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I’ve always wondered why my Baba was so hard on my father and his younger brother by 2 years. Also why was there 8 years before the next two children came along? I have always assumed it was part of the difficulties expected for an immigrant traveling far away with so little, and starting a new life in a foreign country, not knowing the language. My Baba has always been revered by her family, both in America and the small area of cera gorna in Montenegro. And yet, she had so many negative feelings about her home country. My niece traveled to her home town and met many of the relatives still living there. One of the cousins spoke English and translated for her. It was an interesting story that emerged. There is no way of knowing how much truth is encompassed in the entire tale, but some of the circumstances were verified by my own conversations with my Baba, while she was still alive. She to,d me that she had an arranged marriage and moved into the next town, to live with her in laws while her new husband went off to Alaska to work in the mines. The next part of her story begins when my father was six and his brother, four. She traveled alone with her two small children to the town of Split, 200 km away, then boarded a ship to New York. I’ve looked at a map. The waterway required her ro travel around the south of Italy and through the canal at Gibraltar to cross the Atlantic. Currently, it would take several boats and ferries to take this trip, but at that time, she seemed to limit her stories to simplicity. She spoke of “the boat”. Once in New York, she bypassed Ellis Island as her husband was already in the United States. When I visited Ellis Island, There was no record of her name there. From New York, she traveled by train to Butte, Montana where she either met her husband or perhaps another Montenegrin previously settled there. She did not say. She spoke in broken English and I spoke no Serbs-Croatian so our conversations were simplified by necessity. I now wish I had asked so many more questions. She did say it took two months for the journey. I never understood how she managed food and clean clothes, etc. She was also reluctant to speak of her time there. She had survived wartime and starvation and savage death, so I accepted it. Once in Butte, my father could contribute to the daily life there so my history is fuller. But he, too, would refrain from reliving the time and preferred to start his personal history with the birth of his childre,which I already knew, being one of them. My niece’s story started with the question – “Did you ever wonder how Baba had two children in two years when her husband was in Alaska?” I assumed he returned twice. Thinking about that? It is unlikely. During that time in Jugoslavia, the culture was quite different. Arranged marriages did require the women to move into the in laws home and were treated as slaves until they had a home of their own. The story my niece was told involved a common practice of male family members “sampling” the new bride. Somewhat as an assurety that she was worthy? That part is unclear. The villagers seemed to think it was her husband’s father that may have been the father of my Baba’s children. She was revered in her home town because she had gone to an uncle and borrowed money, ran away from her in laws’ home and travel alone out of necessity – perhaps not even with the knowledge of her husband. Or perhaps he was complicit? I have experience the massage you of our culture, even in America where we were taught to feed the men first. I have trouble imagining him encouraging his young and unknown wife to escape, against his families wishes and opposite of his cultural upbringing. But Baba did travel alone with two children. She was a formidable woman and no one ever crossed her. She loved her “prute”, a green stick that left a mark on our young legs. She never forgot the plight of her people and sent regular care packages. Perhaps this story is true, but there is no one left alive to verify in my American family. Perhaps I need to travel to Montenegro sooner than I planned.

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