Memories of Povitica
(by Glinda Crawford, revised January 23, 2009)
From the time I was a baby until I was in the 5th Grade, my family would make trips to Des Moines, Iowa, to visit my Grandma Dragica (Dora Caroline) Budiselich Bloskovich and my 2 Aunts (Mary and Anna Bloskovich). Dragica was Grandmother's Croatian name. I remember those imbedded in the old ways of her community calling her Dragica (pronounced: DRAH geet sa) or Draga (DRAH ga). My Croatian dictionary says "Draga" means "beloved" or "sweetheart".
Grandma Dora lived with Aunt Anna at 1111 East 9th Street. Their house was just down the street from the Iowa State Capitol which had a gleaming golden dome. From my child’s eye view, I thought that my Grandma, their house and its proximity to that golden dome made it even more special. Grandma's sister Sadi and her husband Matt Rupe lived next door.
Grandmother Dora and her husband Kazimir Bloskovich were Croatian in ethnicity. Grandpa was from Sunger and Grandma was from Vrbosko. At the time of their immigration in 1908, their villages were in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In our times, their homeland bears the name Croatia.
While they did live in other places (Novinger, Missouri, and Albia, Iowa) they made their home in Kirksville, Missouri, with their growing family of 4 living children. Aunt Mary was born in 1910 in Novinger, Aunt Ann in 1913 in Albia, Uncle Joe in 1915, and Dad in 1918. Two babies died in infancy, the last of which was in 1922.
Kirksville was a community where other Croatian immigrants made their homes. This was very important to Dora and Kazimir. Many of the immigrants were from the same villages, had immigrated during those same years, and were raising families at the same stage as Dora and Kazimir.
As was the custom in those times, men and children were active outside the home in work and school. Outside the home, they spoke English which was essential. Grandmother stayed home, speaking very little English. When Kazimir and children returned, Croatian was the language they spoke.
In her own way, Grandma Dora was the nucleus of the culture they left behind, a culture that was a vital part of her family's life, a vital part of their identity. I cannot even imagine what it would be like to have moved so far away from home and family and then to drop most of what you know and what has meaning to you (language, culture, customs, traditions).
I still remember Grandma Dora reading her Croatian newspaper which was published out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She was a small woman. The Ship's Manifest lists her as 5'1" tall. I was small because I was a little girl, but I remember her being more my size than the other adults in my life. I remember that she would pour over that newspaper which seemed almost bigger than she was. I do not know what was in that newspaper, but she would pretty much drop everything once it arrived. I wonder if it included news of other immigrants and news of home. I do know that Grandfather Kazimir’s obituary was published there when he died in 1946.
I shall always remember the excitement and flurry of our reception at Grandma's house when we arrived in Des Moines. She and the 2 Aunts would have fixed a Feast. The house was full of wonderful and unique smells. The table was laden would foods, many of which were foods of their culture which my Father would not have had for some time. And of course, no one could have fixed them like his Mother.
The house was filled with their excited voices in their first language which was Croatian. That presented difficulty for my Mother, my little brother and me, as we spoke only a few isolated Croatian words. We felt welcome but it was awkward. We just didn't always understand what was being spoken. They would do their best to try to teach me a few words and I did my best to learn them.
When I think back on those times, I ponder what it must have been like for my Grandmother to have not been able to speak the language of her Grandchildren. I think that should surely be against the rules. I can imagine that would have caused considerable angst. It surely did affect my ability to have a relationship with her.
However, I remember one endearing means of communication. Grandma Dora was a bread maker of great accomplishment. While we were there, she would be making those large batches of dough, which seemed almost as big as she, and certainly way bigger than me. The 2 of us would knead the dough together. I can still remember her smiling down at me as she showed me with her hands what to do. I can imagine that is one of the reasons why I have dearly loved to make bread over the course of my life.
One recipe (Povitica) has emerged from that time period as a sacred connection with my Croatian family. The Bread which was usually made with Walnuts went by 3 names: Povitica (poh VEE tee sah), (pock a TEET sah), and Potica (poh TEET sah). My family used the 1st two names. I do not know the spelling of the 2nd name.
Povitica was a celebration bread. Grandma Dora, her daughters, or the ladies in the community were most likely to make it at Christmas, reunions or special family gathering times. They always had it for my Father.
When Grandma died, Aunt Mary or Aunt Ann would occasionally make it for Papa, their brother. Aunt Ann was likely to be the one to make the bread in its greatest authenticity as she lived with Grandma. Aunt Mary was always seeking recipes for Povitica. I remember she cut at least 2 from the Kansas City Star. She was always checking to make sure the finished product was just right. As my Aunt Mary aged, she found a commercial source for Povitica at Bernice's Bakery in the Kansas City area. It was good but not the same as I remembered. Others would occasionally fix the bread for Papa. His eyes would sparkle, he would laugh, and he would dig right in.
Children study their parents, knowing what delights them and what doesn't. I was no exception. Somehow, even when I was little, I could see my Father's delight with Povitica. It was a whisper of a memory of culture and family from times long gone by. I knew that I wanted to make Povitica in the tradition of my Grandmother.
When I was a new wife and Mother, Aunt Mary shared her recipe with me. Over the years, she, Aunt Ann, and Dad would tell me the specifics of technique or characteristics of the end product. The layers of bread and filling are supposed to be very thin. I tried and tried again. Dad would always test it. I finally came out with an end product that Dad said would make Grandma proud.
Richard, Melanie and I had lived in North Dakota for many years. In the latter years, I would make the recipe and overnight it to Dad for the holiday. That felt really good.
Since 2004 until he died in 2007, I made Povitica with Dad 3 times. I believe that he had been present when Povitica was made and he certainly knew the end product. But I do not believe that he had ever made it himself. While we were making Povitica, the stories would flow. It was treasured time and space to share with him.
He made it with me when he and Mother came to North Dakota in 2004. Since then, Papa and I had made it with his grandchildren Brennen and Melanie. He became quite magical.
Papa passed July 8, 2007. I had not made Povitica since he passed. I just couldn't. I knew I had to make Povitica for this Christmas celebration. Melanie and I are making it to share with Mother, my brother Brian, his sons Bransen and Brennen, Dad's 1st Great Grandchild Berkley Kate, and their families. This slender thread is a vital connection with our Croatian heritage and who we are. It is one I do not plan to drop.
While I have been going about my holiday preparations, a little Junco has joined me often on the railing outside the dining room window. For whatever reason, I think of my Father, my 2 Aunts, and my Grandma Dora. I think they are pleased. In fact, they would say a resounding “Dobro!” which in Croatian means good.
Photo above: Aunt Mary Bloskovich (later Bryson) and Aunt Anna Bloskovich pose proudly with their new niece, Glinda Carol Bloskovich, on Grandma's porch in Des Moines, Iowa. That new niece is me. The date is 1949.
Note: I would call this writing a draft. There are likely to be more memories and photos of other family members (including Mother, Brian, and Dad’s Grandchildren) which will be added over time.