Saturday, January 08, 2005

January 8, the Big D's B Day


Notice the cigarette.
Notice the motorbike.
Notice the socks and sandals.

That's my dad. Ivan Selan. Born January 8th 1939.

The only son, of an only son, he was born in Slovenia just before the Germans went to war. At that particular time he and the rest of the family were near the Serbian and Croatian border. My granddad was a machinist of sorts and the invading germans shipped them all to a labour camp in Austria, I could be dramatic (like him) and say concentration camp but it was a labour camp. Probably safer being in a camp then not at the time.
After 6 years, the war ends.
And the family go back to the ancestoral home of Kostanjevica, in Slovenia. At this time the paternal grandfather (my great grandfather) did not like his only grandson not being named after him and subsequently just started calling him Janez (Slovenian version of John), the rest of the family followed suit out of respect and/or fear.
Grandad had a small machine shop/business and was not to fond of the communists. The communists gave the family a hard time, the way dad tells it; teachers, bankers, government officials made it a sport to make it tough. Stubborness, a ugly and genetic trait it seems, stuck it out - and the Selans didn't join the Party just out of spite. Consequently, Dad has never liked socialists of any kind since (Reason #7 for the Marko/ Janez divide). (Sorry, I mis-spoke he does have a fond spot for Russian propaganda films of the 50s, usually the war related ones but then again he loves the film Pretty Woman so just blink hard and move on.) As the only son, he worked like a mule to support the family; working in the workshop, tending the small farm and vineyard (more than half of which was appropriated "Stolen!" by the communists).

At age 8, because of a lack of food, he starts smoking. (He now gets puffed out putting on his seatbelt. Solution - don't use seatbelt.)

Life is hard. At 16 he runs away with some friends to Austria, trying to get refugee status. His friends make it through, he gets captured after a few days, and because he's too young gets sent back 'home'.

He finishes school. He finishes his apprenticeship. He's 17 and a clarinent player in a jazz band. He makes more in one weekend, than a week in the workshop. From the overheard and whispered stories, reading between the lines, he was a skirt chasing hound.

Then the army calls. Word travels, the army hates Janez too, but he's strong, smart and stubborn. Janez hates the army more. Ironically, when he talks about it now, he always mentions how hard it was but its one of the only periods in his life where he tells funny/happy stories.

3 years go by, and he's out. He returns back to Kostanjevica and starts working. He plays a couple of gigs but its not as fun anymore. He's out of practice and too egotistical to play subpar so he gives it away and hasn't played since. He bristles when working with his own father (another shared genetic trait) and moves to Ljublana, the capital city. As a plumber at a large company, he moves up the ranks pretty quickly, not as fast as the communist members but still ok. He gets headhunted by a Swiss company and luckily he gets out of Slovenia and works plumbing jobs in Austria and Switzerland. He moves to Vienna. He does come back to Kostanjevica sporadically and meets my mother. I doubt it was a windswept moment. They don't talk about it. Marriage and two miscarriages follows.

Kostanjevica was too small.
Ljublana was too small.
Slovenia was too small.
Hell, Europe was too small.
Either Canada or Australia were next.
Mr and Mrs Selan were accepted as economic refugees by the Australian government in 1969.

They lived in a hostel for awhile. Dad worked for a german fellow and therefore didn't have to learn english. His english has sufferred since. He meets Don Dunstan and likes him (Score Socialists 1). They move around Adelaide a bit. If plumbers got report cards; his would say "does not work well with other", he would reply "Dey don't work goot wid me". He strikes out by himself and does ok.
He buys a farm. Olive trees. One word. Olive trees. Him, me and my mother plant hundreds of trees (well me and mum do - he supervises).

Fast forward 10/15 years, past divorce, heart attacks, court cases, ecetera, ecetera.

He now lives on his small farm, commutes the 150 Km in to the city (licence be damned!) and is still working. The farm contains the remanents of every farming fad of the last 10 years; olives, bees, sheep, carob, native flowers, native trees, eggplants, polonias and most recently gingko. Most importantly he seems to be genuinely happy up there. I visit every couple of months and cook a meal which is always met with a "Marko, you'll make a good wife one day!" Hahaha, eye roll "the best meal ever!" Thanks "We'll play Cards, huh?" Yes. Too which he lets me win just enough to keep me interested but not enough that i actually win. But i'm getting better.

Congratulations dad, according to you you've never been wrong once, I turned out OK (admit it!) and you've done ok.

so Happy birthday dad

1 comment:

douglasbot said...

Brilliant.