I was born in Croatia in the 1940s. Our apartment in Zagreb had a kitchen and a bedroom, that’s it. At the time when the apartments were available, my parents didn’t have enough money to go into something bigger. Later on, when they had more money, apartments were not available. So from my birth to my eighteenth birthday we lived in that little apartment, my brother and I, and my mom and dad. On top of that, my mother’s brother came to live with us while he was going to school to learn to be a shoemaker. But you know the saying, if the family loves each other, there is always room.
And this is how I grew up. We were a very, very happy family. We had a lot of parties, celebrations, outings, singing, good cooking …. We did A LOT of things as a family and we stayed together all along.
In those days in Zagreb we didn’t have a telephone in the house. No banks, no checkbooks. Maybe you had a big fat pillow for your money. There was some Serbian influence, but not very much at the time. For example, we had to learn to learn Cyrillic in school. And I remember talk of putting Cyrillic on street signs.
The government tried to suppress religious holidays as much as possible. You couldn’t buy Christmas trees or ornaments or Christmas cards. We never got religious holidays off. If Christmas fell on Tuesday, too bad. But my family always went to midnight mass.
Croatians are very proud people. We know what we have — the most beautiful cities, the most beautiful coast, food is superb, and our opera. The same builder that built the Vienna opera house built the one in Zagreb, so we had a lot of the European influence.
I met my husband Adam when he came to Zagreb from California on a scholarship from the Yugoslav government. I was seventeen and he was twenty-six. We met November 25 and were married the following April. We were married by the government on my eighteenth birthday and then by the church three days later. Wednesday was for the government and Saturday was for the church.
The wedding was incredible! We were married in the historic Sveti Marko Church. Because we had five limousines, people thought that Tito was in Zagreb! Normally Croatian weddings are just immediate family, but we had about 120 people. The church was packed full. The outside was packed full. My brother’s school and my school were there as well as Adam’s friends from the university.
The reception was at the Esplanada Hotel and we celebrated until six in the morning. We had a violinist, kolo dancing, and singing. Non stop food. All the cakes, the desserts and the most wonderful dinner just went on and on. It was a beautiful, beautiful wedding.
I have to tell you this: my father’s sister lived in the village and she had her old fashioned dress. You know they have those long, wide skirts and the scarf on her head. She came to the house and met Adam, and she looked at me and said, “Oh dear, he is so young!” Because in those days, a lot of old guys from America would go back to the villages they came from and marry a young wife, whether to have children or just to take care of him. These were men in their fifties or sixties and when you’re eighteen, that’s old.
Moving to the United States was extremely difficult. I wanted to marry Adam but I was so afraid of leaving my mom and dad. It was a very difficult decision, but of course, when you are eighteen you think with your heart.
I came to San Francisco and we lived the bottom flat of Adam’s parents’ home on Mission Street near where the SMBS is now. I was really hungry for friends. I knew Mama [my mother-in-law], her friends, but nobody young.
Dalmatian people like to yell a lot. I wasn’t used to this because my family didn’t yell. When Adam’s family and friends would yell and bang on the table I’d go to the bedroom and cry, and Adam would come in and say,”Honey, what’s the matter?” I’d say, “you people hate each other.” “No we don’t. ” “Yeah, but your veins are popping out. How can you like somebody when you yell so much?” They yelled SO hard. That was just their natural way. Swearing. Yelling. And it took me a long time before I learned how to yell. Adam taught me.
I had studied English in Croatia for six years, but when I came here I realized how little I knew. Not only that, but when Mama and Papa [my parents-in-law] were talking to me in Dalmatian dialect, I couldn’t tell if that was English or Dalmatian! But I absorbed the dialects easily and now I can speak as well as any old timer from Brac, with a Braci dialect.
I was only here four or five months when I got a job at the Transamerica Insurance Company. The most wonderful lady there would correct my English every time I said something wrong. That was the best school for me!
When my daughter Karen came along, I spoke to her in Croatian, Adam spoke in English. When my parents came to this country she was five years old. She was able to communicate with them so nicely, and that made me feel very good. One day, there were four or five girls [here] and my mother was saying something to Karen in Croatian because she could not speak English, and the girls started to giggle and make fun of my mother. And Karen turned around to them and she said, ” You old cow. You go home! Someday my grandmother will speak English, but you will never know Croatian!” She sent the girls home! She was only five years old.
As far as the Croatian American Cultural Center — that really started when the hall was built in 1979. Men used to go to the meetings once a month and yell and scream and beat on the table, and have roast beef and come home. That was it!
The group became so small they said, “If we don’t let women in, the Society is going to disappear.” Once they let the women in, the Society grew and grew and grew. All the members’ women joined and later other women of Slavonic background were able to get in, and then later on the husbands and the children, and this is how the Society grew.
So once Adam started the cultural part, of course, when he went I went. Maybe that was sixteen years ago. We have been singing for eleven years with George. But when we didn’t have singing I would come just to get together with friends.
My family were not big church goers. It was never pushed on me. Even now, I go to church only when I have the need. And then when I’m there, I’m there for me; it’s between me and God. I don’t have to have a lot of people to see me pray. According to Catholic religion, that is not a good Catholic. So forgive me, God.