After four years I’m finally coming back to this memoir. I’d like to finish it while memories are still floating in my mind. At times I’m overwhelmed by panic that there isn’t much time left. I’m 84.
I’m glad that Dad’s whole story in captivity is told in a short biography for Hadouch’s Lamsdorf-Lambinowice museum in Poland. In this new post I’ve added a few details.
You can read Part 9 here.
Ljubljana – Pre-War Years
A few sketchy recollections of those pre-war years in Ljubljana remain etched in my mind. Oma was concerned about my skinny frame, so she would take me down to the coffee lounge (they lived in a big apartment above) to fatten me up. Christina, the cashier, was there with her white fluffy German spitz. I don’t know, though, whether her dog stayed in the coffee lounge all the time, but I can see her clearly sitting by the cash register with the fluffy white dog beside her.
For breakfast, I was served a soft-boiled egg , a bread roll with butter, and a cup of white coffee. I was a very slow eater. Poor Oma! Although I didn’t have a sweet tooth as a child, I liked vanilla ice cream, particularly the aroma of vanilla. Vanilla and coffee aroma bring back memories of Kavarna Evropa, on the corner of Slovenska and Gosposvetska Streets, and my Oma and Opa. My niece, who lives in Ljubljana, found this link on Google. I was thrilled to bits when she sent it to me. The whole building is known as Tavčarjeva palača, and is best remembered for Kavarna Evropa on the ground floor when the popular coffee house was owned by my granddad Anton Tonejc from 1905 – 1948.
Opa loved taking me for a walk to Tivoli Park, a walking distance from Kavarna Evropa. At the kiosk he would buy some pine nuts for squirrels and a lollipop for me.
The squirrels would come right to me to eat the pine nuts out of my hand.
Veljko and Seka, my older cousins, would be there, too.
We were looked after by our respective nannies. Mima, a bespectacled Slovenian lass, was my cousins’ nanny, while my nanny was a refined lady, tall, blonde, with piercing blue eyes, who spoke to me in German. I called her Fräulein Fini. Her name was Finika. I knew German before I knew my mother tongue.
I remember Fräulein Fini very well. She was strict, but I don’t think she ever hit me. She used to visit when I grew up.
But I do not remember another Christina, my very first nanny, a Slovenian girl, the same age as my mother. Christina loved my mother, for my mother treated her as a friend. They corresponded until the end of their days.
Christina had sent these photos to my mother in Sydney. She made the Slovenian traditional dress herself and helped other members of the church choir group. With such a gentle face, I’m sure she was a very loving and tender nanny.
And I remember the magic of Christmas Eve in Ljubljana. The wait. The closed door. The door behind which Kriskindl was going to work his magic. Then the bells rang behind the closed door, the door opened and let the magic cast its spell on us children. The huge Christmas tree, reaching up to the ceiling, was aglow with little candles, sparkling with sparklers, baubles and glittering streamers, with gifts in colourful boxes piled up beneath it, next to Mary, baby Jesus, Joseph, the three Wise Men, and the Shepherds with all the animals in tow. This Christmas fairyland, bathed in the scent of fresh pine mixed with the mellow scent of melting wax, remains a cherished memory of Oma and Opa and their luxurious apartment above their kavarna.
Orthodox Christmas was celebrated, too. The soldiers, ordered by my godfather General Orlović, who was also Oma’s and Opa’s friend, would bring up to the apartment the badnjak, an oak branch, decorated with oranges and mandarins and Serbian flags, and they would place it next to the grandfather’s clock. Which brings me to Opa sitting in his armchair nearby and dozing off. And I was looking down from the window next to the badnjak, watching the military parade passing by. The year was 1940. I was 5 years old. It was a good year.
I like this photo of my “kum” (pronounce “koom”, meaning godfather). Kum Orle was my father’s friend, that’s why he became my “kum”. He was also one of the King’s adjutants, and when the war started in Yugoslavia in 1941, he went into exile. The dedication in this photo reads: ” To the esteemed Misses and Mister Tonejc”.
During the war, my mother and I were always invited to celebrate Christmas at our friends’ homes in Zagreb or in Bregana. But I missed my dad, Oma and Opa and my cousins and my Aunty Silva and Uncle Vladimir. I missed Ljubljana and Kavarna Evropa. My happy childhood was thrown into turmoil.
(To be continued)
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