View Full Version : The Old Man

07-17-2010, 01:24 AM
I know there is a new forum for these, but I thought I'd post this first here, on the general discussion forum and let the powers that be move it over after it had been here for a few days. Hope that's alright. - Sandy

What I write here is but second and third hand information. In that light, I can never swear, as I usually can in my stories, that all is fact. Some of you may remember parts of this from other stories, often those told on the front porch of the camp. I've gotten some good comments lately on these, and while I have the time, I reckoned I'd keep writing.

This is where it all began for me. This is where my love for the Bayou, fishing camps, the salt air, the fish, crabs, and oysters, and the the song of the red winged blackbird began. How can I go any further without telling this story? I simply cannot.

The "Old Man" was my great grandfather, Peter Rozich. I visit his grave every Summer. I never knew him. He was born in 1887 in a small fishing village on a back bay of the Adriatic Sea called Mali Ston. The country for a time was called Dalmatia, then it became part of Yugoslavia. Now it is called Croatia. I have never been there, my only chance to do so was dashed due to war. I hope to go someday before I die. To walk the streets he walked and to ply the waters he did so many years ago.

Peter was in the prime of his youth, a man of 27 and an oysterman, when "The Great War" began with a single shot. A young Serbian national, upset perhaps that his country had been taken over by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, crowned prince of the Empire. This would lead to millions making the ultimate sacrifice. I'll assume that you all know that this war would later be known as World War I. I'll leave the rest to more experienced historians, as my tale is the story of just a simple fisherman.

Almost immediately following the calamity, men were being absconded with in the night, impressed into service for the empire. Peter I'm certain had no problem fighting for his country, but as his country was being controlled by another, he resolved not to become cannon fodder in the service of a foreign king. He and some friends left everything they had ever known behind in search of a promise they had only heard of from others; the promise of freedom.

The story at this point becomes muddled. I do not know exactly how he made it, being quite poor I'm sure this would be a fantastic tale. Somehow he made the voyage, passing through the "Golden Door", past the feet of "The Lady". In New York, he was told by others of his countrymen, likewise refugees from the carnage brewing in Europe, that if he was an oysterman, the place to go was New Orleans. Somehow he secured passage via a steamer. In New Orleans, he inquired amongst yet more of his fellow refugees about where to secure employment.

Given that he had nothing of value, no boat, no tongs, nothing. He would have to begin his career again. With the help of the Slovonian Benevolence Association, employment was secured for him. He was sent down the river to work the rich oyster beds of Plaquemines Parish. It was perhaps 1915 when he first cast eyes on my beloved Bayou Cook.

He would work hard on the Bayou, hard enough that he purchased a small fishing camp to live in. Working oysters then was nothing like today. The boats were powered only by sail or oar. There were no dredges. You picked the oysters using tongs, somewhat similar to what you may have used recently to serve yourself some salad, but much larger of course. The system then was also much more elaborate than we find today. The oystermen would get seed oysters from the marshes to the East of the river and bring them to the West side, where they grew fatter. I won't go into greater detail, as I always strive for, yet never seem to attain, brevity in these stories. It will suffice to say that it was a very labor intensive occupation. I can only imagine working that hard day after day.

Later that same year, he met and married my great grandmother, Pavli (Pauline in English) Polutta. Of Croatian descent as well, she had been born in a camp on Bayou LaChute, 2 bayous Southeast of Bayou Cook. Pavli, whom I always called "Grandma Poppy" would live to be 100 years old, passing away in 1996. They would have 5 children, Peter Jr., John, Catherine, Anna, and Helen. Anna woud be my grandmother, whom I always called "Bada". She was born in 1918 and passed away a year ago this July at the age of 92.

Oh, the stories they would tell me about The Old Man. And it seemed that after every story, they would all tell me, "Oh, Sandy . . . If only the Old Man were alive today, you two would be like peas in a pod." Of course I can't tell all the stories here now. I merely strive to introduce you to this man. Surely many more vignettes will come, and I wanted you all to know who the Old Man was.

Even with a growing family, Peter was able to make enough money and move up in the business enough that he bought a house in New Orleans. He started a grocery store and oyster bar, parlaying this into several restaurants. Things were going well, as they were for most Americans in the 1920's. And just as most Americans suffered in the Great Depression, so too did he and his family. Having lost his businesses and his home, Peter and Pavli went back to where they began. They returned to Bayou Cook.

For 3 years, they scratched out a bare existence on the Bayou. Peter went back to what he knew, oysters. The boys were old enough to help, and eventually the Rozich family got back on their feet. The Old Man made enough to send his family back to New Orleans, to a new house on Lopez Street, not far from where he is buried today. The children would go back to school. But the Old Man had had enough of the city. He would live the rest of his life in Bayou Cook, save for short visits into town.

Many of my father's early memories are those of visiting the Old Man at his camp on the Bayou. Again there are many to relate, but this is merely meant to be an introduction. The Old Man would die there in 1952, more than thirty years before I would come along. I can't help but look back on him with admiration, love, and thanks. Without him, I would never have known the peace and beauty of the Bayou. I would never have been the boy standing there in the sun. I would not be the man I am today.

Some say that all of life is a coincidence. I won't argue that, but what a grand set of coincidences is all of this to bring us to where we are today. It is true for all our families. If only one event had not occurred, we simply wouldn't be. It's an idea I try to teach to all my students. How one event or another made us exactly what we are today. If one man had not decided to kill another to begin a war. If Peter had died on a battlefield. If he had not met Pavli . . . .

When I am alone at my present fishing camp in Texas, I often lift my hands toward the Heavens and thank God for all I have today. Likewise I thank The Old Man for all he did to make me the man I am today, with my love for the Bayou and all her bountiful gifts. He could never have known what he left me, for he never set his eyes on mine, yet I owe him my world.

First photo - Peter Rozich 1887-1952
Second Photo - Bada, my dad Victor, and the Old Man. 1943

07-18-2010, 08:26 PM
This is why it's not so good to have a forum for these only. Not too many people see them. Did anyone read the first paragraph before moving it immediately?

07-18-2010, 08:40 PM
Though i may not comment on the stories that you are kind enough to grace us with. Believe me i search for them .
I have a few in my head and heart also . But just don't know how to express them in print.

07-18-2010, 09:04 PM
Very nice story Sandy. I'm really enjoying reading your stories on here.

07-18-2010, 11:08 PM
It's hard for me to imagine going on a journey like that. It takes a brave soul, a lot of faith, and a ton of hard work to move overseas to begin a new successful life.

Thank you for sharing this I enjoyed it.

07-19-2010, 10:46 PM
Another great story Coach...Keep'em coming...


07-19-2010, 11:02 PM
very good story, reminds me of my grandpa telling me about his elders coming from france to the southern bayou's, thanks for the story!!

07-20-2010, 08:24 AM
This is why it's not so good to have a forum for these only. Not too many people see them. Did anyone read the first paragraph before moving it immediately?

Actually, I believe they are "spotlighted" now being in their own forum. ;)

07-20-2010, 09:03 AM
Actually, I believe they are "spotlighted" now being in their own forum. ;)

i second this..... this was the first "category" i clicked on to see if you posted anything "newer"

Sandy, you are a talented man, i enjoy your stories. I have some myself of my grandparents and great grandparents, just wished i knew how to make them as entertaining and "lifelike" as yours.

Keep up the good work man...

P.S. you really need to write a book..... I can think of alot of names for it !!

07-22-2010, 12:48 AM
Thanks very much again y'all. I didn't have that high of an opinion of this one. It just sets the background of everything, so it had to be told. I think I'll just keep writing as time allows. You may soon be seeing one or perhaps more of these in a magazine near you. If they're all well received, I'll wait 'til I have enough and put them together and see if anyone wants to publish it. My father wrote 2 books and it was hell on him. So I'll let this one write itself, one piece at a time. If history is any guide, I won't be writing much when the Summer ends.

I've been travellin' lately soakin' up some Yankee history. I'm in Boston now. It's a tough town to figure. I can't reckon if I despise it as the belly of the Kennedy/Kerry beast or if I love it as the cradle of great Revolutionary thinkers like John Adams. Of the first 2 colonies, Virginia gets my vote as tops of course. The nightlife here is rather lame. If New York is the city that never sleeps, and New Orleans is the city where bars never close, Beantown is the city that goes to bed early. I watched the sunset today from the roof of my hotel. With Fenway Park to my left and Boston Common to my right, all bathed in golden colors, it was an auspicious beginning to this leg of my trip.

I'll be walking the Freedom Trail tomorrow, to "Old Ironsides", the U.S.S Constitution, and finally to the Bunker Hill Monument. I just can't reckon why they still call it Bunker Hill, when the battle was obviously fought on Breed's Hill. Cooler name I guess.

07-25-2010, 07:41 PM
loved it keep em comin