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by Joni Parsley - Filed In: Grievance
How does one sum up a lifetime in just a few paragraphs? Last week, we said goodbye to my father’s only sibling, his beloved brother, James Askoff who went to Heaven after a short illness. Although in their eighties, these brothers were active together and together they were until the very end. I think that describes this relationship…always together. As children of Yugoslavian immigrants, they have an unparalleled history.

I never realized it as a child. I thought every family had grandparents that came from Europe and spoke broken English. I thought other kids had a dad and uncle that spoke Serbian with their parents. It was normal to me though it was anything but. It wasn’t until much later that I understood what coming to America, and building a life, meant to my grandparents and their sons.

My memories are vivid and I’m so thankful that I can still see and hear scenes from a childhood infused with such a culture. My grandparents lived next door to us separated by a field where cattle roamed. We climbed the fence and walked over almost daily. Around her kitchen table, always filled with food, my uncle, dad, and grandparents would be talking and/or laughing. I couldn’t understand what they were saying nor did it really matter - I just loved being there. Wherever my grandma was, the sun would shine and those rays of her unconditional love warmed us all.

What an example those four Yugoslavian treasures have been to us. The commonalities amongst them provided an effortless example through lives lived with honor and commitment to God, family, country and hard work. Marriage was not a fairy tale, it was a partnership. My grandparents had an arranged marriage as was customary…imagine making that work! Nonetheless, a deep respect for their culture and families honored that tradition as well as each other. They stayed together from age eighteen “until death they did part.” My uncle was married for 63 years to my wonderful Aunt Dora Lee and my parents have been married for 58 loving years.

My grandfather served his America in WW l, my uncle served in WW ll, and my dad served in Korea. All of them, including my aunt and mom, retired from the same companies where they started in their younger years - what a rarity that is today. Most importantly, they were most committed to their children. The Askoff family consisted of all girls: Barbie, Jody, Julie, Joni, and Jenny. We were not just “the girls”, as we were always called, we were made to feel like the only girls. As Grandpa was the family compass, Grandma told us how perfect we always were and our parents kept us grounded by teaching us to be grateful not entitled - that good things come from hard work…these are called values.

This rich heritage provided the backdrop to an American story yet it’s our story. It includes the lessons learned from these great generations that not only built a strong country but built strong families. My uncle was part of that great generation because he was a great man. He was a quiet, unassuming presence but had an undeniable twinkle in his eye…just like his mom did. I always remember how he would come downstairs in our basement, while we played our records, and would start dancing and twirling us around. I can still see it and I can still hear our giggles. I always loved going to his house because we idolized our cousins whom we thought were so cool in every way! Oh, the memories.

From my vantage point, he was a great husband, a great son, a great brother, a great grandfather and a great dad. When his daughter said she not only lost her dad but her best friend, I knew the capacity of that love shared was both indescribable and immeasurable.

Great people leave great voids because they loved greatly. In my opinion, there is no better legacy to leave one’s family than that. Maybe “the girls” couldn’t understand the Yugoslavian language…I don’t think we really needed to.



*My love and prayers go out to Daddy, Aunt Dora Lee, Barbie, Jody and your families. May God’s healing presence give you comfort and peace as only He can.
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