Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The Long Goodbyes

When I think about my early childhood, I am fraught with memories of good-byes.

Whenever my mother and I went “home” to Petrovo Selo, my mother would never tell my grandparents that we were coming. It was always a surprise.

We would usually pull up in front of their gray mortar house in the middle of the night. My sleepy eyed grandparents would come to the door, and the tears of happiness and surprise would flow from all of us.

When we would leave to come back to Canada, my family would all gather in front of the gray gate in front of the house, and once again the tears would flow until we would get into the car, and I would watch them from the back seat as they stepped out onto the dusty road, waving until they were out of sight.

And I would cry.

Cry off and on, all the way through the small villages until we got to Belgrade, or Frankfurt and boarded a plane to come back to Canada.
Cry like a person who doesn't know when you'll ever see the people you love again when there is so much land and water between you.

When I got to be about 10 years old, my mother started sending me alone for the summer.
Preparations would be made, my Tetka Ljuba would sew me a traveling outfit, and I would be packed up with suitcases bigger than me full of gifts.

My mother would put me on a plane where I would be passed from one kind Air Canada Flight Attendant to another considerate Lufthansa Flight Attendant on my stopovers in Frankfurt. Then on to Belgrade, where usually my Uja Lazar would pick me up and we’d make the long drive to Petrovo Selo to my grandparents gray mortar house that had been the only thing in my life that ever stayed the same.

When it was time to come home to Canada, it was always the same.
My whole family would gather in front of the house like the Clampets waving goodbye until we were out of sight.

When my mother would pick me up at the airport here in Toronto, she would silently cry as I told her how everyone was, and of all of the things that happened over the summer.
She told me that she cried because she heard “home” in the regional dialect I had reacquired during my visits.

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve been to Petrovo Selo.

One thing stayed with me though.

If you come to my house to visit…
when you leave…
I’ll stand on the stoop and wave to you until you are out of sight.

Old habits die hard.