Marolt: A roughly translated letter of “if”s and “but”s
You head through Slovenia in hopes of getting a photo in front of the sign outside a village that is supposedly where your family is from and you end up accidentally meeting a third cousin. It’s all in a day’s vacation. Nobody can predict what might happen during a family vacation. It’s why we carry baby wipes in the glovebox and keep the credit card handy for when the drink cart comes by, just in case.
Then you get home and start trading emails with perfect strangers who don’t speak much English but carry the same genetic code as you in their blood. Blood is at least as thick as broadband wireless connections.
As is predictable, pretty soon there are attachments to the emails; a picture of them replied to with pictures of us for comparison. Then, as soon as we get through with that modern formality that somewhere along the way replaced the tradition of exchanging things like mason jars of homemade dandelion wine for heavily guarded family recipes for potcia and sourdough pancakes, a letter surfaces from the dust of a box in somebody’s attic that makes you grateful that somebody remembered about it before they died and the overwhelmed kids, after a few days of trying to sort everything, get good and bored and tired and order a construction site dumpster and empty the entire contents of the house into it except for a few souvenirs from happier times that happen to have ended up near the surface.
The letter, dated March 1, 1904, primarily from my great-great-uncle Anton to his dear brother, Frank, my great-grandfather, who had moved far away to America (specifically, Aspen, unbeknownst to them). It is about birthrights and opportunities of which it appears my great-grandfather controlled at this time and, coincidentally, resulted in a huge potential shift of my own fate.
Apparently, my great-great-grandfather was getting to the point in life where everyone else had to consider what life was going to be like without him. At stake was the family farm and who was going to run it after he departed this world.
In a direct translation from my Slovenian cousin, who speaks English pretty well, the letter read, in part, as follows:
“Dear brother! I am writing to you some words and at first I am sending best greetings to you and your family and asking you to send me an answer on the question that follows. I would like to know if you are going to take over our farm in Marolce. In that case just let me know. Father wants you to become the owner. In that case I will have to earn some money, so I am asking you to send me a ticket or just write me if there is possible to get a job for me in America. Dear brother Frank (“France” in Slovenian) I am asking you to answer me as soon as possible to let me know where I am. Be with God!”
Anton didn’t know where Frank lived, so he sent the letter via their sister, Alena, who was also in America. He added to the letter:
“Dear Alena. I am writing to you some lines, too. At first, best greetings to all of you! I am asking you to give this letter to Frank, because I don’t know his address. Please do this for me. You know the situation at home. We’re all healthy and also wish this beloved health to you. Please write sometime to let me know how you are there. Best greetings to all of you, especially to you, my dear sister.”
Then, not wanting to waste an opportunity to talk, another, possibly a brother-in-law, grabbed the pen and scribbled his two-cents on the letter:
“I and Mica (probably his wife) and our kids are sending you best greetings although all of you are angry about me because of that girl. It wasn’t my fault. I wrote to you that she is young and she promised me to be good and obedient, but, if she doesn’t want to behave that way, I cannot change anything. Please write to me how you doing there and where is now that girl, Polona.”
I share this family secret only in hopes in increasing the intimacy I have with you, dear reader, and in the remote hope that you might know what this seemingly sordid tidbit is all about.
At any rate, it is evident that my great-grandfather never exercised his birthright to the family farm in Slovenia and that is why I ended up here and my distant cousins stayed there. For better or worse, things worked out this way and had nothing to do with my plans.
Roger Marolt can more clearly see himself as a Slovenian farmer. Email at email@example.com.
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