In my 19 years of life, I am yet to make a trip to the homeland of Macedonia. I came agonizingly close in the summer of 2020, until the pandemic rolled around. But many times, I felt I have been right there through the stories of my father’s family, that decided to make the journey to new life in Australia. These are just a handful of the best, nostalgic moments
As mentioned in previous weeks, there is a rich family history in both my grandfather Riste and grandmother Darinka’s clans. Tales of hardship, courage, grit and strong ethics have built the values they’ve all passed down to their children and grandchildren. And even then, it’s important to note these elders were once in my shoes many moons ago, looking for opportunity after opportunity and seeking to provide for their families in extremely tough conditions
Both my grandparents described 1950s and 1960s life in rural Macedonia as brutally tough conditions with no time for leisure and plenty of time for hard work. I remember they both used to clash over who had more wealth in their childhood, but I don’t believe that mattered as every family seemed to be happy with whatever possessions they had.
Animals, such as donkeys and horses were quite the common household pet, and my grandmother recalls one of her family pets meeting an unfortunate end at the hands of an envious neighbour. Her older brother confronted the man and told him that a stupid person such as yourself is not even worth turning in to the authorities
Both the Ristovski and Stojanovski families were raised on strong family values, with large emphasis on respect, acceptance and love. I can confirm that first hand growing up in a Macedonian household that blasts music loudly from all over the Balkans.
Legend has it that on a certain wedding day, where the band in question were a talented crew of Romani playing much beloved Macedonian tunes, my grandfather Riste took the customary tipping of the musicians to an unbelievable level, making the band play all day, all night into the wee hours of the morning. My Baba recalls that it was completely normal in village life to share your meals with other families in the village, especially when one was struggling to put food on their table.
Even when my father came along in 1973, values still managed to stay the same. He recalls visiting my Baba’s parents and when it came time to serve a supper of Potatoes and other vegetables, his grandmother told him that they unfortunately didn’t have any salt to season the meal and that they would have to use sugar. No one questioned it or no one complained, it was just the way conditions were back then.
When they moved to Skopje, both my grandparents happily let my father play with the local Romani children. Whilst that sounds pretty harmless, some families considered it a social taboo and treated our Romani brothers and sisters horribly. Even when my dad caught a case of head lice from playing with the children one day, my grandparents gained much love and admiration because they continued to treat their neighbours with the respect and decency they deserved.
As time rolled on, new chances and lives would await some of the Papradištani in a far off place called Australia. Many would make the journey, but some did not and I can only imagine how painful it was to say goodbyes and separate themselves from parents, siblings and friends. Whilst some had the luxury of holidays back to the homeland and even bringing their own parents out to Australia for short trips like my family did, some weren’t so lucky and never saw loved ones again.
I was unfortunate to never meet my great grandparents from my father’s side, but I’m blessed to hold onto many stories that will be passed down generation to generation. Their legacy lives on through their photographs, their life lessons and of course their many descendants in Australia and in Macedonia. And as their great-grandson, there will always be a soft place in my heart for them.