Wednesday, November 7, 2007


These stories are true and taken from the time I was growing up - all friends, relatives, nuts, and not nuts. Most of the us were (are) ADHD, but back then we were thought of as eccentric.
This is a photo of the Fairhaven Hotel, which was built in 1890 at a cost of $300,000. The Queen of England (Victoria) stayed there at one time. In its later years it became the Fairhaven Boy's and Girl's Club and I spent many happy days there until 1956 when it caught fire and burnt to the ground.
Incidentally, most of the people living in Fairhaven were not Croatian, but made up of many nationalities - however, to me it will forever be our little Croatian village. Being ADHD, I will to see things "MY WAY" - not necessarily fact, but the way I remember the facts. This has no bearing on the truth of the stories here, only the way I see the community.
*Note: This completed book is available on Amazon Kindle.

Looking Back

Life is always funnier than any comedy sketch, the trick is to notice and enjoy it from day to day.

The relatives on my mother’s side were all ADHD; so there was no end to the confusion. People at that time just thought we were eccentric (or evil), since ADHD had not been diagnosed yet. I think if any of us had gone to a psychiatrist in those early days, we would have caused him to go crazy.

When I was young, we lived in a tight-knit Croatian community where everyone knew everyone else’s business; and in the early years, everyone that “had” helped the ones who did not. From the turn of the century up to the twenties, hundreds of Croatian immigrants came to the community. Most were family members sponsored by an aunt, uncle, or brother; some were new brides who were sent for by the men that were already here. In the forties, many left for San Pedro where commercial fishing was more profitable. As the generations came and went, much of the Croatian traditions disappeared from the families. The younger ones married non-Croatians and many of them married non-Catholics; the latter was more of a disgrace than marrying outside of your ethnic group. At the present time, there are only a few Croatians living in the community. The older ones passed on, the younger ones moved to a more elegant neighborhood, and many left for better jobs in other states. Mostly non-Croatians live in the neighborhood now, and going to that part of town brings much sadness to the souls of us who were born and raised there; but going to the old neighborhood also brings many happy childhood memories.

By the time I came along, (third generation), the families were talking mostly English so I did not pick up any of the Croatian language to my regret; well, except for the words that should not have been repeated. The older ones still raised their own vegetables and fruits, but the community grew so the chickens and goats were far and few in between; and later because of zoning ordinances, became non-existent. The current generation no longer bothers with gardens; they just go to the store to buy their fruits and vegetables and then wonder why they do not taste the same as they did when they were younger, but seem to be hard and flavorless – back then EVERYTHING was organic and no preservatives or pesticides were needed.

A few of these Croatians were actually nuts, but most were just a little eccentric because they brought all their habits, fears, and traditions with them when they came from the old country, and it wasn’t always a good fit. This was the first time in their lives that they could actually own property. In the old country, it was all government owned and the villagers were like serfs working on the land. They would raise their own goats and chickens, grapes for wine, have gardens and a place to sleep, but it all belonged to the government; and when they died, either their children could live in the house or it would revert back to the government. Actually, foreigners were not allowed on the island (because of its strategic location during war times) unless they had a relative living there until the mid to late 1980s when the Communist government finally left.

In our neighborhood, there were certain blocks on certain streets that we did not walk on as kids. If we did, one woman would come out ranting and raving, chasing us away with a broom. On another street, an old woman would hose us (which was great in the summer by the way) as we walked by. Apparently, they were very possessive of their property and did not realize that the sidewalk was a public street. They always thought that we would pick their flowers or some other nasty deed (in my case, they were correct, but most of my friends did not do anything wrong).

The men were usually away at work, but if they were home – we would be perfect angels as there were rumors that some kept guns in their pockets and would shoot misbehaving kids on site (I think one of us kids started that rumor because they looked so mean). Others would come out on their porch and watch us walk by, staring and daring us to do something. We would try smiling and waving, but if they did not respond, we would walk quickly because they would tell someone who would in turn, tell our parents that we were up to no good, and we would be in big trouble. There were only a few of these types of people and I am not sure they were Croatian. The Croatians as a rule were very joyful people and loved children. They just knew who the brats were and were stricter with us, than with the other children.

All the old women (and I mean ALL) wore black. Many of them were widows, but the ones who were not widows were apparently still in mourning over their parents, or their neighbors, or someone. They all wore scarves on their heads – almost always black, and the neighborhood kids (unless it was their particular grandmother) thought all the old women were witches.

My mother was a very young widow, so she wore black also, but she did wear colors now and then. She loved red – but never would wear it because, apparently, red was a symbol of “loose” women to the Croatians. She finally did buy a red sweater after she remarried when I was in junior high, and she looked radiant in it. I don’t remember anyone else in our family or in any of the Croatian families wearing red. The women who were not Croatians, but married Croatian men, did wear red and other bright colors, but some were looked down upon if they wore it too often.


There was an old man on 14th Street who (probably ADHD) we thought was totally nuts (and not a Croatian, by the way). He would bundle himself up in sweaters and a big overcoat, boots, gloves, hat, and a gas mask before he would go for a walk (even in the summer). He would talk to himself and yell at us kids to get away from him, even if we were on the other side of the street. He did not have to yell at us, if he came out of his house, we were gone like lightning. We figured he must be a murderer and had to wear all the clothes to hide from the police. He was not; he was just a little crazy and was afraid of a nuclear war. Now that I am old, I am finding out that almost all the elderly talk to themselves (many of the younger people too). I actually have complete conversations when no one else is around, tell jokes, and laugh at them, if I lived by myself, I would never be lonely!

Some years ago, Mr. Vitaljic on Eleventh Street, (like all the rest of the old timers) made his wine for the coming year. When he was through with the grapes, he threw them out into the open field next to his house. Mr. & Mrs. Geri’s chickens, a goat, and their only cow, ate them and got very drunk. It was quite funny to watch the animals stumbling all over the place. Similarly, when I married and moved to the country, my boys would feed their peanut butter sandwiches to the neighbor’s chickens – the chicken’s beaks would get stuck together causing the boys to roll in laughter at the antics of the chickens trying to get the peanut butter off their beaks.

Mr. Vitaljic’s wife, Maggie was an excellent cook. She usually made her spaghetti sauce for Sunday dinner in a pressure cooker. One day the thing built up too much pressure and the lid blew off. They had spaghetti sauce hanging off the ceiling, walls, and everywhere else. When my mother heard about the incident, she would never use a pressure cooker for anything, even for canning – it was much too dangerous for her.

Another neighbor, Mr. Vitaljic (not related to the first Mr. Vitaljic) who lived on Thirteenth Street across the alley from us, had a large garden and, of course, he raised chickens too. He was always working in his garden, which was quite large; he also had several fruit trees and some raspberries along one fence. They would butcher a chicken once in awhile and if we kids got wind of it, we would stand across the alley and watch. He would chop the head off and let the chicken go, the chicken would run around without its head for a few seconds spurting blood all over, we thought that was great fun, although for a while I had nightmares of headless chickens chasing me.

Mrs. George lived next to Mr. Vitaljic, and I think she was a teacher at one time. Her yard was fenced because she had a dog, but I always thought the real reason was to keep the kids out. I know she was very old (probably her late fifties, of course we thought that was ancient). She did not like us and would always yell at us to go away when we were playing in the alley (which was our play area and public property). My mother and the Vitaljic’s used to talk to her over the fence and said she was nice, but we never really believed that.

The Miller’s lived on one side of us and the Johnson’s lived on the other. Mrs. Johnson had about a million cats (not really, but it seemed like that many); most of them were strays so we could not get close enough to pet them. Mr. Johnson worked down by the bay at the railroad crossing (about two blocks away). He and another man would stop the log trucks when a train was coming. There was a railroad crossing sign, but the trains came through fairly fast so the log trucks could not always see or hear them coming. The other man was killed when a log truck failed to stop and was hit by the train. The chains broke that held the logs causing the logs to tumble off the truck; one of the logs crushed the poor man. Shortly after that, Mr. Johnson retired. I don’t remember if the logging company hired another person or if the log trucks stopped using that dumpsite.

The Miller’s had three children who were younger than I. When they would go out for the evening, my sister would baby-sit for them and I would tag along. They had a black & white TV (complete with the plastic three-color screen cover) and the kids and I always watched Wrestling; this was during the time when Gorgeous George (a wrestler) was popular. Wrestling was quite stupid then too, but we loved it and laughed at the obvious “fake” throws. Mrs. Miller was the youngest daughter of Mr. Vitaljic on Eleventh Street. One of her sisters was my mom’s best friend and the other had a daughter my age. They also had a son, named Andy. The Vitaljic’s across the alley from us had a son named Andy, and there was another Vitaljic who was a brother to the Vitaljic’s on Eleventh Street who also had a son named Andy.

Because there were so many people with the same name, the Croatians would give some of the multiple’s nicknames, which stuck with them all their lives. The three Andy’s were no exception; the Andy who’s father had chickens was named “Chicky boy,” the Andy from Eleventh Street was named “Gumps,” and the third Andy was named “Sonny Nina.” Nina was his mother’s name. I never did know why “Gumps,” but I know there is an explanation somewhere. Many of us kids grew up knowing only the nicknames of the upper generations and had no idea what their real name was.

The Croatians have a custom when naming the children. The first son is always named after the paternal grandfather (with his middle name after the maternal grandfather) and the first daughter is named after the paternal grandmother with her middle name after the maternal grandmother. The second son is always named after the maternal grandfather (with his middle name after the paternal grandfather) and the second daughter is always named after the maternal grandmother with her middle name after the paternal grandmother, and so on through all the uncles and aunts. This could be a problem with large families. If you have seven sons in a family and each one names their first son after the paternal grandfather, you would immediately have seven boys with the same name. This is not a problem in the Croatian circles; because the middle name tells you which family he or she belongs to (unless of course, some of the brothers marry girls who are sisters – which opens up a whole new can of worms). Even then, the Croatians could tell them apart because the families had nicknames too. However, in America, there were problems in schools, in stores, in phone books, and everywhere else since people not in the Croatian circle had no idea who these weird people were and why they all had the same names.

A man who lived on 12th Street who was not a Croatian once said, “This is what happens when you live on a small island with no cars; there is nothing to do but have children. I think they ran out of names, so they are all named the same.” Ninety percent of the Croatians in our neighborhood were from the island of Vis. The Island is about 11 miles long and sits 41 miles off the coast of Croatia in the Adriatic Sea. There are several small villages and two main towns on the island of Vis – Vis Town and Komiza. My mother’s family was from Komiza and my father’s family was from Vis. There used to be a rivalry between Komizians and Visinens, but that has abated much since many have intermarried.

It is a beautiful island and a beautiful place to visit, but there are not many of the conveniences we are used to here in the United States. The phone and electric services are not good, and there is no heat at night in the houses, so you just add more blankets. The houses are 4-5 hundred years old or more and if you go there for a visit, you generally stay with a family because there are no hotels. The other islands have quite a tourist trade and have modern hotels, so if you really want to “get away from it all”, the island of Vis is the place to go.

My parent’s generation were the first Croatian children to enter school. Many of them did not speak English at all, and some spoke broken English. Of course they spoke fluent Croatian and talked and joked among themselves in their own language. Most of these children were ADHD, also, and could get into trouble in a blink of an eye.

One of the teachers, trying to be helpful with the language differences, would ask what different words were in Croatian. On one occasion, the children came in from recess and Mike Karuza was the last one. The teacher asked him to shut the door and then asked him what the word for door was. Mike, being full of the devil, responded, “Gazitsa!” The teacher went to the piano and made up a song, singing “Shut the gazitsa, shut the gazitsa!” The Croatian children squealed in delight. The word gazitsa does not mean door, it means a person’s rear end. As far as I know, they never did tell her what it meant and still laugh about it today.

When Peter Zuanich was a boy, he was quite rambunctious. He was about ten years old and his parents bought him a new silk suit for church. After church, he wandered down to the beach where the other boys were walking on the log-boom and swimming off the logs. He decided he would join them. In the water he went, suit, shoes, and all – he was in a lot of trouble when he got home.

Pete became a purse-seine fisherman like the other Croatians following in his father’s footsteps and later on became our Port Commissioner for many years.

The Croatians of this generation were all extremely hard workers and very thrifty. Many of them became millionaires from the fishing profession and most of them put money back in to the community and helped other young men get started in their vocations. Quite a few of these boys put themselves through college and became teachers. They worked as teachers during the winter and fished their boats in the summer. Very few ADHD people (in those days) just sat around; they were over-achievers and were always busy doing something.

As the kids learned English and to read and write, they taught their parents what they were learning. Some of the over-exuberant parents liked to help the children with their homework. This usually brought a note home from the teacher to quit helping – especially in grammar. The parents talked very broken English and when they helped, the children were learning broken English instead of proper pronunciation.

Croatians always found an excuse to party. They loved to sing and dance and – especially during the holidays – went from house to house singing all the old Croatian songs and eating all the wonderful Croatian food and pastries along the way. They do this today in the old country. They are just as happy to see one or twenty come and there is always too much food. They sing, dance, reminisce, and bring the visitors to meet other relatives, and then start all over again.