Legacy of Love

Mother’s Day 2014

It’s hard to believe that I’m at the half-century mark in my life. As the years pass, I can’t help but reflect on my life and the people who have shaped me and the people I have shaped. As a woman, I have been blessed by loving women in my life. That love came at a cost: My grandmother and mother went through painful situations, yet they survived with more love to give, not less. The best legacy they gave me was the legacy of love. As a mother, I hope to do the same for my daughters. On Mother’s Day this year, I wanted to honor the beautiful women who have showered me with love.

Here is my legacy of love:

Baba Vicky

Baba and Dedo with me and my brothersBaba Vicky was the strongest, sweetest, smartest person I have ever met. I praised her often, but she was too humble to accept my praise, especially when I praised her intelligence. I remember one time, after a deep conversation about life, I told her:

“Baba, you have so much wisdom. What would I do without you?”

“I try my best . . . but how can you say that? I have broken english . . . I can’t read or write . . . I’m dumb . . .” and then she shook her head in disbelief.

I corrected her: “Baba, don’t ever say that! What you know about life, about people, could fill a book. I have learned so much from you.”

She chuckled, and then grabbed my hand and gave it a squeeze. She always had the softest hands. “You make me feel good,” she said.

“You make me feel good, too,” I said back. After a brief moment of silence, we fell back into our conversation.

She always gave me the best advice. When I talked to her about someone who had hurt me, she told me:

“If you want to be forgiven for the mistakes you’ve made, you have to learn to forgive others. We all need forgiveness at some point in our lives.”

I’ve tried to honor that advice, but it’s sometimes harder than it sounds.

When I told her I hoped to have a marriage like hers and Dedo Gus’s someday, she told me:

“If you want to have a good marriage, love him the way you want to be loved, and do what makes you happy. That’s how he will learn how to love you and make you happy.”

She had so much wisdom.

Baba Vicky’s wisdom had humble beginnings. Velika Popovski (Kordovich) was born on March 12, 1921 in Bukovo, a small village outside Bitola, Macedonia, a former Republic of Yugoslavia. She was one of eleven children, but only five of the eleven survived to adulthood. They had a small plot of land with a few animals. Baba Vicky worked hard with her hands all her life: She took care of her siblings, worked the land during planting and harvesting seasons, and cooked and cleaned for her family. Wherever she was needed, she did her job well. She completed a 4th grade education in a one-room schoolhouse because that’s all that was available to girls in the small village.

Her life changed, she would tell me with a smile on her face, the day Kosta Kordovich (Dedo Gus) came back from America. Everyone knew he was looking for a wife to take to America with him. During the mid to late 1930s, it was customary for the young Macedonian men to go to America, make their fortunes doing the jobs that many Americans refused to do, and then come back to their villages to find a suitable wife. For women, these men were their only ticket out of their laborious lives.

Velika didn’t bother trying to get Kosta’s attention like all the other eligible girls. She felt she was too plain and too poor to get the desirable Kosta’s attention. Her distance may have been what grabbed his attention in the first place, but Dedo Gus told me, “I know quality when I see it.”

After just a few days, Kosta knew that Velika was the woman he wanted to marry. His family was very upset. They felt that she was too plain and too poor for their son, especially when he had his pick of any girl he wanted. He refused to listen to their complaints, and Velika and Kosta were married on November 13, 1938.

Baba Vicky moved out of her parent’s home and moved in with Dedo Gus and his family. She knew they didn’t approve of her, but Baba Vicky was comforted in knowing that Dedo Gus loved her. His love helped her to hold her head high.

Shortly after they were married, Baba Vicky became pregnant. She earned the respect of her new family by working hard and not complaining. In August of 1939, Dedo Gus was told he had to leave Bukovo without Baba Vicky because of the turmoil in Europe. Her paperwork wasn’t ready, and WWII was imminent. Dedo Gus had earned his American citizenship, and if he did not leave Yugoslavia at that time, he would lose his citizenship.

Dedo Gus left on September 3, 1939, and Baba Vicky gave birth to Ana, my mother, on September 4, 1939. Baba Vicky and her mother-in-law comforted each other, and my great-grandmother depended on and loved Baba Vicky as if she had been her own daughter. The two women formed a strong bond. Baba Vicky was heartbroken that her husband had to leave, but it did not break her. She stayed strong for her daughter. As time went on, her in-laws looked to Baba Vicky for strength and guidance.

Six years had passed without a word from Dedo Gus. Everyone told Baba Vicky that Dedo Gus had forgotten about her and probably found another woman in America. She refused to believe the rumors. She refused to leave his family. After years of waiting and never giving up hope, she finally received all the letters he had sent her over that six-year period. The war had stopped all mail for a number of years, and then sorting out the backed-up mail took another few years. My grandmother’s heart soared; Dedo Gus was alive and well, and waiting for her to join him in America. It took another six years for the government paperwork to come through. In the meantime, Dedo Gus sent goods from America to his wife and daughter. They went from being pitied to envied in a few short months.

They eventually received visas and gained passage to America in 1951. Baba Vicky was excited to see her husband, and happy that her daughter would finally meet her father; but she was also scared. Twelve years was a long time. What if he had changed? What if he didn’t love her anymore? She also was not naïve enough to think he had been faithful to their marriage that whole time. She had no idea how she was going to face what awaited her in America, so she faced it head on, putting everything that happened in the past where it belonged.

I am blessed to have Baba Vicky as the matriarch of my family. Her story illustrates her strength and courage that made her the woman I came to know and love. I am thankful that she shared her stories with me and gave me advice that still rings true today. But more than that, I am indebted to her for the examples of love she left me. These are the prominent memories of my beloved matriarch, memories that revealed deeper truths than even her wonderful advice:

She put love in every meal she made. That’s what made it taste so good.

She always did her best job. She had pride in her abilities, so it didn’t matter what anyone else thought of her, which made everyone love her more.

She made everyone feel important, a special kind of love.

She laughed at herself often; she knew life was too short to take herself too seriously. That is how she loved herself.

She smiled every chance she could, bringing joy to those around her.

When she loved someone, she held his or her hand for as long as she could. That’s why she kept her hands so soft.

My grandmother, Baba Vicky, was an amazing woman. I miss her so much. She died in 2008, but her mind left her a few years before that. During the last few years of her life, she didn’t remember much. She could recall things from her youth, but she didn’t remember who I was most of the time. I like to believe that during those last moments of her life, as we stood around her bed, God gave her back her memories, so she could see how much we all loved her. I placed my hand in her soft, now frail hand, and even in her weakened state, I felt a tiny squeeze before she took her last breath.

Baba Vicky’s legacy of love is filled with courageous decisions and love in its purest form.

 Ana

Outside the movie theaterMy mother’s love has also shaped my world. Even when it doesn’t make a lot of sense to give, she gives to loved ones without batting an eye. I attribute this to her tender heart; however, one does not become tender without a lot of pain.

Ana Kordovich (Galovski) was born in Bukovo on September 4th, 1939. The day before her birth her father was called back to America because of the turmoil in Europe. This led to a 12-year separation that tormented my mother’s heart.

During those war years, everyone suffered, but young Ana had unique pain that stemmed from a fatherless childhood. One of my mother’s significant memories was when she and my grandmother had to escape an Italian invasion by quietly walking through an ice-cold river up the mountain; the other young children had fathers to carry them. Another painful memory is the way village children taunted her with vulgar names because Ana didn’t have her father present. These experiences left a permanent scar.

She and my grandmother were finally able to get government approval to join my grandfather in America right before Ana’s teen years began. Ana’s first encounter with her father was filled with wordless tears and tight embraces. Even years later, when I asked my mother and grandfather about the day they met, they could only respond with tears; no words could express the love rushing into the void.

Ana struggled with learning English at first, but quickly caught up and earned high grades in school. In her twenties, Ana met and fell in love with an incredibly handsome man; Ana and Jovan married before she truly knew what she was getting into. As handsome as he was, my father had a darkness in him that equaled his looks.

It wasn’t until I became an adult and heard these stories that I was able to understand how incredible my mother truly is. With all this pain in her past, how did she not become bitter? Once I became a wife and mother, I better understood my mother’s heart.

When I was younger, my mother’s high-spirited yells used to embarrass me at my brother’s soccer games: One time a referee actually threw a whistle at her, telling my mother to do a better job. About eight years ago, a volleyball referee almost threw me out of a game for yelling at him about a ridiculous call against my daughter. Now, I know that my mother’s love for her children forced her immediate defense of their being wronged, no matter where she was, no matter who it was.

In my teenage years, I judged her for staying with my father for so long: He was abusive, an alcoholic, and a gambler. I wondered how she could be so weak. Now, I understand her choices had more to do with her love for a man who could be kind and gentle and charming most of the time; more to do with her love for her children and the fear of their growing up without a father in their lives–a pain she knew too well; more to do with the hope that my father would become the husband and father in our lives that she so longed for. She refused to give up on him, not out of weakness, but out of love and compassion and hope. Like my mother, I believe in the vows I made, promising to love, honor, and cherish, in good times and bad.

When I went to college, I thought I was so much smarter than my mother and her high-school diploma. All I knew is that she worked for an insurance company. Later, I discovered that she started as a secretary, worked her way up to an account executive, and built up her own insurance book of business. Not only was she smart, but she had a strong work ethic, an understanding of personal relationships, a respect for individuals (not the size of their wallets), and a faithfulness to her word and the needs of her clients. The most amazing things she has been able to accomplish with her high-school degree are surviving a divorce (in 1979, divorce was not as common as it is today), raising three children on her own (all of whom went to college), pay off her house, bail her children out of financial set-backs, and still have enough to provide for her grandchildren.

My mother is a blessing not only to me, but also to so many people. She lovingly gives to others, even if they don’t deserve it. Because my mother loves with a tender heart, she gives grace, rather than justice.

My mother’s heart is larger than the average heart: It has the propensity to love deeper, give greater, and forgive fuller than any heart I have ever known. I am thankful to have been raised by such a woman; I am blessed by her legacy of love.

My Formative Years

My children :)I don’t regret my past. It made me who I am today: A compassionate woman who makes a positive impact in this world.

People are shocked when I say that after hearing about my less-than-ideal upbringing: My father was an abusive alcoholic; I was beaten many times during his drunken rages. Also, as a girl, I had less value in my European family than my brothers; when I was sixteen, I met a man who knew my father for ten years, and he remarked, “I knew John had two sons, but I never knew he had a daughter.”

I grew up as a shy girl with very little confidence in myself, which is very different from who I am today.

It wasn’t until college that I considered myself even somewhat attractive. I found it quite surprising when I received any attention from the opposite sex, but I liked it. What I also discovered is that college boys liked me a lot better when I’d been drinking. Unfortunately, it started a vicious cycle of drinking and falling in love with the wrong boys. I ended up binge-drinking and binge-chasing young men who only wanted me for one thing…that is until I met Dennis. Dennis and I went out on dates; I met his parents; I hung out with his friends; he thought I was beautiful. I was his girlfriend. He was my first legitimate relationship. I had never been so happy.

But then, we heavily celebrated my 21st birthday–I didn’t remember much. A few weeks later I discovered I was pregnant.

I was devastated when Dennis changed his mind about marrying me. I had to move in with my mother as I prepared to become a mother. I felt a scarlet letter burn my chest as some of my family members were so disgusted and embarrassed by me that they couldn’t look at me. The day I told my father was the first time I ever saw him cry. Thankfully, I had people who stood by me and supported my decision to keep my baby.

Those nine months slowly changed my life. As I felt my baby grow, I felt my confidence grow as well. I started thinking about the kind of woman I wanted to be for my child. Who I was at the time would not be good enough. I depended on the legacy of love I received from my grandmother and mother to become the mother I needed to be.

I transformed myself through their examples and the growing love in my body.

Nicole

Nicole is still a blessing!Nicole Marie Galovski was born on July 9th, 1987. I held her in my arms and fell instantly in love. She had big blue eyes and platinum blond hair. She seemed to respond instantly to my voice. I cried from pure joy, the first I had experienced in my life up to that point. Nicole was perfect, and I couldn’t understand how I could have anything to do with something so angelic.

The transition from me to us came with its challenges, but Nicole and I weathered them together. I continued to live with my mom, so I could provide a safe, loving environment for Nicole. Even though I had a college degree, I didn’t apply for any teaching jobs. I couldn’t imagine putting my baby in daycare, so I watched children out of my mother’s home during the day and worked in a restaurant at night and on the weekends when my mom was home to watch Nicole. I made plenty of mistakes, but I learned from them so I could be a better mother.

Even though those years were difficult and far from perfect, I wouldn’t change anything about them. Nicole changed my life for the better. Her presence in my life removed me from the downward spiral I was in. I hate to think about the life I would have led if it weren’t for Nicole. She became my reason for living, not just existing from one intoxicated state to another.

People have told me over the years how proud they are of me for not choosing abortion. I am extremely thankful for that decision as well. But the truth is Nicole saved my life. I was on a destructive path that only a miracle could alter; Nicole was that miracle. God gave me Nicole so I could get and stay on the right path. I’m nowhere near perfect, but I’m definitely closer to the person I need to be because of Nicole.

Nicole is a grown woman now. She is strong and confident and witty and beautiful–everything I wanted her to be because it was everything I wasn’t at her age. She lives two thousand miles away from me, but she still keeps me on the right path. A few years ago she wrote me a letter in response to a difficult situation I didn’t handle very well. Nicole lovingly pointed out my mistakes, and added, “you’ve told me everything I’ve been doing wrong for 24 years (and I hope will continue to do so), and that has helped me out more than anything else; it’s changed me for the better even if it made me mad initially.” Even during her admonishment, she praised me for the mother I had been in her life; even with the distance, we weathered this challenge together. I appreciated her perspective and her candor. She saw that I had stepped off my path and lovingly brought me back–again.

That letter marked the day our relationship changed: We now come together as two women who have an unbreakable bond, even though we don’t get to spend nearly enough time together. I am blessed to be her mother. With Nicole in my life, my legacy of love continued in her and through her as we taught each other unconditional love.

Carol Linn

10-2D4DEA04-51412-1280My understanding of love was challenged most deeply by one person: my second daughter Carol Linn. Our troubles began when she turned 12 and escalated to an explosive moment when she was 18. At that point, she left my home to venture out on her own. As painful as that was, it was absolutely necessary for the salvation of our relationship.

Before she moved to the other side of the country, I knew there were wonderful things about her; however, they were clouded by the rebellious teenager that challenged our relationship every breathing moment. I loved the woman she was becoming, but struggled with the child she still was. We needed distance. We needed clarity.

For me, it has finally come, but I’m not sure if Carol Linn has clarity yet. Does she know and understand how much I love her? If she doesn’t, I have confidence that someday she will. Why? Because she is who I was at 20. She is the child who fulfilled my mother’s curse: “I hope you have a daughter just like you someday, so you know how I feel.” I do understand now. I just hope it doesn’t take another 20 years for Carol Linn to love and appreciate me the way I love and appreciate my mother now.

Recently, I apologized to my mother for the pain I caused her as a teenager. However, I also thanked her for the blessing she thought was a curse. Carol Linn is and has been a blessing since the day she was born. Throughout my pregnancy, I prayed that she would be a girl; I was blessed when I held her in my arms for the first time. She was perfect in every way: She had a full head of black hair, perfect eyebrows, big brown eyes, and beautiful fingers and toes.

As she grew, she proved to be a mischievous child, always getting into and out of precarious situations. When Carol Linn was a year and a half she would climb out of her crib after I put her down for a nap and get stuck on the changing table. She would call for me to come rescue her. She seemed to know what she wanted but didn’t know what to do once she got there. She had such confidence in herself, even at this age.

She also had courage. After we said goodnight to the girls, Carol Linn would crawl out of bed, crawl into the playroom to get a toy, and crawl back into her bed, like a little ninja, without us ever knowing or hearing her in the adjoining room. In the morning she would have a bed full of Barbies.

I think it was this self-confidence and courage that allowed her to verbalize her anger. She was four years old the first time she told me she hated me. I had sent her to her room as a punishment for something. She wrote “I hat Mom” on the wall with a permanent marker. After we made up, she crossed out “hat” and put “luv” instead. As funny as that story is, it didn’t prepare me for the number of times I heard “I hate you!” during her teenage years. I didn’t believe that she meant it, but she was pretty convincing.

I know I made a lot of mistakes as her mother. That could be what led her to be indifferent towards me as her parent; she didn’t seem to need me in her life. I wanted her to depend on me, but she never did.

I got so caught up in her disobedience that I forgot the ultimate goal as a mother was to raise an independent woman. Carol Linn was independent already. Instead of realizing that, I battled with her; we despised each other. We hurt each other in ways that made it difficult to find our way back to each other. In February of her eighteenth year, I naïvely thought I would gladly say goodbye to her the day we brought her to the airport. Instead, I cried uncontrollably the whole time.

I didn’t want to lose my child; I just wanted the pain to end. When she left, the pain did vanish. None of the past year mattered anymore. But it was too late because I lost my child anyway.

Now, she has the freedom to choose her own destiny; freedom to live her own life, far away from me. She needed distance, so she could test her wings. As much as it still hurts to have lost my precious little girl, it needed to happen. I had to make room for a new relationship.

Carol Linn has been living with her sister Nicole for two years now, and I can truly say I love the woman she has become. I tried so hard to make her become someone she wasn’t that I missed out on the amazing person she already was. I wanted her to be me now, not the me I was at 18. I made so many mistakes at that age; I wanted her to learn from my experiences. Life doesn’t work that way though. She had to choose her own path, her own way, on her own terms, exactly how I did it.

With distance and time I think I have gleaned an understanding of Carol Linn’s frustrations. I tended to point out the differences between her and Nicole. I know how that felt. I could never measure up to my older brother. It made me angry. I’m sorry I did that to her.

All the time I spent being frustrated with Carol Linn stopped me from acknowledging her wonderful qualities: She is kind to people, and she forgives often, but protects her heart. She lends a hand to anyone who asks, even if it’s someone who has hurt her before. She loves to read and write. Her sense of humor is amazing. She catches on to things quicker than I ever do. She has great taste in music and movies. She also has an innate ability to see the beauty around her and to frame it through her camera. I am so impressed with her pictures.

While she was under my roof, it bothered me that Carol Linn hid her life from me. But now, I see the truth: I was jealous and insecure because I wasn’t part of her private life. I now understand what admirable qualities Carol Linn possesses: She can keep a secret; she keeps her private life private.

In addition to learning to appreciate all of her wonderful qualities, Carol Linn has taught me to let go of the things and people I have no control over, including the past. I wish I could take back those angry words I said so many years ago, but even Carol Linn would say, “Don’t have regrets, Mom. It will be okay. It’s in the past. Move forward.”

She has also taught me the true meaning of love. It’s easy to love someone who treats me well. But how do I love someone who challenges me and despises my opinions?

I just love her. That’s all. I love her because she is Carol Linn, that same beautiful human being I gave birth to. She doesn’t have to agree with me, think I’m the best mother ever, or believe that I made the right choices for my life. I just have to love her, love the woman she is.

As I sat in Nicole and Carol Linn’s apartment on a recent visit, I watched them take care of their home and each other. They have an obvious love for each other that only sisters can have: They share private jokes, knowing smiles, and comforting cuddles. They give each other the freedom to go their separate ways with the security of a family to come home to. In some ways, it was bittersweet for me: I know I didn’t always provide that type of home for them, but I’m thankful that despite my mistakes, my love provided them with enough guidance to create that security for themselves. Their love consoles me and fills me with joy.

Our legacy of love has been filled with challenges, but it’s those challenges that shaped us; it’s part of the love my grandmother and mother offered to me and what I offered to my daughters. And it’s that same love I see in them, and the love they give to me. None of us have lived perfect lives, but we have learned to love deeply in this imperfect world. I know that my daughters’ lives will be filled with love, wherever their paths take them, because they are endowed with this legacy.

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