Starka's (Grandma's) Painting

9:47 PM at 9:47 PM

I am driving home (well my wife is driving right now) from New Jersey for our annual Christmas trip to spend time with our parents. This year was especially nostalgic due to the fact that this year is most likely the last year my family will be spending Christmas in New Jersey at our home of some 34 years on Whitmore Ave. Mom and Dad will finally be joining my oldest brother and I along with my mother's older sister and brother in North Carolina. I have many fond memories but am really looking forward to having most of my family near home.

As I have many times recently, while talking with my parents, we started to talk about the old days and about the absolutely amazing stories of my family's migration to the United States from the former Yugoslavia. This time around my brother was going through the attic at my parent's house to make sure nothing of sentimental value was thrown away during the upcoming move. He came across a painting that I recognized from when it was hanging in our downstairs family room in the years I lived at home as a child. I never really appreciated it until I heard the amazing story my mother told me about this painting. I always knew that my mother's mother was a folk artist, but this painting, as I was about to find out had much more meaning than just that of the beautiful work of a female Slovak folk artist from rural Yugoslavia.

In the late 1960s, my mother's parents lived in a small town in what is now Serbia called Padina. At the time this was in the communist former Yugoslavia and was experiencing tremendous economic challenges especially for families like my grandparents who were Slovak minorities in a Serbian land. Starka and Starki (Grandma and Grandpa) wanted a better life for their large family and sought to build it somewhere outside the iron curtain. Starka and Starki along with my mother and a few of her brothers packed up the essential belongings that they would be able to carry with them on their trip and headed for the border of Yugoslavia and Italy where they would scout the international border for weeks before attempting to cross over to freedom into Italy. Much of the trip was on foot so as you can imagine they had to pack very light. One of the items they took with them was a "decoy" to use if they were to get caught by border guards as they attempted to cross into Italy. The decoy would be this painting by my grandmother that would be used to corroborate a story that they were just going to Italy to sell her art.

God was with them! After a few days, they made it across the border and into an Italian refugee camp. They remained there for some time until finally getting a sponsor in the United States. They moved to the United States with literally just what they could carry in their hands which of course included this wonderful memento that would be a reminder of the tremendous sacrifice and great risk my grandparents made so that I can have the blessings of living free in this great nation!