25th Anniversary of arrival in USA, part 1
By Emma Palova
EW Emma’s Writings
Lowell, MI- We arrived at the frozen JFK airport on Dec.22, 1989. I had a 20-hour trip behind me and a lifetime of memories. I was traveling with my two-and-a-half year son Jake and my daughter Emma, 10.
Long before Delta sky team, we took the Czechoslovak Airlines (CSA) from Czech capital Prague to Montreal and on to NYC.
My parents Ella & Vaclav Konecny were waiting for us with a gray station wagon. I still have the jean jacket United Colors of Beneton Tipe de Nimes that I arrived in for memorabilia purposes. And I was freezing in it. The first night we stayed in NYC at my parents’ friends, Mr. & Mrs. Herman from Vizovice.
A long way home to Big Rapids, MI awaited us. I had no idea how huge the USA is. Czech Republic is maybe the size of Connecticut. The car was like an ice cave. You couldn’t see outside unless you scraped the windows from inside and outside.
First Jake wanted to sit on my lap, but he had to be glued to his place by a seat belt.
After a long haul and once we could see through the windows, Jake discovered water towers along the Ohio Turnpike.
“I want to go and sit on it,” he kept repeating. “I want to sit on that ball.”
“Alright I will stop and you can climb on the ball,” my dad said angrily. And slowed down.
We arrived exhausted in Big Rapids, Michigan on Christmas Eve at night. We had to pick up my brother Vas at his mobile home in Rogers Heights. I haven’t seen him since 1976, when he left Czechoslovakia with mom Ella to join dad. Since then, after the Velvet Revolution and breaking away of Slovakia in 1993, the country changed names to Czech Republic.
I was surprised at the huge reflector lamp on Vas’ home that almost blinded us given all the snow.
Mom had the Christmas Eve dinner ready in the fridge. In Czech Republic, Christmas Eve is the main holiday. It is also known as the Feast of Adam and Eve. That is when people open their presents, eat fried carp or other fish, mushroom soup and potato salad. On that evening the good ones, who had fasted, may see the golden pig on the wall, according to a legend.
I still remember the feeling of that night. I was confused and uncertain about what I was getting myself into. Big Rapids is a small university town compared to where we lived in Czechoslovakia in a 30,000- people apartment complex known as the Southern Slopes. These enormous apartment complexes, spread around the country,are one of the few successes and remnants of socialism.
The fear of the unknown and a new reality kicked in suddenly. I was in a foreign country, even though I spoke English and had relatives by my side. What will the future bring?
My husband Ludek was in Canada because that’s how the visa process worked out. My parents sponsored me to the USA, while Ludek got immigration visa to Quebec.
I am an engineer by trade with a bachelor’s degree from Technical University of Brno.
Since my parents were both working at the Ferris State University, I took classes there in Computer Aided Design (CAD).
I hated engineering. It was the only university I could get into considering my American past. We had already lived in the USA in the 1970s in Texas, when we left communist Czechoslovakia illegally. And we were punished for that in many ways.
To be continued…….
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