Vesna Cvjetićanin was born in Yugoslavia in the 1960s and never imagined leaving it. However, in the early 1990s, she found herself moving to Australia with her young family, and has been living in Canberra ever since. A lawyer and public servant by profession, Vesna is now retired, and spends her time writing poetry, running two radio shows on Canberra’s 2XX FM (Multicultural Voices of the ACT, and Srbija u Mom Srcu (Serbia in my Heart)), and spending time with her children and grandchildren – not to mention her dear pup, Rikki the Whippet.
This memoir forms part of a travelogue Vesna wrote while travelling through Europe with her husband Miloš in 2017. It appears in a slightly amended format here.
Image: © Dušica Milutinović, 2017
I grew up in a family where everything my grandparents, parents, family friends and I did had something to do with trains and railways. My grandpa was a train operator. My dad maintained trains. And we all lived, played, walked and worked alongside a railway.
During my pre-school days, when I was around five or six years of age, I used to spend a lot of time at my grandparents’ home. Their house was on the opposite side of the railway tracks from my parents’ place, so I was able to cross over to the other side and visit them very easily. Visiting them meant I was not under the surveillance of my mum, and with my grandma always being busy with one thing or another, she didn’t keep a close eye on me either. In those times, one of the activities that gave me a lot of joy – and that I could engage in for hours – was to walk, by myself, the three hundred-odd metres from my grandparents’ house to the spot where my grandparents’ street crossed with a number of railway tracks.
I would stand there, at that spot, leaning on the old rusty metal barrier that edged the tracks, and day-dream, watching the trains pass by. I particularly enjoyed it when my grandpa was on a shift that included him being responsible for moving locomotives from the active tracks to the workshop, to be repaired or serviced. This was called ‘manoeuvring’ as it involved driving a locomotive through a number of crossover points, back and forth, back and forth, until it was on the right track and ready to move into the workshop for maintenance.
The moment I enjoyed most, and waited for with great excitement, was when my grandpa would lean through the window and, with his broad, warm smile, give me a big wave. How special and proud I felt!
Today, some 50 years later, I’m sitting here on one of the world’s fastest trains, the TGV in France, almost literally flying at 320kph between Paris and Toulouse. I’m far away, both temporally and geographically, from the times and places of my early childhood, and I’m also far away from my current life in Australia. But being here, I feel a closeness to it all. And I remember those precious, heart-warming experiences with a great deal of nostalgia and love. Trains of, and for, my soul – may they live on.
© Vesna Cvjetićanin, 2018