On Oct. 30, 1970, we headed for Winnipeg into the province of Manitoba to pick up the U.S. visa and continued the road trip to the unknown. On the Canadian border with the U.S., I hesitated and cried that I did not want to go anywhere, because I could still return back to Czechoslovakia until Dec. 31, 1970 before the expiration of the exit visa. However, my husband talked me into it, stating that I should at least try it and that the USA has more people than Canada and that I might like it. The reality was far from it.
We crossed the border at North Dakota on Oct. 31, 1970. I remember that evening driving through towns and villages where we saw kids trick or treating. The kids were also carrying lit lanterns at the time and I felt sorry for my own children because they couldn’t go, that they didn’t have a home and that they didn’t even know what to expect at the next stop.
We drove through the deserted autumn regions of South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas. When we entered Oklahoma, it was warmer, and cotton was harvested in the fields. That was already the neighboring state to Texas.
The next day we crossed the border to Texas and watched for Hawkins with the tension and suspense of a cheap action movie. We envisioned a city, but it was a village, so small that we missed it and drove right through it.
At that moment, I knew I was in trouble.
When we turned around, we noticed the sign Hawkins, population 848. At that moment, I realized this was not going to be a place for me. Even back home, I did not like villages and solitary places with only three houses.
In Europe, universities were always located in big cities. We both studied in Brno which is a major city with population of 300,000. Hawkins shocked us.
Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.
The Lowell Ledger article ” New memoir by Emma Palova about family’s escape from communism” hit the stands today in the greater Lowell area in Michigan.
The article captures the essence of our lives on the run from former Czechoslovakia to the U.S. The publication date coincided with the Czech Independence Day. Former Czechoslovakia was born on Oct. 28 1918, 102 years ago. The country founded its existence after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the aftermath of WWI.
The book “Greenwich Meridian Memoir” about our family immigration saga is slated for Nov. 12 publication on Amazon.
Follow me for a full post.
Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.
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.
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:
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:
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 USAspanning 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.”
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.
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.
Lowell, MI – Happy Monday to all. This has been one of my happiest Mondays ever. I have just submitted my third book “Greenwich Meridian Memoir” for preorder on kindle Amazon. I will be offering tips on both my EW Emma’s Writings blog and on Facebook, on how to write a memoir. The cover was designed by graphic artist Jeanne Boss of Rockford. We selected a collage of memorabilia including my mother’s Sudanese driving license, the Czech coat-of-arms and postcards.
Greenwich Meridian Memoir is an epic tale of love and immigration spanning three continents and two generations. The story takes place on the backdrop of two major historical events in former Czechoslovakia: Prague Spring 1968 and Velvet Revolution 1989. The two events have propelled the major characters into unpredictable action as they journeyed into the unknown. Inspite of the trials and tribulations, Ella and Vaclav have never lost their passion for each other. The next generation Emma and Ludek followed in their footsteps.
The manuscript is being edited by Carol Briggs of Lowell. It has been one of the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life and that includes surviving the recession of 2007 and two major historic events in former Czechoslovakia. I would like to thank all my friends, family and #NaNoWriMo for the support and keeping me on track.Check out my Amazon author page at https://www.amazon.com/Emma-Palova/e/B0711XJ6GY
West Michigan Women’s Expo, Devos Place, Grand Rapids
I will be at the West Michigan Women’s Expo on March 13- March 15 at Devos Place with my previous books from the Shifting Sands Short Stories series, and with the preorder for the memoir.
I finally crossed the 51-k word line with the revisions of the Greenwich Meridian Memoir. I have two more chapters to go.
The Haves and the Have Nots
The useless feeling never went away; it intensified with time until it became a monster. I watched this happen between my mom Ella and her younger sister Anna over the years before 1968 and after my parents’ immigration to the USA.
In 2018, Time published a special edition:1968 The Year That Shaped a Generation with introduction: “Like a knife blade, the year severed past from future.”
Before 1968, the two sisters were like regular siblings with occasional hard and soft feelings for each other. They even went together on vacations with their spouses to the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia. Aunt Anna is also my godmother as was the custom in the old country for the closest relatives to be the Godparents.
Their parents treated them equally as any parent would. They had similar hopes and dreams. Neither one of them made a lot of money.
Life before the 1968 “Socialism with a human face” movement started by Alexander Dubcek and the Velvet Revolution in 1989 was simple.
People enjoyed both the advantages and the disadvantages of socialism; everyone had the right to work. There was no such thing as unemployment. If you were unemployed for more than six weeks, you went to jail. Since the economy was regulated and planned, there was always work, whatever work and any work at any given time. If you wanted a good job, you needed connections or my mom’s long arm.
That was balanced out by having to stand in long lines for basic items such as toilet paper. However, college education was free, along with healthcare for all and free daycare.
Travel was more problematic and based on your “profile.” We each had a profile ever since we were old enough to join the Socialist Youth Union at approximately the age of 14. The profile also contained information about your parents. Then volunteer hours on socialist projects were added to the profile. At 18, you were expected to become a member in the Czechoslovak Communist Party and get your red membership card. Soon profile info started to add up in your favor or against you.
Certain things were unacceptable like if your family was a member of the bourgeoisie, royalty or owned land, you would definitely go nowhere. Based on the bizarre profile criteria, if they were good, you could go to Yugoslavia or maybe somewhere west if you got the exit visa.
If your profile was bad like mine, because we left the country illegally for the USA, you sat at home. The profile thing continues to puzzle me to this day.
Like in Hitler’s Germany nothing was ever forgotten or forgiven. That was in an era before computers. The whole socialist machinery was like a self-fulfilling prophecy. You always got what you didn’t wish for, but somebody else wanted it for you. Sometimes you never found out who wanted all that hogwash for you.
“Oh, we just wanted the best for you,” a voice would say.
“How do you know what’s best for me?” I asked.
“Socialism never sleeps,” the voice would persist. “We know what’s best for the country. Look at all the improvements in the last 40 years.”
Banners hung on buildings proclaiming the “Successes of Socialism” and the bright future for the socialist youth like me.
We were constantly brainwashed with the socialist youth philosophy, even though they did not want me in the Socialist Youth Union, which was too bad for them.
Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.
Hastings, MI – We spent a week in mid January at our son and daughter-in-law’s place south of Hastings, MI. We got in after a snow storm on Sunday with a car and a truck. The roads were bad; no one did the maintenance over the weekend. But, a good neighbor plowed the driveway to the house.
On Monday, backing out of the driveway, I got stuck in an iced-up snow bank. After a while, I rocked the car back and forth out of the snowy ordeal that started right in front of the house.
The city of Hastings wasn’t much better. On our way to the North Eastern Elementary, a van was stuck in a snow bank at a city intersection. The school walking guide Doug told me that he fell on an ice puddle because the sidewalks weren’t cleared. He cleared part of the sidewalk himself.
It wasn’t that the storm was unexpected, after all, we live in deep Midwest in Michigan.
Guys with their snowmobiles have been eagerly waiting for this since December; we had a green Christmas. The same waiting game goes for the ice fishermen back home on Murray Lake.
Finally, the homemade ice skating rink outside froze, but now it’s covered with a foot of snow, but the kids went sledding.
Baby Boom of 2020s
When dropping Dominik off at the daycare at CERC and Hastings High School, we found out that babies born in 2020 were already in the daycare. The kids have been rotating rooms between red and blue to facilitate the influx. Walking to the red room, I saw babies crawling in the baby room.
I noticed a mom this morning still in her pajamas dropping off older kids with the youngest ones waiting in the van. Among seven strollers, there was a stroller for twins parked by the daycare. The car seat carriers were lined up on a shelf by the wall. The red room was already full of kids at play.
Wow, what a crop.
After a short drive on the winding road between Hastings and Kalamazoo, I walked inside the house that reverberated love, peace and warmth with the smell of coffee.
When I glanced outside the window, I saw a big pile of wood covered with snow and the outdoors furnace. An entire crew heads out into the woods to cut tree trunks.
Welcome to Michigan.
I even heard and saw birds chirping in the tree from Josephine’s window. On a day like this, I love being a writer. I get to channel stories that otherwise people would have no access to. No newspaper or TV will ever report on these seemingly ordinary things, except that there is nothing mundane about them. Each moment will never repeat itself.
I worked on the final revisions of the Greenwich Meridian Memoir. I added a chapter about husband Ludek’s escape from former Czechoslovakia via Yugoslavia in 1988. Stay tuned for excerpts.
Earlier in the morning on our way to the high school, we saw an old man bundled up walking in the roadway with a stick in the pinkish morning twilight among the roaring buses.
Why didn’t he wait till daylight? Will he be there tomorrow? Will we see the rising sun or will it be cloudy?
It is said that a long journey starts with the first step.
During the entire process of putting together the “Greenwich Meridian Memoir,” that spans more than 50 years of our family immigration saga from former Czechoslovakia to the U.S., I was using a globe as a visual tool.
I got the globe probably at the old Flat River Antique Mall in Lowell when we moved out into the country in 1995. I kept it downstairs in my writing studio, but dragged it upstairs to look at it while on the treadmill.
Putting one foot in front of the other, word after word, page after page, year after year, that’s how the memoir went, often interrupted by life’s events.
After all, travel around the world made an imprint on our lives forever. However, later into the writing process, I realized the story wasn’t just about our nomadic lifestyle prompted by the political events in Czechoslovakia in 1968.
When I first asked mom for info about our immigration, she handed me two small stapled pages from a Best Western notepad with nine bullet points summarizing our life.
As I got deeper into the story and mom cooperated more, it became obvious that looking back at your past can be a painful experience.
Unlike writing fiction, writing the memoir was very emotional, at times depressing. It meant uncovering layers and layers of events, preceeded by decisions; your own decisions and other people’s decisions that impacted your own life and other people’s lives.
Decisions were lurking at every crossroad or a fork on the path to freedom. Mistakes and resentments alternated with victories and elation.
The main characters, mom Ella and dad Vaclav, were the driving forces of the immigration; I picked up two decades later when the Velvet Revolution rolled in 1989.
I found out that the main motivation for dad’s decision to emigrate was his career as a mathematician, while mom clung onto her past pharmacist job and relatives in Czech. And that’s where the characters clashed.
The Prague Spring 1968 movement was the catalyst.
I wanted to express all this on the cover of the memoir using a collage of photos, postcards, mom’s African driver’s license, the Czech coat-of-arms and the globe. There is a postcard with a Vaclav Havel stamp from Czechoslovakia.
Graphic designer Jeanne S. Boss of Rockford captured all of the above on the artistic cover. Boss is the former editor of the Lowell Ledger and the Buyer’s Guide, and a long time friend.
I would like to thank Boss for all the creative work.
Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.
Greenwich Meridian: Where East meets West New autobiographical novel on its way to pre-order on Amazon. .
Emma Palova’s author news
With Christmas just around the corner and the shopping frenzy on, I am pleased to announce that I have completed the new autobiographical novel “Greenwich Meridian: Where East meets West during the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo.) I have, however, decided to add two more chapters based on a recent conversation at one of my book signing events. Vendor Mary Lacy asked me, if I was ever afraid living in a socialist country. I had to really think hard about the answer to the surprise question. So, it occurred to me that many of my fans will be interested in the same topic. “What was it like living in socialism?” I was born in socialist Czechoslovakia and lived there during the hardline years of communism in the 1970s and 1980s. Living in socialism meant being careful on a daily basis about what you said and to whom. However, only political activists like late president Vaclav Havel faced repercussions and ended up in jail. The system had its way of getting at you by creating “profiles.” If you went to church, your profile would state that, and it went against you when you applied for jobs or to universities. Please email me with your questions about socialism at firstname.lastname@example.org
Reviews and a book tour
Why write a review?
All authors need reviews, and basically not just authors. But Amazon requests at least 25 reviews for authors to get any ranking, so then Amazon algorithms can start working in the author’s favor.
I haven’t been able to reach that magic number, even though it doesn’t seem high. Prior to publication, I sent out pdfs to reviewers.
And I will do that again with the new book. Just email me for pdfs.
Below is a link to my books from the Shifting Sands Short Stories collections: book 1 and book 2 Secrets. Books make a great Christmas gift.
I am in the process of planning a new book tour for 2020, which I am very excited about.
Why come to a Michigan author event? “Michigan Authors are sweeping the shores of the Great Lakes from Lake Michigan to Lake Superior and Lake Huron in a new wave of renaissance in literature.” - Emma Palova
You’re supporting local authors who write from Michigan with Michigan settings. You will get an autographed book by a live author. You will get insider tips from the publishing industry. You will learn about the writing process; from an idea to a book. You will leave inspired.
Happy holidays to all.
Emma Palova Dec. 9, 2019
Email Emma to subscribe to the E-Newsletter at email@example.com
Copyright (c) 2019. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.
Lowell, MI – On this 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution in former Czechoslovakia, I am including an excerpt from the Greenwich Meridian: Where East meets West memoir about our family immigration saga. The epic tale of passion and love takes place on the backdrop of two major historical events: Prague Spring 1969 and Velvet Revolution 1989.
Thirty years ago, I was standing on Wenceslas Square in Prague along with 500,000 other people, ringing my keys and listening to the future president Vaclav Havel. It was cold and I was shivering; not just from the November chill, but from the events of the last 10 days. These 10 days shook the world.
“Havel to the castle,” was the overwhelming response of the crowds chanting for Havel to become the next president of free Czechoslovakia.
Excerpt from Greenwich Meridian memoir
On the day
of the General Strike, Monday, Nov. 27, the wave of citizen activity crested
after a week of protests and manifestations. Across the country, people stood
at major squares, sporting tricolor ribbons, waving flags and ringing their
keys to symbolize the end of the Stalinist model of socialism.
I took the
train to Prague to join thousands on Wenceslas Square. I still thought I was
dreaming and that I was going to wake up after a long dark night. I had to
pinch myself to feel the pain to make sure this was happening. But I could hear
it happening around me, in me, everywhere. My heart was beating fast, as I had
to fight the crowds and overcome the old claustrophobia. That day I saw Havel
Strike from noon until 2 p.m. was a political referendum that did not hurt the
economy. Approximately half of the population joined in the manifestations
around the country. Only minimum percentage were not allowed to participate in
the strike; others made up for the lost time at work. The referendum joined all
members of the society representing its demographics: students, factory
workers, farmers, artists, athletes and scientists determined to change the
course of history for this small country in Central Europe.
have spoken and the demands of the Citizens’ Forum were being met. The state
department of culture released all films and books from the special “safe” for
The rest of
the political prisoners would be released, as one of the major demands of the
Citizens’ Forum. The university students were nominated for the Nobel Peace
Prize for their courage and bravery during the 10 days from the onset of the
Velvet Revolution on Friday Nov. 17, 1989.
about the leadership role of the Communist Party would be dissolved from the
constitution. New laws allowing for freedom of speech, gathering, press were in
Democratic Forum of the Communists was formed denouncing the 1968 invasion of
armies of five states from the Warsaw Treaty. The reporters, who were against
the invasion, were reinstated in the Association of Reporters.
In Brno, the
Committee of Religious Activists, showed support for the demands of the
Vaclav Havel received the German Book Prize at the National Theater.
Copyright (c) 2019. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.