Autumn Moon

September and I’m editing the story – the book – the novel – the whatever – aka Butterfly Coffee. Third in to fourth round. A change of main character, of emphasis. It has been helpful to have others crit my work and me. Asking me why I am compelled to tell this story, what I can do to improve it and me.

It’s not been an easy process. I lost it once. Retrieved some of it. Some of it written by hand or printed. This turned out to be a blessing as it made me evolve the tale, it made me let go. and I do not let go easily, of anything.

I had a bit of a scare this week and was sent to hospital where I spent the day being shunted around on a wheel chair ( I could have walked!), monitored here and there, waiting for results. Eventually they let me away – they could let go – ruling out another escalating MI. The pain, they concluded, was muscular – not my heart, but other muscles. Asked if I had taken painkillers I replied no. So they stuffed some in my pocket and home I went – on the bus! I wondered if knitting could have done it. I certainly don’t do many strenuous weight-lifting style things any more. No more logs to stack!

It dawned on me as I sat in a corridor that my father died of his second heart attack on 24th September – six months after his first, the same hospital. Let’s not go there, hey. I went to visit his grave today – he’s looking pretty much okay, says all is fine. the aroma of Turkish coffee and Woodbines lingered, as always. I came across the artist Alexandra Dvornikova recently – this image reminds me of me and my father. He was definitely a bear, a very protective one.

I like the transition from summer salads to autumn vegetables – red cabbage for coleslaws, a hearty green cabbage salad, nuts and apples, soups, casseroles, crumbles. I am in a purple mood – my knitting is all purples at the moment, I’m liking purple fruit and vegetables too!













I’m also interested in playing a balalaika – giving it a shot – if I can. I’m learning Italian again, watching Samurai films, exploring Nordic patterns. Books – arriving in the post from far away places. The Slavic in me is a strong force, a flow I have to go with. My father knew what he was doing when he taught me so much before I went to school. It’s always left me straddling two worlds and having an interest in many places and cultures.  I have come to accept that’s how I am. Many not few.

There ends my weekend burbling. Why do I write here? I write everywhere. This is only one part of the story!

Balalaika come to me…


Holocaust Memorial Day



Seventy years.

Over the decades the stories and memories become deeper.

The first German lesson. Did anyone know any. Yes, I said:

Nichts rauchen

Nichts essen

Nichts wasser

How did I know?

They were in camps in the war.

We bend, but we do not break.

We live to sing and dance

We live with libraries in our souls.

You are as big on the inside as the universe is on the outside.

Make a library in your heart for everyone.

Work does not make free. It enslaves us. Love makes us free.

Expression makes us free. The wind makes us free.

Always and forever we will sing and dance.

Be humble for you are made of earth

Be noble for you are made of stars


Majka Moja Mila – My Dearest Mother

She was born in 1932 in a village called Kazance tucked away in the mountains between Bosnia and Croatia, youngest of six, there were thirty years between her and her oldest sister. Grandma was fifty years old when she gave birth to my mother – she told her daughter that she never really wanted to have her at such an old age, but that she was the best of all her children.

My mother Milica (Melissa) didn’t go to school, although she should have. The war was on and the neighbouring city, Banja Luka, was under siege by the Nazis throughout World War II. She would often recall living through those years as a child and the fear that ran through her. As an adult she still didn’t like the sound of aeroplanes, was afraid of fire and had an ingrained hatred of fascism. One of her sisters taught her to read Cyrillic, but mostly she learned how to knit, weave, sew, make clothes and how to look after the farm animals.

Grandma, who was known for her love of fauna, would always chastise her daughter for not being kind enough to the farm animals. One summer’s day she was asked to tend to the bees by her sister Jela. Milica didn’t have the gift for handling them and soon they set upon her, entangled in her waist-long hair, nipping her scalp, neck and face. She survived of course, but never forgot. She never got on with snakes either and would run as fast as she could to escape angry jumping stripeys.

During the second world war, she survived typhoid when she was just nine – all her hair fell away during the fever – disease and chronic illnesses was spread by visiting armies engaged in guerrilla warfare in the forests and mountains. She was sent to hide high up in the hills many times along with all the other children when enemy soldiers passed through the village, crossing from Croatia to Bosnia and back. She would spend days tucked away in bothies dotted about the mountains, tending sheep and goats along with her friends. Mothers and the elders felt it was safer for their children and didn’t want to risk them being taken away by the Germans and Croats.

Both her brothers were murdered in a Nazi camp in Yugoslavia. They fought against the Nazis as part of an anti-fascist resistance movement hoping to free Banja Luka  from occupation. They were neither pro-loyalist or communist. The political history during that time was very complicated. When communism came after the war life altered for the peasants living in the hills and they lost ownership of their land. They were visited many times by Yugoslav militia to be asked to work voluntarily in the cities to rebuild a new country. My mother would return to the tops of the mountains to hide, along with her female companions, to avoid going. She felt it was more important to stay and look after her parents. However, things changed. She had to decide whether she was going to stay at home or leave for good.

She was the last at home to look after her parents and came to England in 1962 with just one piece of luggage, to marry my father and to work at Salt’s Mill. She weighed  seven stone when she arrived – farm work had taken its toll on her body – she was a tall woman. The other mill workers would try to fatten her up with fish and chip suppers from Saltaire chippy, but she stayed skinny for years.

My mother was a straight woman, with a dry laconic sense of humour. She didn’t drink alcohol, smoke or eat sweet food like chocolate. Sometimes she was vilified for speaking her mind – she had no fear of shooting from the hip at any man or woman. She was assertive with strong opinions on politics and culture and would engage in man talk at the table – she had little time for fishwife tittle-tattle.

Despite being a war child and growing up in poverty, she still had much love in her heart and was wholly and deeply committed to us. She loved completely. She loved children and they knew they were always welcome at our house. When times were tough, she fed the entire street of kids  who would turn up hungry at lunchtimes. She always found it in her heart to give. For this we loved her too. She made the house welcome to everyone who came by and the living room would be full of people chatting away, drinking Turkish coffee and tucking in to gibanica.

She battled with illness all her adult life and was eventually diagnosed with a terminal cancer which took her away from us after two years of struggle. She was stoic throughout, still loving completely. An unforgettable woman: mother, daughter, sister, wife and of course, baba.

Published in Family Legends – A collection of special family stories from Scottish Book Trust’s national story project. Author: Jelica Gavrilovic