My maternal grandmother Marija Babarovich was born September 9, 1863 and died on August 5th, 1953. She died the year I graduated from high school in Anacortes, Washington. Her life story is one of great courage and sacrifice involving immigration to America while not being able to speak English. I've previously talked about that in writing about my mother.https://www.paulluvera.com/weblog/2010/07/mary-thelma-luvera-.html.html
I remember her vividly. A tall erect woman with hair piled high on her head, she looked regal and carried herself in a way that projected dignity and bearing. She spoke little English and we children spoke no Croation so communication was largely through my mother and sign language. In spite of the communication barrier there was a great deal of non verbal communication. When I would say good by after a visit she always said in broken English "Be a good boy," advice I should have taken more to heart in my youth. She was a religious woman who frequented the nearby Catholic church and often had rosary beads in hand.
Her story starts with, one of three Babarovich brothers living in Austria-Hungry on an Island. She was married to one of the brothers, Peter. All three brothers lived in the village of Splitska on the island of Brac'. The family operated a small vineyard and made wine and olive oil which they sold to support themselves. It was the oldest boy, John, who led the way to America. He was anxious to travel to America after he had served Austria-Hungary Navy for four years. Finally, in 1879 John’s father gave him the money for the ticket and John left home to go to America. At first he wrote home, but then nothing was heard from him for several years. One day a wine buyer came to the family farm. Seeing the family name, he asked if they had a relative living in America because he had met someone with the same name in Seattle. It was John.
They got the address and his brother Peter wrote to him in America. A few months later John wrote back sending a ticket for brother Spiro’s oldest boy, Ernie, and John’s brother, Peter,(Nonno) my grandfather, to come to America. The following year Spiro sent for his wife Jennie and his six children while Peter sent for his wife (Nonna) my grandmother, Marija Mattia Vulic' Babarovich and their five children. By then, John had moved on to Anacortes, where I was born and raised, and from there to an Island where he was homesteading.
The two women and the numerous children took an ocean liner in steerage to America. This was a huge step for people who had never been off the small island. After clearing immigration they continued by train across the United States without knowing English. They finally ended the train trip in Burlington, Babarovich.1Washington. My grandmother remembered that it was night time and they were cold. There was a station master on duty. While speaking no English she communicated by opening and closing the door to the pot bellied stove indicating they would like to build a fire. He showed them where the kindling was kept and they made a fire. The children were thirsty and water was outside obtained by a pump and bucket. They spent the night inside station house waiting to be picked up.
The next day John, arrived with team of horses and a wagon. All the trunks and the wives and children were loaded aboard the wagon and pulled by horses they set off for Anacortes a bumpy rough twenty plus mile trip. When they arrived at the logging and fishing town of Anacortes with its sawmills and canneries they found a main street that was an unpaved mud hole with pigs and chickens running loose. My grandmother was upset at having left a comfortable farm home only to end up here. She said to John, "Is this where we are going to live?" "No," he said, "we are going to Sinclair Island." They spent the night in Anacortes and the next morning their trunks and all the people were loaded on the boat which delivered mail to the Islands.
After unloading at Sinclair Island, they continued on to the homestead the brothers had developed. After settling in for a few days, Nonna asked "Where’s the school?" She was told they had none. "So, where’s the church?" she asked. There is no church they told her. Nonna was unhappy about no school and no church. Eventually, submitting to the pressure John donated two acres of land for a school house and a small one was built. A school teacher was hired to come to the island and teach the children. The family settled in to homesteading their farm in this primitive setting. Nonna was pregnant with a child delivered John Babarovich who was born on the island in 1903. He arrived unexpectedly while people were away. My grandfather was the only one there to help with the delivery. My grandmother cut the cord and soon after was back taking care of the whole family where everything was done by hard labor. Nonna was never happy on the island because there was no church and she was concerned about raising children there.
In 1904 she and her husband Peter, my grandparents, decided to move to Anacortes. Having no boat large enough for their belongings and the family, Nonno borrowed a scow from Ernest Kasch and Nonna made a sail out of an old sheet. He mounted it on a mast, built a rudder for the scow and loaded it with their belongings and the whole family. He was an excellent seaman and waited for the right tide and wind before shoving off for the trip.They traveled around Cypress Island and Guemes Island right to their destination in Anacortes. That trip amazes me having boated around this area so often and knowing the challenges.
In Anacortes, they located rental house and Nonno found work around the docks as well as fishing. My mother Mary was born in Anacortes, the youngest of eight children. She attended grade school for a time before having to quit and help take care of the family. The family always had a large garden and raised chickens, rabbits etc. Nonno provided fish and shell fish as well including crab, mussels, salmon, cod, and other food from the sea. The boys hunted duck as well as other food for them to eat. Everyone worked to support the family.
The house they ended up living in was a long, rectangle shaped two bedroom house. There were a lot of bedrooms, particularly upstairs. The room as you entered from the street was a small parlor which was kept very neat and where guests would sit and talk while having tea or coffee. There was a prominent photograph of the king and queen of Austria-Hungry hanging on the wall. Down a long narrow hallway to the other end one entered a very large kitchen clearly designed to do a lot of cooking for a large family. Nonna was a wonderful cook. One traditional old country dish was Bacalar. A dried cod fish, one so dry it was like a baseball bat, was soaked and made into a kind of soup. You added potatoes, olive oil, garlic, parsley and ended up with something you had to aquire a taste to eat. But, home made bread and home made cooking was featured in her house and one reason to look forward to visiting.
A year after my grandparents moved to Anacortes, nonno’s brother Spiro (1863 - 1926) and his family followed them to Anacortes. Spiro was a successful businessman by the standards of his day. He had an interest in a warehouse in Anacortes as well as other business ventures. The remaining brother, John, stayed on the Island. He was a commercial salmon fisherman. His boat, Uncle John, was the first fishing boat in the area to use a purse seine net and one where the crew slept on board. Other fisherman had camps on shore where they spent the night. John was an extraordinary man who died in 1916. He was well known and very respected in his community. In fact, his monument at the Anacortes cemetery reads "Known among men as honest John."
Nonno, who was born in 1861, died at age 74 of a heart attack. He died a few months after my birth in 1935 so I never knew him. However, his photograph was displayed at their home and I used to admire it. Nonna was a living example of honesty, dignity and concern for others. So this is written in the memory of my grandmother. May God rest her soul in peace.