'I never expected to do this whole love thing'

October 07, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

*TC It was about three years ago that I got a call from a lovely !! young woman, pleading for help in an unusual and romantic emergency.

Irena Haramic and Max Popovich, both 22, were getting married in three days.

The reception was going to be very big, a Croatian banquet with a Croatian band strumming mandolin-like instruments and playing the traditional kolos, while everybody joined hands and danced.

But the emergency was that the band had just canceled. The leader had learned that Max, the groom, was Serbian and Max's many Serbian relatives and pals would be at the wedding.

Because of the unpleasantness in Yugoslavia, the Croatian band leader feared that an ethnic miniwar would break out on the dance floor.

Irena was crushed. As she said at the time: "I get married once. I planned everything. . . My big thing was to have an ethnic band. Now that is shot."

So there she was, without a Croatian band. And you just don't pick up the phone and order one.

Could I help? Irena asked.

In truth, no. If I could play tamburitza music on a bugarija, I gladly would, but I can't. I offered to come to the wedding and sing "Mairzy Doats and Dozy Doats and Little Lamzy Divey," but she declined.

So all I could do was write a column describing the sad situation and calling for world peace and understanding so these problems would not arise in the future.

And to my surprise, that did the trick. No, we have not achieved world peace and understanding. I have my limitations.

But several tamburitza musicians, Serbian and Croatian, volunteered to put a band together and play at the wedding.

"It was wonderful," Irena recalls. "One guy read the column and drove in all the way from Wisconsin. They serenaded us as we walked in the door and they played all night long and we danced and danced and danced. And they didn't charge us. And when people asked them who was Croatian and who was Serbian, they wouldn't tell. They said it didn't matter. And nobody was killed."

That was three years ago. Recently I wondered what had happened to the tall, lovely Irena and the taller and handsome Max.

I have to admit that the possibilities intrigued me, especially if she turned into a terrible shrew, he became a doofus, and they were now fighting it out in court.

So I tracked them down in Valparaiso, Ind., where they live in a pink brick house and Max works as a technician at the university.

Now they are three. She's 14 months old and her name is Gabriella. And Irena says they are happy.

"The first year it was really hard because of the war. I'm very argumentative and every day there was something terrible on the news and I was so angry.

"I'd visit my parents and my dad would say, 'Oh, they bombed this,' or 'They bombed that,' and I'd get upset and I'd go home all furious and yell at my husband. Once when a hospital was bombed, I went home and I yelled at him: 'How can your people do this?'

"Luckily, he looks at both sides. He'd stay calm and he'd calm me down. Then, really, because of the baby, I just stopped paying attention to it. . . There's nothing I could do except in my own little world, and we're doing the best we can. I stopped harping on it. I stopped griping. I realized I had to, because of the baby. If I kept it up, . . . she'd be torn and I couldn't have that.

"What I've learned is you cannot let outside influences tear you apart. Before anything, we're two people. . . As two people, we are very compatible and love each other so much. I'm not a mush person and I never expected to do this whole love thing. But I could not find a more perfect half for me. And that comes first.

"If you're trying to build a life together, you cannot let other people color your ideals, your values. . . My husband taught me that."

Max says: "For someone of my generation to hate someone for a crime committed by his grandfather, it's got to stop. Really, it's the family that teaches hate. . . Anyway, she gets her good looks from her mom, but her good nature from me."

I don't want to hear any more complaints about the young members of Generation X.

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