I was born in the picturesque city of Split, Croatia, in 1973, when Croatia was a part of a fragmented and ethnically unstable country known as Yugoslavia.
It was a country of immense beauty, old world views and charm, depth of culture grounded in thousands of years of history. It was the country that had absorbed the blood of my ancestors; Croatian blood that had penetrated the soil, stone and earth in that region since approximately the 7th Century.
(Photo from Split, looking at Marjan Hill)
I have many fragmented recollections that do not quite consolidate to form a collective memory of a childhood in Split. I remember my best friend Sabina... The two of us playing in the street together. Our favorite games were hopscotch and a form of jump rope with an elastic, known in America as Chinese jump rope. I remember running away from school on my first day of first grade because I missed my mother so much, I couldn’t stand being away from her.
I remember being a “Little Pioneer," as all the school children age 7 and up were. We were official members of the Union of Pioneers of Yugoslavia and had our own pledge and uniforms. While I found the ceremonial aspects of it interesting, I remember my parents never showed true excitement or glee about this part of my... education.
No one in my family had ever been in the Socialist or Communist parties and we were Catholic. My mother’s family was deeply rooted in the Catholic faith and tradition and had several relatives who were priests. But organized religion was looked down upon in Yugoslavia because how else could you keep the country of “South Slavs”—the definition of Yugoslavia, unified? Religion alone, consisting of Croatian Catholics, Catholic and Protestant Slovenians, Muslim Bosnians and Orthodox Serbs would create division. Or so Tito believed.
It is easy not to understand this division as an American. After all, our country is founded upon religious freedom. However, Yugoslavia’s president, dictator, Josip Broz Tito knew that even the simple, outward freedom and display of religion could lead to ethnic war, as it, among many other factors, did after his death.
(Photo of me and my grandmother, after picking some of her raspberries.)
I remember being a very happy young child in Split. Life was uncomplicated. There were no fear of allowing a child to play outside, because bad things simply didn’t happen there. The community, the neighbors always looked out for everyone’s kids—whether it was to keep them safe or discipline them if they saw them misbehaving.
Years ago, in America, Hillary Clinton commented that “it takes a village,” to raise a child. In Split, even though we were a city, we were that village. One child was everyone’s child; it was inconsequential who the parents were.
(Me rowing on the beautiful Adriatic.)
Even at an early age, I loved all things related to language--the eloquent dance of words that could create the most moving of emotions. Playing pretend reporter was in my blood. My mom said I would drive her crazy with the million of questions I always asked.
My quiet, simple life came to an abrupt new chapter in 1980, when my father was asked to be branch manager of the company for which he worked. But the position was half-way around the world, in the United States.
My father had the choice of Chicago, New York or Houston. He chose Houston because, from the perspective of an outsider looking in, it seemed the safest out of the choices.
My knowledge of the United States came from movies I had seen. I believed all cars were black and the Mafia and murders were around every corner. I suppose I now realize what types of American movies were shown in Yugoslavia.
I was frightened. I cried about having to have a black car (we ended up with a red Caprice Classic). I was not excited to leave my home, my friends, my family, my classmates, my room. I cried for days over having to sell our beautiful, white Peugeot.
Where is the restroom, please?
The first and only words I knew in English when I moved to Houston
(Photo: Houston, Texas)
The day of our emigration came quickly. Equipped with the only English I knew, “Where is the restroom please,” I made my way to the United States and 2nd grade.
It seems so long ago, yet many of the memories are still vivid in my mind:
Overall, I was so fortunate to have incredible and caring teachers. I understood English in less than a month and was speaking it in two. I grew to love my new home and my heart became filled with a deep appreciation of Texas history and everything Texas. My 6th grade Texas history teacher, Mrs. Cabiness kindled a yearning for Texas tales of long ago. I continued to nourish that love by continuing independently to learn about all things TEXAS.
I began to write and win contests in school. My teachers told me I had a gift. I graduated and went off to college. I wrote for the university paper, yearbook and our local town paper and became immersed in our city’s history. I came to know some amazing people who would influence my life then and forever.
One day I realized that this little 7-year-old girl had become a journalist with a master’s degree from the University of Houston in public relations and was selected as one of a handful of students to pursue a PhD in Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. I found myself truly interested in the freedom of the press, especially in Croatia as it was now a new country, endeavoring, longing to be the independent, free democracy that it had so craved. I chose freedom of the press as my area of study, graduated with a 4.0 GPA and a PhD in Journalism; I then moved to the Dallas area to be a professor.
The irony of life is that it tends to send us on paths we might initially never see in our future. A little girl, who spoke no English, had now chosen to make words her career, and her life. The beauty, paradox and symmetry of that still makes me smile.
I loved teaching. I loved my students and the people I worked with. And most of all, I loved the written word. It was the way I could express myself best. Whether it was poetry, children’s stories, research, news articles…. I simply loved to write and I loved to read.
(Photo: My Husband and I)
On January 29, 2007, I married my other half. Having a PhD before the age of 30 left little room for thoughts of family and love. Yet, Kevin came into my life at just the right time. And soon we went from a couple to a family of five.
(Photo: My three little angels.)
In the years of family and life taking center stage, my written words somehow escaped to the back of my heart and chose to go into hibernation. It was as if the river that once flowed through me and would flow into a Gulf of Narrative had somehow evaporated and was awaiting the day that it could come down in the form of a monumental rain shower. I had a difficult time allowing the rain clouds to build; I struggled to awaken that narrative.
However, recently, the words have resurfaced.
This website is the outlet for those words, for that narrative that has grown and saturated my creative voice, which, until recently, did not possess the knowledge to find its way to freedom.
This is the journey of my story, my life. The path shall not be censored, but allowed to roam freely down any unlit, unpaved, unexplored dirt road it finds.