Family stories based on real events from the long history of the Gavrilović family.
A Lady’s Club Under Grandma Paulina’s Hat
Before the First World War, it was fashionable for women to wear wide-brimmed bonnets adorned with floral arrangements or a peacock feather. Uncle Stjepan Gavrilović brought his sister-in-law, Paulina, an elaborate, fancy bonnet from Paris. It had a large upright peacock feather on it, in the latest Parisian style. Paula tried on the hat and mumbled under her breath: “…it’s as though I have a sail on my head!”
She offered the bonnet to her sister Lea Benović who was – both in manner and dress – entirely different from her sister. Every time Uncle Stephe would stop by for a visit, he would tease Paulina: “…What is with that bonnet; why did you lend it to your sister Lea again?”
Grandma Paulina’s motto was to live a dignified and modest life, without accentuating herself in either manner or dress. She definitely could not be seen in public wearing such an extravagant hat, especially in her humanitarian work helping the poor. Mayor Gjuro Gavrilović’s wife (which she was later to become) would often say how it is not only important to know how to aid the poor, but in knowing how to look and act while doing so. Young Paula had a respectable upbringing as a child. She came from a decent family in Petrinja, just like her husband, Gjuro. Local papers write of their relationship: “Mr. Gjuro Gavrilović, co-owner of the First Croatian Salami, Cured Meat and Lard Factory, got engaged on June 29, 1898, to the charming Miss Paula Herzegova, daughter of our dearly-deceased Petrinian merchant, Ivan Herceg, and Mrs. Sidonija Herceg, now re-married as Greiner. This engagement will create a union between two distinguished and patriotic Croatian families from the city of Petrinja. We send out our heart-felt wishes to the newly-engaged couple.”
Paulina, the young newly-wed, was not satisfied simply with the role of being a wife to the Mayor and first industrialist in Petrinja, Gjuro Gavrilović. With her dynamic work habits and desire to serve, she was always active in the organization of various charity events to help the poor and needy. In her later years, while living in Zagreb, she loved to play cards with her girlfriends; mainly bridge. She met at least once a week to play with her friends Mrs. Bersa, wife of Blagoje Bersa, the composer; Mrs. Livadić, wife of Ferdo Livadić, composer as well; and finally a Mrs. Szavich Nossan. In Novi Vinodolski she was regularly visited by the world-known opera diva, Zinka Kunc. It is no wonder that she encircled herself with women from the musical branch, for she herself played the piano beautifully and was friends with many musicians of that era. She never ceased to play every night for several hours, even in her old age.
The fate of my grandmother’s elegant bonnet with the peacock feather is still unknown. We know that she became a widow at an early age after he husband Gjuro I died of a stroke at 53 years of age. The widowed Mrs. Gavrilović went on to live on Zrinjevac Street with her children. It is a well-known fact that she loved her son, Gjuro II, very much. In 1945, the Communists sent Gjuro to a sentence of hard manual labour. Unlike others condemned to the same punishment, Gjuro easily endured his sentence, being the avid sportsman that he was. In the late 50s, Gjuro emigrated, never to return again. His mother suffered greatly in yearning for her beloved son.
The next spouse in the chronology of the Gavrilović family is a pretty girl named Sidonija Grohovac, or Dody. Dody was not born in Petrinja. She came from Rijeka. Her uncle, Ivo Grohovac, who was about the same age as writer A. G. Matos, worked in publishing, and issued three volumes of poems dedicated to his city of birth, Rijeka, and the Kvarner Region. In a feuilleton of the Riječki Novi List (Rijeka Newsletter), in the Then and Now section, he would write collections of words and phrases from the Chakavian dialect, under the pseudonym Tik-Tak. This feuilleton is still an interesting and informative piece of literature for readers today, as it gives insight into the social and cultural realm of Rijeka at the beginning of the 20th century. To return to our story, Dody, thus, came to Petrinja as the young bride of renowned physician and obstetrician, Doctor Cubelić, who opens up a practice in Petrinja. They let out a flat with the Schram family and Dody, soon befriends Mary Schram, a young woman her age. Schram will later marry into the Tedeschi family. Dody and Gjuro II met for the first time at the Schram’s, with a classic love story backdrop: Dody looked out the window and saw Gjuro on a white horse, and she was sure he would be the prince she would marry!
The charming Dody Gavrilović was very sensitive about her age, and never actually revealed when she was born. She was even able to forge the year of her birth in official documents. One document says 1905, while another 1912. In her old age she would often recite passages from a love letter allegedly written to her by a handsome young Italian officer at the end of the First World War. He was described as wearing a uniform and cap with a feather in it, meaning that he most-likely served in the Alpine Mountain troupe. However, if Grandma Dody was born in 1910 or 1912, she would have been too young of a child to have received love letters from the Officer. Upon her death, her daughter Nana was in a predicament, for she could not obtain a valid birth certificate for her mother’s burial. The only reason it was easy for Dody to have kept changing her birth certificates was due to the fact that the country’s politics and government kept changing. She would most likely tell administrators what to write down and with her famous smile, would easily charm them into not verifying her documents from before. How else could she succeed in her deceit? One must admit she was fashionable and had a charm no one could resist.
Grandmother Dody never liked to be called a grandmother. Her grandchildren tell us how she was very particular with regards to that. Her husband used to say that she would probably rub tire grease on her skin if someone said it would make her more beautiful. She was always dressed in her best attire, adorned with pearls and her hair perfectly arranged. An admirer once told her, somewhat ineptly: “Madame Gavrilović, you look as though you sleep in formaldehyde; you never change!”
A generation apart, one can compare the different love stories and private lives of Gjuro II and his son, Gjuro III – present-day owner of the Gavrilović Company. If you were intrigued by the classic novel scene of the “prince on a white horse,” from the preceding generation of Gavrilović’s, then you will enjoy a chapter from a more modern timeframe. It is written in the first person, directly from the mouth of its main female protagonist – Margaret Winklohofer Gavrilović.
Although it is composed as a fictional piece of literature, it is in fact a realistic rendition of confessional prose, printed in newspaper form:
“I was working at the General Consulate of the Republic of Austria in 1966, when after three months at the Consulate I met Gjuro. As an Austrian citizen, Gjuro had to register with the Consulate. In the summer of 1966, when Gjuro came to register, my colleague was working the desk, because I wasn’t there at that moment. We were amidst the preparation of a banquet in celebration of the Austrian National Holiday on October 26 of that year. Such banquets were customary in diplomatic circles. Gjuro came to the banquet, mainly to see my friend. Granted that she was on holidays then, Gjuro ran into me! Taking into consideration that Gjuro was a student then, he seemed so hungry and was eating the whole time, although I don’t know what he enjoyed more that night – the food or me! He invited me to go out with him that same evening. He was a bit of a bohemian spirit, which immediately caught my attention. He was charming… He went home to change and then took me out to the romantic “Taverna” located on the Upper Town. After dinner, my dear Gjuro escorted me home and given that he knew that I had Austrian beer and cigarettes inside, he invited himself in. I said: “Not tonight.
Tomorrow.” And in fact at 7pm the next day, Gjuro came for some Austrian beer and stayed overnight. There were gradually more and more of his things in my apartment. We began to live together from that night on. Gjuro’s mother scandalized over the fact that we were living together out of wedlock, so we decided to marry a year later. Unfortunately, no one took our wedding seriously – neither our parents, nor my colleagues at the Consulate. I didn’t even get the day off. We decided to get married on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in September 1967, when the Consulate wasn’t working. That was a Friday, and I was already on call the following day. As is usually the case in large cities, we could not find an available registrar, so we decided to go to a small town named Bruck an der Leitha in Burgenland, Austria. Gjuro and I took the car on Thursday and hurried to the little town so we could be ready by Friday and return quickly for my job at the Consulate the next day. In all the commotion, we forgot our documents. Gjuro had some identification with him, but I neglected to bring mine. When the registrar told us that he could not marry us without proper identification, Gjuro jumped in the car and raced off to my parents in Vienna. He was a good driver. My parents still didn’t believe that we were really getting married. Upon his return, when we finally stood before the registrar with our witnesses, ready for the ceremony to begin, the registrar turned to me and said to Gjuro laughingly: ‘’Your wife is not that old to have been born in 1908!’’ In all the fuss, Gjuro took my mother’s documents instead of mine. Given that my mother and I are both named Margaret, it was easily overlooked. So Gjuro sat in his car once again and hurried off to Vienna to get my papers. When he got back, the registrar said: “My dear children, it is now noon. I will eat and then rest, so why don’t you please stop by again this afternoon…”
And so it was. Our witnesses and Gjuro’s father were the only guests at the wedding. Gjuro’s mother was in the hospital at the time and my family didn’t accept us as true. We celebrated our wedding lunch at a local restaurant and at 4pm finally stood before the registrar. Right after the wedding ceremony finished, we hopped into our car and set for Zagreb, for I had to make it to work the next day. “What’s more, it was rainy and cold and the roads were icy that day…”
The dramatics of Margaret’s marriage to Gjuro III – present-day owner of the meat enterprise – are entirely realistic and completely opposite to that of the other Gavrilović brides. Let us recall Gjuro II, another “true prince” who was really riding a horse, and compare him to Margaret’s Gjuro who she was attracted to because there was something bohemian about him. Bohemian in spirit perhaps, but Gjuro was a serious and successful industrialist! Then Mato I and the portrait he arranged to have made in honour of his wife’s untimely death at the age of 29. Or perhaps Dody, the only bride who came into the family as a divorced mother of two, and married Mato II. And finally, Grandma Paulina, the humanitarian and active associate of her husband, Gjuro I – Mayor and co-owner of the Petrinja factory – with her designer bonnet and peacock feather, whereby which we have attempted, if but figuratively, to gather all the Gavrilović women into one bouquet: the lady’s club under Grandma Paulina’s hat.