Today is the 10 year anniversary of my grandma’s passing. Baka was born in 1911 in Yugoslavia. She was married young, spent summers travelling to the mediterranean, had her first and only child (my mother) at age 40, moved to Sweden in the 60s to avoid political conflicts and then moved to Canada in the early 90s to live with us as a full-time grandparent.
She didn’t speak English, she couldn’t drive a car, she never had a job, but she was the Aussie definition of a “Legend” and she inspired everyone she met.
These are the lessons I learned from her about how to live a long, healthy and joyous life. And how to be a well and truly beloved human being.
1. Stay curious
I firmly believe that the reason Baka lived so long, with so much youthful abundance was because she needed to know. She read the Serbian and Canadian newspapers, she read books, she watched the news, she listened to the radio, she sat in her tufted leather chair by the front window and made sure to watch the daily school bus pick ups and drop offs (well past our own school days). She loved meeting our friends, boyfriends, neighbours…and calling up her friends in Serbia to tell them all the gossip. If we were eating something different that she’d never seen (nachos, Chinese food, etc.) she’d always want “just a little bit” to try. She didn’t go to university, I’m not sure if she even finished high school, but she was always learning and always willing to explore something new. She would have LOVED snapchat filters. Curiosity was the spark that kept her flame burning bright.
2. Stay playful
Despite not speaking English and not really leaving the house beyond the garden (I don’t know if she ever actually went out on her own without someone with her), she was beloved by all the neighbourhood kids and our school friends. Everyone who met Baka was instantly charmed. She always had this smile like we were all going to get up to some mischief and a twinkle in her eye that made you feel like you were in on an amazing secret. She was funny, somehow, without needing to speak the same language. She didn’t take life too seriously, she loved to tease and she was always ready to laugh. She basically became the neighbourhood’s grandma. Everyone loved Baka.
3. Never stop moving
I don’t think she ever owned a pair of running shoes, let alone workout gear (hah!), but she was someone who never stopped moving. When I read about Blue Zones (the people who have lived the longest), one of the key indicators is constant natural movement every 20 minutes. Subconscious habitual movement. She would spend the day cleaning the house, cooking, sweeping leaves, trying to clear snowy pathways or move the garbage bins out (to the point where my parents worried people would think they were forcing her to perform heavy labour haha), but she needed to be up, moving around and busy. I think this constant movement is what led her to be so mobile right up until the day she passed away. It kept her quality of life so high for so long.
4. Be physically affectionate
I will never forget what it feels like to hug and be hugged by Baka. The feeling of holding her hand. Or sitting on her lap…even when I was a grown woman and she had become shorter than me she would say “I’m tough, just sit!”. What we couldn’t always communicate to each other through her broken English and my 20 words of Serbian didn’t matter when she was such a solid, physical presence in my life. No matter what was going on, the power of a hug from her could fill me with all the calm and grounding I needed. It made me understand and realise the importance of touch.
5. Have faith, have rituals
Baka was religious…but not. She was the kind of religious you would also be if you were born in 1911. She would go to church on special occasions and she would cross herself when something was important. She had various rituals for various events: lighting candles, baking amazing sweet bread with a lucky coin inside (whoever got the piece with the coin would have good fortune), and fasting every Friday (no meat or dairy). She loved to tell fortunes with playing cards, and flipping over Turkish coffee cups to see your fortune. She had her things; we didn’t always know why or what was going on (although we wish we’d paid more attention now), but they brought some structure and grounding, a greater sense of purpose outside of our day-to-day lives.
6. Don’t worry, be happy
And finally, she was calm. She was steady. She was there for us always, holding space. Her room was a haven from whatever was going on in our worlds. If we were really upset she would give us a hug, entertain it for a few moments, but then smile and find a way to make things light. Sometimes that would be a trigger…“Baka!”, when all you wanted to do was wallow in your misery, but her lightness was contagious and you couldn’t help but feel like…well, maybe it wasn’t such a big deal after all. If you were in her orbit, things were always going to be ok.
And some other Baka wisdom I will never forget…
- Always pull down the back of your shirt/cover your lower back or you’ll get sick!
- Always have a switch/stick/something from the backyard to threaten a smack with (and be ready to say “I’m going to hit you with this!” but never carry through)
- Always keep sweets in your drawer to give to your loved ones, be it a tin of mints or a few days old timbit in tupperware.
- The best show on television is Murder She Wrote….oh Jessica! Honourable mentions to her other favourite As Time Goes By (she loved Dame Judi).
Volim te Baka, moje sunce 🌞
– Alex xx