Today you come to this place by a road, a paved road mind you, with a proper sign that reads ‘Rastovich Road.’
A hundred years ago, you would have come to this place by a fresh trail not yet set. The only way you could even tell where you were was by how far you had come, and it wasn’t until folks got around to putting up their barns that you could distinguish one place from another. This was just a place, same as any other.
What makes this place sacred to us is that this is the place where they ceased their wandering. This place, sitting here at the crossroads of bad luck and bad weather, is where our George and Anna stopped and took a stand.
Had it been another pilgrim, had it been any other lesser fool, this place would have bent them, broken them, and brought them to their knees. But not a Rastovich. Every hardship, every struggle, only served to straighten the spine of a Rastovich.
To this day, you can recognize a Rastovich in a crowd by the way they stand. I see it in all my cousins, my sisters, and my own son. If you remember those we loved, those we never got to know, and those we sorely miss, you will see it in them. The way they stand.
A Rastovich stands taller than they are. But they are not standing proud. A Rastovich looks at all men from a level gaze and has come to understand that there are no triumphs. Life is not a prize, earned or denied. All we have—all that there is—is the task at hand.
A Rastovich stands with still and stoic grace. Above all else, a Rastovich stands ready. Ready for whatever task is at hand.
It’s impossible, really, to separate this place from its people, but if I had to choose, I would say that it’s not this place; it is the people who were forged here.
I am reminded of one of the last things I heard Grandpa say. A bunch of us were gathered at the farm—Rastoviches, Barnums, Chopps, and Blairs. We were lunching on leftovers from the reception the night before and enjoying easy conversation between us.
Grandpa sat quietly at the head of that timeless table. Behind him was a photo of his wedding day and a painted glass souvenir of the Statue of Liberty (how that survived the journey I’ll never know).
Now, this is a hard place, and it makes for hard men, but by this time, most of the thorns had been knocked off and the rough spots worn smooth. Suddenly, with tears in his eyes and with arms outstretched as if to embrace us all, Grandpa spoke.
“Sve moje ljude,” he said.
Whenever Grandpa spoke, and whichever language he was speaking, I never understood a word he said, so I asked my dad, “What did he say?”
“Sve moje ljude,” he said, “All my people.”
Wherever Grandpa is standing now, I know that he is standing proud and that he dearly loves all his people.
Michael Rastovich: www.michaelrastovich.com
Photo by Amber Engle on Unsplash