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A new Grandma March

It is that time of the year again when I am organizing our apartment. First, I must say I am not just waiting for March to roll up my sleeves and get cleaning. I am one of those women who do this style of work all year round and actually finds it very rewarding.

But when the month of March comes, something suddenly changes. I pull myself into every corner that needs to be swept up. I wash every stain and dust every shelf. I check all the things that I left while rearranging my closet in the winter. With no turning back, I finally decide what should stay and what needs to go. After all that hard work, although everything in the apartment is in its place, I do not feel better. Honestly, I’m even more anxious than I was before I started.

It was only this year when I finally realized why this was happening. I recently said to my husband: “I don’t care about the weather forecast. Rain nor wind will stop me putting my rug out on the terrace. I have had enough!” And then I asked him to bring the balcony chairs up from storage, and I started planning which herbs and flowers to buy and plant.

Now I know why I was feeling nervous. I realized that spring was coming. It takes only a second to put an image of warm May days in my head and out of nowhere I become restless. With no real reason, I join the crowd of people who are complaining about everything and everyone. – Gray days and showers, I wasn’t really expecting anything better from Grandma March! 

Within the grammar of the Serbian language, nouns are given a gender, to distinguish the nouns from male, female and neutral gender. All of the months of the year in my mother tongue are male gender – January, February, March, April and so on. However, some South Slavic nations share the belief that one month, in particular, is female. It would be so nice if that was, for example, fragrant June or maybe fruitful October, but, unfortunately, it is not. This one is March and she is considered a grandmother, famous for her many unpleasant characteristics: deceptive, harsh and grumpy.

I learned about her at a very early age and for decades I was seeing Grandma March only through that shallow lens. I would point my finger to her and say things like: You don’t know what you want! Or: I don’t like the game you are playing. There is no way to understand or accept you. It seemed like nothing would change my mind. But I was wrong. This year, an unusual series of events, with the presence of strong female energy led me to the point where I turned my eyes from this well known Grandma March and discovered a completely different one.

The first one was an invitation from my Japanese girlfriend. She invited me to her house mentioning that this weekend Japanese people are celebrating Girl’s Day: Hinamatsuri. Since there is no such date in Serbian culture, and I have a daughter, I was curious to find out more.

As always we had a nice dinner with many delicious meals and snacks. We shared stories of our travels, parenting, and cuisine. At one point I went into her daughter’s room to check on what our children were doing and I noticed an interesting set of figurines on the shelf.

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(Photo: Natasa)

I found out that the set of figures were related to Girl’s day. I needed to repeat it a few times in order to remember it: “Hinakazari.” A day before Hinamatsuri, mothers take out the Hinakazari from storage, and together with their children, place them in a visible spot. On several different platforms, dolls are displayed on a red carpet in the specific order: the emperor and empress, the women who serve them, musicians-entertainers, ministers, helpers, and protectors, etc. These figures represent the Heian period of Japanese history (874 – 1185) and show the wedding ceremony.

In some Japanese families, Hinakazari is handed down from the older generation, so granddaughters inherit them from their grandmothers, but dolls can also be purchased in stores or made out of paper. For the first Hiramatsuri, it is enough to provide girls with two main figures.

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(Photo: Natasa: Hinakazari made by Tomoko)

In recent history, these figures were used as toys, but today that’s not the case. They remain on display only. However, there is a belief underneath the custom that suggests you should put away the display the very next day, as leaving the dolls any longer will result in a late marriage for the daughter.

In modern Japan, Hinamatsuri is not a special holiday. People go to work that day, and children attend school. They usually celebrate with their family and friends by serving special dishes and treats. But because Girl’s Day is occurring during the important spring festival, people use this time of year to give gifts to girls.

On March 3, 2019, while I was enjoying good energy and new knowledge about the Far East, I forgot about my impatience in the expectation of spring. I felt as if I were a celebrant who got a valuable gift for my first Hinamatsuri.

During the next following days, I received many other gifts. A girlfriend from Zagreb, Croatia sent me a bouquet of online carnations on International Women’s Day. She always celebrates it and proudly mentions it on every occasion, so I wasn’t surprised by her gesture. Quite opposite, I was very delighted and for a moment I closed my eyes and flew across the Atlantic to greet her in her apartment.

The day after another friend joined “the party”. She is originally from Belgrade, Serbia but lives in Victoria. She came with her teenage daughter for lunch and brought me flowers. We hadn’t seen each other for some time, and we had to get together. Namely, her daughter was getting ready to go on her first overseas school excursion. Like all mothers, anytime or anywhere in the world, the two of us were reliving our high school days. I had goosebumps just thinking about the opportunity awaiting her. She would be exploring another continent and getting to know the culture with which she didn’t have any personal experience. And her mother, like every mother, worried and wanted her daughter to behave more independently. “She hasn’t packed her suitcases yet”- she told me while we were eating – “she won’t listen when I am saying she might need an extra pair of sneakers. It’s March, for God sake, there’s a chance that it could rain in France.”

Our island was safe from the rain in those first few days of March. It was so nice that many were rushing outside, having dinner on the patio.

– Winter is over! – we’re cheering with joy!

Too soon, I realized at the beginning of the second week of March. For two days in a row there was heavy rain and at one point even hail. The temperature dropped so low that we returned to wearing boots and gloves overnight. I took the carpet off the terrace and put on our recently washed winter bed covers. We set the clock one hour ahead on springtime but we seemed to have turned the month back. Everywhere you looked one could see wet streets, empty parks, and cranky people walking down the street in the middle of the afternoon yawning.

An invitation to a “Clothing Exchange Party” was next. The message came from a lovely friend and mother whose daughter was in the same class as mine. Why not, I thought. I had planned to do that anyway. A pile of clothes was already in my bedroom waiting in a bag to share with others. I’m coming, I confirmed.

And I’m glad I did. I spent the Saturday afternoon in the company of interesting women. We talked about our children, we talked about the changes they brought into our lives: relocation, new career paths, new priorities. Nothing was unusual as much as that fact that this mom managed to bring us all together and in those two hours took us into a completely new reality. “Clothes are here and take whatever you want or need,” she said welcoming us in her house. “I wanted this time to be just for us. We all need a break after the winter cleaning and before the spring school break.”

This year we enjoyed the break. Although Old Marta was playing her famous hot-cold game, it didn’t affect us that much. We were adapting to sudden calls and beautiful occasions and dealt with delays and new schedules. We spent some days under clear skies enjoying the beach while others we sailed under the clouds on a field trip looking for a shelter from the wind and crowds.

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(Photo: Natasa)

In the last week of March, I sat alone in the evening in front of the computer. While I was writing my story I searched online information about Grandma March. While living away from my home country I have learned to approach things I know like they are completely unknown. Many times I discover something that I previously didn’t see or that I now understand differently. This time I reread the story about Grandma March and I put together a new one.

The old story is that Marta was a sister who had two older brothers, January and February. Like many boys, they didn’t pay attention to the place around them. They would jump, flounce and romp as much as they wanted, and no one would be there to stop them. After they were finished, Marta was the one who cleaned up the house and put everything back in its place. She did that, not just because she liked the order but because she was very fond of her younger brother, April. For him, she arranged the rooms, moved the furniture around shaking from it the last traces of winter. That’s why, some people believe, we can have snow in the middle of March. Or suddenly Marta can get tired and angry and deliver people warnings by sending rain and winds.

Now I understand her, I said recognizing myself in that story. Like Marta, and like many women, I also turned the house upside down before the spring. I already said that this work does not bother me, but I too get angry every now and then. It’s a lot of work, and I do not have a hundred hands. Sometimes I push myself too hard and feel drained afterward, and sometimes I rage on others because they ignore me or rushing me. Either way, I’m sending like Marta one of those warnings.

Hmm….I thought and figured there could be some other way to act.

In order to be less impatient, I know what I have to say to myself. But when it comes to Grandma March, before I turn a new page and treat her with the respect she deserves, I have to apologize first. “Many times I said things I wasn’t supposed to. And I am sorry. But from now on Marta, because I know better, I promise, I won’t do it again.”

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