“Živjeli!” I raised my glass to join the toast to our newlywed friends at their midweek wedding. It was a beautiful evening on the California coast. Our plates were full, a Cajun band was playing, the worries of the world were, for a moment, far away.
Živjeli means ‘cheers’ in Croatian. I learned the word from my maternal grandfather who arrived in San Francisco in the 1930s from what was then Yugoslavia. He grew up in a small fishing village before fighting in World War I, and he looked for a way out. Crossing the Atlantic and making his way across the country along with my grandmother wasn’t easy, but the promise and possibility of living in a democratic country was worth it to them. They eked out a living by working a variety of service jobs, learned the language, raised two daughters and eventually settled into a relatively comfortable retirement
Papa was 70 years old by the time I was born. By then, my mom said, he had softened a bit, but his angry streak had been a hallmark of her childhood. Was it the trials of being an immigrant amid the Depression, the stress of the Second World War or the ghosts of his time in WWI that haunted Papa? No one knew for sure.
I learned early that his mood could turn on a dime. But I also saw that Papa knew how to enjoy what there was to enjoy. He loved singing along to Frank Sinatra, gardening and cooking and gathering with his friends from “the Old Country.” And he didn’t start a meal without a toast.
“Ji-va-lo!” We answered. (I heard it, and still stay it that way although the official translation is “ji vo li.”)
He’s been gone a while — I was 10 years old when his heart suddenly stopped — but I can still picture him raising his wine. He’d stand up from the table slightly so he could clink his jelly glassful of red wine with my glass of milk.
“Živjeli!” I said again, on Tuesday, encouraged and happy to see two people go for love, the best of being human, despite the odds, and the current climate.
Last night, I stayed up late, cringing at the details outlined in the Jan 6 Committee Hearings. Earlier in the week, I drove past one of the bigger churches in town to get to the ballot drop off box near City Hall. The church takes up most of the corner, but it's a building I usually don't look at twice. Now there were 21 classroom chairs set around the entrance strewn with flowers and signs.
As painful as the reminder was, it made me that much determined about participating in our democracy. There was nothing about guns on the ballot I was returning, but there was a measure regarding upgrading and improving local schools. That measure squeaked by, making a squeakier squeak for the fact that only 13.4% of voters cast ballots in the primary election.
I hope we do better next time. While there is one.