During a recent visit with my paternal grandmother (who will be 91 on Sunday!), I was reminded of a story that I had heard as a child. One of those stories that begins to take on significance as I age and gain more worldly perspective.
As a child, I was told that my last name (Slavec) was Yugoslavian. This was true at the time, but as Yugoslavia fell apart, it became important to know what my grandfather's true ethnicity was. In all honesty and fairness, Grandpa Slavec (Albino, no middle name), was American, and that is the way he preferred to be known. He was born in Delagua, CO, on March 1, 1912. When he was eight years old, the family returned to "the old country" ~ Slovenia. Unfortunately, at this moment, I don't know anything more specific than that, although I have suspicions that they lived in the Karst region, near the coast, for reasons I will later explain.
Grandpa returned to America when he was 18. His experience of Slovenia was not pleasant. My father told me stories that I'll verify with Grandma before I share, but there were traumas. Grandpa's time there was shortly after the end of the first world war. Grandpa didn't teach us any Slovenian language and refused to go back to visit when other family members did. I remember my Father telling me that during a mid-70's visit, aunts saw the very bed upon which generations were born, in "The House of Jacob." To me, this was fascinating. Grandpa just wanted to forget.
Slovenia is beautiful country, although it is roughly just the size of New Jersey. From the capital, Ljubljana, all state borders are less than a two-hour drive. I have spent considerable time doing internet research and look forward to someday visiting. My desires to visit were also inspired by a young Serbian man named Bozidar Despinich, whom Woody and I met during a 7-day cruise and who taught me a bit about being a Slav.
One of the most amazing and little-known facts about Slovenia is that it is home to the Lipica Stud Farm, located in the Karst region, established in 1580 and the original home of the Lipizzan horse. The Italian version of Lipica is Lipizza, and for a time, Italy owned the area. These are magical horses, for many reasons. At the tender age of ten, my grandfather helped to protect this special horse from the threat of being eaten by starving refugees, by hiding them, and moving them about. Unfortunately, the breed's existence was threatened many times throughout history.
My grandfather participated in something significant - he helped to preserve something special. He held these horses above what others saw them for. Perhaps their disregard for the horses played a role in Grandpa's troubled memories. I'll never know. One thing I am sure of, however, is that my grandfather rescued Lipizzans.