Mom’s birthday


Mom’s birthday marks end of summer

My memoir “Greenwich Meridian” is dedicated to my mother Ella Konecny of Big Rapids, Michigan. Out of the entire immigration saga now spanning three generations, she was the one who suffered the most.

“Immigration is a lot of give and take,” she said in an interview in Venice, Florida in March.

Today as she celebrates her birthday, I recall the summer birthdays of the past in former Czechoslovakia.

Mom Ella Konecny, the pharmacist
Mom Ella Konecny, the pharmacist

After returning from Texas on presidential amnesty in 1973, we spent most of our summers at grandparents’ old house in Vizovice, region of Moravia in former Czechoslovakia. The old dwelling was called a “chalupa,” which has nothing to do with the Mexican food.

“I wanted to go home to help my parents,” mom said in a recent interview in Venice, Florida.

Mom was working at the pharmacy in then regional capital Gottwaldov, while we were living the country life on the streets of Vizovice. At first I wasn’t too happy about leaving behind the American lifestyle.

Back in Hawkins, we had a car, dad’s university apartment, and a coke machine at the Junior High School. I was not only on the honor roll, but also on the basketball and softball teams. I played the flute at the time, later the clarinet. I had dreams bigger than this world.

Coming home to Czechoslovakia was a shock. I couldn’t name the months of the year in Czech, I didn’t know Russian or geometry. So, mom entered me in seventh grade instead of eighth at the local 1st through 9th grade school in Stipa.

The school in comparison to USA was very strict and a lot more difficult. I thought the teachers were mean. My aunt and classroom teacher Martha had to tutor me.

But, I loved the summer breaks at the “chalupa” in Vizovice. By the time August rolled around, I was tanned and hardened by the streets. We spent all our time on street Krnovska in Vizovice playing whatever and with who ever was available.

Moravian dwelling called "chalupa."
Moravian dwelling called “chalupa.”

I started a street club with friend Zdena who was the treasurer. I remember exploring along the banks of the river Lutoninka. The river had a weir, and for many years we swam in its cold waters. My grandpa Joseph poached on the river catching fish with his bare hands.

Every year when August 23rd approached, grandma Anna gave me a 20-crown bill, usually late in the afternoon.

“Go and buy a gift for your mother,” she said. “It’s her birthday.”

I grabbed the money and proudly marched into town passed the tobacco/jewelry shop close to the grade school. I’ve always loved window shopping. In awe, I admired the crystal glasses and other famous Czech crystal and garnets.

Sometimes, I would just walk into the shop and buy a newspaper and linger around so I could smell the tobacco. Therein are the origins of my love for newspapers.

When I finally made it across the bridge to the general store called “U Kaluzu” ( “By the puddle,” ) I was fascinated by all the merchandise.

The store pitched atop the river bank had everything.

Many decades later, I was surprised to find a small organizer sewing basket at my parents’ condo in Venice.

“Mom you still have this?” I asked. “I got this for you ages ago in Vizovice.”

“I know,” she said. “And I kept it.”

Happy birthday, mom.

Copyright © 2013 story and photos by Emma Palova

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