A couple of weeks ago a devastating reason brought us back to Belgrade a few short months after we last visited. My aunt Jelena ‘Jela’ passed away after a long illness. In the old apartment where her family lives, memories swirled and hid in every heavy credenza and stuffy wooden drawer.
A few days after the funeral we visited the Museum of Yugoslavian History. It is the resting place of infamous ex-president, Tito, and an homage to a bygone era, now remembered fondly by many. The series of buildings also houses a range of exhibits devoted to relics and our shared memories of the past.
When my family moved to Canada we moved from Yugoslavia, but within a few years the country began fracturing violently and trying on new names like one might hats.
My memory of Yugoslavia is deeply intertwined with the memory of my aunt: her expertly prepared meals, games we invented, get-togethers for family and neighbours. She organized it all with precision and warmth and held the pieces together with stubbornness when economic hardships and war took hold. Jela’s home was a bastion of comfort and calm in an ever-changing and often frightening world. Going ‘home’ will never be the same without her.