on and on about how it was that I walked funny.  Tata said that I walked before most kids learn to walk and so, if I walked funny, what of it?    A lot of kids who had polio in those years simply died, but I could walk.  Maybe I still walk funny and sometimes a bit slow, but I can walk and might even dance a little should the right partner wish.

By the second grade most of the other boys called me "jebeni Hrvat" and ran off to play on the far side of the playground during recess.  I knew that I was Hrvat, but at that age I had no idea what jebeni meant except that they probably didn't mean anything nice.  The teacher sat on her throne under the great spreading pecan tree with the girls at her feet where they lined up rocks to make the "walls" for the "house."  There they played with their baby dolls, and they needed a "daddy."  Most days they drafted me to be the daddy and I had to take care of the babies when they "went shopping."  Later on in life I would remember the training they gave me with a certain measure of gratitude.

One day the other boys came to kick the "house" down. We poured ashes from the burn pile on them and chased them away.  One of them, a boy with a false eye, challenged me to a duel about all that.  We would throw rocks at eat other until one of us surrendered.  If I won, all the guys would leave us alone.  If they won, they got to keep bothering all of us and they could keep calling me "jebeni Hrvat" whatever "jebeni" means.  He took his eye out ceremoniously and put it in his pocket.  We paced off twenty paces. The guys stood on the left side and cheered for him.  The girls stood on the right side and cheered for me.  I had no real idea about boys and girls at that age except that boys wore blue jeans girls wore dresses and smelled nicer, but if you think I didn't just love the fact that girls were cheering for me, think again.  With the girls beside me I was going to win this. 

The boys counted to three and we unleashed our first rocks.  Mine connected.  My rock hit him square in the eye where he had no eye.  He went down.  The teacher came running.  The mystery is - where was she while we were setting all this up?  I know that I was punished severely for my part in this.  I was not allowed to go to the far side of the play ground any more.   I was sentenced to stay close to her and play with the little girls for the rest of the year.  I know it was punishment from the tone of her voice as she announced this in front of all the children.  Hehe.  Some other time we will talk about my dear teacher and her husband who taught me about the printing press.

The next year we moved to another town.  I heard mother and dad talking about this move before we moved.  Tata wanted to be closer to other people who spoke.  He wanted me to hear our language from other people.  So there I was in the third grade at the Elementary School in the building that still stands across the Boling Highway from the Junior College.  You know, over there where the railroad track to New Gulf used to be.  It didn't take me long to be playing hopscotch with the girls.  I was tall enough to hold one end of the jump rope too so they kind of liked having me around.  It wasn't long before some fellow was calling me "jebeni Hrvat" and trying to hurt me.  I still didn't not know what means "jebeni." I ran.  I ran the best I could.  He caught me.  He knocked me down.  He pinned my leg and twisted.  I spent the rest of the third grade with that leg in a cast and using crutches to get around.  Mrs Zeidman usually gave me a ride over to the highschool where Tata taught chemistry and the sciences.  I shall always remember her with deep fondness and we may hear more about her later.  After I came off the crutches I walked over to the high school. 

One day, as I was crossing the tennis court, I heard those dreaded words again.  "Jebeni Hrvat!"  A kid came riding right up to my face on his bicycle.  He had a bow in his hand.  He strung and arrow on to the bow.  He said "ви сте мртви (you are dead)"  I didn't want to be dead so I picked his bike up by the front wheel, dumped him off on the ground, kicked him in such a place as he did not wish to fight more and proceeded to use my adrenalin to bend, maim, and otherwise destroy his bike.  Mrs Redding was the Superintendent of School's secretary.  Her sister saw the whole thing.  She called the police.  I never saw that boy again.  I heard later he went to reform school.  "Jebeni Hrvat" indeed!  It was a long time after that before anyone called me "jebeni Hrvat". 

I had around 60 years when I had some difficulty again.  There were some complications in my work place and there were some folk looking for whatever they could find to get rid of me.  The Rev Richard R  Goodwill was called in to mediate the matter.  Among his recommendations was that I go through "intensive evaluation" - code words for three days "psychiatric examination."  On the morning of the second day the Reverend Richard R Goodwill and the Rev. Dr. John Hirsch accused me of being a Bosnian terrorist.  The psychiatrist had a problem.  He was making money from Hirsch's employer from what the courts have since fairly routinely determined to be an abusive employment practice.  He suggested that a "counselor" back in my hometown take a look at me.  The next fellow wrote a letter to the effect that the only people who needed psychiatric help were the people who sent me to him. 

Bosnian Terrorist.  When I hear those words - I hear "Bosanski Ustaša."  First of all, a Bosnian is just another Croat who happens to be Muslim.  I am not Muslim.  I am a Christian.  I am a Lutheran Christian.  To say that a Lutheran church worker is Muslim is slander of the most ridiculous sort.  In a perfect world these two men would have already apologized.  It surely would have been nice.

The Ustaša part of what they said is pretty wild too.  I might think of some radical Bosnian as a Jihadist of some sort, but as Ustaša?  Unlikely.  Ustaša means "up-riser" and really isn't a bad word except that it has deep roots into the so called "Ustaša" or Nazi movement during World War II.  Again, serious slander I suppose, and just another way to call me a "jebeni Hrvat."

Yes, "There was a time, not so long ago, when ... identifying one-self as Croatian, could be dangerous."  Mr Ambassador, I finally learned what "jebeni Hrvat" means on english and if that's what I am, then that's what I am.  And I can still walk too.

do sljedeći put, blagoslov - until next time, blessings,

Canovals a.k.a. Slavonac

12 Rujan 2011

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