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.
Whenever I seek inspiration for my writings, I look up to my father and I know I will find it. My father, former math professor at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, turned 86 on this lovely summer day. He is active, loving and most of all inspiring by his words and actions.
On any given day, you will find him either solving or proposing math problems for math journals or doing simple things like canning, picking blueberries and making jams and marmelades with mom Ella.
Dad is a typical Leo, strongly independent and likes to take charge of everything with great enthusiasm. Behind these character traits lies the fact that dad doesn’t trust anyone else would do an equally good job.
And he is right. No one can beat his solutions to any problems, be it maintenance issues around the house, cars or plumbing. He is logical, rational and precise, always a step ahead of the game.
Dad has a good sense of humor and knows how to start a conversation at a party with strangers.
“How do you do it, dad?” I asked him.
“Well, if I know the guy is a dentist, I start talking about teeth,” he laughed.
Like a good Leo, he is always prepared for anything that might come his way.
He was born in Brest, former Czechoslovakia in 1934 as the second oldest child out of five. Due to the lack of finances, his parents, who were also educators, enrolled my dad and Uncle Tony in the Archibishop Gymnasium-Boys’ Seminary in Kromeriz right after the end of WWII.
To this day, my dad credits all his accomplishments to this renowned institution led by priests. Although he was bullied for his height, it didn’t leave any marks on him.
“I’ve learned discipline that stayed with me for the rest of my life,” he said. “I even got beaten up by other kids.”
It was discipline that carried him through the tough times of twice emigrating from former communist Czechoslovakia to pursue his dream of independence and teaching in the USA without the fear of being persecuted for his religious beliefs.
Dad is a true self-made man, not overly embellished with medals or honors, but with degrees from various universities in Czechoslovakia and the USA, achieved by honesty and hard work.
However, his solutions to math problems were published in Crux Mathematicorum of the Canadian Mathematical Society in the 1990s. Dad received an Honourable Mention for participating in the solutions.
Love you dad. May you continue to inspire all of us. We wish you many healthy and optimistic years ahead.
My father and mother are the main characters in my upcoming book- the “Greenwich Meridian Memoir” now available for preorder on Amazon.
As the quarantine in Michigan continues through May 15, tensions are rising among the public with May Day strikes around the globe. Curtailed by the quarantine, the strikes took on different forms from honking horns in cars to singing on the balconies.
This time the protestors are on both sides of the COVID-19 quarantine issue. One wave of protestors is comprised of health care and essential workers fearing for their safety, the other wave fears for their economic well-being.
In Michigan, protesters were early as they swarmed the Capitol in Lansing on Thursday scaring the legislators with their rifles and signs.
“Today was scary, I won’t mince words. But the signs the protestors carried reeked of misogyny, racism and anti-semitism. I cannot imagine what it was like to walk into the Capitol today as a female person of color.”
— State Rep. Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth), tweeting Thursday night about the loud, heavily armed conservative protest at the state Capitol that spilled into the building.
Millions of others defying the stay-at-home orders, opened their doors to business on this first day of May in a hurting economy.
May Day Kaleidoscope
May Day aka former International Workers Day was also a national holiday in socialist Czechoslovakia.
For me, May Day remains a day of observance–a kaleidoscope of colorful bits and pieces encompassing the past and the present. It’s sort of like bringing a bouquet of fragrant lilacs to a monument; the lilacs have the same smell, but the monuments keep changing.
Just the words May Day still bring a smile to my face; even after more than 30 years of celebrating it on the Revolutionary Boulevard in then Gottwaldov, Czechoslovakia. We marched down the boulevard waving small flags and patriotic pompoms in the mandatory socialist parades.
If I close my eyes, I can still feel into the atmosphere of the parades, the tribunes and the socialist propaganda with the slogans and the banners on the backdrop of the blossoming lilacs. The socialist patriotic anthems were blasting from the loudspeakers including the Soviet anthem “Coyuz Nerusimij.”
We all had to Partake in the May Day parade. Those who didn’t participate got later into trouble at work or in school like our English teacher who crumpled up a patriotic pompom. She got written up.
And I write about all this in my upcoming new book the “Greenwich Meridian Memoir.” Here is an excerpt:
Parades known asMarch of Thieves
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.” Some 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.
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Lowell, MI – April is poetry month. The featured photo is a poem “Love’s Omnipresence” by Joshua Sylvester printed on an Almond Butter chocolate wrapper.
My hopes are high as we await Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s word on Friday about the possible extension of the stay-at-home order and mainly about the reopening of the Michigan economy.
To the dismay of the most vulnerable people in the COVID-19 pandemic, protests have been sweeping the country to reopen the economies.
In the meantime, I moved ahead with the “Greenwich Meridian Memoir” formatting on Kindle Create. The manuscript is now available for reviews. Please email Emma at firstname.lastname@example.org for Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs).
Overall, it’s been a dark, cold and cloudy April in Michigan. We had an occassional frost in the morning. I managed only three walks to the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, two walks on the trails, and a total of four zoo room meetings. But the main thing that I really feared is done until the next formatting comes up for the paperback.
I also filed for the Library of Congress cataloging number for the upcoming “Greenwich Meridian Memoir.” If you wish to check that out go to:
I have just found out that April is poetry month from the Library of Congress website. That’s good to know, since I love poetry, so I used Sylvester’s poem for the featured photo.
Hopefully, the economy will reopen to the satisfaction of everyone; I would be surprised if it did.
Introduction to the Greenwich Meridian Memoir
I wrote this introduction to the Greenwich Meridian Memoir during the unprecedented time of the coronavirus pandemic, as we celebrated the Easter Triduum in front of televised services in empty churches across the nation without audiences.
More than half a billion people around the globe are under a stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus. This includes my homeland, the Czech Republic. The coronavirus did not discriminate or recognized borders between the states, the countries or the continents. Time will show if this was a modern apocalypse.
Our immigration story from former socialist Czechoslovakia to the U.S. has come full circle; from one history milestone to another one.
The milestone that offset our journey across three continents–Europe, Africa, USA– was the reformist movement known as the Prague Spring 1968 under the leadership of Alexander Dubcek.
The epic story of love and desire for freedom spans 52 years at the date of publishing of this memoir. The major characters, Ella and Vaclav Konecny, are my parents, to whom I have dedicated this memoir. Mom Ella was a happy pharmacist in former Czechoslovakia, while Dad Vaclav was an unhappy mathematician in the old country.
Dad’s quest for his career fulfillment has been a constant source of inspiration for me in good and in bad times. Recently, I found out that dad was afraid in the old country of persecution by the communists due to our religious beliefs. He thought that he wouldn’t be able to fully realize his teaching ambitions.
From the humble hometowns of Vizovice and Stipa in the hilly Moravia, we traveled to exotic places such as Khartoum in Africa, to the ancient Byblos known for its papyrus and the “City of Jasmine” Damascus in Syria with the Roman Temple of Jupiter.
We were no strangers to dangers connected to travel in the Third World Countries. My parents had a few close calls: the tourist boat on the Nile capsized with all the people on board either drowning or the crocodiles ate them in the murky waters, a week after we were aboard the cruise.
Then a cable car to the second highest peak in the Alps, Matterhorn, crashed also a few days after my parents were on it.
An interview with my parents in Venice, Florida in March of 2013 revealed that the hardest trial of all was the separation from the family back in Czechoslovakia. Nothing can bring back the lost time or not being able to say the last good-byes to the loved ones, as we have recently found out during the COVID-19 quarantine.
My parents both surprised me with an answer to my question about immigration.
“Would you do it again?” I asked seated in their pretty white dining room with mirrors in Venice.
The unison answer from both was a definite no. They both added their own written accounts of the immigration experience to the memoir, which I am grateful for.
I structured the memoir in a way that all three of us tell our stories. I lead off each chapter with the storyteller part, as I remember it. Then follows either my mom’s account titled “In her own words” or dad’s experiences.
I put emphasis on the phrase, “As we remember it.”
The accounts may wary in details, but together they bring forth a cohesive picture of immigration through the eyes of both adults and a growing up kid. The immigration experience has left its scars on all four of us, but it has also transformed us.
We lived through the hardline communism and the rolling capitalism. In addition to that, we are Catholics, so we have had the religious experience that is often tied to different regimes. Religion gave another dimension to our story, since it stood at the roots of our immigration together with the Prague Spring movement.
The immigration experience touched each one of us in a different way. Here is quote from my mom Ella:
During my lifetime, I have met a lot of good people that I wouldn’t have met in Czech Republic, because of limited travel. USA has its pluses and minuses–the society is too materialistic. In Czech Republic, we didn’t make a lot of money, but we were all equal. We had basic rights: right to work, right to education and healthcare. USA does not have that. People are afraid of socialism, but they basically don’t know what it is.I lived in socialism and I will continue to live in capitalism; one must try both regimes to know what’s better.
On the other hand, we most likely wouldn’t have houses, if we had stayed in Czech Republic. The majority of the population lives in apartments, that is if they are lucky waiting it out on long lists. I wouldn’t have realized my author’s dream in the old country.
The Greenwich Meridian Memoir is by no means a treatise on either of the above- mentioned regimes, then or now.
We each were free to return back to our homeland at any point in time during the 52 years. And we have. That is our story. Come along on a journey of a lifetime.
The latest COVID-19 tallyin Michigan on April 22, 2020.
Total cases: 33,966
Total deaths: 2,813
Thank you health care heroes and essential workers for keeping us alive and fed.
Stay tuned for day by day coverage of the COVID-19 quarantine in Michigan.
Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.
“Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
Lowell, MI – In early March before the official outbreak of the coronavirus in Michigan, we had a discussion with Ludek about the kissing of the cross on Good Friday. We we were wondering how are we going to handle that, since COVID-19 was already in the U.S.
During the catholic liturgies, there is a lot to come into contact whether it’s during a Paschal service or a regular mass. What seems to be like ages ago, we decided we will not go to Good Friday services protect our health .
Well, now we know that we’re not going, because all masses have been cancelled due to the stay-at-home order in Michigan. We will wath the service on WMXI Fox https://www.fox17online.com/ at 3 p.m. today.
From the Easter Triduum, the Good Friday liturgy is my favorite one because of the reading of “The Passion of our Lord, Jesus Christ, according to John.
The passion reading has inspired Mel Gibson’s 2004 film “The Passion of the Christ” and countless other works of art. Rightfully so, following is an excerpt from the Passion:
EXCERPT: The Passion of the Christ
Narrator: Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to where there was a garden, into which he and his disciples entered. Judas his betrayer also knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas got a band of soldiers and guards from the chief priests and the Pharisees and went there with lanterns, torches, and weapons. Jesus, knowing everything that was going to happen to him, went out and said to them,
Christ: “Whom are you looking for?”
Narrator: They answered him,
Crowd: ” Jesus, the Nazorean.”
The above passage is very close to how you write a screenplay.
The reading of the Passion from the empty St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Grand Rapids gave a very powerful message of suffering of the Christ.
Earlier in the day I worked on the intro to my upcoming book “Greenwich Meridian Memoir.”
Introduction to the Greenwich Meridian Memoir
Here is what I have so far:
I am writing this introduction during the unprecedented time of the coronavirus shutdown, as we celebrate the Easter Triduum in front of televised services in empty churches across the nation without audiences.
In Michigan, we are on our 18th day of the COVID-19 quarantine that has been extended through April 30, 2020. Coronavirus is now the leading cause of death in the U.S. It has caused 1,970 deaths across the country per day. As of early Friday, the U.S. had more than 465,750 coronavirus cases, according to data from John Hopkins University. More than 1.4 million cases have been reported globally.
More than half a billion people around the globe are under a stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the deadly virus. This includes my homeland, the Czech Republic. The coronavirus does not discriminate or recognize borders between the states, the countries or the continents. Some are calling it an apocalypse.
Our immigration story from former socialist Czechoslovakia to the U.S. has come full circle; from one history milestone to another one.
The milestone that offset our journey across three continents was the reformist movement known as the Prague Spring 1968 under the leadership of Alexander Dubcek.
The epic story of love and desire for freedom spans 52 years on the date of publishing of this memoir. The major characters, Ella and Vaclav Konecny, are my parents, to whom I have dedicated this memoir. Mom Ella was a happy pharmacist in former Czechoslovakia, while Dad Vaclav was an unhappy mathematician in the old country.
Dad’s quest for his career fulfillment has been a constant source of inspiration for me in good and in bad times.
Stay tuned for day by day coverage of the COVID-19 quarantine in Michigan.
Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Blogs, LLC. 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.
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.
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Lowell, MI – I continued this morning with the translation of mom’s memories of our fatal return to Czechoslovakia in 1973 following the presidential amnesty to political prisoners such as us. We fell into this category for illegally leaving the country in 1970.
Excerpt: Presidential amnesty, fatal return to Czechoslovakia in 1973
In her own words
The kids went back to the school in the fall for their third year in Hawkins, Texas. Vaclav liked his job at the college, so everything continued in the same rhythm including my light work as a housewife in our household. I was homesick, I missed my country, my friends and my job at the pharmacy. I didn’t expect any changes and I didn’t try anything new either, I fell into despair firmly convinced that nothing would ever change.
However, a change came; one that I would never expect. As the new year 1973 arrived, Czechoslovakia was celebrating the 25th anniversary of communism known as the “Victorious February” or the 1948 Czechoslovak coup d’etat. In that year, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia with Soviet backing assumed the undisputed control over the government of Czechoslovakia, marking the onset of four decades of communist rule in the country.
The Czech coup of 1948 had extensive consequences in the Western world.
President Gustav Husak issued an amnesty to political prisoners who illegally left the country and were tried for it. That meant that we could return back home to Czechoslovakia without the risk of going to prison. I could not believe that God heard my prayers and that I could return back to the homeland.
Within two weeks, I received approximately 10 letters from Czechoslovakia with newspaper clips about the presidential amnesty. I was determined to return to Czechoslovakia with the kids with or without my husband Vaclav; this wasn’t the life for me in Texas. I was extremely happy and immediately responded to all the letters stating that I was going back home.
To be continued…..
Note: Watch for Black Friday countdown deal on Amazon for Shifting Sands Short Stories book 1 and book 2. Books make a great gift and a great souvenir from Michigan.
Lowell, MI – By logging in 3,751 words in the NaNoWriMo 2019, I am officially a winner of the 50K -word challenge with my memor about the family immigration saga. Yay! I never thought I would get it done. I have yet to complete a translation of three pages of mom Ella’s memories from Texas and review the entire memoir.
NaNoWriMo memoir insights
I entered the challenge this year to complete the memoir that I divided into two halves after hitting a dead end at chapter 11. I did extensive prep work in October including translations of mom’s memories from her immigration ordeal since 1968 and the translation of the “Chronicle of Velvet Revolution.”
The memoir anchors in two major historical events in Czechoslovakia: Prague Spring, 1968 and Velvet Revolution, 1989. It’s an epic saga of love and passion for math, between the main characters, mom Ella and dad Vaclav. These major driving forces took our family across three continents. My own second-generation experience is intertwined in the memoir, as I am the storyteller.
I had to break down different chapters and create a timeline in order to navigate the events of more than 50 years. Once I had the timeline, I filled in the missing years with my parents’ own accounts of their immigration experiences.
What propelled the memoir ahead was the change from a travel account to the experience of immigration in all its dimensions. That was the pain of being separated both from homeland and from each other, offset by dad’s passion for math.
I arrived at an interesting conclusion while writing the memoir: for mom, imigration was a sacrifice to dad and to us, so we could live in a free country. For dad, immigration was a way to teach math without the fear of being persecuted in a socialist country. For me, immigration set me free to create and for Ludek it was a dream come true to build our own house and live the American dream.
Stay tuned for excerpts.
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