Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Wood whittlers & Communists
Robert was born in 1938, four years before Vladimir’s family was slaughtered by the communists occupying Slovenia. Robert will be 70 years old in January. Vladimir is living as a retired priest in Pine Grove and is close to 90 years old. Vladimir came from a family of 12 children. He lives with and takes care of his sister Draga who is also in her later years of life. Vladimir and Draga were present when the communists broke into their home and killed their parents and handicapped brother, leaving their bodies brutalized in the basement of their home in Zapotok. One week prior to the house invasion, Vladimir’s brother Frank was killed because he was a Catholic lay leader and resisted joining the communist party. The story of Vladimir’s experience with communism is told in his book “Communism as I know it” by Vladimir Kozina. It’s currently in its eighth printing. It’s a book I’ve asked my children to read, after they read “Animal Farm.” His life’s sorrows and joys are carefully etched in his face. He is a beautiful soul.
Robert was born in New Jersey and ultimately settled in California raising a family. I am his oldest daughter. He always earned a living but was constantly crafting things with his hands. For my birthday this year, I received a wood carving of St. Francis with five birds. It’s prominently sitting at my front door. I love it. My Dad’s heart is in that wooden St. Francis. I will always treasure the labor of his knife, the paint, and sandpaper the softened the edges of the wood.
Piero is JD’s second cousin. He is in his 60’s and living in Como, Italy. He is known for making homemade nativity scenes out of something as small as a walnut, to as large as a hollowed out television set. His life hobby is working with his hands and honoring God at the time of His incarnation. Piero is a gentle soul. I just love him and am so honored to know him. Some of my heartiest laughs have been around his kitchen table.
Joseph was born in Germany and came to the United States speaking no English, he settled in Alabama as a Benedictine Monk. Joseph Zoettel spent 50 years crafting cement, stones and junk into a miniature city of the world's most important religious structures. Born in 1878 in Bavaria, he was maimed in an accident that gave him a hunchback, but miraculously did not impair his ability to bend over and build tiny things. Brother Joe died in 1961, and all 125 of his buildings still stand, protectively nestled on the campus of St. Bernard Abbey in a place called Ave Maria Grotto. You cannot visit that place without feeling the love of Brother Joe. Brother Joe feels like a member of my family. He created his wonderful grotto with 4 crude tools. He was a man constantly in pain but constantly expressing his joy with his art. His life of toiling and prayer are testament to his artwork. There wasn’t anything lovelier to me than walking amongst his creations in his grotto, where he left the pain of the world behind. He knew the horrors of communism such that he never saw his family again after his arrival in the United States. Below is a picture of his replica "Vatican City" in miniature. It was created from the junk he refused to throw away.
Today, Vladimir is a retired priest whose life was spared miraculously during the home invasion of 1942 because he parents and siblings refused to tell the communists where he was hiding. At the time of their murder, he was lying prostrate in the attic of his house, listening to the torture of his family beneath him. I’ve known Father Kozina for the last nine years. He is man who not only has a deep abiding faith, but he is a man who works with his hands, created beautiful wood sculptures and religious tributes. He uses common “junk” and makes creations that move and are gloriously lit up with common house bulbs, Christmas lights and thingamajigs.
Nothing is junk to these four men. They all have come from lives of hardship, pain and joy. Their creations speak volumes about their faith. I often imagine Father Kozina praying or whistling as he works, Brother Joseph doing the same. I often wonder what my Dad or Piero might be thinking as they assemble their creations. As long as the communists are far away, I guess it doesn’t really matter.
Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on the web at www.familyfare.blogspot.com
Posted by Student Nurse at 7:41 PM