My Grandmother's Tough Life Helps Me Put My Own Into Perspective

by Elizabeta Vidovic
Originally Published: 
Courtesy of Elizabeta Vidovic

Most of my stories are circling around women that have, in one way or another, influenced my life. In addition to my mother, who has remained the biggest inspiration to me, I grew up with some of the most extraordinary grandmothers and great aunts. Their colorful personalities have provided so much material for my stories, including Severed Silence, my latest film.

Much like my grandmothers, the women I write about in all my stories take on their heavy burdens with their heads held high and with heels on. Even though my grandmothers were not into heels or lipsticks, my mom was. She refused to even go to the corner store without putting herself together, head to toe! She used to say, “I refuse to be dressed in some frumpy clothes. I don’t have to look the way I feel!” That really resonated with me.

An issue I often battle with is that I cannot open myself up to the people in my life because I have to be strong and avoid burdening them with my struggles. In the last decade, every time I felt alone, I thought of these quiet women who carried their burdens with dignity and humbly dedicated their lives to others, and I realized how good I have it. It wasn’t that long ago when women had little liberty, and my grandmothers—my mom, even—lived in those times.

Things have changed and are still changing…

It all started over a decade ago when I was holding a bunch of thyme in my hand, and suddenly had this familiar feeling of comfort, peace, and slight sadness. Upon talking to my mom, I found out that my grandmother (her mother) used to make me thyme tea. Mom told me that thyme helps relax nerves and calm the mind. So I made some for myself (which I haven’t drank since moving to the States thirty years ago) and, sure enough, all these feelings and memories began to surface.

How many times have you been over all the things that complicate your existence and felt like you had no choice or control over your own life? I’m not going to give you my laundry list, ‘cause it makes my head spin just to think about it … but, like many of you, I’ve wondered: where am I pulling the strength and energy from to keep going? Well, I’ve discovered that it can truly come from the most unusual places.

Courtesy of Elizabeta Vidovic

Smelling thyme and drinking thyme tea made me reflect on my grandmother, Bosiljka, and her life. Her husband left her when my mom was only five—my mother was the middle child of five kids and the oldest was only ten years old. My grandmother was a Bosnian woman through and through. At that time it was shameful for women to work. Meaning, if a woman had a job or a career in my town in the ’60s, she was considered to be a “loose” woman. So, in order to preserve her reputation—because God forbid she ever tarnished that, she wouldn’t have been able to marry her daughters off—she operated an old watermill all on her own.

People would bring her grains to grind and oftentimes, instead of paying, leave some for her so that she could feed her children. She raised five children all by herself, put them through school and eventually married each of them off (it was a big deal to have unmarried children in those days). She was an exceptional cook and an extremely nurturing and loving woman who had the most amazing sense of humor. In fact, she lived to laugh! I remember the last time I saw her, I knew it was my last. But I took her spirit with me and always kept it in my heart. I will never forget the way she looked at me, saying goodbye with those beautiful blue eyes. Every time I smell thyme or drink thyme tea, I see those kind eyes looking at me so lovingly and remember … I don’t have it so bad.

So yes … I kept my day job for years, one of the things that was complicating my life, before I was able to fully focus on what I wanted to do. But when I think of my grandmother not being able to work—period—to even support her children, it makes me pause and appreciate the choices I have. I allow the memories of those extraordinary women, those quiet heroes, to make me stop in my tracks, and reflect on how much harder they had it and yet, still made the best of life.

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