30 Jul

The Pioneers

Lissa Coffey

Lissa Coffey

Lissa Coffey

While shopping for marinara sauce at my favorite Italian deli recently, I happened upon a little jar of Dalmatia Orange Fig Spread. I couldn’t help but smile, as I was filled with fond memories of my grandmother. My grandmother, Marie, who lived to be 93 years old, was originally from Dubrovnik, a city on the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia.

When you think about typical storybook grandmothers, that is the image that my grandmother held for me. She loved to cook, and fed us full of roasted chicken and homemade apple strudel when we came to visit. Her garden was the envy of the neighborhood. She tended to her flowers and vegetables with such love and care that they couldnt help but flourish. In the front yard she had a fig tree that bore bountiful fruit. She stayed home most of the time. She didnt travel except for one trip back to Yugoslavia when she was in her 60s. She never drove a car, choosing instead to walk to the market to buy groceries.

So most people would not have thought of my grandmother as a very daring, or risk-taking person. But I know better. Marie was one courageous lady.

At her cousins urging, Marie left her family and her native country at the tender age of 16, taking a ship across the Atlantic, landing at Ellis Island, and traveling by train all the way across the country to Eureka, California. It was quite an adventure, to say the least, for a girl who had never left home. She did not speak English, or understand the currency, so she survived on the bread that she brought with her from home. At one point a kind man gave my grandmother a banana, and he had to demonstrate how to eat it because she had never seen one before.

Eventually she got to the train station in Eureka. Waiting for her there was her cousin, Emil, and his friend Jack, whom Emil had declared to be the perfect match for Marie. Of course, Jack and Marie were married, and the rest is family history.

Love knows no time or space, no borders or oceans. My grandmother was following her instincts when she embarked on a journey across the world to marry a man she had never met. My grandparents were true pioneers, in life and in love. They forged the way to create a new family here in the United States.

As I enjoy my Dalmatia Orange Fig spread on sunflower toast I cant help but be grateful for my brave and beautiful grandmother. She took a chance to create a better life for herself and her children, and now were all living that life. And I know she knows. I know she has everything to do with my own adventurous spirit, with the blooming flowers in my garden, and with the fact that I can find such a thing as this delicious fig spread.

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