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Baba Mare and Dide Marko once lived here

Every morning I drive along the Petone foreshore on my way to work. This is one of the more enjoyable aspects of my daily drive to and from work because of the amazing scenery I get to look at – Wellington Harbour, the city, and the surrounding hills. Every day it looks different and some days, like this morning, I am blown away by the beauty of this special place on earth that I am fortunate to live in. It is truly breathtaking.

There is one house on this drive that is of particular significance to me. It is situated directly across the road from the beach on the corner of The Esplanade and Oriental Street. Over the years its exterior colour has changed but otherwise it looks exactly as I remember it from my childhood. This house was once the home of my paternal grandparents – Dide Marko and Baba Mare Sevelj.

As I drive past this house my mind flashes back to when I was 12 years old and Dide Marko was dying. No one told me this – I just knew it. Every weekend my parents sent me, or my younger sister Diana, to stay with my grandparents. These times were special. Baba Mare and Dide Marko were the only grandparents I had in this part of the world. My maternal grandparents – Baba Mande and Dide Marjan Viskovic – lived in Tucepi, Croatia. Dide Marjan had died the year before and I had never met him. I felt so cheated by this.

Dide Marko and I used to go for long walks along Petone beach. Even though not a lot of conversation took place I felt connected to this really big, tall man. I sensed something was wrong. I was too scared to ask anything. I just did what I was told. These were special times. As the weeks passed I noticed dide became slower. All too quickly the day arrived when he couldn’t do the walk at all.

The adults all talked in hushed voices. The faces were solemn.

I don’t remember the last time I saw dide Marko’s face, or the last time I held his hand, or gave him a hug, or a kiss. I don’t remember!

He died in my grandparents bed (the front room in the picture above) on 16 May 1968; barely six months after he had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Baba Mare slept beside him right up to the very end. She loved him so much. They had spent so many years apart while he was here in New Zealand trying to earn money to support his family who were so very, very far away.

This was my first experience of death. The funeral was the first funeral I ever attended. I still remember how scary I found it all. No one talked to me or prepared me for this process. This wasn’t done in those days. I had no-one to talk to about what was happening. All I knew was that I no longer had a grandfather. He was gone. Everyone was sad and crying. I didn’t know what to say or do. It all felt wrong.

My dide was cremated at the Karori Crematorium because his dying wish was to be buried back home in Croatia. I remember vividly the coffin being lowered while a curtain was closing. It was awful. I have never forgotten.

My family moved in to live with my baba in this house for a short period of time until she was ready to come and live with us in our home. A few years later she returned to Croatia to be near dide’s grave. I only ever saw her again once after she left New Zealand.

These were the only grandparents I ever got to know and be with and they were in my life for such a short time.

It was at an early age that I made the decision that if I ever had children I would make it my priority to live close to my parents.

This house, across the road from the beach, reminds me on a daily basis of my grandparents.

Baba Mare and Dide Marko Sevelj
Photo of Dide Marko, Me, and Baba Mare

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