Remembering 9/11

I was sitting in the finance committee of the Ionia Board of Commissioners, when the county administrator informed us of the attacks. Disbelief ensued and we left the meeting to watch the attacks at our office of the Ionia Sentinel-Standard in Ionia.

I remember the immense silence after the airplanes were grounded for four days. I also remember a story we did about a preaching pastor-of course we got into trouble for that.

The newspaper headlines varied: “A day of infamy.” For some reason I remember that one the most. Then my dad came over in the evening to consult the situation, while mom was in Czech Republic and thought it was a horror movie on TV.

The patriotism that followed was amazing, as well as the camaraderie of the people. I hope the memories will never fade away for the sake of the people who died during the catastrophy.

Right now, I am still at a loss for words. I always hold a minute of silence for all the victims.

Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

Happy Labor Day weekend

A nice morning view from my studio window.

I decided to organize myself on this lovely Sunday.

We spent a great day on the beach yesterday in Pentwater. I was delighted to see a gentleman reading on his Kindle just eight feet away from us, while I was making notes in my $1 notepad from the Dollar store.

Pointing at my blue hardcover notebook and in the gentleman’s direction, I said to my husband: “It’s a long road from the writing in this notebook to that kindle on the beach, but it can be done.”

Check your inboxes for my brand new author’s enewsletter hot off the presses with a sample chapter from the upcoming “Greenwich Meridian Memoir. “

The link to 2020 Book launch campaign is:

https://mailchi.mp/fbc779395f9f/memoir-ready-to-launch-in-october

Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

A piece of Americana fades away

Springrove Variety in Lowell closes down

By Emma Palova

Lowell, MI- He calls himself the shopkeeper standing behind the candy counter with an old-fashioned scale on original maple wood floors. Mike Sprenger, owner of Springrove Variety at the corner of Main Street and Riverside, is more than a business owner. He was like a sentinel on the Flat River keeping watch over the old times amidst the hustle and bustle of the growing town. Moreover, he created a family atmosphere inside the store modeled after his former employer, D&C. The store will close by the end of September, as Sprenger retires.

With one of a few nickel & dime stores remaining in Michigan, and mushrooming box stores, the competition was relentless. But so was the community support over the years.

“We’ve outlived our niche gradually over the 15 years,” he said. “The community support kept it going, that’s what makes it hard to close it.”

Hannah Ritsema behind the candy counter at the Springrove Variety in Lowell.

Sprenger opened Springrove Variety in its current location in January of 1995 after working for D&C stores. He started as a stock boy sweeping and washing floors. He worked himself up to district manager overseeing nine stores. When D&C closed in 1993, he started looking for a job. At first, he wanted to work for a wholesaler, but on second thought, he’d rather buy goods from one.

Based on a tip from a wholesaler, Sprenger found out about the store in Lowell. He moved from Walled Lake on the east side of the state to the Lowell area.

“I loved it,” he said.

Sprenger combined part of his last name and his partner’s Bob Grove to create the name, Springrove. Grove never entered the partnership.

He admits that the first years were challenging in finding connections with the wholesalers, building up the stock and finding out what the town wants. His consistent answer to customer requests was:

“I will get it,” he always said.

Then came the box stores and departments like clothes and shoes at Springrove Variety had to go. Instead the focus was on crafts and toys.

“We had to readjust our niche,” he said. “We could react faster than big stores to fad items like Beanie Babies, spinners and Cabbage Patch.”

To buy items at a competitive price from the wholesalers, Sprenger had to buy direct.

“It’s very hard to do,” he said. “What saved us, we had six stores, we brought in the goods and split it up.”

He grew the number of stores to six experiencing the highest peak in sales and employees in 2005 with 60 employees. He would split the inventory between the six stores located in Greenville, Trenton, Allegan, Wyoming, Marysville and Owosso.

As the wholesalers started going away, so did the dime stores. There used to be a dime store in every small town. Out of the seven wholesalers in the USA, there remains one variety distributor.

And then came COVID-19 in March of 2020 and everything deemed not necessary was shut down. It was precisely the crafts, the yarns and the puzzles that saved the store from going prematurely out.

“We were deemed essential,” Sprenger said. “People went nuts locked in their homes. We were here to supply the needs for COVID. It was a blessing for them and for us. We had wanted they wanted.”

However, Sprenger made the decision to retire long before COVID-19.

Like many dime store owners, Sprenger, 67, started feeling the age. He was working six days a week, 12 hours a day.

“It was time for me to slow down,” he said. “We did what we had to do.”

The loyal customers will miss the store as much as they will miss the shopkeeper. Most of them used to come into the store as kids and buy candy.

Sprenger could tell many stories from the store, but he related a heart-warming one. Back in his office, he pulled out of a box, a framed one- dollar bill with a yellow sticky note dated 2010 that said:

“I have lived in Lowell for 70 years. When I was 7 or 8, I took 1 or 2 penny balloons. It keeps bothering me. Please accept payment. Thank you.”

Call it a testimony or a souvenir to his five decades long career in the variety business. Also, his employees loved to work there; from the longest employee Linda Hamp to Hannah Ritsema.

“In a small town, Linda would know their names,” he said. “Everybody knew everybody.”

Jean Jeltema of Lowell recalls going to the store to buy fried peanuts and “Evening in Paris” perfume.

“They had stuff in flask squares and wooden floors,” she said. “Mike would always make an effort to get it for you.”

Dawn Ruegsegger of Saranac bought all her yarns at Springrove for kids and grandkids’ blankets.

“When my kids were young, I did cross-stitch blankets and got string and squares from there and did pillow cases,” she said. “So sorry it will be gone.”

But for most customers, the missing part will be the shopkeeper himself.

“I will miss talking to Mike and his family the most,” Ruegsegger said.

Three weeks ago, Jeltema bought elastic at the store for a mask at 20 percent off.

“I will miss him,” she said. “He was always right there, ready to help you. Mike knew his customers.”

Sprenger will serve on the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce Board and work for 20 hours overseeing the remaining stores in Marysville and Owosso for three more years.

He regrets that the grandchildren won’t know the atmosphere of the dime stores.

“That’s what we’re losing when the barber shops, the soda fountains and the dime stores go out,” he said.

Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

Excerpt: Living in socialism

Note: Following is an excerpt from the chapter: “Living in socialism” from my upcoming book- the “Greenwich Meridian Memoir” set for Oct. 16 release on Amazon.

The book is available for preorder in Kindle format at:

Greenwich Meridian Memoir is an epic story of love and immigration.

Continued: Living in socialism

Workplace ethic

Among interesting events at workplaces were birthday celebrations. Ludek described a typical birthday celebration at the ZPS factory as follows; the celebrant typically brought in a bottle of plum brandy and poured everyone from each department a shot. After work, the celebration continued at the local pubs. There was a lot of birthday celebrations throughout the years. Milestone celebrations like turning 50, meant you got a fancy watch from the company and a huge party at a local pub.

During national holidays, the workers would steal anything and take it through the gates without being checked because there were so many of them leaving at once for the parades. So, the parades were known as the “March of Thieves.” The parades actually started inside the factory. On the matter of overtime, one individual was selected to punch for all those, who waited somewhere outside the factory behind the gates.

The major employers in Zlin were Svit and ZPS; their huge factory complex spanned several blocks in town. The shoe factory Svit was built during the Thomas Bata era in the 1920s. It employed 10,000 workers. ZPS was the mechanical engineering factory, employing also 10,000. Women worked mainly in Svit, while men worked in ZPS.

Our hometown Zlin grew thanks to the T & A Bata firm, when Tomas Bata was known as the “king of shoes” (aka the creator) of the global shoe emporium with export of shoes to the U.S. as well. The growth and success of the Bata firm were attributed to a large army contract with the Austro-Hungarian Empire to make shoes for 5,200 soldiers.

The core of city Zlin boasts the fine architecture of functionalism; the former Bata headquarters building “Twenty-one”, a high-rise reaching 254 feet and the 11- story Hotel Moscow. During socialism, the shoe empire became the factory Svit, where people worked for generations. In socialism, the economy was planned accordingly into one-year plans, five-year plans and ten-year plans. All the companies had to strive to fulfill the plans to the highest percentage for bonuses at the end of the year. The bulletin boards at the different workplaces boasted the percentages of fulfilled plans.

The average salary for women working in the Svit factory was 1,200 crowns; for men working in ZPS it was 2,500 to 3,000. Since, the work or the economy didn’t fluctuate, most jobs were for the entire lifetime until retirement.

“You couldn’t quit,” said Ludek.

According to Ludek, even if you wanted to quit, you couldn’t because you had to give a six-months’ notice, and the other employer wouldn’t wait for you that long. On top of that you had to sign a work contract.

 Of course, there was no such thing as calling in sick; you had to have a doctor’s script that you are sick. Not showing up for work was called American time off or “A.” If you did it for three days in a row, the police would come looking for you.

 If you were sick and stayed at home, you had to be in bed, because regular controls at home were conducted if you’re not cheating.

 “They even touched the bed and the sheets if they were still warm,” Ludek said.

You got paid when you were sick, and the health care was free for all. There was a universal one crown fee per prescription of any drug. People often ask, if there was a shortage of drugs and doctors.

Of course, there was a shortage of everything due to the planned economy. You got used to most of the shortages, but some were just plain embarrassing like not enough toilet paper, hygiene products or laundry detergent.

On the other hand, there were fashionable dresses in nice boutiques, pretty shoes and fancy parties with crystal glasses and porcelain plates. The paradox of not having basic needs fulfilled sharply contrasted with the opulence of the fashion, including home fashions inside homes and apartments. People took good care of their homes and took pride in their furniture. Women spent days polishing the furniture, and usually you couldn’t touch anything when visiting a friend. You were designated a safe spot to sit, where you didn’t jeopardize the cleanliness and the order of things.

 Most products were made in Czechoslovakia or they were imported from the countries of the RVHP–the association of mutual economic assistance such as Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, East Germany, Romania and U.S.S.R.

You spent a lot of time waiting around for anything and everything, quite often it was in lines for desirable items like bananas or meat.

The grocery stores were small with only a limited amount of shopping baskets, so you waited for the shopping basket, then you waited inside the store at the dairy counter for cheese, and at the meat counter for meat, you waited in a line for the cash register and you waited for the bus to get home with your groceries. There you waited for the elevator to get to your apartment.

 The waiting game was due to everything being small and crowded. Overall, the country is small with only 15.6 million population and territory of 127,875 square feet kilometers in the heart of Europe. So, it has traditionally been the target of other countries in their quest for more land.

At the time, there were only savings banks in the country except for the Commerce Bank in Prague that handled international currency. People got paid money not checks. Most of them kept the money at home and spent it for basic needs.

Nothing was really cheap; you pretty much spent your entire paycheck on life’s necessities. And that definitely discounted gas and telephone bills, because only a few people had cars or telephones. However, most people were not in debt, and mortgages didn’t exist. Something as bizarre as a non-returnable loan for newlyweds existed.

It wasn’t uncommon for several generations to live in one house. But the main housing was in apartments, that were affordable, but you had to wait for them for years. There were cheaper state-owned apartments and apartments owned by the cooperatives. Condos did not exist. This set-up was due to the socialist ownership of everything from apartments to land, factories and businesses that happened through the major nationalizations in 1945 and 1948. Houses were individually owned and usually built by owners. Most houses were in villages, and these included very old buildings like my Grandfather Joseph’s beloved “Ranch” at 111 Krnovska in Vizovice. The old buildings known as “chalupas” required extensive repair challenged by the shortage of contractors and materials.

However, the main source of the communist pride were the apartment mega complexes such as the “Southern Slopes” housing 20,000 people, which was one- fourth of the population of Zlin. These were dubbed as the “building successes of socialism.” The country is sprinkled with these and their inhabitants are happy to live in them. Most of them have been turned into condos.

Atheism vs Religion

A friend asked me to write about religion in socialist Czechoslovakia. Under the Marxism Leninism philosophy, the official religion was atheism–not believing in God or any deity. The church properties were confiscated along with everything else and belonged to the state as of 1945. But people went to churches, some secretly, others openly.

There were only two denominations that my husband Ludek and I could recall: Catholic and Evangelic. Each town had one church only, and the Catholic church usually prevailed depending on the region. The churches were old dating back to feudalism and the reigning aristocracy. It took 150 years to build the new Saint Mary’s Church in Stipa due to a pause in construction because of the 1620 war. The construction started under Albrecht of Valdstejn in 1615 and ended in 1765 thanks to the money from the Rottal countess.

 The clear and present danger of going to church mainly impacted teachers and career-oriented people who were trying to get ahead of the game. It impacted both my father and my aunt.

Although we come from a large Catholic family, Aunt Martha, who was a teacher in Stipa, could not go to church. Many years later, I found out that she was a member of the Old Catholic Church, a chapter located inside a chapel at the cemetery across the street from the Konecny house and that she had sponsored a priest in his education. The chapel is also a tomb of the count Seilern family, a major influence in the Stipa region with the Chateau Lesna.

One of the major wars, the Thirty Years’ War, in Czech history was over religion. What I consider the sad part of modern history is that after the downfall of socialism in Czechoslovakia, the majority of people never returned back to the church.

However, a big tradition centered around the parishes stayed intact–that is the feast of the saints. In our case, it was the Feast of Saint Mary in Stipa on September 8 th. These feasts or pilgrimages were much like homecomings or festivals in the U.S. The entire families gathered for the feasts for an opulent celebration of the saints. In many cases, animals were butchered and ladies baked the famous pastry-kolache or strudels. A dance took place at the local hall on the night before the feast. This often turned into a brawl, as people got drunk on plum brandy. Carnival rides always came into town with booths and paper roses. I loved these paper colorful crepe roses on  wires; I wish I had kept at least one. Other booths sold gingerbread hearts of all sizes and for all hearts.

In traditional pilgrimage places like Hostyn, the booths were set up all the time and opened for the season with hundreds of religious and non-religious items: rosaries, prayer books, medallions and miniature statues. Pilgrims streamed to Hostyn, both on foot and on buses.

That brings me to celebrations of holidays in general. In villages like Stipa, many people raised animals for meat: rabbits, pigs, geese, turkeys, chickens and ducks. That was the primary source of meat for the holidays. Most meat was roasted, served with creamy sauces or sauerkraut and dumplings. Pork and chicken were often fried into wiener schnitzel. Salads or vegetables were not as common as in the U.S. due to their year-round shortage. Soups were always a part of a holiday meal, mostly beef or chicken. In some households, people made their own noodles.

As a rule, women baked for the weekends all sorts of pastries, some for breakfast. But there was also an abundance of pastries on the market; at the bakeries, coffee shops, patisseries and in grocery stores. The patisseries served as cafes with people hanging around in them sipping coffee or wine, while enjoying a “rakvicka.” This dessert has always fascinated me; the pastry is in the form of a small coffin filled with delicious cream and ornately decorated on the top with whirls and swirls of more cream.

Among the most famous baked goods, were “rohliky” or bread rolls in the shape of a crescent, some even came with poppy seeds. And bread was always good, whether baked round with hard crust or in loaves in small or large bakeries.

Other homemade products included sausages and smoked meat. The butchering of the family pig usually took place in winter and before the holidays, so there was plenty of meat on the table. Socialism with its chronic lack of basic goods, drove the need for self-sufficiency specifically in the villages and craftsmanship as well. People were forced to be more creative in many different ways.

Many households in villages and towns were self-sufficient with everything homemade or home grown. National artist Joseph Lada illustrated the traditional festivities: The Feast of St. Nicholas on Dec. 6, the butchering of the family pig in the yard with onlookers, Christmas by the tall tiled stoves, autumn campfires with fire-roasted potatoes and summer fun by the ponds with the willows.

The Czech Republic enjoys four distinct seasons: mild winters, early springs, hot summers and moderate autumns. The seasons are conducive to year-round vacationing and recreation. In the socialist era, people traveled freely between the two parts of the country, Czech and Slovak republics. Slovakia is the home to the Tatra Mountains. Travel to other socialist countries was also accommodated.

Recreation was encouraged and subsidized through the membership in the Revolutionary Union Movement (ROH) at the workplaces. Some companies had their own recreation centers in the mountains like Jelenovska. We visited this center in the mid-1980s. Much fancier centers belonged to the leaders of the Communist Party.

The ultimate goal of socialism aimed at the health and well-being of the population and the country. However, that was contradicted by the inability to act freely in many aspects such as travel to the Western countries and overall limitations of freedom of speech and press.

 The press of the socialist era represented the opinions and views of tolerated organizations. The number one daily newspaper was “The Red Truth,” the official paper of the Communist Party gloated with the party philosophy and the party news. Then, there was a version for the younger generation called, “The Young Front,” which was a little bit less biased. After that, came “The People News” and “The Agricultural News.” All of them were heavily censored for content and inuendo. Journalists had to go to political schools, which were hard to get into.

The older generation like my grandpa read “The People News” only on Sunday afternoons. At the Gymnasium Zlin, we had to recite the news in the “Citizens’ Education” class. The news was usually about the president sending a congratulatory letter to another leader of a socialist country or about the regular Communist Party conventions.

The TV wasn’t much better, if not worse. There was one TV station–The Czechoslovak TV run by the government. The books and magazines were less censored. I sent a lot of novels to mom Ella.

EVENTS

I will be participating in October Virtual Book Fest with a reading on Oct. 5 and an interview on Oct. 23.

Zoom Reading:October 5, 2020 @ 7pm – 7:30pm

Zoom Interview:October 23, 2020 @ 7pm – 8pm

Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

The Fishmonger

In search of inspiration: The Fishmonger

Dan Sodini, DMS Fish Supply owner at Ada Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Hooked on wild caught fish from the Straits of Mackinac at the local farmer’s markets

By Emma Palova

Ada, MI- It all started with a conversation, a few coolers and a canopy. And a brand-new enterprise was born 10 years ago.

But it took six generations of commercial fishermen, a passion for the great outdoors “Grizzly Adams” style and healthy eating to make the old trade work in new times.

Dan Sodini of DMS is the fishmonger, while his brother-in-law Jamie Massey is the fisherman of the Great Lakes based in St. Ignace.

“An opportunity to begin a small family business of taking wild caught fish from the U.P. to Farmer’s Markets around the state of Michigan came 10 years ago,” said Sodini. “We are celebrating our 10th year anniversary.”

The first market was in Midland, home to the DMS fish crew.

The DMS fish supply crew is based in Midland. Pictured are: Allie Sodini, Emma Sodini, Andrew Steger, Jacob Sodini, Jesse LaRue, Mega Sodini and Josie Sodini.

“We could drive to the U.P., stay with the family and get up and go to the market on Saturday morning,” Sodini said.

Rarely, do you see fish peddled at the local Farmer’s Markets. It’s mostly local home-grown produce spruced up sometimes with cheeses, breads and preserves.

“Some people were delighted and bought fish,” said Sodini. “Others took a little time.”

But after Sodini explained where, when and how the fish was caught, it all became easier.

“Once people tried it, they became customers and they’re still buying fish today,” he said.

Speaking about being hooked on genuine wild-caught fish taste.

Linda buys fish at the DMS booth in Ada.

I discovered the U.P. fish booth three years ago based on a word-of-mouth tip from a friend who lives in Ada.

“You know, there’s this fishmonger at the Ada Market and the fish is excellent,” she said. “Try it.”

Being a fish lover ever since I can remember buying trout at the “Rybena” deli in former Czechoslovakia, I didn’t need to be persuaded.

What first struck me unlike buying fresh fish at the stores, was that there was no fish smell around the booth. Everything was immaculately clean, and then Dan’s impeccable knowledge about the fish, surpassed the fish markets of Marseille.

The first time I bought all three “catch of the day”- fresh walleye, whitefish and trout, smoked whitefish and whitefish dip. It was an unsurpassed feast.

This is my favorite recipe: whitefish or trout baked with pesto and lemon. Bake for 20 minute at 350 F or on the grill.

In the beginning, DMS offered only fresh fillets which included: whitefish, walleye, lake trout, king salmon, yellow perch and smelt.

Over the 10 years, DMS has expanded both the fish selection and the farmer’s market locations.

“Once we realized that we could make a go of it, we expanded into other markets,” Sodini said.

DMS added smoked whitefish, lake trout, salmon and Laker bites, which are skinless, boneless bite size pieces of small lake trout.

“We have added our very popular smoked fish pate made with the fisherman’s recipe,” he said.

The pates include: smoked whitefish, salmon and lake trout. Brand new this year are the Laker patties, a fish burger or fish cake made with fresh lake trout, that can be grilled or sautéed in a skillet.

From August through mid- October, DMS has annual wild king salmon sales of the whole fish which averages 10 to 12 pounds. This yields approximately half to ¾ of the fish.

“With COVID we have experienced both a decrease and an increase in sales,” said Sodini.

The decrease mainly because of people not wanting to come out and take safety precautions while the increase is in direct access to wild caught fish vs. the limited high-priced beef and other meat products.

“From the beginning people chose fish for high quality protein,” Sodini said.

Backed by 150 years of Massey commercial fishing on the Great Lakes, Sodini, a former treatment specialist, found himself in the fish business. During his unemployment, the family had this important conversation about starting a fish distribution business.

“We are honored and proud to be a part of the family legacy,” he said. “We appreciate and are thankful for all of our customers from all over the state of Michigan, who are our friends and have supported us for 10 years.”


“I love what I do! Having the opportunity to offer wild caught fresh and smoked Great Lakes fish at local Farmers Markets is a privilege and a lot of work,” Mega said. But what I enjoy most is meeting each new customer and the friends that we have made over the 10 years we have been going to markets.”

On a Saturday market, DMS sells an average of 150 to 200 pounds of fish.

“The kids grew up on farmer’s markets,” he said. “They get paid and they love it.”

Today, the DMS crew does 12 markets a week:

Ada market on Tuesdays

Brighton on Saturday

East Lansing on Sunday

Flint on Saturdays

Frankenmuth on Wednesday

Holland on Wed.& Sat.

Meridian on Saturdays

Midland on Wed. & Sat.

Mt. Clemens on Sat.

Mt. Pleasant on Thursday

Northville on Thursday

The selling season is from May to October. From November through April, DMS does winter fish drops at the farmer’s markets locations.

“People can order frozen fish products biweekly or monthly,” Sodini said. “We deliver to each of the farmer’s markets location. The fisherman vacuum packs, blast freezes all of our fish fillets.”

You can find individual farmer’s locations at the DMS Facebook page at:

https://www.facebook.com/dmsfishsupply

Next in the series “In search of Inspiration”- Springrove Variety, a piece of Americana gone from the US landscape

Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

Happy Birthday mom

Mom Ella turns 83 today

By Emma Palova

Big Rapids, MI – My mother, Ella Konecny, turns 83 on this beautiful summer day. We celebrated her birthday yesterday in Big Rapids with a cookout on the deck. Mom always puts on a feast: juicy ribs, coleslaw, mashed potatoes and her famous nutty cake roll, all preceded by a traditional Czech platter of cheese, salami and home-made pickles Znojmo style.

Dad Vaclav Konecny grills ribs on the deck overlooking my parents’ pretty garden. They grow and can their own delicious pickles.

Together with my father Vaclav, they’ve been living in this small university town, home to Ferris State University, for more than four decades.

Mom was born Drabkova in former communist Czechoslovakia on Aug. 23, 1937 in Zlin to a working class family. My grandparents Anna and Joseph Drabek worked hard to get mom into the university so she could become the future pharmacist.

My mother has inspired the memoir Greenwich Meridian, where East meets west about the family immigration saga. She didn’t want to leave the communist country after the Soviet invasion on the night of August 20-21 in 1968.

The memoir, slated for Oct. 16, 2020 publication is dedicated to both of my parents because they have always inspired me both in hard and good times with their dedication and perseverance. It is available now on preorder on Amazon at:

Greenwich Meridian Memoir is slated for Oct. 16, 2020 publication. It is available for preorder on Amazon. The cover was designed by graphic artist Jeanne Boss of Rockford.

Their journey from the Moravian hilly villages of Vizovice and Stipa to Big Rapids in Michigan was tumultuous with many twists and turns.

Some of the milestones included the 1973 return to hardline Czechoslovakia from Texas, and then the escape back into the New World for my dad in 1976. Mom joined him in 1980.

Dad landed the math professor job at the Ferris State University, and that finally anchored them permanently in their new home.

To this day, mom says she loved her bio lab technician job also at the university.

Their true story has also inspired my fiction in my first Shifting Sands Short Stories book. “The Temptation of Martin Duggan” contains some bits and pieces from the early years of immigration.

I wrote that story shortly after  my immigration to the USA in 1989. When I compare some of the elements of the short story to the memoir, I consider them Visceral in character, coming from a gut feeling.

The main character in the story is professor Martin Duggan obsessed with his own quest for perfection.

May you both enjoy many more years of love, good health and optimism. Thank you for all your love and support.

For chapters “Prague Spring, Part I” & “Prague Spring, Part II from the memoir click on the following links:

https://emmapalova.com/2020/08/20/prague-spring-1968/

https://emmapalova.com/2020/08/21/prague-spring-1968-part-ii/

Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

Prague Spring, 1968 Part II

Prague Spring, 1968

Note: Aug. 20 & 21 mark the 52nd anniversary of the invasion of former Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Army. The historic event prompted entire generations to defect the country in search of freedom. The “Greenwich Meridian Memoir” is our family immigration saga from former Czechoslovakia to the USA spanning two generations. Following is a chapter- Mom’s Diary from the memoir.

Excerpt from the “Greenwich Meridian Memoir”- Mom’s Diary: in her own words

By Ella Konecny

I’ve never dreamt of travelling for the simple reason. I didn’t have money. My life was tailored around everyday mundane problems, that I will write about later.

I was a pharmacist, and it wasn’t that the profession was narrow and had nothing to offer, but I didn’t want to nurture vain ideas of travelling. So, Sunday afternoon trips to the dam in Luhacovice or Bystricka were the only means of breaking up the gray of ordinary days. The first bigger trip was our honeymoon to the Krkonose mountains with the old Tatra and mother’s comments:

“I hope the poor car will make it.”

The Greenwich Meridian Memoir to publish on Oct. 16, 2020. The cover was designed by graphic artist Jeanne Boss of Rockford.

When we arrived in Harachov, we sent a message to my parents: “We’ve arrived under Mount Blanc.” At that moment, it never occurred to me that one day I would indeed be looking at the majestic highest mountain in the Alps.

I did an inventory of my life. After five years of marriage, we had two children: Emma and Vasek. I was working part-time in a pharmacy in my hometown Vizovice and my husband Vaclav was teaching physics in Brno. He would come for the weekend to Vizovice, because I couldn’t find a job in Brno and we had no place to stay there. We were on the waiting list for an apartment, that we got in 1965. We didn’t have a car or money to furnish the apartment. My husband found out that the president of the university in Khartoum, Sudan was hiring English-speaking professors to teach different subjects. Vaclav’s English was excellent and he got the job. However, I did not know about this.

At the beginning of November, Vaclav announced his decision that he will be leaving for Sudan on Nov. 20, 1964. I gave him my blessings and never thought for a moment that I would go with him. I continued to work in the pharmacy and my boss who loved to travel kept asking me when was I going to fly to Africa.

In the spring of 1965, when I finally applied for a passport and got my vaccinations, Vaclav wrote me a letter that he was coming home, because it was the end of the school year. The university paid once a year for round trip air tickets for the entire family, regardless that he had just started teaching in November. The school year in Sudan ran from the beginning of July to the end of March; it was followed by a summer break lasting three months.

Those three months were also the worse months in Africa weather-wise, filled with sandstorms “Habub,” rain and heat. Khartoum lies on the 15th parallel close to the equator; it is the second warmest place in the world. It’s a dry tropical country with very little rain. One road stretched 50 miles north of Khartoum and 50 miles south and dead ended in the Nubian Desert.

Three rivers ran through the city: Nile, Blue Nile and White Nile. We arrived in this city in July of 1965. When we got out of the plane at the airport in Khartoum, a hot wave like coming from an oven, hit me and I couldn’t catch my breath.

We rented an apartment from the university close to Blue Nile. The apartment was spacious with two built-in balconies that were not screened, so the kids played there together with lizards and salamanders. The apartment had running water, a refrigerator and basic furniture: beds, table, chairs and two armchairs in light green color. There was no TV or air conditioning. The stores were open in the morning and evening and closed in the afternoon due to heat. Khartoum was a dead town in the afternoon.

The main boulevard was lined with stores full of merchandise unlike in Czechoslovakia where we always had to stand in line for meat, vegetables and also for toilet paper. However, compared to the USA 40 years later, it doesn’t seem as much.

The round bread baked by Greek Papa Costa was excellent. In five years, we never went to a restaurant or swimming in a community pool. The Czech community was divided into three parts: the Czech embassy and its employees, professors from the university and the commerce department, whose employees oversaw the set up in factories.

We got together once a month at the embassy, where we watched Czech films, mainly socialist propaganda such as “Anna Proletarian” or “The Red Glow over Kladno” and Janosik. Kladno was home to the iron and smelting works–a major industry in Western Bohemia. Janosik is a folk legend about an outlaw who stole money and goods from the rich to help the poor.

We also celebrated at the embassy events like the International Women’s Day, New Year’s Eve and Saint Nicholas for kids. I think these gatherings were to control the Czech people working in Khartoum. We had our own friends and got together with them at our apartment such as the Fickers from Slovakia, Jarmila & Mirek Hladci and my friend from the university, Marie Hecklova. These were simple gatherings with refreshments such as peanuts, fruits and coca cola. During the afternoon siesta, I read Czech books from the embassy. After the siesta, we went to our neighbors who had a garden. It was 116.6 F in the shade, where we knitted sweaters with Mrs. Ficker.

We had an artificial Christmas tree that caught on fire on the fifth year of our stay in Khartoum. Only the catholic church was decorated for Christmas in this mainly Muslim country, due to a large Italian population.

The kids did not go to school; I homeschooled them Czech subjects, since I never thought about emigration, I thought they would not need to speak English.

My vision was simple; we were going to save enough money in Sudan to furnish the apartment in Brno. Then, to save enough money to buy a car so we could visit my parents in Vizovice to avoid the overcrowded buses. I never got a pharmacist job in Brno, so I don’t know what was I thinking I was going to do or where was I going to work upon arrival.

After Christmas, all the couples started planning their summer vacation because there were only three months left until the end of the school year. We usually flew to Rome, where we rented a car and continued through Europe. But sometimes we flew into Athens, Vienna or Zurich in Switzerland. I have attached an exact timetable of our travels. We visited Western Europe several times; some countries like Italy, Switzerland and Austria three times or more. Austria was the only country where I would have emigrated, but my husband Vaclav didn’t speak German. We travelled for quite some time, and we thought it would last longer than it did.

We lived a carefree life and we didn’t care about the politics in our homeland. When we crossed the border at Rozvadov with an Italian license plate, the custom officials asked us if we spoke Czech. When I answered that we were Czechs they responded happily that it was Prague Spring, 1968, that freed the press and that we won’t have to leave for Sudan anymore, because everything was going to be better. We were yet to find out the real situation in the country.

We saved some money over the three years in Sudan, so we decided to save more to buy a house in Brno. Currently, we were living in the apartment in Brno and in Vizovice with my parents. We explored the beauty of Moravian Walachia: Karolinka, Radhost, Bystricka and Luhacovice. It was the last peaceful summer in my life–the proverbial calm before the storm.

In July, Vaclav left for Sudan and I left for a spa treatment in Carlsbad for three weeks on August 8, 1968 due to my constant digestive health problems as a consequence to my childhood hepatitis A and a duodenum ulcer. I paid for my stay, because I’ve been unemployed since July of 1965 for the first time due to my travels to Sudan. I was staying at a home whose owner’s mother was German. It was a nice apartment with a view on the Main Boulevard. I had a colleague in Carlsbad–Mila Duskova, who was from Slusovice. Together, we went to the fancy bakeries, coffee shops and cinemas in Carlsbad. The daily regimen consisted of drinking water from the thermal springs in the morning, spa procedures and entertainment in the evening. Time flew by and I was looking forward to being back with the kids. I visited my childhood friend Zdena who married and lived in Nejdek.

I was supposed to fly back to Brno on August 21, 1968. I woke up at 6 a.m. and I could hear the landlord’s voice gasping:

“What? The Russians are here? That’s impossible!”

I ran out of the room and met her in the hallway, where she confirmed what I had overheard in my room, that the Russians came in tanks and occupied the western border with Germany and Austria. I remembered that last night as I was standing by the window that the road to Carlsbad above was all lit up and very busy. The city of Carlsbad nestles below the road in the valley of River Tepla. It never occurred to me that the noise came from the tanks. I went to the colonnade to the thermal spring to get my morning water. However, no one was drinking water; people were listening to small radios and everyone was crying. It was a complete chaos, all the public transportation stopped. I was still thinking that I would be able to fly back to Brno. I went to the airline office, where the clerk told me that no airplanes were flying out and she gave me back my money. I went back to the apartment and sat down next to my packed suitcase and started crying, not knowing what to do. I also ran out of money, so I called my friend Zdena, if she could lend me money, since I didn’t expect to stay in Carlsbad for more than three weeks.

In the afternoon I stood by the window watching the sun lit main boulevard. All of a sudden, I saw a huge stream of people yelling. Hundreds of people demonstrated against the Russian invasion. Anger and wrath with all the other emotions overflowed against the hated occupant. As the number of people increased, so did their courage. People started to topple statues that were connected to communism and the Soviet Union. It wasn’t just the communist leaders but also the works and the art of communism that were being toppled. Most often it was the Soviet Union national symbol of the sickle and the hammer. I stood by the window crying, but because I am a chicken by nature, I did not join the demonstrations. Somehow, I knew these were going to negatively influence my life.

My husband Vaclav already had a difficult position at the university because we were Catholics and we went to church on a regular basis. According to the official communist party philosophy of Marxism, going to church was not allowed; let alone if someone was a teacher like Vaclav. It did not matter that he taught math, that had nothing to do with Marxism.

The next morning, I went to the colonnade again, the situation was the same; people were crying while listening to the small radios and there was no public transportation. We felt isolated from the rest of the country, and from the rest of the world. The Soviet tanks were moving across the entire country, the public transportation was either difficult or completely halted. The third day on the colonnade, someone told me the bus transportation may resume on that day. I immediately returned to the apartment to say goodbye to the landlord, I took my suitcase and went back to the colonnade, where the buses arrived. Even though there was no bus line going to Brno, I took one to Ceske Budejovice. From Ceske Budejovice to Moravian Budejovice and to Brno. From the bus, I could see the convoy of tanks and trucks along the road.

I arrived at our apartment in Brno approximately at 2 p.m. I finally felt safe and opened the windows to let the fresh air in. I heard the tolling of the bells from all the churches like at a funeral, that was to symbolize the burying of the little freedom we’ve had since spring, not quite half a year.

The next day, I took a bus to Vizovice to see my parents and the kids in Moravian Wallachia. My mother told me that two Czech women with husbands in Sudan, called me that they were leaving the country to Austria and flying to Khartoum and that I should join them. For the first time in 20 years, the border was open for three brief days. They were afraid if we don’t grab this opportunity, the borders will close soon and we will never get out of the occupied country.

My mother was afraid too and wanted me to call these Czech women. At that moment I felt very patriotic for the first time in my life. I said that if 15 million people can live in Czechoslovakia, so could I, regardless the politics. Our men were afraid that the Soviet Union would annex our country as their 17th republic. Many young people fled the country even from Vizovice, whom I later met in Austria and the U.S.

September 1968 came and there was still no air transportation. I called the Czechoslovak Airlines to let me know when the flights will resume. That happened in three weeks and I flew to Sudan on Sept. 28 to join Vaclav. I was one of the last spouses to leave the country; the last one after me was Mrs. Janousek. We did not want to leave our homeland.

After a happy reunion with my husband and the exhaustion from the trip, the hard reality hit home. Wherever we ran into other Czechs, the same question always arose:

“Where are you going to emigrate?”

“Nowhere,” I answered.

But, discussions at home had already started; my husband did not want to return back to Czechoslovakia and I did not want to go anywhere else, but home. Tears and heated discussions followed about what’s better for the family; no one asked what’s better for me.

In this situation, we planned another trip across Europe. This time we flew into Southern Italy and onto France, Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands. It was a long trip that lasted six weeks. My sister Anna with her husband brought us our car, and they stayed with us for a week in Austria. From there, we continued to French Riviera, Lourdes, Grenoble, Paris and to LaHavre. From LaHavre we crossed the English (LaManche) Channel to England.

We visited London, Cambridge, Oxford, Manchester and crossed the channel from Dover to Zeebrugge in Belgium and continued onto the Netherlands, Germany and Czechoslovakia.

As much as I was looking forward to coming home, it wasn’t an easy homecoming. Even though we haven’t seen any Russian tanks or troops, because they were hiding in the woods and they were closer to big cities, we could feel the tension in the air and among the people. No one knew what was going to happen next. General Ludvik Svoboda replaced Prague Spring reform leader Alexander Dubcek, and it looked like the reform movement never existed with the freedom of press gone too. Our entire family and friends were surprised that we returned from Sudan back to Czechoslovakia under the given the circumstances.

Why not? We had important business to conduct in Brno. The year before we decided we were going to buy a house in Brno. Now, that wasn’t easy business in Czechoslovakia to buy or sell a house; no one was selling because people built their houses in great hardship. Unlike in the U.S., people did not move around the country because they did not need to; everyone had a job with the same salary no matter where you went. However, people exchanged apartments for houses or apartments between different cities for example between Prague and Brno and paid the difference in price. We found a family, originally from Vizovice, who had a house in Cerna Pole in Brno, and they wanted a four-bedroom apartment with a garage. We had a three-bedroom apartment without a garage, so we wanted to pay for the additional bedroom and the garage. The owner of the house, who was a doctor at the regional department of health in Brno, kept looking for the right apartment, but couldn’t find what he wanted.

My husband and I decided that I would not go to Sudan that year, and stay home with the kids to save money for the house. I was still hoping that Vaclav would change his mind about immigration. Vaclav left for Sudan at the beginning of July, and I stayed with the kids at my parents’ house in Vizovice.

The first anniversary of the Soviet invasion in August of 1969 was approaching fast. The people panicked and were scared what was in store for us for the infamous anniversary. The most common fear was that the Russians would annex Czechoslovakia to the Soviet Union as the 17th republic. I lost my patriotism, and I got scared. I caved into the mass psychosis of fear; I packed my suitcases and kids and I left for the Austrian border in Mikulov, two days before the Aug. 21, 1969 invasion anniversary. I cried on the way there, saying goodbye to the country, because I knew I was not coming back. I did not have any problems at the border; I had a valid passport with visa to Sudan and air tickets. I let my husband know from Austria that I was coming to Sudan and that I would stay for one year.

My friends from Vizovice, who had left the country in 1968, were waiting for me at the Austrian border. I spent three days with them, left them the car and took off for Sudan. In Khartoum, I met with all our friends from the previous year; everyone was saving up more money needed for emigration. By that time, everyone knew where they were going to emigrate. It was my turn to say where I wanted to live. I wanted to live in Austria because it is the neighboring country to Czech Republic. However, that was not possible because we didn’t speak German which was necessary for my husband to continue to teach math. And the chances of getting a teaching job at an Austrian university were small, because it’s a small country with population of seven million people, smaller than Czech Republic.

What next? I was afraid that I would be considered an outlander- a foreigner wherever I went. So, the only country under consideration was America, where with the exception of the Indians, everyone is an immigrant. We decided for the USA. To this day, I still don’t know why my husband first applied for a teaching job in Australia. I would have never lived there because it is too far from Czech Republic. He also applied to Zambia in Africa to get out of Khartoum that was becoming increasingly dangerous with coups to gain power.

In the meantime, my husband got a letter from Mr. Rosenberg, who emigrated to Canada in 1968; Vaclav could go to Canada for a post doctorate fellowship in Saskatoon in the province of Saskatchewan, for six months. He immediately accepted. I knew the return to homeland was impossible. We received a letter from the Czech Embassy stating that we have to return to Czechoslovakia by March 31, 1970; the visa was extended to Dec. 31, 1970. Whoever did not return by that date, was considered staying outside the country illegally.

We had arranged for a cruise on the Mediterranean Sea but cancelled it and instead flew for a few days to Lebanon, Syria and Egypt.

I wrote a letter to the homeowner in Brno, that we were no longer interested in the apartment-house exchange transaction. My parents transferred the ownership of the apartment in Brno to them, otherwise the apartment would have been confiscated by the state since we left the country illegally. My sister Anna transferred the ownership of the car Skoda to herself, but she had to pay some fees to the state. Later, we found out from my parents, that we had a trial without our presence in Brno, where we were indicted with illegal stay outside Czechoslovakia. My husband was convicted and sentenced to two years in jail and I was sentenced to 1.5 years. We could not return to Czechoslovakia or we would go to jail.

Vacation in the Middle East was nice–the Muslim world of minarets and mosques. We flew from Khartoum to Cairo in Egypt with our friends. In Cairo, we visited the vast Egyptian Museum with royal mummies and King Tutankhamun artifacts and other pharaohs. After that we continued onto the nearby Giza, the site of the iconic pyramids and Great Sphinx, dating back to the 26th century BC. It was fabulous. From Cairo we flew to Beirut in Lebanon. We saw large camps with Palestinians, who were expulsed from their own country, where a new Israel state was created in 1948.

It was 1970, three years after the Arab-Israel War. We wanted to visit Israel, but it wasn’t possible, because we were crossing Arabic countries and considered as enemies of Israel. We were only 10 kilometers from the Israeli border with the beautiful biblical country laying at our feet. So, we took a taxi and traveled to the mountains with cedars and snow. Beautiful villas built in Arabic style laid at the foothills of the mountains. There was snow in the mountains, while people were swimming in the sea. The next day, we took a taxi to Damascus, the capital of Syria known as the “City of Jasmine.” We visited the famous Umayyad Mosque built in the eight century A.D. with the tomb of John the Baptist; his head is said to be buried in a shrine there. As women, we had to be covered from head to toe in black garb. We also visited the famous bazaar, Al-Hamidiyah Souq, in the old walled city of Damascus next to the Citadel. The souq is 2,000 feet long and 49 feet wide and is covered by a 33 feet tall metal arch. The souq starts at Al-Thawra Street and ends at the Umayyad Mosque plaza, and the ancient Roman Temple of Jupiter stands 40 feet tall in its entrance. The souq offered everything from gold, food, clothing to souvenirs.

Byblos

On our way back we stopped in Byblos, one of the longest inhabited cities in the world since 5000 BC in Lebanon. During an evening walk through Beirut, we met Czechs who told us that there was a revolution in Khartoum with tanks in the streets. Sudan gained independence from Britain in 1956 and ever since there have been coups to overthrow the government; the altercations were led by small groups or sects. In essence it wasn’t a revolution, but a crisis in the government to gain or regain control and power. It had no effect on the university. The Soviet Union provided aid in the form of 200 technical advisors and the Libyan government sent their troops. Colonel Gaafar Muhamed Nimeiry seized power until 1986.

From Beirut we flew to Vienna. My husband was worried that in case of bad weather we would have to land in Bratislava and be back home, which he was avoiding.  We invited both of our parents to Vienna to bid farewell to them. We were waiting for them at the border and I was happy to see them, even though I feared this because I did not know if I would ever see them again. Our farewell looked like a funeral, since we were all crying. The housemaid at the hotel asked us who died in the family. We sent off our parents with our car Skoda that was at our friends’ house in Vienna. Our friends were already in the U.S.A. It was a hard farewell, saying goodbye to Europe and to our families.

Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Palova. All rights reserved.

Prague Spring, 1968 Part I

Prague Spring, 1968

Note: Today is the 52nd anniversary of the invasion of former Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Army. The historic event prompted entire generations to defect the country in search of freedom. The “Greenwich Meridian Memoir” is our family immigration story from former Czechoslovakia to the USA spanning two generations. Following is a chapter- Prague Spring, 1968 from the memoir.

Excerpt from the “Greenwich Meridian Memoir”

By Emma Palova

The 1968 Prague Spring was looming over Czechoslovakia. On the night of August 20th, the country was invaded by the Soviet tanks and the armies of the Warsaw Pact. Hundreds of tanks roared all over the country in the full-blown invasion that impacted an entire generation of immigrants to the U.S., Germany, Canada and Australia. The country was occupied, and the Russians set up military bases both in Slovakia and in the Czech region. The Russians punished the Czechoslovak liberal government for attempting to create “socialism with human face.” The reformist movement was led by Alexander Dubcek, and late president Vaclav Havel who was part of a signatory group called Charta 1968. The Charta group proposed a series of reforms that meant to ease restrictions on the media, free speech and travel. ​

Book cover for the Greenwich Meridian Memoir to publish on Oct. 16, 2020. Cover design by Jeanne Boss of Rockford.

At the time of the occupation, my mother was on a spa stay in Carlsbad in Western Bohemia, a famous town known for its 12 healing springs.

​“I went to the colonnade in the morning,” mom said. “People were crying, listening to the radio. There were huge demonstrations, as people knocked down statues of the communist leaders.”

​Mom had to stay three more days, because the roads were closed due to tanks. Then she took a detour bus through Sumava to Brno.

​“We had a new apartment in Brno, but I left for Vizovice to be with my parents,” she said. ​

There was no telephone connection, according to mom. But the borders were open for anyone to leave freely.

​“My friends were leaving the country, crossing the border on foot with just a suitcase in their hands,” she said. “I didn’t want to go anywhere.”

​She left by herself on Sept. 28, 1968 for Africa leaving us behind with grandparents Anna and Joseph. ​

I learned this from horror stories, passed down from generation to generation, and from an interview conducted with my parents in Venice, Florida on March 5th 2013.

​My parents came back to Czechoslovakia in 1969 to be reunited with us and the rest of the family for a brief moment in time. Dad left again, because the school year in Khartoum was beginning. ​

“I didn’t want to leave. We just wanted to save some money for a house in Brno,” mom said.

​But, as the one-year anniversary of the occupation approached, mom packed up her belongings along with us. All three of us ended up in Vienna, Austria with the help of a friend from Vizovice, and flew back to Africa. Since the exit visa was extended until the end of 1970, mom was still hoping to return to Czechoslovakia.

​“For two years I lived in a limbo,” she said not knowing what was going to happen.

​But dad was determined not to return to the Soviet-occupied country. ​

“We were discussing it with colleagues,” he said. “We had a consensus that we were not going to return.”

​So, that’s how all four of us finally ended up together as a family in the fall of 1969 in Khartoum, Africa. ​Relatives advised my parents not to return back to the country which was going through “normalization,” a hardline communist approach that purged all of Dubcek’s reforms. My heartbroken mother was crying constantly after dad said he wasn’t going to return home. So was my Grandmother Anna back in the old country. Total chaos prevailed, both inside the country and outside. People were leaving the country massively anyway they could, on foot or hidden in trunks of cars.

​“Do not come back,” warned my paternal Grandfather Anthony in letters describing the grim situation in the homeland. ​

My Uncle John too was ready to leave the country, but Aunt Anna refused to. The border with neighboring West Germany was heavily guarded. Whoever got caught crossing was shot on the spot mercilessly. Everything was censored: letters, newspapers, TV, movies, as the Communist Party tightened its grip. Phones and apartments of suspicious individuals were tapped, that is if the residents were lucky enough and didn’t get locked up in jails. But so many did, like former president Vaclav Havel. The party put a damper on arts and culture allowing only the works of “socialist realism” about the working class called “proletariat.” ​

There was no TV in Khartoum at the time, so dad relied on British radio BBC and endless warning letters. He also listened to friends who had already immigrated to Canada. But mom still wanted to go home in spite of constant bad news. My parents fought often over the prospect of emigration. Unlike dad, mom did not speak English. She didn’t need to, because mom surrounded herself with Czech and Slovak friends. When shopping or in movies, dad translated for her. She argued that if she can’t speak English, she has to go home, and that her aging parents were getting increasingly sick.

“Do not return home,” was the overpowering message in letters coming from homeland.

​Letters became a signature staple in our lives. From the origins of my name that mom saw in a novel with a letter greeting “Dear Emma” to most recent letters from Florida. In between there were hundreds of letters and postcards with stamps from Italy, Greece, Germany, Czech Republic and Czechoslovakia. I have an entire collection stored in boxes in the utility room that I call the Frankenstein Room.

​It was a dark time for mom, as dad was arranging for a post-doctoral fellowship in Saskatoon, Canada with the help of a friend, Mr. Rosenberg. The airport in Khartoum was small, and people often sat or laid on the floor.  We flew with Sudan Airways with a yellow tail and with Arabic letters. Sometimes we just went to the airport to watch a plane take off from the terrace. It just intensified mom’s longing for home, but helped her to reconnect. Many years later I adopted that habit of going to the airport whenever I was homesick in Grand Rapids.

​My parents listened to the Beatles, and mom sported psychedelic colors and headbands typical for the late 60s, yellow and lime green. Ken was a British friend who used to visit with us. One night, he got so drunk on whiskey that he slept in the bathroom. Liquor was cheap in Sudan, who gained its independence from the British in 1956, but Britain maintained its influence and language domination. ​

My parents often talked about the palace revolutions during the Sudanese Civil War. I never quite understood what a palace revolution was as different governments changed hands, but it constantly inspired me. I can trace my inspiration to those days in Africa. During Ramadan, we heard the ghastly drumming coming from the other side of the Nile long into the night as the sounds carried into the river valley.  I can still hear them today if I close my eyes.

​Mom has always been proud of her good looks that she got from Grandfather Joseph. She had dark brown, almost black straight hair that she permed, warm brown eyes, sharp eyebrows, nice complexion and a slim figure.

​“I was the most beautiful one there,” once she said about a ballroom dance. Mom always attributed that sentence to a woman named Miluska, but I think she was actually talking about herself. Until recently, mom dyed her hair dark brown, but finally after so many years, the color would not stick. So, she reluctantly went gray. Mom has a theatrical habit of standing up from a dinner table, as she talks about the same events from her life over and over again, much like my Grandpa Joseph did.

​“She always wanted an intermission during a play,” Grandpa used to laugh. He bought a miniature marionette theatre for mom and her sister Anna. As a true marionettist he pulled the strings and changed voices. ​Grandpa too would stand up from the table and make Caesar-like speeches. Mom and I inherited his theatrical manners. We both love movies, and I have written a screenplay. At some point, mom started wearing her signature coral orange lipstick that goes well with her teal colored outfits. ​

In her early 80s, she lightens up at any mention of her fine looks and personality.

“Really?” she smiles. “I still look good, and I lost some weight.”

​In the African heat, mom started taking naps (siestas) after lunch. The nights cooled down considerably. We all slept in a large airy room adjacent to the living room with light green wooden furniture. The trash was deposited into a vertical shaft in the kitchen. ​

Mom is a good cook, as she picked up various dining customs and dishes in different countries. I should call her a “Cosmo” chef. But we all know her best for her baking. Back home she used to bake for weddings, including her own. She counteracts her baking fame with, “Where did you come up with that?” or “I hate baking.” ​

What she really hated was the prospect of leaving her homeland forever, even though it was inevitable considering the crisis in the country. Dad probably made up his mind to leave the country a long time before 1968. The country has always had a shortage of apartments. He finished his studies to the screaming of my brother and hauling coal to Mrs. Vyhlidal’s deteriorated apartment in Brno, in the region of Moravia.

To be continued by the next chapter: Mom’s Diary: in her own words

Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Palova. All rights reserved.

August newsletter

July has flown by with the speed of a rocket. As we swiftly moved into August, the primary election found us on firm grounds with 2.5 million cast ballots in Michigan.

We continue with canning pickles grown in our own garden. So far we’ve canned 25 jars in Znojmo style based on a recipe from Czech Republic.

We had to forgo another birthday- my dad’s due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Without dad, we celebrated at the Cedar Springs brewery enjoying the classic schnitzel.

I wish I could stop the time and let it be still in the summer breeze from Lake Michigan. I totally immersed myself in its beauty in Grand Haven.

To be continued…

Check your inboxes for August newsletter.

Reviewers needed

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52nd FAllasburg Arts Festival 2020 goes virtual

LowellArts Fallasburg Virtual Arts Festival 2020 Plans Finalized
A New Format For 52nd Annual Event
Lowell, Michigan -| Event organizers have finalized plans for the LowellArts Fallasburg Virtual Arts Festival 2020. Due to restraints from the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, it was announced earlier this month that a virtual version of the event would be held. With a new format, the 52nd annual event will consist of many of the same traditions people enjoy about the festival.
This year, visitors will walk through the festival via an on-line, interactive map that will “open” at 10:00 am on September 19, the original start date and time for the festival. The map will be available at http://www.lowellartsmi.org, and will include links to explore artwork, music, children’s creations, craft demonstrations, and more. Festival organizers want to create an on-line experience for visitors that makes them feel like they are “there.” To make this virtual experience a success, organizers are asking for help from the community to engage in several activities being offered before, and in association with, the virtual event.
ARTISTSEach of the 100+ talented artists that were juried into the 2020 festival will be represented on the interactive map, in their virtual booth location. On-line visitors can click on the artists’ booths to see more information about that artist and images of their artwork. If visitors are interested in purchasing artwork from an artist, they can connect with that artist through additional links to the artists’ website or other on-line sale platform. 100% of these proceeds will go directly to the artists.
LIVE MUSICLive music will be played on both September 19 and 20, available for free to on-line visitors. A limited number of tickets will be sold to visitors who wish to experience the live music in-person. Three shows, with multiple groups presenting at each show, will be showcased at a new, outdoor performance venue in Lowell called Camp Clear Sky. Showtimes are Saturday, September 19, 12:00-4:00pm and 6:00-10:00pm and Sunday, September 20, 12:00pm-4:00pm. Ticket prices and ticket sale date to be announced.
ARTIST DEMONSTRATIONS / PUMPKIN DECORATING / FOOD BOOTHSPrerecorded fine craft demonstrations will be featured as part of the on-line festival experience, as well as the opportunity for children (of any age) to create a “character” pumpkin and have a photo of their creation on the website as part of the virtual event. Pumpkins will be available free of charge at the LowellArts Gallery (223 W Main St, Lowell) beginning August 29 during regular gallery hours. Food booths will also be represented on the interactive map, with highlights about how these non-profit organizations that typically benefit from the proceeds of festival food sales impact our community.
QUILT RAFFLEThe festival would not be complete without the annual quilt raffle. As always, a beautiful quilt was created exclusively for the 2020 festival. This year’s quilt “Blue Lagoon” was created by Dawn Ysseldyke. The quilt can be viewed in-person at the LowellArts Gallery (223 W Main St, Lowell) beginning August 4. Raffle tickets for the quilt will be available for purchase soon and will be available through festival weekend. On September 20 at 5:00pm, a live-streamed “pulling of the winning ticket” ceremony will be held to announce the winner of the quilt.
LowellArts would like to thank this year’s Fallasburg Virtual Arts Festival 2020 Sponsors – Fifth Third Bank, Meijer, Litehouse Foods, and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.
Fallasburg Virtual Arts Festival 2020 Sponsors:

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