Stories in this episode: A journey to learn more about his grandparents leads Jeff across the world to old chapels, monasteries and hidden towns only to find dead ends––until a chance encounter on a remote mountain side; KC’s inherited pocket watch had long since become a plaything for his kids, until a close inspection of the watch yields an inscription that broadens his definition of “family.”
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Sarah Blake 0:03
Welcome to This Is the Gospel, an LDS Living podcast where we feature real stories from real people who are practicing and living their faith every day. I'm Sarah Blake hosting today in place of KaRyn Lay. I'm happy to report that KaRyn is on the mend after a rough week recovering from COVID-19.
Our theme today is "Family Ties." But before I get into that, I want to talk about rock climbing. I am not a cool rock climber, but I have seen some movies. So I happen to know that most of the time rock climbers are clipped in to a whole coordinated system of ropes that are connected to secure anchor points. And then the other end of the rope is held and watched over by other climbers.
But there is also this insanely dangerous thing called free soloing where you climb without any ropes. You may have seen or heard about the documentary about climber Alex Honnold's record-breaking, totally legendary, free solo ascent of the El Capitan cliff face in Yosemite National Park in 2017. My husband and I watched that movie at an IMAX movie theater so the screen was several stories tall and the heights were dizzying.
I was clutching the edge of my seat and my heart was pounding like I was actually attempting the climb myself. And I felt like I lost about a pound in just hand sweat despite the fact that I already knew how it ended with Alex Honnold surviving the climb. And again, and again, I found myself kind of absent mindedly reaching down to find a seat belt in my movie theater chair, just so you know, I couldn't fall off El Capitan.
So this brings us back to the concept of family ties. Family ties is a phrase that we use in English to describe the connections that bind us to our families. For some people, these connections are biological. For some people, when they hear the phrase family ties, they think about the obligations and duties that we owe to each other. For some people, these ties have a lot to do with your shared family culture and expectations about how you live and make choices. And hopefully, for most of us, these family ties are also just about plain love and enjoyment of one another.
But I want to say that these family ties, whatever they look like, are part of the coordinated system of ropes that we need while we climb through life. In our spiritual and emotional lives, we all deeply deeply crave to be clipped into reliable ropes with somebody we trust on the other end. And I think that feeling that I had, as I reached for the imaginary seatbelt in the movie theater, I think that's how we feel if we imagine a life without any of those family ties or connections to other people. It makes your emotional palms sweat. Think of climbing through life ropeless, just one slippery handhold away from falling through space.
To know where we fit in a web of other people, and how we are tied into the past and connected in the present, and how our connections might last into the future, I think that's a very basic human need and it's part of our eternal and our spiritual DNA. And this week, we have two storytellers exploring these ideas with tales of family ties, and the lengths that we go to find them and the ways that they find us. First, we will hear from Jeff.
I think, I think this story really begins with my curiosity about my grandfather because we were so close growing up. He actually wanted me to be a professional golfer so he put a golf club in my hands at age two. But that gave us a lot of time on the golf course and in a golf cart talking and, and sharing stories and things like that. However, he would never tell me where he was from or about his childhood or about his parents or anything like that.
Both he and my grandmother would refuse to give me any more information than three points. And that was number one: He was born in the former Yugoslavia. Number two: he was raised in Worland, Wyoming. And number three: he changed his name from Mijušković to Marks. I didn't know anything about his family. I didn't know where he was from. I didn't know what his childhood was like. And if I ever asked any questions, he would always put his fingers to his lips and tell me to shish.
My dad, he never even knew anything about his parents. And if I ever asked him about it, he didn't know any more than those three things either. And both of his siblings have since passed away. So I don't have any other way of knowing anything about my grandparents. And it kind of made me sad when he did pass away in 2000 that I just didn't know enough about him because of how special he was to me.
Well, in my career, I've spent many years as a pediatric dentist as a remote EMT, spending time in humanitarian clinics all around the world. So I'm used to traveling into remote areas and kind of booking crazy flights and going from place to place.
Well 10 years ago, right after the Haiti earthquake, I got called to serve as a volunteer as a first responder there to help with the devastation from that tragedy. And on the flight, there was a gentleman sitting next to me, another volunteer, we were all in scrubs. And he was wearing scrubs with a University of Wyoming logo on them. And I turned over to him and just out of curiosity, I just asked him about his scrubs. And he said that he was a Wyoming fan because he came from a small town in Wyoming that I would have never heard of. And when I asked him about what that town's name was, he said that it was Worland, Wyoming, of all the places and I said, "That is crazy because my grandfather was raised in Worland, Wyoming."
He said, he asked me a little bit more about me and where I'm from and also about my name. And he said, "Tell me your last name again?" And when I told him it was Marks, he said, "You wouldn't happen to be related to the Mijušković, are you?" Out of all the things. that most random thing. And I just was completely blown away and he even told me on this trip, that if we make it through this trip, it was kind of a it was kind of a crazy humanitarian aid adventure he, he said, "If we make it through this, I want to meet back in Wyoming so I can show you all about your family show you everything about your family."
And so we went back there and he took us straight to the cemetery and I saw Mijušković gravestone. I saw the two gravestones of my great-grandparents. So these are the parents of my grandpa George. So my great-grandfather, Joseph, who died in 1951. And my great-grandmother, Meliva, who died in 1983. And this I was fairly emotional about this because, again, not knowing anything about my family, seeing the gravestones where my, my ancestors were buried was very special to me. And I had never done anything with family history work, genealogy, anything, my entire life.
This sparked kind of this spirit inside me not only of curiosity, but of really, something deeper. Something kind of more organic of who I am and where I come from. And finding my own identity through my grandfather was was kind of a fun adventure.
At this point, I came home and spoke to our family history consultant to have her direct me to a 1920 census. And I saw my great-grandfather's name on there, my great-grandfather Joe and his family on this census coming from the former Yugoslavia in a country called Montenegro. So, again, now I have dates. I have names of family members, I even have a country in the former Yugoslavia, which is again, nothing that I ever had before.