Mother’s Brother

From Grandma’s Album…Mother’s Brother – Naval officer and guardian angel

Picture (none found, yet) 

Mother’s Brother

Mother was the fourth of six children of her father’s first wife: Joseph (much older than the rest) and Frank, Antoinette, Marie (Mother), Frances and James, each two years apart. Joe was a gifted student, granted many opportunities because of his talents. After finishing eight years of village schooling and subsequent gymnasium training, he was at a loss for what to do next. His thirst was for the sea, and alas, Bohemia was land-locked. The Empire authorities in Prague, when appealed to, found a way for this enthusiastic, young would-be mariner to fulfill his dream.

The navel academy in Trieste, a Slavic territory also under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was always on the alert for promising students of diverse backgrounds. His scholastic record was flawless. He was admitted and rose to become an officer in the Yugoslavian Navy.

He came home on leave often when Mother was young and helped her through difficult times, especially after her father re-married and her new step-mother, a spiteful and greedy woman, banished the older set of children from the household chores and schooling, expecting them to work as field-hands and barn servants.

She often told the story of the day the goose-flock she was herding panicked and scattered. She, chasing them, fell and hit her head, cutting the side of it so that it bled horribly. He bathed and bandaged her head himself, helped her clean up and change her clothes, collected the scattered birds and never breathed a word to their father and step-mother, as it would have brought down heavy punishment on her.

He also ended up being the one to explain what her menstrual cycle was and how to deal with it, having come upon her sitting on the stream bank, washing and washing and weeping in terror, thinking she was going to die.

Joe usually brought her small trinkets and ribbons and embroidery things, which, even though they were stolen by their step-siblings after he left, were much beloved. Her prayer-book, the one thing she managed to retain, she treasured for her whole life and it was buried with her.

Joseph was also instrumental in getting Mother sent to Prague to be apprenticed to a dress-maker. It got her out from under their step-mother’s thumb and as eldest son his word carried a great deal of weight with their father. He also helped to get her a ticket on the steamship Bremmerhaven to America a few years later, as the maze of required paperwork held no secrets for him.

Communication between Old World and New was difficult in those days and he was rarely heard from or about by anyone on this side of the Great Water. In America we were surprised later to read Life Magazine’s article on the funeral of King Peter, king of Yugoslavia, to see Joseph listed as an honorary pall-bearer, and to see his picture flanking his late sovereign’s casket. I’m not completely sure which king it was, as Peter 1 died in 1921, before Life Magazine started printing and Aleksander in 1934. Peter II abdicated in 1945, but lived until 1970. Well, memories are faulty, so who knows?

That was the last we ever heard of him. Perhaps he perished in the war or the internecine struggles before or after. Perhaps he died a natural death. We have never known.

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Page added and published 8/24/18 (C)M. Bartlett
Last updated 8/24/18