Ancestral Village -- Mrzla Vodica
My final days here have been rewarding in terms of seeking out family ties. On Thursday my landlord called the church in Lokve for me (at my request) to ask if, since I would be there the next day, I could look through the registries of births, etc. to look for our family records. The priest told him that in fact all the records are held in the archives in Rijeka! So here they have been, practically across the street from where I work, all this time. If I had figured this out earlier I could have looked through many more records. As is, I only had time to look through the birth records up to 1902 before the office closed Thursday (at 1 pm). And since the plan was to visit Mrzla Vodica on Friday, which was my last day here when the archives are open, those three hours I spent in the archives on Thursday are the only ones I will have. I did not really know what I was doing, though my cousin Cathy, who works in genealogy, did help me somewhat through email advice. I found many of our ancestors’ births recorded, through the Milosevic and Kosmac lines. The people who work at the archives were very helpful and nice. The director gave me a collection of Croatian short stories in English and told me that one of the writers therein married a woman from Lokve with whom he had a daughter (Dora) who became Pablo Picasso’s lover.
Then yesterday, Friday, I finally made it to Mrzla Vodica, the ancestral village of my paternal grandmother’s parents. My neighbor Jadranka drove me there at my request (I paid her what it would have cost for a rental car). We both enjoyed the outing to the mountains on another very hot day. Mrzla Vodica, which means, little frozen (or very cold) water, is situated in the mountains. The houses all line up along a few very windy, mountain roads. And near the “center” is a lovely lake. Well, it seemed like two lakes actually, though they are connected. It is an extremely pretty place, a very green, resort type town. But it doesn’t have the infrastructure of resort towns, no store, restaurant, post-office, etc. There was a café right at the lake. And this seems to be something of a “center” in the village.
I asked Jadranka (the neighbor who drove me) to ask some men we saw outside the café about whether there were any Kosmac or Milosevic people living here, and they (the men we asked) were really nice. The first man wondered out loud about the names, so another man standing nearby came and offered his input. It was all in Croatian so I did not really understand. But they immediately indicated where the Milosevic household was. But they were puzzled by Kosmac. Finally I kind of spelled it for them, and the one man said “Oh, Kosmac!” (with a different pronunciation of the “o” sound). Then he remembered where that family lived too. So we were told to go first find the Milosevic household, though they said that the last Milosevic, Anna, died 20 years ago. Nonetheless we found the house (everyone we met on the road and asked knew where it was). It was toward one end of the village. We talked to the neighbors, who said the children of Anna live in Rijeka. She gave me their numbers. We then went to see the church in town (on top of a steep hill), but it was closed. Then we met one of the men from the café, who offered to take us around to the Kosmac woman and the cemetery. We found graves of Milosevic and Kosmac, but only recent graves. There were no graves older than about 50 years old in that cemetery, which I later learned is typical. If a grave is ignored for 20 years, it is simply removed and re-used (I’m not sure exactly how but that is how Jadranka translated what a woman near one cemetery told us).
We then went to find the Kosmac relative, but at first the man helping us spoke to her and told us we had to go ask another woman if she had really been a Kosmac. He said she couldn’t remember for sure what her maiden name had been!! I think maybe she was just wary of talking to strangers. Anyway, another neighbor reputed to have a good memory told us that yes, she was definitely a Kosmac. So we went back and this time she spoke to us. Eventually she invited us in for a drink, so we spoke to her for maybe a half hour. But unfortunately she spoke no English, and I was getting very little translation of what they talked about. Also I did not have a chance (or a way) to ask many questions. Later Jadranka told another neighbor, who’s English is better, some of the things she said, and he told me. I had told Jadranka to tell her the story that I’d heard from my grandmother that the Milosevic family were rich and the Kosmach family were poor. So when my great-grandmother wanted to marry a Kosmach, her family disowned her. In fact, I thought that was why they moved to the States. Nada, this apparently distant cousin, confirmed these facts. She said originally the Kosmaches were very poor and had only a little piece of land (which is on the opposite side of town from the Milosevic family, and in fact in a separate village called “Zelin Mrzla Vodica” or Green Little Frozen Water). Nada told us that little by little the Kosmac family bought more adjoining land and prospered a little better. It seems that both the family names have more or less died out because most of the children (in my grandmother’s family too) were women, so their names changed when they married. It was nice to meet Nada and see these places. I can’t say she seemed overly interested in me, but maybe she found it all a bit odd, and she was friendly. At one point she told me I could buy land there if I wanted to, but I did not express much interest (the translation was a little hard to follow), so that's as far as that went. We exchanged phone numbers, and I also gave her my email address. So we’ll see if I ever hear from her or her family again.
We also went to the church in Lokve (the bigger town nearby where everyone goes for any business). We drove around a little and located the church, but it was locked (as Croatian churches often are). We asked a man about finding the cemetery, and he told us to find the priest, which we did in a marked house nearby. He gave us the keys to go inside the church, so I got to see and take pictures of that. We also checked the Lokve cemetery for graves, but as in Mrzla Vodica, they are all fairly recent, and I did not find any of our family names.
Anyway, it was overall a very fun day to see this place where ancestors lived and some relatives still do. I think life is pretty hard there in the village. Nada and the man who was helping us look around both talked about how hard life always was there, and that many people had emigrated to the States as a result. They said most people don't live there year round anymore. In fact a student of mine from Lokve said there are only about ten people who live there (Mrzla Vodica) year round. The rest who own houses there just come now for weekends or vacations in the summer. It is cool up there in the mountains, and it's quite close to a national park (Risnjak). I felt chilly when we got there about 8:30 am. We left here at 8 am, so that tells you how close it is to Rijeka. But as soon as we got near Rijeka it was back to blazing heat.
Now I am packing and discarding all the stuff I have accumulated or brought here, but don’t want to bring back. I dread dragging all my luggage to Zagreb tomorrow and then the airport Monday morning. I have to take public transportation for all this. So I’ll get a taxi to the bus station here, a bus to Zagreb, another taxi to my hotel, then another taxi the next morning to the airport. This is the less pleasant face of travel. But I do look forward to being back.