Thank you, Myoviches of Montenegro

February 17, 2020

Dear Mijovići of Montenegro (as well as other friends and family):

This letter began as an effort to send New Year’s wishes to all the Mijoviches of Montenegro and thank you once again for the hospitality shown us during our time with you.  This letter also intended to convey further information that we have about our family in North America, and specifically provide a brief overview of the biographies of Nasto and Jela’s sons, Savo (hereafter Sam) and Neđelko (hereafter Mach).  The letter has taken on a life of its own and its audience has expanded to include our relatives and friends in California, Washington, Texas, and elsewhere.  The letter is rather lengthy, but its essence derives from its original mission to thank you once again for the deeply enriching experience we had with you in September. 

Nasto and Jela were married on October 17, 1914

2019 marked the thirtieth year since our father passed, and our trip to visit you was part of a quest to honor him and rekindle the spirit of family he experienced when he made his trip in 1964.  We were overwhelmed by the spirit of love and hospitality we were shown throughout our stay with you.  Suffice it to say that Mataguži and our family there will remain in our hearts for the rest of our lives.  We will make certain that our children and grandchildren understand why Mataguži means so much to our family.

We especially appreciate the hospitality you showed considering the difficult circumstances related to the passing of Nikola soon after we arrived.  We realize the heaviness of heart you all must have felt at the loss of this father, grandfather, and uncle.  We hope that the distraction of our visit did not take away from the proper observance of his passing and the honoring of his legacy.  We are especially grateful to Lidija for advising us on how to minimize the disruption our visit would inevitably cause for the grieving families.  It means the world to us that one of Nikola’s dying wishes was that the Mijovići of Mataguži celebrate our visit despite his imminent passing.  You certainly honored Nikola’s memory in the exceeding kindness you showed us.  Nikola surely honored the memory of our father in making that request.

Doing the family research in preparation for this trip has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.  Reading the letters of Dr. Savo, Gojko, and Turo to my father — at least the ones written in English — conveyed the family love they held for my dad and Uncle Mach.  For Dr. Savo and Gojko, my dad and uncle were like long-lost brothers.  For Turo, they were long-lost sons.  Nothing conveys this love more powerfully than the 1954 letter Dr. Savo wrote to dad and Mach that reconnected the sons of Nasto to their family.  The letter is poetic in its beauty of spirit and enlightening in its details.  I included a copy of it on the first page of the book I prepared for your families.  I have also appended it here.

The 1954 letter of Dr. Savo conveys a few particulars of the trip he had made from Belgrade to our grandmother’s village in Pobrežje (near Dubrovnik) to find the California postal addresses of Sam and Mach, the long-lost sons of the Mijović family.  In visiting our grandmother’s living nephew and niece, Želimir and Sloboda, in Dubrovnik last September, we were able to gain some additional information about Dr. Savo’s trip.  In Savo’s letter, he mentions a young boy who accompanied him on the trip from Dubrovnik to Pobrežje.  That young boy was Želimir Uskoković, the aforementioned nephew of our grandmother and the son of the Ivo cited in Dr. Savo’s letter.

Želimir not only accompanied Dr. Savo to Pobrežje, he also traveled more than a decade later with my father from Dubrovnik to Mataguži, where my father was received in the joy and sorrow of the memory of Nasto.  Želimir recounted some of the details of that trip.  He particularly remembered that the women of Mataguži performed the traditional ritual of washing the feet of the traveler.  It is certain that all the attention that my father received in Mataguži restored in him that sense of family largely lost to him as a child.  Though our father never spoke much about these things, there is no question how important the trip to Mataguži and Pobrežje was to him.  One of the purposes of this letter is the hope that it will help you appreciate even more how much our father’s trip to Mataguži meant to him.

From l to r: Zelimir, Vera, Sam, Marija, Frano, and Marko

We were grateful to see some of the pictures that you had from our father’s 1964 visit and one of the most precious of those photos is attached to this letter.  We would be very grateful if you helped us identify more accurately our father’s aunts and uncles in the photo.  Here is my best estimate of who is in this picture.  From left to right:  Jovan, Ɖuro, Ɖurđina, Sam, Milja, Novica, and Petar.  Thank you so much for this photo. 

My Father in 1964 (middle), with all of his living aunts and uncles except Turo.

While it is not very useful to dwell on regrets, it is nevertheless important to acknowledge missed opportunities, especially when they honor the legacy and invoke the memory of important people in our father’s life.  For example, it is obvious now how much we could have learned from Dr. Savo and Gojko about how our father managed to reconnect with his family and about many of the things that happened when he visited in 1964.   Had we known their stories better in 1991, we could have gotten so much more out of that visit.  I also deeply regret that we did not manage to arrange for our father to make a second trip to Montenegro before his passing in 1989.

In the spirit of Gojko and Dr. Savo, I would like to recount what I learned from my studies in preparation for our trip as well as some of the additional information I learned from some of you.  I write this down in the hopes that the stories of our ancestors and the sacrifices they made for us can be remembered.  I also hope that these stories will let you know something about the larger legacy of Nasto and his two sons in California.  We learned a lot from our visit in September, but we also have many questions that remain.  Perhaps by sharing what we know and the limits of what we know, we can clarify some of what our parents and their parents experienced.  I know that these deep dives into family history are not for everyone and I apologize for the length this letter will necessarily have as a result.  Cathy, Doug, and I have long been fascinated with the story of Nasto and Jela, and we would like to honor them by recounting as much as possible what we, the Myoviches of California, know about their lives. 

According to US census records, Nasto came to the United States in 1906.  He was about 27 years old, born in 1879 as the oldest son of Ivo and Marija.  Why he chose to leave at that time is not certain to us, though there were large waves of Eastern Europeans still coming to the US in those years.  Despite efforts of many powerful forces in the country to restrict such immigration, the US still represented the possibility of betterment for Southern and Eastern Europeans undergoing economic hardships and facing the looming political crisis that led to World War I. Whether Nasto traveled alone, with other family members, or in the wake of earlier family members or friends is also unclear. 

Where he settled and what specific contacts he had in the US is also not known to us.   Commonly, immigrants came to the US in waves that connected newcomers to previously settled members of the immediate family or broader network of kin and friends.  One of the most interesting research discoveries was that it appears that Nasto’s younger brother Turo (b. 1885) either travelled with him or joined him soon after he arrived in the US.  Evidence for this is provided in an entry in the 1913 Portland, Oregon phone book that showed Nasto sharing an address with Turo.  Interestingly, there were other “Mijoviches” living in Portland at that same time (Nick and Vlado).  Perhaps they were part of the migration “chain” that led Nasto and Turo to various destinations. The Portland phone book indicates that Nasto was a “laborer” and Turo a “cook”.  Whether Portland was the first destination of Nasto is also uncertain, as there is no information as to what he did from 1906 to 1913.  Nasto’s 1920 death certificate indicates that he had resided in California for over ten years, which means that he may have settled initially in California then gone to Oregon in search of a better life.  His 1914 marriage certificate indicates that he had returned to California’s gold region, where he worked for the Central Eureka Mining Company in Jackson, California. 

Whether Turo was still in California with Nasto in 1914 is not fully clear but seems unlikely considering the story that Milena Stanković shared with us on our last day in Montenegro.  Milena conveyed the story she got from Turo’s daughter Miriam, who is still living in Paris at the age of 94(?). (Her exact age is not fully clear to me.) It appears that at some point in the course of World War I, Turo returned to Europe in order to serve in the court of King Nikola of Montenegro as flag-bearer (Bakhtiar).  The rest of Uncle Turo’s life became closely intertwined with the tragic story of King Nikola, the broader history of what later became Yugoslavia, and the dethroning of the Petrović-Njegoš dynasty by the Serbian House of Karađorđević at the Podgorica Assembly in November 1918. 

The point at which Uncle Turo joined the court of King Nikola is unclear.  King Nikola’s legacy is woven into the complex fabric of broader Serbian politics that played out largely in the conflicting claims of the Obrenović and Karađorđević dynasties.  When a group of young Serbians carried out the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, King Nikola was inevitably drawn into the vortex of war.  The circumstances of World War I had forced King Nikola into exile, first in Italy and later in France.  At some point in this history between 1914 and 1919, Turo returned to serve in the King’s court.  These details may be known to the Montenegrin Mijovići, but they have not been conveyed to us.  It appears that Turo’s service to King Nikola prevented him from ever returning to Montenegro.

One of the questions Uncle Turo’s biography raises is why he and not his older brother Nasto had the honor of serving the Montenegrin King.  A simple answer might be that at the time of assembling his court in response to the challenges of World War I, Nasto was married and not able to leave his family to fulfill that duty.  Regardless of this uncertainty, Nasto became quite ill soon thereafter.  He died on March 13, 1920 at the age of 39 after spending nearly a year and a half suffering with pulmonary tuberculosis.  He left behind a wife, Jelena (nee Uskoković, b. 1896, hereafter Jela) and two sons, Sam who was four years old and Mach who was two.

Sam, Charlotte and Turo in Nice, France 1964

We do not know much about Jela Uskoković or how she and Nasto came to be married.  She left her home village of Pobrežje, near Dubrovnik and arrived at Ellis Island in New York on August 30, 1913.  She came to California to join her brother Marko, who had arrived a year or so earlier.  Marko had sponsored her trip.  Jela and Nasto married a little over a year later, on October 17, 1914.  One assumes that Marko and Nasto might have been friends, as the relationship developed quickly and because they lived together in the same home after the wedding.    Whether it was common for Montenegrins to marry Croatians in California is also unclear.  The mining community of Jackson mixed Serbs, Montenegrins, and Croatians in a way that may have made those ethnic divisions less significant and facilitated marriage between the different ethnic groups. 

The wedding took place in the St. Sava Orthodox church in Jackson.  Church records indicate that Reverend Paul Veljkar performed the ceremony and that the best man (Kum) was Bogdan Milichevich.  The civil certificate identified an additional witness as Blazo Kaludjerovich.  The identity of the Kum and the additional witness may provide important links to families who might know more about the experiences of Nasto and Jela in California.  Sam was born a little more than a year after the wedding, on September 17, 1915.  Mach was born on May 20, 1917. 

The lives of gold miners in these company towns was difficult, though I will admit that I know very little of this facet of California history.  Even though the region is quite charming today, it can be assumed that the pay was low, the work difficult, and the living arrangements basic.  Moreover, Nasto became ill sometime in 1918 at a time when there was virtually no public support for either the health of the sick or the welfare of young mothers having to raise children when the father was unable to work.  Jela must have suffered extraordinary difficulties in relation to Nasto’s illness and death.  It is not surprising that she would marry soon thereafter. Nasto died on March 13, 1920 from pulmonary tuberculosis.

Thanks to the outstanding research of Andrea Pearce, who is married to Jela’s great-grandson, we learned a number of things about Jela and even about her marriage to Nasto. Other than the wedding photograph above, we have few artifacts that tell us much about them. That is in part why the love shown us in Montenegro is so important. Andrea discovered the following item in the Amador Register from April 20, 1920. It was a deed of property to her that included a statement of love and affection.

How common was it to include such public displays of affection in an otherwise simple transaction statement?

On November 22, 1920, Jela married Peter Ragus, who had immigrated to the US from Stolac, Herzegovina, in 1906.  Jele and Peter had three children.  John was born on September 19, 1922; Lucy on March 15, 1925; and Pete on August 17, 1927.  It appears that the family moved from Jackson to Sanger soon after the wedding, as all three of the Ragus children were born in Sanger.  What drew them away from Jackson to Sanger is unclear.  (When I say that something is unclear, that means that I do not know the answer.  Perhaps some of you do.  I invite your clarifications and explanations!) Some answers to the mystery may come from their wedding announcement, indicating that Pete was from Fresno. Sanger is in Fresno County.

Around the time Pete Jr. was born, Jela appears to have fallen into some kind of psychological trauma.  She was admitted into Agnews State Mental hospital in Santa Clara, and virtually disappeared from the life of her family.  Pete recalls seeing her only once in his life, in 1944.  The only time that Pete recalls seeing Jela is when Mach and Bernice brought her to their home in Campbell, California with hopes that Pete Sr. would help care for her.  Pete Jr. recalls that the exchange between Bernice and Pete Sr. became quite heated.  Pete also noted that he was not even sure who the woman was who was with his half-brother Mach.  It was, of course, his mother. Mach and his wife, Bernice, appear to have been the only ones to have had meaningful contact with Jela between 1927 and her passing on August 27, 1950 from heart failure. 

There is some evidence that Pete Sr. abused Sam and Mach.  It is possible that he abused Jela and his own children as well.  Mach and Lucy have both related stories of how Sam and Mach had to sleep in the garage and were not permitted to eat with the others in the family.  Indeed, Lucy recounted how she had to sneak food out to Mach and Sam.  Whether it was the circumstances of poverty or some other motive that may have compelled Pete Sr. to neglect Nasto’s sons is not known.  Whether there was physical abuse of Sam and Mach is also unclear.  Our father never spoke of theses years and would refuse to answer questions about them.  Pete Jr. has related incidents when his father appears to have had a Roman Catholic religious bias that also may have affected his attitude toward Sam and Mach.  Pete related to me a story of his missing catechism and receiving a severe beating from his father for it. But this is highly speculative.

It is perhaps, though, too easy to make Pete Sr. the fall guy in this story that has so many complicating and unknowable dimensions.  Neither Sam nor Mach ever spoke of him.  Pete Sr.  provided a functional home in difficult circumstances for his children that allowed them not only to get a solid education but also participate in sports and other normal teenage activities during the Great Depression.  The purpose of recounting this is not to place blame on someone for things that happened in the past, but to better understand the circumstances that shaped the lives and values of people who are dear to us.  It should be stated that even though our father could sometimes be strict, he never spanked us or disciplined us physically.  He left that to our mother!

Around the time of the birth of Pete in 1927, the state of California placed Mach and Sam into the foster care system.  This is not surprising as these young boys were essentially living on the streets of the small rural town of Sanger.  Uncle Mach related that the triggering incident for their admission into the foster care system may have been an act of theft that Sam undertook.  Supposedly he stole a pocketknife from a Sanger drugstore.  When he went to school the next day, the teacher tricked him into showing the knife by asking if anyone could help her with a problem that a pocketknife could fix.  When he kindly offered his newly stolen pocketknife, the teacher notified the local authorities.

The foster care system at that time was notorious for its lack of proper regulation.  It often resulted in even worse instances of neglect and exploitation than the children had experienced in their earlier lives.  This appears to have been the case with Uncle Mach.  There were also those Foster parents who properly cared for children who would otherwise have been neglected.  Our father appears to have been taken into a loving home, though one which also used him as a major source of labor on their farm.  

The separation of Mach and Sam at around the age of 10 and 12, respectively, represents one of the sadder experiences of their lives.  In the last conversation we had with Uncle Mach before he passed, he clearly felt the pain: “I will never understand why they had to separate us.”  Our best understanding is that the brothers lost contact with each other for a few years and only incidentally re-encountered each other on opposing teams in a high school football game.

Mach does not appear to have held the resentment toward his mother, Jela, that Sam did.  As far as we know, Mach visited her on at least a few occasions in the 1940s and fully arranged and paid for her burial in 1950.  Mach placed her on the grounds of the St. Sava Orthodox church, even though she was born Catholic and later married a Catholic.   Moreover, Mach did not have known ties to the Orthodox church.  One wonders what might have motivated Mach to choose the Orthodox cemetery as her resting place.  The point is that Mach and Bernice appear to have cared for her in a way that none of the other children, including the three Raguses, were able or, perhaps, willing.    How Mach and Bernice even managed to find Jela is unclear. 

There is some evidence that our father, Sam, could never bring himself to forgive her for what he felt was her abandonment of him and Mach, but the evidence for this is scant and needs to be understood in the complexities of his life story.  I have a vague recollection of Uncle Mach telling me that he pleaded with Sam to visit his mother in her last days, but that he refused.

Both Sam and Mach nevertheless later appear to have developed familial ties with other kin and friends of the Uskoković family living in the US.  These links to the Uskokoviches of North America ultimately resulted in ties to relatives in and around Dubrovnik, which eventually led to renewing ties to the Mijovićes of Montenegro.  The bridge between the Uskokoviches and Mijovićes is the one built in the early 1950s by Dr. Savo Mijović, the then young medical student in Belgrade.

Sam and Mach also appear to have developed a relationship with at least one of their half-brothers and sister, though it is unclear when and how these relationships were restored.  The older Ragus son, John, served in the US Army during World War II.  He moved to Los Angeles after the war and maintained little contact with either his sister, brother, or two half-brothers.  He died in 1993 having never married.  It is uncertain whether Sam and Mach ever saw John after they went into foster care.  Lucy married James Pearce and had three children with him:  Carl (b. 1946); John (b. 1951); and Suzanne (b. 1957).  Our father and Mach had limited contact with Lucy, mostly in their later years.

In the course of the 1950s, Sam and Mach developed a relationship with their half-brother Pete Ragus, who had moved to Texas where he gained recognition as a football coach in Corpus Christie and as an Athletic Director for the Lubbock Independent School District.  Sam and Mach were extremely proud of their ties to Pete, and there was much justification for that pride.  After serving in the US army after World War II and finishing college at Abilene Christian, Pete moved to Corpus Christie and coached the first racially integrated football team to win the Texas state championship in 1958.  His work as Athletic Director contributed greatly to the health and well-being of generations of Lubbock residents.  There are two gymnasiums and a first-rate aquatic center that bear his name in Texas.  He has a commendation letter from President Obama for his contribution to civil rights in relation to his work with the integrated football team.  In addition to his great accomplishments as an educator and administrator, Pete Jr. and his wife Margaret were loving parents of five children:  Margaret Ann (b. 1951); Donna (b.  1953); Jim (b. 1955); Kay (b. 1959); and Barbara (b. 1962).  How Sam and Mach came to know their Ragus siblings after being separated from them around 1925 remains something of a mystery. 

The Pete Ragus Family around 1968. From l to r: Donna, Barbara, Margaret Ann, Jim, Margaret, Kay, and Pete

The bridge between the Myovich and Ragus siblings appears to have been built largely by Mach and Bernice in the course of the 1940s. Mach had had a difficult childhood in which he was used as an exploitable source of farm labor. Eventually he came to work at the Zellerback Paper Company in Fresno, where he met and married Bernice Hammond (1920-1981) in 1939. During the war, the couple moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where Mach worked in the Kaiser shipyards as a foreman in war-related ship production. It is during the war that Mach appears to have reestablished a relationship with his mother, Jela, and perhaps even his Ragus siblings. It appears quite certain that during this time Mach and Bernice also established and sustained contacts with the broader kinship network of the Uskoković family. Of course, they also began their own family with three children: Machie (b. 1945); Sheila (b. 1947); and Cheri (b. 1953).

Sam’s life trajectory tended to keep him somewhat removed from his earlier life with his Ragus siblings.  After the incident with the pocketknife, John Hall (b. 1859) and his wife Maude (nee Winnie, b. 1892), brought Sam into their home as Foster parents.  Mr. Hall was in his late sixties when Sam came into the home, and died within a couple of years of his arrival.  This left Sam as the main source of labor on the twenty-acre dairy.  The farm on which he worked was part of Maude’s family inheritance.  Members of the Winnie family owned adjacent properties on Cherry Avenue in Fresno and Sam maintained close ties with Maude’s parents, brother, two sisters and their children.  While our father NEVER spoke about this part of his life to us, it is clear that Maude and her family provided a network of love and support that allowed him to complete high school and maintain a stable life through the difficult years of the Great Depression.

In 1936, Sam married his widowed foster mother, Maude.  From the perspective of present-day notions of romantic love, sexuality, and marriage, this would seem more than unusual.  After all, Sam was an extraordinarily handsome and healthy twenty-one-year-old.  Maude was forty-four and appears to have suffered from two genetic complications that resulted in dwarfism and curvature of the spine.  In order to make sense of this marriage from the perspective of those who did not live through those difficult times, it is important to keep two things in mind. 

First, the marriage between Sam and Maude fits into the long arc of the history of marriage in which practical questions of economics have been a defining feature for choosing a spouse.  Considering Maude’s health challenges, it is safe to assume that she was in no position to manage the dairy should Sam leave it for other opportunities.  Sam, on the other hand, knew and loved the livelihood of the dairy business that the twenty acres on Cherry Avenue provided him.  It is important to remember that Maude and John Hall essentially rescued him from a life on the streets.  Other complicating economic factors may have related to inheritance rights both regarding Maude as a widow and Sam as a foster child.  The bottom line is that the marriage resulted in Sam inheriting the twenty acres when Maude died in 1950. 

Economics, however, should not be understood as the sole or even primary element of this relationship.  As stated before, the entire Winnie family embraced Sam as one of their own.  He maintained close relations with Maude’s brother and sisters and their families long after Maude passed.  Indeed, when Sam married our mother Edythe soon after Maude died, the Winnie family embraced our mom as well.  Sam was a man in need and in search of love.  The Winnie family provided that to him.

Sam’s work on the farm as well as the fact that he was the sole surviving heir in that family exempted him from military service in World War II.  During the war, it appears that Sam and Mach stayed in contact.  Mach’s son Machie remembers visiting the farm on Cherry Avenue as a young boy.  While he does not remember Maude, he does remember the kitchen counters that were modified to accommodate Maude’s short stature.  Of course, Maude was a little too old and probably too frail to have had any children.  We have no pictures of her.  However, we do have a few pictures that she had of Sam that contain her tender sentiments for him.

A little more than a year after Maude died, Sam married Edythe Coelho in 1951.  Edythe had grown up on a 40-acre farm about three miles southwest of where Sam was living on Cherry Avenue.  They may have known each other in high school, but their courtship developed only after the passing of Maude.  Legend has it that Sam sold one of his thirty cows to buy the wedding ring and sold three additional milk cows to pay for building the house on the 20-acre lot on Cherry Avenue.  Photos of Sam with Edythe’s brother and parents reveal the joy in this transitional moment of his life. 

Sam and Edythe wedding, June 23, 1951. From Left: Mach, Bernice, Edythe, and Sam

Edythe’s brother Audley and his wife, June, moved to the farm on Cherry Avenue to help Sam with the dairy.  Audley and Sam were true brothers whose love and mutual appreciation remained for the rest of their lives.  Edythe’s parents might be seen as the parents Sam never really had.  Three children were born in short order:  Cathy (b. 1952); Sammy (b. 1954); and Doug (b. 1956).  These years of joy, however, were marred by the sudden death of Edythe’s mother, Adelaide (b. 1895), in a car accident in 1955.  Soon thereafter, Edythe’s father Joe (b. 1887) passed in 1957.

These stable years of the 1950s were the ones in which Sam and Mach appear to have the largest success in reconnecting to their birth families, first with the Uskokovićes and later with the Mijovićes.  There were many family and friends of the Uskokovićes who had migrated to the United States, making this reconnection a relatively easy matter once the mutual interest was established.  How Sam and Mach reconnected to their Mijović family line, however, required the extraordinary efforts of Dr. Savo in Belgrade.  Even though Sam and Mach only made one trip each to Dubrovnik and Montenegro, it is certain that for both this trip was a defining experience of their lives.

In recounting this restoration of family ties in the 1950s and 1960s, it is important to remember that Sam and Mach had few ties to the South Slavic communities of California.  They knew none of the language and little of the history and culture of the region.  The consequence of this limited background in the history of the Balkans helps to explain why they did not return for visits to their family.  While this cultural alienation may have discouraged Sam and Mach from a more extensive engagement with their families in Pobrežje and Mataguži, it never diminished the power of their visits to the Balkans in the 1960s.  The joy with which the long-lost sons of Nasto were received in Montenegro is anticipated beautifully in Dr. Savo’s 1954 letter. 

My own experience in travelling to Mataguži in 1991 with Doug and our families gave me a sense for what our father’s journey there in 1964 must have been like.  When we arrived in Mataguži we were immediately embraced by two older women with covered heads dressed entirely in black.  Each of them grabbed one of my hands and held them until a meal was served and all the “uncles” had had an opportunity to serve me and Doug their rakija.  I felt like I was the living reincarnation of Nasto.  This experience provided an overwhelming feeling of belonging in a broader family network.  I can only imagine how much more my father felt this in 1964, when he was able to see all his father’s brothers and sisters.  I can only imagine how much more my father felt this because of his own loss of family as a child.

There were probably many reasons why Sam never made it back to Dubrovnik and Montenegro.  First and foremost, he was a busy man running his own business.  He had sold the dairy about the time Cathy was born and began his main business of transporting milk from dairies to the processing plant.  He worked hard at this business, which got him out of bed every morning at 2 a.m. to run his milk routes and maintain his trucks.  As he liked to say: “Cows don’t have holidays.”  Additionally, he was an active father and member of the community.  He was a homebody who loved to sit in his backyard and watch his children and eventually grandchildren play on the twenty acres he got from Maude.

Another factor is the tragedy that struck in 1971, when Edythe died of cancer.  She had had some health issues in the years prior to her diagnosis with terminal colon cancer.  The day in which doctors determined that she only had a few months to live, however, is one that will be forever etched in my memory.  I remember hearing a loud voice outside and when I got to the window to see what was happening, it was my father wailing uncontrollably as he emerged from his pickup.  He came into the house, informed us of the prognosis while sobbing irrepressibly, and sat on the couch for what seemed like hours in an emotionally devastated state.  Amid his weeping, he repeated many times what a wonderful mother she had been.

It was the only time I ever remember seeing my father cry.  For a teenage boy, it was devastating both to learn of the imminent death of our mother but also to see how much it broke the spirit of our father, who had always been a pillar of strength and courage for us.  The passing of our mother dredged up a lifetime of emotional pain for Sam, who had lost his father at the age of five; his mother, brothers, and sister at the age of ten; his foster father at the age of fifteen; his first wife at the age of thirty-five; and his wife and the mother of his children at the age of fifty-five.  What sustained him through this trauma was the group of friends that my mother and father had cultivated over the years.  Also, dad had an unwavering devotion to his children, making sure that they had every opportunity he could afford.  There was also a church community, The People’s Church, that helped sustain him through these difficult days.

Eventually, Sam met a wonderful woman through this church community, Donna Jones (nee Adams, b. 1922), who helped restore in him a joy for life.  Donna’s family, children, and grandchildren provided our father a boundless source of happiness in the years that followed.  When Sam passed suddenly in 1989, he left a legacy of love and dedication to family that sustains the Myoviches of North America through the generations.  The lasting image I have of my father is the joy on his face as he played with his many, many grandchildren.

From l to r: Mason, Peter, Marc, Andrew, Donna, Nikki, Sam, Samuel, Kyle, and Elise

It is the same joy that I see in his face when I look at the pictures from his trip to Yugoslavia in 1964.  The real purpose of this much-too-long letter is to thank you again not only for the sense of family you gave us in our visit to Montenegro last September, but also the sense of belonging your families of an earlier generation gave my father when he visited.  To state the main point briefly, our trip in September further enriched our love for our father and revered the memory of grandfather Nasto.

The blended Myovich and Jones grandchildren, with Donna.

For all the family in California and beyond,


6 thoughts on “Thank you, Myoviches of Montenegro

  1. Thank you for this letter Uncle Sam. Before this I had no idea about the history of how the Myoviches emigrated to the United States. I’m so grateful to have this information for my own sense of family history and even more grateful to have something to pass down to my children.


      1. Thank you, Darko, for your kind invitation. I hope that many generations of California Myoviches will find their way to Mataguzi in the years to come. I felt at home there in ways that are difficult to describe!


  2. I’m glad you enjoyed reading this Marc. You are old enough to remember “Papa Sam” and all of the good times on Cherry Avenue. That place has a very special place in our hearts, and I hope you have a better sense for why it meant so much to my dad. I hope that some day you will get to go to Mataguzi. Maybe we can plan another trip?


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