Simav is where my maternal grandparents lived. It was (and still is) a small town in Western Turkey. My parents lived in Afyon, a larger town some 200 km away, where my father was a high school teacher. My mother traveled to her parent’s home to give birth (by a mid-wife). When I was born my grandfather rushed to the post office to send a telegram to my father to inform him of the arrival of his first child. My father then came over to be with me and my mother.
I have very fond memories of my grandparents’ three-story wooden house, with a stable to keep my grandfather’s horse at the street-level and living spaces in the upper levels. My brother and I used to spend most of our childhood summers at this house. My grandfather was a tax collector, a veteran of Turkish independence wars who served as a scribe and telephone operator for Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1922. One of our favorite activities was to go to the water-powered flour mill he and my grandmother owned just outside the town, where we could fish, pick fruits, chase dogs, etc.
My grandparents had a small family, with two daughters. My mother was 15 when she was married, in her third year of middle school. This was quite typical those days. And I was born a year later. And my aunt was married a few years later to a hometown (and close neighbor) young man. They had two children, Nurhayat and Sevil, who are my only cousins as my father did not have any siblings. They are included in the photos below, as are two Simav icons: Asım Simav (my mother’s cousin, a pride of Simav as a track athlete on the national team at 1500 m) and a comrade of my grandfather’s during the independence war whom I adored (in part because he always gave me a halvah treat when I was passing by.)
My father was a self-made man. Having lost his father at the age of four, he and his mother lived with his grandfather. They were from Gediz, 50 km away from Simav. (Incidentally, he chose the surname Özgediz (meaning “substance” of Gediz) to reflect this heritage.) When I asked him where his paternal ancestry came from, he told me that they had migrated from the Balkans to Izmir in the 1800s and then relocated to Gediz.
My father and grandmother moved to Uşak (80 km away) when Gediz burned down in a big fire. They had few means. My father worked his way throughout his school years, often staying in boarding schools on scholarship. He finished high school in Kütahya.
At a time when attending university was a rarity he was able to attend Istanbul University after passing exams that granted a room-and-board scholarship. He was studying history, with minors in geography and philosophy. During his junior year the university picked him and another student to study in Yugoslavia as exchange students. While in Belgrade he learned Serbian, conducted research on Byzantine history based on Serbian records, and studied for the senior year exams at his university. He returned to Istanbul for the exams and graduated. Four months after re went back to Belgrade the Second World War broke. The Turkish government asked him and other exchange students studying abroad to return home.
Upon returning to Turkey he enrolled in the military to complete his compulsory military service. In the meantime his mother was busy searching a suitable spouse for him. Having identified a young, attractive girl from a good family in Simav, she encouraged him to meet her. He was three months shy of completing his military service when he met my mother and her family in Simav. They were engaged five days after he met her and married just after he finished military service.
In return for the scholarships he benefited from he had to serve the government for 10 years. He decided to teach. Teaching high school (for that matter any salaried government job) was quite respected in the 1930s. He was assigned to the renowned Afyon High School as a history teacher.