This is a photo I took of a photo. I don’t have the original, which is something that pains me. At that time, no one knew who had the negative nor who the photographer was since it was taken way back in the 1930s. These types of professional family photos become priceless with time. I really wish I had an original print to frame.
This was taken in a town called Aranđelovac, where my father was born, in Serbia (and then Yugoslavia). I have memories and stories that link to almost everyone in this photo.
My father is the little boy on the right with the black socks and white shirt. His sister has his hands on his shoulders. She died when she was seventeen. Of what, I can’t recall right now. Something terrible, of course.
My grandmother, Darinka, is in the center with the window framing her. I was named after her, and I adored her. More about her in a minute. My grandfather is just next to her with the mustache. He died shortly after he met me for the first time. My parents flew over there from California (where I was born) when I was three months old. They believe he held on to life waiting for a glimpse of me.
My aunt Nada is the little girl down front with the plaid dress. She grew to marry an ethnic Hungarian and they lived in the northern, autonomous region of Vojvodina which is about half Serbs and half Hungarians. I lived there for a year to attend first grade, get the language down and become familiar with my family and the culture. Aunt Nada was the most amazing cook and one of the most angelic people I have ever known. My grandmother, Darinka, lived in this home as well. By that time she had had a stroke and was seriously diabetic. I would help cook for her and feed her. I even brushed and cleaned her dentures for her. I loved her so much. She died that year and I can still see the horse-led funeral procession in my mind… going down the main street where we lived.
The little boy to the left of her is actually my father’s uncle, Velja. I guess his mother and his grandmother were having babies around the same time! He is younger than my father. He grew up and moved to Belgium. Almost every summer, my father and I would fly to London or Paris or Amsterdam and go to his house in Belgium and borrow a seldom used car of his and drive to Yugoslavia. We would take a different route every time and explore Europe. This is how I learned that anywhere is a place I can call home and that the world is mine to behold.
Right behind him, in the white top, is Lela. Now, I am a little fuzzy. I think she is his sister. She had one of those great old apartments in downtown Belgrade. My most marked memory is that she had a swing on her balcony. One day, after lunch, I went to play on the swing. I did that thing where you turn and turn to wind the ropes up tight… then when you let go you spin and spin as it unwinds. Well, I threw up pretty much immediately after that. I had just eaten this familiar type of salad made with tomatoes and raw onions. Man, they shot through my nose and everything. I still have a hard time with raw onions because of that!
Anyway, I cherish this photo and hope that when I create family photos for people, these types of memories can be passed down. It might not seem, that right now, a family photo is valuable. But just imagine being able to give it to your kids, and then their kids will look at it and hold it and cherish it, having so many childhood memories to ponder.
This is why I am a print artist. Hold it. Feel it. Keep it forever.