Growing up in the Macedonian community, I’ve met fierce patriots from all over the nation. Bouf, Dragos, Demir Hisar, Bitola spring to mind. But I believe no village or city in our great nation has fiercer patriots than our beloved village, Papradiste. Is it the fresh air of the mountains? Or the clear water of the spring? You’ll soon find out.
We as Macedonian people are renowned for beautiful songs and ballads- about love, tragedy, and most hilarious of all, drinking. The song that represents Papradištani worldwide, Mi Se Sobrale Vake Take Site Selani, strikes a chord with everyone, whether you’re a direct descendant of ancestors who once roamed the narrow paths and fields, or you were a child born in the village walls, to the toil of hard work and the sound of goats- just like my paternal grandfather and grandmother were.
If only I could show you all my parent’s wedding video, for when this song came on during the morning celebrations, the guests all sung this beautiful tune as if it was our very own answer to Biser Balkanski. My grandparents speak of their village days as the greatest of their lives, teaching them life lessons that just wouldn’t get taught in a developed, Western city like Melbourne.
My grandfather Riste, whom is affectionally known as Chris to Australian and non-Balkan counterparts, was born in 1951 to Tode and Elena ‘Lena” Ristovski, the middle child of three. His younger brother Ordan would soon become the source of my name, just like my sister Jelena would soon bear our dear great-grandmother Lena’s name.
Baba remembers him as a cheeky lad, but a hard worker who already had his feet in the paddocks at the crack of dawn. He served his compulsory military service with the Yugoslavian National Army for 13 months in Zagreb, Croatia working in the army’s engineering faculty that allowed him to tinker with military equipment and vehicles.
Once his service was up, his knowledge and relevant studies allowed him to travel a vast chunk of Europe, including Romania, Greece, Czechoslovakia, Austria and Germany. This would allow him to pick up languages and world knowledge which he would pass onto me 40 odd years later.
My grandmother Darinka, who also goes by Dara and the anglicized Dana, was born in 1953 to Boris and Slavjanka Stojanovski, the youngest child of five. When new horizons beckoned in Australia, my grandmother would be accompanied by her older brother and sister whom also started new beginnings in the land down under, leaving behind another brother and sister in Macedonia.
Baba remembers her childhood as laborious, back breaking work which continues to rub off onto the relatively elderly woman she is today. Her father Boris was a very treasured figure in her life, and many of her own sayings can be traced back to his words. My grandparents were able to meet in the relatively close confinement and isolation of the village where everyone knew everyone, but like all of us Macedonians, there was a unique story to their matchmaking.
Baba Draga, my Dedo’s mother’s sister, was relatively concerned the blossoming romance was having some negative impacts on grades, especially when Dedo failed an exam. Both young ones were pulled aside for a stern message, as Baba was told she was the reason he wasn’t doing so well in school. Her future mother in law Elena would reassure her that she had nothing to worry about and was the right match for her son.
On the other hand, my Dedo was handed a 50 cent coin by his favourite Aunty. If you fail the next exam, use it to buy a rope and hang from the tree!
Those brutally honest words would resonate well with my grandfather, as he morphed into the man I know he is, passed his next exams easily and happily married my grandmother, even if he did travel to the church on the back of a donkey in a traditional Macedonian wedding procession, whilst my grandmother made her bridal journey to St Peter’s church on foot! If you’re wondering how this story makes Papradiste the most patriotic place in Macedonia, it’s very simple really.
The answer is in the stories. The traits and legends that get passed down generation to generation. My grandparents absolutely love it that to this day, I’m still so eager to hear their stories woven into hundreds of years of history.
It makes you proud of your roots, and whilst I’m already proud of my Macedonian blood, I’m even prouder it comes from Papradiste.