His family was from Czechoslovakia. His mother had left her country when she was 15 with her father to get jobs in the US so the rest of their family could join them. Life and World War 1 intervened. Eventually her father returned and she stayed here. For a while everything she knew and loved was back in the “old” country. Her memories made it a magical place. She married and had 11 children. My father grew up with stories of a Czechoslovakia that was larger than life. She would tell me that the peaches and plums were the size of cantaloupes there and so sweet they tasted like candy.
My grandmother died before ever going back but my dad and I both were determined to go. For most of my life it was behind the Iron Curtain and it was impossible.
The year before my father died I had the chance to go to Prague for the Christmas Markets and he joined me. We’d been upgraded to first class on the flight to Vienna and it was such a perfect way to start the trip. We drove from Vienna to Prague through Bohemia, the prettiest part of the country. The forest lined highway made us feel that we were in a Grimm’s fairytale. Arriving in Prague just added to the magic. it was after dark and the city was lit up and decorated for Christmas. The view of the Charles Bridge over the Vltava River and St. Vitus Cathedral looked like a picture postcard and took our breath away.
The Old Town is beautiful especially at Christmas. The Christmas Market was filled with booth after booth of Christmas decorations, old world tchotchkes and the smell of chestnuts roasting. Each hotel had gingerbread house displays bigger and more ornate than the last one. We stood in the Old Town Square to listen to the 600 year old Astronomical Clock chime 12 o’clock and watch the 12 Apostles parade in and out of the little doors.
As beautiful as it was my grandmother was from a little town that wasn’t even on a map and that was our real destination. We drove for hours through the countryside and I was running out of hope. Dad, though, was inspired. We drove on and took a turn and there it was, Hory Matky Bozi 1 km. It made me cry to see his tears.
It was my dad’s idea to go to the post office and see if we could find anyone with his last name. The woman at the post office spoke a little English and my dad a little Czech and somehow he left there with an address and a note for the woman that lived in the town with the same last name as he. Turns out we are ALL part of one family.
We knocked on the door, gave the little babicka who was about 4 ft 11 in. the note and she invited us in. She offered us cake and coffee and for the next hour we tried to communicate. She was warm, she was lovely and we made a connection to my dad’s family. This was confirmed about a week later when we received an email from the woman’s grandson saying that she and my dad were second cousins.
On the way to Vienna my dad told stories his mother had told him I had never heard. He was so excited and happy. He couldn’t wait to get back and tell his brother, his only living sibling. I could never have given a gift that meant so much to either of us as that trip. And when he died a year later I realized how close we came to waiting too long.
“We are resigned to death: Its life we aren’t resigned to” Graham Greene
My dad was resigned to live.