Visiting Relatives in Veseli
May 14, 2007
|Before we left home, we had made arrangements to meet with the first cousin of Pete and Cynthia's mother, Mary, once we got to Moravia. Pete and Linda had talked to Mary's daughter Dana and knew that she didn't speak a lot of English so we had the receptionist at the hotel call her. That worked out well and we made plans to meet at 11 AM on Monday in our hotel lobby.
Just like with our Polish relatives, we had some moments of not recognizing each other in the lobby until finally one of us dared to speak up. Dana and her 12-year-old son George had arrived first. We knew that an interpreter would be coming along and when George said "Hello, my name is George" to us, we thought he was the guy. But then a few minutes later a man named Marek walked in with Mary and we found out that he was our interpreter. He had lived in Chicago for several years and spoke English very well. We kept apologizing for not knowing Czech but he said that when you live in the US, where you can drive 1000 miles in any direction and everyone speaks English, it doesn't make a lot of sense to learn a language like Czech.
We all met in a private room in the hotel restaurant and spent several hours talking and eating lunch. Dana's 15-year-old daughter Eva joined us too. Eva and George both speak a little English and were really excited to take the day off from school to spend time with the Americans! After lunch, we decided to take a drive out to the villages of Blatnice and Veseli, where Pete and Cynthia's grandfather and grandmother are from. The villages are about 6 km apart but their grandparents didn't meet and get married until they had emigrated to the US.
Our first stop was St. Anthony's Church in Blatnice. The church is a small chapel and is home of an annual festival. There is a painting of this chapel that has been in the family for years and it was a neat experience to actually see it. We found that as an apprentice blacksmith, Grandpa Vykydal had been the one to make the hinges on the doors of the church! The church is high on a hill overlooking Blatnice and several other towns. There is also a vineyard right near it. The wine is a big part of the annual festival.
After leaving the church we went to the cemetery in Veseli. We saw the grave where Mary's husband, son and brother and Dana's husband are buried. We learned about the customs of the cemeteries here and found out why we haven't found any graves. A body is undisturbed for 10 years and after that the family has to pay annual dues to keep the grave. If they don't, after some time the grave is sold and a new person can be buried there. The remains that are in the grave are put into a white cloth bag and buried in the same spot, but there is no marker for that person.
We left the cemetery and went to Mary's house. The Holek family has lived on this site since the 1800's. The Moravou River flows right next to the house. We sat down and were served an afternoon feast, just like we received in Poland -- coffee, kolache, fruit, nuts, etc. Then we were offered a shot of homemade slivovice, which is a Czech plum brandy that is very strong. Linda, Cynthia and Sara all drank some. Oddly, Linda and Sara thought it was potent but Cynthia slammed it down with no problem!
We took a walk along the river into the town and when we returned there was another course of appetizers being served in the backyard. Mary's sister-in-law Elena, who lives next door, came over to join us. At this point, Marek had left to run some errands so we tried to speak in Czechlish. It was difficult, and Pete said it was the quietest that 6 women in one place had ever been! With Marek gone, we came to the realization that Cynthia could understand some of what she was hearing. Mary said something, which sounded like gibberish to the rest of us, and Cynthia started laughing. She then translated the statement to us while we sat there with mouths agape. She had been able to understand Czech as a child and hearing it again brought it back. For entertainment, Linda picked up the Czech phrase book and started saying things like "I have lost my room key" and "do you have a curling iron I can use?". No one was really amused.
Luckily, Marek returned after about an hour. We all applauded when he walked in -- finally we could talk again! At about that time, another course of delicious Czech food came out. Dana had made potato salad and breaded pork chops, which were really good! We were getting all this food because we had plans to visit a winery and Mary said that we couldn't drink wine on an empty stomach.
After dinner we said our goodbyes to Mary. She was a great hostess and it was so nice to spend time with her in her home! We drove down to Blatnice again to go to the winery. Right in the middle of a row of houses was the wine tasting room. It was a lot different than what we are used to where you go right to the vineyard. The tasting room was opened just for us and we drank right in the wine cellar. It was really unique! We bought 6 bottles of wine for $25 USD total -- what a deal!
The evening wasn't over yet as Dana asked us to follow her to her house. We went there and had some more snacks and enjoyed videos of Eva's dance and singing group performances. She is in a traditional Czech singing/dancing group and a singing group that sings rock songs. Eva and George were very sweet and said they'd love to visit America someday. Dana had some very nice gifts for all of us including a bottle of slivovice!
We truly felt sad having to say goodbye to everybody. It was a very special day that we'll always remember.