April 2, 1999

...And That's My OpinionŠ

By Sandy Goldman

The Rogers Park Community Curmudgeon (RPCC)

Grandfathers X 2

Sitting at Sam Leone Park (Touhy and Sheridan) the other day, with my grandson, I was reminiscing that I sat here more than four decades ago with his father. The equipment was different, the little house in which Sam lived was gone, but the benches and water fountain were still there. The area was pretty much the same - well, almost!

My daydreams were suddenly broken by the emergence of an older (older then I) gray haired (grayer than I) gentleman.

"Hello", he said in an Eastern European accent. Not quite the harsh sounds of Russian nor the rhythm of Italian or Greek.

"How are you? Is this your grandson?"

'Yes", I replied.

"I have a grandson, you know, in Kosovo - I'm sure you've heard of Kosovo"...

'Yes", I replied.

"It's awful what's going on there", he said.

'Yes", I replied. It's interesting how when we Americans have no proper response, we say "Yes".

"My grandson is eight years, but I have never seen him and perhaps I never will. You know the problems?"

'Yes", I replied.

"We heard from him this morning, well not exactly heard. My son in law got an e-mail. Married my oldest daughter, long ago - he's an American, nice job, good salary, big home in the suburbs. Strange, the old man mused, "In the middle of war...e-mail!"... and his words trailed off.

"I see", I replied. That's another thing Americans say when they don't understand.

Warming to his subject he told me he had lived in Yugoslavia when Tito was in charge.

"It was not good", he said, "but not like what is going on now. I was born three years after Yugoslavia became a country ...1918... at the end of World War I. They took Serbia and Montenegro and part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and made Belgrade the capital. I left in 1983, three years after Tito died. That was five years before Milosevic came to power. I came to live here in Rogers Park, in America. I am a widower for 10 years."

"I see", I said.

"During the Second World War when I was young, I joined the partisan resistance. Our slogan was 'Death to m, Freedom to the People'. At the end of the war 1.7 million Yugoslavians were dead... most of them no older than 22 years. I was lucky!"

"In the 1960's", he continued, "there were violent demonstrations...not good for anyone. Too much blood was shed. In the 1970's there was student unrest and Tito arrested hundreds of student leaders and he said the League of Communists would be the binding force of Yugoslavia. In 1974 he was voted party president for life. In 1987, after his death, they eliminated that office. Then the government began to fight among themselves and it began to fall apart. It was very scary and even sometimes dangerous."

"I see", I said.

"Now I see the names of cities I knew, where there were friends and relatives and people I loved. I read the reports of the number of people dead. I wonder if they are people I know; the children of people I know; the grandchildren of people I know. I worry for my own children and my grandson. I pray for their safety."

"Yes", I said, "I understand"... and I did!

"I hope someday to see my grandson. I hope someday for him to marry and to have children of his own. Today I dream an old man's dream for a better world for all the people of the world, but mostly I want the fighting to stop."

"You are right", I said, "I really do understand!"

And then the old man stood up, smiled, tousled my grandson's hair and waving goodbye, he walked away.

I never asked...Serb or Albanian? 

...And that's my opinion.

And I'm Sandy Goldman

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