Some people brag about their grandma’s cooking. Not me. In fact, I can’t remember a dish she cooked that I enjoyed. But, I can tell you this. My grandmother was the bravest woman on earth. A brave mother.
And, the most humble one. She wanted no one to know of her courage.
I am the last to tell the story as I know it. As Mother’s Day approaches, I proudly give you the first in a series of remarkable mothers.
Allow me to introduce you to my maternal grandmother, Gina, fondly known as Gincha.
The Sweet Beginnings of a Special Mother
Of course I didn’t know my grandmother from the beginning. But, pictures say it all. She was an elegant lady. It was easy to see why an older entrepreneur courted her. By the early 1930s, Gina and Ivan Stefanic were a happily married couple.
They lived in a beautiful villa in Dedinje, considered the elitist area of Belgrade, Yugoslavia. The house now acts as the formal residence for the Angolan Embassy. It is within walking distance of the palace grounds.
And, the train station. If you have good shoes.
The couple went on to have two beautiful daughters.
Zlata, the oldest. Her name translates to Gold.
Jelena, the younger. She was my mother. Always the Jewel of My Heart.
I’ve painted a picture of a dream castle with a king and queen.
And two princesses.
If only it had remained so.
The Secrets Start for a Courageous Mother
Let’s fast forward to the early 1940s.
It was the start of World War II.
My very Catholic Grandfather was off to work every day. A lot went on at the office. Apparently, he didn’t tell his wife quite everything.
One day my Grandfather didn’t come home.
Not ever again.
I have a handwritten letter that gives the exact date of his disappearance as June 7, 1941.
Grandma wrote another note after the end of the war that explained it all.
I promise to share why my Grandfather vanished.
Because I first really want you to know what made my Grandmother so brave.
The Sequestered Saga of a Brave Mother
Of course, you’re hearing this story from the whispers I picked up on many years later. It wasn’t an easy one to learn.
My grandmother had a sister who I was very close to. When she became an American citizen, she changed her name to Jo Bosko.
Thank goodness for Aunt Jo. She actually let me in on the family secrets.
The ones my grandmother refused to speak about.
And, that my mother and her sister suffered through as children.
It seems Grandma left her two little girls in Aunt Jo’s care.
While she went looking for her husband.
Thankfully, they weren’t at the family residence.
Because the Nazis had come to pick them up.
My grandmother learned of this from a neighbor.
She quickly gathered some valuables from the house.
And made arrangements.
For you see, Grandma was a brave woman.
She made friends with a lady who could hide her children.
Because that’s what mothers do.
She, Aunt Jo and the two little girls walked to the train station.
In the middle of the night.
And through the kindness of a stranger, found refuge.
Eventually, it turned out to be the compassion of many people.
They sat huddled in back rooms.
Met back together.
Not for days.
But, for more than three long years.
Robbed of innocence.
Scared for their lives.
It was my grandmother’s courage that eventually brought them back.
To their villa.
Grandma was the ultimate mother. Protecting her children.
She would do anything to ensure their safety.
And, she did.
The Story Continues
It wasn’t until after the War that they got to go home.
Things had changed.
Even in their own little world.
First, the Nazis had used their home for German War brides.
And, the Russians were now in residence.
They allowed the four one small room.
They were not treated kindly, but I do not know details.
I could never ask beyond what I was given.
My mother was basically silent.
As was her sister.
And my grandmother.
Aunt Jo was the one who left the legacy of the truth.
Including the handwritten note written by my grandmother which explained that:
….”He was engaged in anti-German activities even before the war. In his office, there was a co-worker who spied against Ivan and intercepted his confidential telephone conversations. He also purloined an incriminating document with Ivan’s signature. This was very detrimental for my husband. The co-worker was an agent for the secret German military police (Gestapo)”….
Paying Tribute for Mother’s Day
Grandma’s letter was written in 1945. She admitted that she was in sorrow and pain. The inference was that she would surely have taken her own life.
“But the children are here. I cannot leave them without a father or mother.”
Unfortunately, I lost my grandmother while I was pregnant with my first born. She was so special that I named my eldest daughter for her.
I will openly admit at the time I didn’t appreciate my Grandmother’s strength. I will also tell you I did a good job of naming my Gina. But that’s a story for another day.
Grandma kept her secrets because of the traumatic events. She worried that they could repeat.
Her eyes always had a sadness.
One I did not understand.
I wish that I could hold Grandma in my arms and thank her. I want her to know how grateful I am that she saved my mother and the rest of the family.
How happy I am that she chose to come to America.
How fitting to share this family photograph of us dressed in America’s colors.
That’s Grandma serving the family food.
And, me, hanging on to Aunt Jo.
My mother is siting right in front of her.
My sisters are there too…mere children. One is already gone.
One thing is certain. Grandma made sure we came to a land of freedom.
She was the bravest woman I have ever known.
And likely, the most humble.
Need a Story Like This?
Obviously, this one is personal to us. However, life stories are our favorites at Writefully Inspired. If you have someone you’d like us to capture, contact us. We’d be happy to write something forever more.