Božana Pašić was born in Vojvodina, in the north of modern-day Serbia, in 1995 and emigrated to Australia in 2003 with her family. Božana is passionate about the preservation and promotion of cultural heritage and discussing the connections people have to their past, present and future.
Image: © Dušica Milutinović, 2019
Home was the cottage nestled within the foothills of Grmeč in the Dinarides. It was the lush greenery that covered the rising peak and the wild garlic that grew in the forest. It was a home you shared with your parents and grandparents. Down the gravel road you would visit your ancestors, their gravestones standing lone against the rising rock of neighbouring peaks and contrasting with the vibrant green hills sloping around them. Sometimes you would pick wildflowers in the summer and bring them to your ancestors. Sometimes you’d tell them your adventures. It didn’t matter what you said, they were always there. They listened when everyone else only pretended to.
Home was the house built next to the main road leading away from the foothills and into town. It was the road used to haul lumber and goods between cities, towns and republics. It was the attached pub where the smell of roasting meat and stale beer filled the air. Sometimes you’d go to your neighbours’ and eat their stew in trade for roast pork. Somehow it always tasted better there. Your ancestors were further away now; you only visited in summer. You’d go with your dad and help haul lumber. You would make friends with the workers, watch them as they worked, toiling in the summer sun before winter came. You’d sit in the passenger seat of the blue truck and watch your dad as he manoeuvred through the forest, the gravel roads and the main road into town. You marvelled at the machinery, the engineering. It was something you’d grow to love. You’d still pick wildflowers in the fields near the graveyard and place them beneath the gravestones. You told them stories of your friends, family and the patrons of the pub. You’d laugh as you recalled the pranks you pulled in school and the games you played with your friends by the river. You’d visit every summer. Your stories changed from childish observations to teenage philosophies. You’d recount your first crush, the parties you attended by the river, the go-carts you built from spare car parts. You’d speak of the art competition you won and of the geometry problem you had solved, and your goal of being a civil engineer. You would speak of the change that was coming; you had a bad feeling, but didn’t know what it would be. You still picked wildflowers in the fields and brought them home.
Home was the room you shared with 5 others. It was the starched blankets and metal bunks. It was the blue uniforms and the contraband cigarettes. It was the morning drills and evening marches. You would drive supply trucks for weeks and then train newcomers for months. You’d carry a gun and hope you’d never have to fire it. You never prayed, but you thought of starting then. You wrote letters to your high-school sweetheart, you told stories of the rumours of the front. You’d return to the house by the main road and visit your mother. Your father was at the front. You didn’t visit your ancestors that summer.
Home was a yellow-lined house in a village on the outskirts of town in Banat. You shared the ajnfort with your stric, your father’s first cousin. Sometimes he looked at you with teary eyes. It had been a year since you lost the cottage in the foothills, the house by the main road and your father. You married your high-school sweetheart and became a parent. You didn’t visit your ancestors that summer. No wildflowers grew. 1995 was a bittersweet year.
Home was the house on the edge of town. You shared the ajnfort with a mechanic and his mother. Your neighbour across the road had an aviary. You’d hear the song of exotic birds as you warmed the blue truck in the morning. Their calls spoke of freedom and you were reminded of spring at the cottage in the foothills. You visited your ancestors that summer; the way was filled with ruined cottages and marred forest. You stepped carefully to avoid landmines; you didn’t know if they had been cleared yet. Your stories were too sad to tell.
Home was the white-lined house near the town centre. You had a garden and a goat. You watched your daughters play on the streets as you prepared the blue truck for another job. You wondered how many more there would be; they came less frequently now. You heard the laughter of children and smiled; you remembered your time by the river. You had no worries then, and you had food on the table. Sometimes you wondered if you would be able to feed your family this month. Your great-aunt had sent paperwork; your spouse filled it out. You visited your ancestors for what felt like the final time. There were no wildflowers to pick. The gravestones had cracked, and shards of granite littered the trodden ground. Some of the copper lettering was missing. Tears stung your eyes as you approached your father’s gravestone. A loving father and freedom fighter. You didn’t know when you’d return. One day, you’ll bring your daughters here and tell them the stories of your ancestors.
Home was the white-brick colonial and the red-brick townhouse in the suburbs of Canberra, Australia. You remember the Sydney skyline, and stepping off the plane. Your aunt handed you a helium-filled balloon emblazoned with koalas and words you couldn’t read. You remembered the drive to Canberra. The trees were different and the grass was brown. You learned of bushfires, kangaroos and drought. You were driving past a golf course when you saw your first kangaroo. Your daughters were in awe in the backseat. You stopped and walked to the fence, pointing out the joeys to them. The world was foreign and you didn’t understand it; words and thoughts were difficult to form, but you were learning this new place. Your mind wandered to your ancestors. What would they say at this sight? You make a mental note to tell them sometime.
Home is the house on the hill overlooking growing suburbia. Each year, the greenery of the distant hills is lost to the muted tones of Colorbond roofing. In spring, it reminds you of the foothills of the Dinarides when the rain comes. You’ve welcomed another daughter – the second generation. You taught her your mother tongue and watched her understanding of this world grow far better than yours. Would she ever feel the pull of your ancestors? You told your daughters the stories of your childhood, you showed them the faded VHS tapes you had saved. You hung up the portrait of your father. You attend community gatherings and immerse your family in folklore of the land you once called home. In time, you visit your ancestors with your daughters. You point in the distance to show them where the cottage once stood. You explain the gravestones and the stories hidden within them – of your ancestors and their place. Your father’s gravestone has been restored to a shiny, cobbled grey. You stand on decaying pine needles and tell him stories of your new world, of kangaroos, eucalypts and First Nations peoples, as your daughters gather wildflowers. You stand with your daughters amongst wildflowers that sway in the breeze. You take a breath. You are home.
© Božana Pašić, 2020