When Rosemary Gard was growing up in Gary, Indiana, she asked for and was given a typewriter for her 12th birthday—a Remington portable in a gray hard cover carrying case (in case you’re wondering).
“I’ve been writing ever since,” says Gard who graduated from Lew Wallace High School in 1956 and credits the patience of one of her high school English teachers with helping her hone her natural enthusiasm for story telling into a long lasting ability to convey the unique tales of growing up in Northwest Indiana, a richly diverse region of the ethnicities and race.
Gard has recently completed Stefan’s Destiny, the tenth and final book in her “Destiny” series. Growing up Croatian in an ethnic enclave, Gard’s books explore the lure of our roots and her own unique childhood.
“I was born in the mid-town section of Gary at 2625 Van Buren Street in an area known as The Patch back then,” says Gard. “It was a poor neighborhood and some people even had pigs and chickens. I spent my school years in the Glen Park
But there was a close knit solidarity one in which, in Gard’s case, people from the country of origin stuck together in order not to lose their heritage, sometimes to the point where intermarriage was frowned upon.
“My parents didn’t want me to marry anyone who wasn’t Croatian,” she recalls, noting that her boyfriend Robert Gard was English, German, French and Irish and to avoid the romance from getting more serious, sent her to live with relatives in a small village near Zagreb in Croatia.
“I had lots of marriage proposals there, but as my cousin told me, it wasn’t because I was beautiful but because marrying me guaranteed U.S. citizenship,” laughs Gard.
She lived the peasant life while there—a straw mattress for sleeping, dirt floors in living quarters and cooking done on a clay stone—and developed a deep respect for the devotion people had for their family, land and traditions, but she remained steadfast in her love for her boyfriend back in Gary.
Of course, there’s a story behind their young romance too. She was only 13 when a friend of a friend introduced them.
“But I lied and said I was 16,” she recalls. “When he found out how old I was, he was ticked. But I was so darn cute, he came back, and we saw each other from then on.”
After three months in Croatia, she returned home, her parents relented and the two married in 1957 and have two children.
“He’s still my boyfriend,” she says. “After we married, he got drafted and went to Italy and I followed him. We lived at the very top of a hill, the most expensive gown I owned was an Anne Fogarty dress—you’re too young to know what that is—and we went away for a few days and when I came back, I noticed the hem of my gown was ripped. I went across the street to my neighbor and said to her, now the only one who had a key to our place was your housekeeper so she must be the one who tore my dress. I found out later that the housekeeper was a prostitute so when people ask, I tell themI didn’t work in Italy, but my dress did.”
Ironically, the garrulous Gard says she didn’t speak that much to adults when growing up.
“The community in which I was raised, the young were not encouraged in conversation,” she says. “I played puzzles while the adults talked, but I listened. I knew who was having an affair with whom. Also, when I was young you could take a child into a tavern, so I grew up in a tavern and you hear a lot there as well.”
“Rosemary is a natural storyteller,” says Carrie Napoleon, managing director of the Lake Court House Foundation Inc. which was founded in the 1970s to save the historic Lake County Courthouse, which is on the Register for National Historic Places, from being demolished and preserve the 141-year-old building for future generations to enjoy.
“She keeps me spellbound with all her stories and she has the ability to carry that over to her books. It’s no wonder people love them so much.”
Napoleon notes that those attending the book launch/fund raiser will also have the opportunity to view a display of turn-of-the-century Slovak and Region history by the Lake County Historical Museum, including one-of-a-kind pieces from Gard herself. During the event, Gard will share some of her personal experiences of life as a youngster in both Croatia and Gary that helped form the characters for her series.
Gard tells me she’s taking a break from writing but then in the next breath, says she’s planning on calling her next book, I Shop in Dead People’s Closets because of her propensity for sales.
When I tell her, I need to go as I have an appointment, she says she has one more story to tell. Who can resist?
It turns out there are two stories, one about how she was the Queen on the Croatia float in the 1956 Gary’s Golden Jubilee Parade and actor Mark Harmon’s father, Tom, who grew up in Gary and went on to win the Heisman Trophy when he played for the University of Michigan, was the grand marshal.
The next has to do with running into a GI at a party.
“The guy starts showing me his scars by pulling up his sleeves and shirt,” she says. “After he left my husband came up to me and said I’m surprised you didn’t pull down your pants and show him your new hips.”