My cousin Ivanka. My grandmother’s confidant. Ivanka was a child during the aftermath of WWII. She experienced the hardship resulting from the demotion of rural people to second class citizens in the communist rise to power. After my grandmother fled Slovenia, she spent time in London working as a servant, then immigrated to Canada then the States. She sent all she could back to the family farm. Ivanka was the recipient of what was left of the goods opened and plundered by post workers. From the necessities Ivanka received by my grandmother grew a deep connection and correspondence.
The momentum of the hard work Ivanka became accustomed to, combined with a sharp mind, propelled her beyond the politically oppressive constraints of her rural background. She committed herself to her education, and as a result, became a nurse.
When she reflects on her life, she often mentions that she wishes she would have been a man. She carries the belief that if she had been born a man, she could have achieved more, been respected for her ambition and strength, rather than resented for it.
Ivanka embodies dualism beyond the masculine and feminine forces; she is educated and culturally savvy while also having an intimate understanding of farm life. Her very practical path of a nurse was also combined with work as a respected water witch.
My earliest, and most vivid memory of Ivanka was during a time she visited us in the states when I was about seven. While we were sitting in our living room, a bird flew into the window. We went outside to see the bird, who looked like it was dead. Ivanka took the bird into her hands, and told me to wait outside. She went into our house and shortly returned with a small bowl of warm water. She held the bird in one hand, and while singing to it, sprinkled it with the warm water. Within a minute of the singing and water treatment, the birds eyes began to blink. A minute later, it sat up, shook itself off and paused for the most magical moment to look at Ivanka and I before it flew off.
During that same trip, she used a stick to determine where the water was under our house and suggested we re-configure the orientation of all of our beds. Ivanka seemed otherworldly to me, breaking the taboo of touching wild animals, and directly connecting to the elemental forces underneath the veneer of a suburban landscape. Her way resonated with the wonderfilled way I experienced the world. It was the first time a grownup validated the magic I felt as innate.
It was Ivanka who told me about the truth of my grandmother’s heroic, yet traumatic, flight from Slovenia. Ivanka carries many of the family stories others wish to forget. She mapped and our family tree and it hangs proudly in her dining room.
There is a constant and active buzz Ivanka maintains, I have rarely seen her sit for more than five minutes. It is with that kind of activity that her garden stays meticulously maintained. From the last frost of the spring to the first of the winter, the produce from garden is the backbone of her diet. She regards her proficiency in the use of wild and cultivated herbs and mushrooms as ordinary: a practical part of her farm background. While her Catholic faith is strong, she sees God and Nature as the same thing.
Ivanka speaks to me mostly in Slovene- which now I only know a little- about topics like religion and politics as if her will alone will get me to understand...sometimes I think it does.