Roger Marolt: Roots spanning an ocean supporting a branch 7,908 feet high
“It is normal,” he said in broken English and shrugged his shoulders for the second, third, however many times it was that I swept my hands across the rolling hills in front of us and the jagged mountains behind in the misty sunset, shaking my head, saying “beautiful” again, because it was incredible country and because it was about all I could say, not having much common language to share.
He was my third or fourth cousin twice or thrice removed. I’m not sure how the branches of family trees are identified by genealogists. It’s all fruit under the canopy to me.
What I do think I know is that his great grandfather and mine were brothers and we were the first Marolts from Aspen to return to the Slovenian town they grew up in since the one leading to me got the notion to pack up and head farther west than maybe even he imagined.
I always believed that people who take the natural beauty around them for granted are self-important ingrates who create a world so busy for themselves that they don’t have time to be thankful for the God-given magnificence around them. It never occurred to me that it could be the man who had never been anywhere else who, while not looking past it, fails to mark every glance at it as extraordinary simply because he has nothing to compare it with.
Marolce is a village of six or seven houses occupied by families that have lived there for generations. The population changes by birth and death. My wife, who approaches research like a bear does currants in September, discovered it as Marolt common ground. We pinpointed it with Google Earth to see if it was too far out of the way for our family vacation.
I wasn’t sure I had the nerve to knock on a door there and start asking questions. It’s a place where strangers are rare, if not actually strange. I told myself just finding the place and getting a picture in front to the town’s sign would be thrill enough.
“No pictures allowed!” an unconvincing voice sort of yelled in a way intended to sound funny to those standing close to him. It came from just over the hill and the man who said it darted out of sight when I looked his way.
It emboldened me. I walked toward it. I came upon a family and neighbors enjoying an afternoon on their back porch. “Do you speak English?” I asked.
They brought out a high school-aged boy who did and he translated who we were and why we were there. They brought out wine and made coffee and served snacks the way folks used to when family stopped by expectedly unexpected. They were not Marolts, but sent the kids next door to tell the Marolts what was happening. They thought it was impossible that we came all the way from America to see them.
News came back from across the street that the Marolts were out for the afternoon; unfortunate, but not the end of the party. A grandfather appeared and his eyes lit up. I looked like his best friend, a Marolt he grew up with. He sat next to me and reminisced and gestured and laughed, and I did too, like we understood each other, even though we didn’t, at least not precisely. Because of the blood we made the effort to be as intimate as complete strangers can be in sharing the details of our lives over the course of a few hours that were a gift.
The party went on long enough for the Marolts of Marolce to arrive home and then the reunion moved to their porch. We took a tour of the original house which nobody lived in now, and we took pictures of my cousin and me in profile to compare our noses that are laughably similar. He is as bald as my American cousin, Rod. He has my father’s hazel eyes.
My relatives in Marolce don’t ski. They do climb the mountains of Slovenia. They make their livings in trades. The town is surrounded by farms, so I assume they do that, too. They were anxious to know what Marolts found to do in America.
We learned the last witch burned at the stake in the Austral-Hungarian empire was a Marolt and the deed was done on the ground where we sat. It’s funny our lives, no matter how interestingly lived or how tragically ended, will be miniscule notes of trivia, if we are lucky.
As dusk settled, we said our goodbyes, struggling to extend the unexpectedly precious meeting, unsure of what it meant or if it would ever be repeated. My cousin held my forearm and shook my hand warmly, and we promised to return, because saying goodbye is a time used better for fantasy than honesty.
Being in Marolce made me feel less like an Aspenite than any point in my life. I also understood the truth of being related to people we don’t know all over this world. Our knowledge of history is barely more reliable than our predictions about the future. The visit to Marolce was very good for me.
Roger Marolt knows we stand more firmly knowing our roots extend far out into the Earth. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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