One Double Biography from the Heart(For my Mum and Dad)
© Copyright 2022 by Branka Vulic
Mum and Dad on 50th anniversary. Photo from the author
My late father and my mother were not historical personalities but they made history – of our family and the world around them. There are many men and women like them, who were history creators of that non-spectacular but important type, and who will never get the chance to be biographed.
So, whatever your impression of my text might be, after you have read it, just think about your dearest people that you consider great. Pay them respect in any of the ways you are good at. Make their biographies your way.
Magazines in the briefcase and treasures in the bookcases
Both my parents were teachers: my dad taught Croatian and my mum Maths. They were both literature lovers. Bookcases in our rooms were full in the real sense of the word. Before I learned to read and write, my mother used to read at my bedside. The first was the fairy tales, then some longer books, and finally a special treat. She read me the entire In Desert and Wilderness novel. I don´t remember how long did it take but that was something not every mother will do.
When I learned to read and was ready to jump to something more complex than fairy tales, I started to use our treasure by myself. If I wasn´t outside in the yard, then they could find me sitting on the rug in front of the bookcase, reading.
During my early school years, my father always brought something interesting from school. I believe he subscribed to all possible kids´ educational magazines and was happy to see me smile whenever I opened his briefcase. There I discovered the world of nature and science.
My dad died at the age of 86, and almost to the last months of his life, he used to order books at a pace of at least one copy in a couple of months. He was buying them for himself, his kids, and his grandkids.
Strictness and discipline
One day my dad had to do some school administration at home, so he closed himself in the bedroom to find some peace. The seven-year-old me was too curious and impatient, so I first peeped through the keyhole, then I put a small piece of paper on the doorknob with exactly these words: „Dad is in his bear´s den.“ When he came out and saw my note he was offended – probably due to exhaustion from dull words and numbers – but after a while and after a few words with my mum, he stretched his arms towards me and hugged me.
My mathematically oriented mum noticed early that her science and I were not on good terms and she did her best to tutor me at home. She was not my Maths teacher at school but she thought it was a matter of honor that I get at least one solid B (4 in my country) in this subject. So she sat with me whenever I stumbled upon something difficult (fractions, functions, and the rest) and tried to clear the muddy swamp in my head. In the end, I always finished the school year with a weak B in Maths. Wise as she was, she gave up my math improvement in secondary school. She let me fight for myself, and that is what a wise mother and teacher should do.
Dad at the rock concert
One of our popular bands was coming to town when I was 15 and I so much wanted to see and hear them. Unfortunately, nobody from my class liked them, not even my older brother. I insisted on going alone, dead or alive. The situation was not as risky as today but anyway… My dad said he would accompany me. I died inside. I didn´t want to go, saying he would embarrass me in front of everybody. I was forgetting that there would be probably no one familiar. Suddenly he changed his mind. I didn´t ask anything and happily went to buy a ticket out of my saved pocket money.
That evening I jumped into a tram and after several stops I noticed him standing in the crowd at the back of the tram. It was too late to act heroically and go home, besides, I liked the band very much. So, the whole evening he was like some kind of a secret agent, at the distance, never showing that we know each other. Our return home was the same – two strangers at the distance. At that time I didn´t like him for that, and we never talked about it but as usual, only later did I learn to value his concern. I took care to find the company for all my later concerts but I am thankful that he cared so much.
Parents are just humans
It´s an old truth that we see our parents only as parents but looking through the family albums reveals a lot about their youth, personality, and even the love story between them.
They both left their home at an early age, around 15, and moved to their boarding schools respectively. They started teaching at 18 or 19 because at that post-war time teachers were needed and only a secondary school for teachers was enough. Not much later, but when they already got married and had my brother and me, the rules changed. They had to finish college and so they did.
When I think about the age my mother got married, I am amazed. She was 18, working, and not much later got married. She remained with my father for 60 years, they did have some disputes, and later some typical old-age naggings but if you could have seen their eyes when they were together, you could not miss the two today rare things – love and respect. They never insulted each other.
Some more details from family albums
Following the timeline in our old family albums reveals that my parents paid attention to their looks. Their early and later youth took place during the 50s and 60s. Our country was not rich but the times were different: people had an old-fashioned concept about clothing. Tracksuits were only for the track – you know what I mean.
My parents looked decent and elegant – and fashionable within their limits.
Their photos show the changes in fashion and in growing old.
A photo of my dad accompanying the class in the resort by the sea. All of them in their swimming suits or trunks, sitting around the big lunch table in the yard. My dad is in bermuda shorts and a short-sleeved white shirt.
A photo of my mum near the race track. She and her friends are in shorts, white T-shirts, and soft sneakers.
Mum and Dad. Photo from the author
Both of them were close together and looking at each other: their clothes and the entire look were modest but decent and carefully chosen.
Some later photos impeccably show the fashion development through the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Of course, discreetly adjusted to the man and the woman of their age.
Later, they shyly let some tracksuits and other casual clothing enter their closets but still retained the subtle elegance for going out to town.
My dad is no longer with us but my mum is now 88 and still pays attention to her looks. That´s the way it should be!
How do the „old school“ guys overcome their differences
Mum and dad were/are stable and reliable personalities but my dad was an introvert with extroverted traits and my mum is a cautious extrovert. My dad didn´t like social gatherings. At weddings, and school staff parties (they haven't invented the name team building at that time) he was a wallflower, sitting mostly quietly but if anyone started a conversation with him I bet they enjoyed it. My father was at the same time an intellectual in the full sense of the word and a down-to-earth man. He had a sharp mind (and tongue) and people who preferred content over form could have fun without being part of the noisy bunch.
My mum likes to talk, too. Not the empty shallow talk but unlike my father, her favorite topics are of a more motherly, psychological, and ready-to-help kind. Her purpose for attending any party or gathering was fun. She enjoyed seeing people, especially at her homecomings, which are every 4th or 5th year in my country. On these occasions, she traveled some 250 kilometers to the town where she went to school. She returned from each of these homecomings with some pictures of her laughing, dancing, and singing.
From time to time she mentioned she regrets that our dad can´t dance but that didn´t stop her from dancing nor did it make my father complain about her having fun without him. Never in my life have I seen such a couple: two people so easily accepting their differences. They set the bar high. We, their kids realized that when we grew up.
Both of them used to go on some trips alone, and neither of them was jealous or angry about that. Why should they be? In summers they traveled together – with us of course.
A little bit subversive
My parents taught my brother and me how to be reliable persons and professionals at work but most of all they taught us how to survive difficult situations and people. They knew they could not possibly protect us from bad things but what they could, was arm us with the skills of irony, humor, and distance from various demanding situations.
To survive, one has to take things a little less personally, view the world through our glasses, and from time to time subtly break some unnecessary rules. We all know that rules very often contradict themselves, so why not ignore them?
When I was a kid I never dreamed that the world could become so dull, boring, and rule-obsessed as today. My mum used to practice something naive and harmless which many of my fellow teachers would consider a sacrilege. She used me as her assistant from time to time, and I proudly helped her: when she corrected students´ papers, she let me count the points and write down the grades in her notebook (she later copied them in the register), and write the agenda of the boring staff meeting when it was her turn to write it. She simply jotted down notes and I shaped everything to the appropriate form. Again, she copied them in her handwriting in the official records.
My dad gave me a recipe for how to let people know they are wasting everybody´s time. He used to retell a story of one of his staff meetings where teachers´ discussion turned into useless arguing. Of course, it was noisy and – just like teachers always do – almost everybody talked simultaneously. Quiet as he was, he saw no point in joining the discussion, so he stood up and went to the door. Then they saw him and became silent. He simply said: „Keep talking, I´ll be back sometime later.“
How to sail through old age
Living in one´s sunset years does not leave much space for dignity but my parents decided not to give up dignity.
In his last years, my dad lost almost all his hearing. Despite wearing his hearing aid, he had to approach the radio or TV when he wanted to listen to the news. He used to turn the volume rather high. When talking with him, we had to be face to face, and we uttered our words with clear diction. He developed the skill of lip reading.
Apart from this, he applied a kind of strategy for fighting dementia. He always had a stock of small memo pads where he used to write almost all his daily tasks. He carefully ordered them on the table in the dining room as a reminder and argued with my mum when she wanted to serve the meal. Despite this state, he managed to read and lead creative conversations deep into his old age. We lost him mentally only after he ended up in hospital after breaking his hip.
My mum, 88 now, reads newspapers, and solves crosswords but takes breaks sparing her eyes, which is only natural. She watches the news, tennis matches, concerts, and comedy shows on TV.
They don´t make ´em like they used to
The above saying should not cause regret or despair or doubt in humankind. Every old generation indeed takes some things with them when leaving but that is not a tragedy. The tragedy would be if the old generation did not pass on to the young one that what matters, is to be a decent and consistent human being.
I was born on April 22, 1960, in Orahovica, Croatia. Since 1969 I have been living in the town of Osijek. There I completed my entire schooling, finishing with the Teacher´s Faculty, subgroup English and German language and literature. Before the war in my country in the 1990s, I worked in an export-import department in one of our factories, as a translator and interpreter. After 1995 I started to teach English and German in primary school, and I still do. I am a certified court interpreter for English and German in my country but this is my secondary, occasional activity. I am a proud mother of two grown-up young people (Robert 29 and Anita 25). I have always read a lot and kept my journal. Occasionally I have written some posts on public blogs in my country, under a pen name.