Rosemary Gard | Jeff Manes~for Sun-Times Media
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Rosemary Gard’s books are available on Amazon.com.
Updated: October 26, 2013 6:06AM
“Tko istina gudi, dobije gudalom po prstima.”
(All truths are not to be told.)
— Croatian proverb
During Gary’s Golden Jubilee in 1956, Rosemary Babich rode on a float and in the back of convertible along Broadway in downtown Gary. Croatian Queens do that sort of thing at parades.
Today, she goes by Rosemary Gard and has written and published a pair of novels that are heavily linked to her ancestors. She is currently working on a third book to complete the trilogy.
Gard lives with husband Bob in Crown Point; they have raised two adult children.
Age? I have to ask, it’s a part of my job I really hate.
“I’m 75,” she said. “My plan is not to die in a nursing home, but in my young lover’s arms in the south of France.”
Oui, oui Madame.
“I was born in Gary, Ind., at 2645 Van Buren. My mother, from the Old Country, delivered me herself. That area was once known as ‘The Patch.’ My brothers were 20 years older than I. It was like growing up with three dads.”
That would mean your siblings were born before 1920. That poverty-stricken area was probably still referred to as “The Patch” when they were children.
“They resented being Slavic, I’m sure. They were called garlic eaters and hunkies. My brothers attended Froebel High School. I graduated from Lew Wallace. It was a great school and I loved all my teachers.
“But my parents were immigrants and they didn’t want me to go to college. I was supposed to get married, have children and clean the house. One of the counselors at Lew Wallace, Violet Street, cried. I believe Violet lived in the Gary Hotel back then.”
A different era.
“My father was Croatian and my mother was Czechoslovakian. Mother learned to read English; my father never did learn to read or write English — he could sign his name. Dad came to this country at 13 by himself using a 75-year-old man’s passport. They looked the other way.”
When did Bob enter your life?
“I dated Bob when I was 12. I lied and said I was 16. He eventually found out how old I really was, but came back when I was of age because I was so fascinating.”
This has the makings of a novel in itself. Tell me more, please.
“When my parents realized that I was serious about him, my mother asked: ‘What is he?’ I said: ‘English, Irish, French, German ...’”
“‘Oh my God, a hillbilly.’ They sent me to Yugoslavia for three months.”
I’m tellin’ you, this has the makings of a real page-turner.
“I slept on a straw bed, dirt floor, cooked on a clay stove. ... But all the men were in love with me. Our house was above the barn. When I came out on the stairway, it was like looking off of a balcony. I was serenaded. They brought me gifts. You want to know what my sex appeal was?”
Your drop-dead gorgeous looks and voluptuous figure?
“They knew if they married me they were automatically an American citizen. There went my sex appeal.”
What about Bob?
“I married him. He got drafted a few months later and was sent to Italy. I went with Bob; that year in Italy was the happiest year of my life. It was our honeymoon.
“I watched a movie the other day and I yelled from downstairs up to Bob, ‘I’m being nostalgic and I’m crying.’ He says: ‘Oh, God you’re watching an Italian movie.’”
Life after Italy?
“We moved to Glen Park. When we were in California visiting one of my brothers, Bob saw a truck at a dealership. People were buying lunches from it. Bob said: ‘I think I want to do that in Gary.’
“When we got back home, Bob lined up all the dealerships and businesses before we ever bought the truck. Then we drove back to California, bought the custom-made truck, and went into business. That was in the early ‘60s.”
This truck must have been what we called a roach coach during the ‘70s and ‘80s in the steel mill.
“‘Bob’s Mobile Lunch and Coffee Wagon’ was the best business we ever had. I prepared all the food. Bob would buy doughnuts from the Tolleston Bakery owned by Mr. Angotti. He paid 60 cents per dozen for them fresh out of the oven. Bob also would go to the Peerless factory in Tolleston and buy potato chips hot off of the assembly line.”
How long was “Bob’s Mobile” in existence?
“About 10 years. While we were doing that, we opened up the art gallery in Miller. I slept like three hours per day back then. We had a coffee house below the art gallery. There was a $1 cover charge after 8 p.m. because we had folk singers. We sold juicy T-bone steaks for $3.”
What happens next on Bob and Rosemary’s excellent adventure?
“We moved to Crown Point in the early ‘70s, where we sold antiques and jewelry. I made necklaces from antique jewelry. Our store was in back of the old jail. Bob has sold antiques in several locations in Crown Point through the years.”
Have either of you held 9 to 5 jobs since you’ve been married?
Your writing career?
“I started out writing feature articles for the Glen Park Herald, kind of like you do, but not as good.”
The “Destiny” series?
“Katya, the heroine, is partly based on my mother. ‘Destiny’s Dowry’ is the first book. Katya is born in 1892, as was my father. It takes place in Yugoslavia. It’s a mystery with a history. Fact-based fiction. My mother was a healer, so Katya is a witch who can cure people.”
Tell me more.
“Katya is born in a convent and is eventually raised in a village where she does not belong. When she is 15, she is sold to a Turk. She escapes from the Turk, meets a band of gypsies who help her find where she really belongs.
“‘Destiny Denied’ is a continuation. The final book of the trilogy will be when Katya emigrates to Gary.”
You were turned down by several publishers.
“Yes, they wanted a sexy cover and they wanted sex inside the book. Well, of course my mother had sex, but I didn’t want to dwell on that kind of thing. So, after seven or nine of them turned me down, I said to hell with them and I self-published.”
How has that worked out?
“I won a Finalist Award in the Reader’s Favorite category for ‘Destiny’s Dowry’ and a five-star review with a Gold Medal for ‘Destiny Denied.’”
Do you have a title picked out for book three?
“‘Destiny’s Dance’” because that’s what life is — a dance. We go in circles.”
“Jeff, I was the only Croatian-American to show up at (Indiana University Northwest) when they had International Day. I was invited and told to bring my books. There were all these Serbian groups there and no one to speak for the Croatians.
“Here I am at the microphone in front of this sea of Serbs and I’m thinking they’re not going to like or care about what I have to say. But I went ahead and read an excerpt from ‘Destiny’s Dowry.’”
“I sold books to Serbian-Americans.”
I think that’s great.
“You see, it’s yet another generation. Most of the hardcore old-timers are gone.”
In 1913, under the same circumstances, the character Katya probably wouldn’t have received the warm reception Rosemary Babich Gard received at IUN.
It’s our destiny; we go in circles.