A place in every painting is looking back at you.
I am an artist. Not because I have anything in a particular to express. Not because I have any particular gifts or talent to offer. I am an artist because this is the way that I understand the world.
The Cover Bird’s own voice was nothing but croaks and gargles, all gravel and snot. But he had a peculiar talent, a particular gift, where he could cover the songs of others, note for note. Every trill and flourish in perfect pitch.
He became quite a sensation after the great collapse and filled the grandest theaters in the greatest cities throughout the world.
Eventually though the crowds began to thin and the venues became smaller and smaller still, until this night, when the curtain rose to an audience of one, and he knew, this would be his last show.
He held nothing back that night. He gave it all. It was his best performance ever, performed for one lonely old man, seated center, second row back, who never once stirred, but whose shirt was soaked with tears.
When the final curtain finally fell he remembered every show, from the first show until this last, the crowds, the applause, the adulation, and the ovations. And as he stepped into another silent dawn, he knew he would remember this show most. This, his last show, performed for one man, the last man who still remembered, there where songbirds once.
For a thousand years they slept.
Now and at once, all eyes opened.
Bewildered and afraid, as things had changed some in the night.
And a thousand years of dreaming, now fade into the light.
If you did the same thing, over and over again, and every time you did it, you did it a little bit better. What would become of it?
Today you come to this place by a road, a paved road mind you, with a proper sign that reads, Rastovich Road.
A hundred years ago you would have come to this place by a fresh trail not yet set. The only way you could even tell where you were was by how far you had come, and it wasn’t until folks got around to putting up their barns that you could distinguish one place from another. This was just a place, same as any other.
What makes this place sacred to us is, this is the place where they ceased their wandering. This place, sitting here at the crossroads of bad luck and bad weather, is where our George and Anna stopped and took a stand.
Had it been another pilgrim, had it been any other lesser fool, this place would have bent them, broke them and brought them to their knees. But not a Rastovich. Every hardship, every struggle, only served to straighten the spine of a Rastovich.
To this day you can recognize a Rastovich in a crowd by the way they stand. I see it in all my cousins, my sisters, and my own son. If you remember those we loved, those we never got to know and those we sorely miss, you will see it in them. The way they stand.
A Rastovich stands taller than they are. But they are not standing proud. A Rastovich looks at all men from a level gaze and have come to understand, there are no triumphs. Life is not a prize, earned or denied. All we have, all that there is, is the task at hand.
A Rastovich stands with still and stoic grace. Above all else, a Rastovich stands ready. Ready for whatever task is at hand.
It’s impossible really, to separate this place from its people but if I had to choose – I would say, it’s not this place; it is the people who were forged here.
I am reminded of one of the last things I heard Grandpa say. A bunch of us where gathered at the farm. Rastovichs, Barnums, Chopps and Blairs. Lunching on leftovers from the reception the night before and enjoying the easy way they had with conversation.
Grandpa sat quietly at the head of that timeless table. Behind him a photo of his wedding day and a painted glass souvenir of the Statue of Liberty. (How that survived the journey I’ll never know.)
Now this is a hard place and it makes for hard men but by this time most the thorns had rubbed off and the rough spots worn smooth. Suddenly, with tears in his eyes and with arms outstretched as if to embrace us all, Grandpa spoke.
“Sve moje ljude” he said.
Now whenever Grandpa spoke, and whichever language he was speaking, I never understood a word he said, so I asked my Dad. What did he say?
“Sve moje ljude” he said, “All my people.”
Wherever Grandpa is standing now, know that he is standing proud and that he dearly loves all his people