Moments in time 2013

Looking back at 2013

By Emma Palova

EW Emmas Writings Journal

I’ve experienced a very productive year, both professionally and personally. On January 15th, I started my blog with WordPress to increase public engagement for my memoir project “Greenwich Meridian.”

The readership has grown from zero to nearly 200 followers in less than one year. As a lover of new things, I found a new passion in writing online, designing and search engine marketing.

My trophy case with WordPress says, “You are a prolific publisher. Why don’t you blog about it.”

As I learned the nuts and bolts of the business, I continued to explore my memories. The memoir tells a story about the family immigration saga that now spans three generations.

Emma Palova in her writing studio in Lowell, Michigan.
Emma Palova in her writing studio in Lowell, Michigan.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 4- “The life of returned immigrants in communist Czechoslovakia.” It covers our return from the USA to the homeland in 1973 based on the presidential amnesty.

          When we finally got out of a week-long nightmare at the quarantine Trebotov, it wasn’t exactly how I envisioned our homecoming. I was shocked at the dilapidated state of villages and towns in Bohemia and Moravia.

          “Mom why is everything so old and ugly?” I asked innocently.

          “It’s an old country my dear,” she smiled. “This is were you and I belong.”

          “How can you say that after what we’ve been through at the quarantine?”

          Due to chronic shortage of housing, we moved in with my paternal grandparents in Stipa. Neither mom nor I were used to being constantly pestered, not to speak about my brother Vas. Both grandparents, who were educators, were strict and prompt.

          “Don’t touch that, don’t use that much water,” resonated through the house.

          To this day, the house and my late uncle Antonin remain a mystery to me, and that was one of the reasons why I travelled to Europe last September.

          But, back to Moments in time 2013.

In March I went to Florida for a retreat and an interview with my parents Ella & Vaclav Konecny who started the immigration saga in mid 1960s. See posts “Interview with my parents for Greenwich Meridian on March 10th, 13th & March 17th.

Whites Bridge near Smyrna, Michigan.
Whites Bridge near Smyrna, Michigan.

April brought flood waters to Lowell and Grand Rapids, the two communities that are the closest to where I live.

As far as my blog goes, I started adding pages covering local stories and interesting people. I will continue this with more inspiring area people into 2014.

One of the most heartbreaking moments came  in July.

The Whites Covered Bridge burnt in Smyrna, which upset the history lover in me.

To be continued……

Copyright © 2013 story and photos by Emma Palova

Christmases of the past

Christmas Eve traditions

By Emma Palova

EW Emma’s Journal

Christmas Eve in Czech Republic is a colorful tapestry woven with legends, stories, myths and superstitions that originate in folk beliefs long before television or the Internet.

Many people believe that magical things happen on that day. No one should be sad, aggressive or squabble on that day, because it would stay with them until next Christmas.

Coming from a Catholic family, we always fasted on that day. The tradition has it if you don’t eat anything until the festive dinner, you will see the “Golden Pig.”

“Emma, don’t eat anything or you won’t see the golden pig,” my grandfather chuckled behind my back.

Christmas Eve traditions KJ Erben's poem
Christmas Eve traditions KJ Erben’s poem

Then one Christmas Eve, as a kid, I caught him doing the pig with a flashlight. I remember the disappointment was almost the same, as when my friends in Sudan, Africa told me that Jesus is not the one who brings presents, but my parents do. I used to write letters to Jesus, and put them inside on the window sill. I was always so happy when they disappeared. Santa Claus does not exist in Czech traditions.

Some disappointments come early.

We always had real wax candles on the tree. One Christmas in Africa the tree caught on fire. I guess my dad extinguished it. The same happened in former Czechoslovakia at least three Christmases. Then, we finally switched to electric lights which are nearly not as romantic, but a lot safer.

People also visited on Christmas Eve to wish merry Christmas to taste desserts and do some shots. Usually people had their favorite cookie. One year all the chocolate beehives disappeared. A relative ate them all. The same thing happened last night, when my brother Vas ate all the vanilla crescents.

Letters to Santa at the Lowell Post Office
Letters to Santa at the Lowell Post Office

The beehives were a catchall dessert. They’re not baked because they’re made from already baked dough that just didn’t turn out well. You add rum to the dough, and put it in the form and it comes out like beehive or a tall hat. Then it’s filled.

There should be an even number of diners at the table or Mrs. Death will take the odd one within the next year. You can also fool Mrs. Death by setting at least one more plate if there is an odd number of people at the table. No one should leave the table during dinner or they will die.

Apples also come into play on that magical evening. You cut an apple in half and if it has the perfect star-shaped pit in the center, you will be healthy. If it’s rotted, the person will be sick.

A healthy apple brings a healthy year
A healthy apple brings a healthy year

You should place a scale from your festive carp and a coin under the plate for wealth. Those who are really motivated can put an entire wallet under it.

Also you’re supposed to throw behind you a shoe. If the front of the shoe faces the door, you will leave the household or get married. My mom always did this one wishing her shoe would turn out so she could leave former Czechoslovakia  be reunited with my dad in Hawkins, TX. She waited four Christmases before she  received her emigration visa.

Other tales call for sharing the leftovers from the Christmas Eve dinner with the nature, animals and birds. We open presents after dinner and go to the midnight mass.

One tradition that disappeared are the carolers and musicians playing under the balcony in hometown Zlin. But, once a year, I play the piano and my son plays the saxophone Czech carols.

Gold Sunday

Gold Sunday ushers in Christmas

By Emma Palova

EW Emma’s Writings Journal

Gold Sunday is the first or last Sunday before Christmas which this year falls on Dec. 22nd. By then all good housewives have their baking & cleaning done according to Czech traditions. Before I started writing and blogging,  I could make up to 10 different Christmas desserts including vanilla crescents, “nutty baskets” and chocolate “rohlicky.”

As a student at the prep school Gymnasium Zlin, we would even get time off for baking.

“As long as you’re keeping the tradition going,” Russian professor Chudarkova used to say.

That reminds me of the opening day of the hunting season here in Michigan where some schools get the day off. I always baked long into the night, and I filled the pastries on Christmas Eve. Back in the old Czechoslovakia I had no helpers. Many years later in the USA my son Jake assisted me by rolling out the dough from a stool.

Silver Sunday is time to get your Christmas fish for the big evening feast known as “Bountiful Eve.” The town squares in Czech Republic are home to merchants with live carp. For years during Christmases of the past I went shopping for the best carp ever sporting a net bag, so the carp can breathe.

The Christmas fish in Czech Republic is carp
The Christmas fish in Czech Republic is carp

Large wooden vats carried carp from ponds in Southern Bohemia. The carp trade dates back to feudalism and to the royals who granted the rights to do this. I regret that I’ve never seen the carp ponds in Bohemia.

The live carp and then the butchering of it on the morning of Dec. 24 have been the subject of stories, legends, photographs and calendars much like the day and the evening itself.

Christmas magic in Steamboat junction combines sound, light and motion
Christmas magic in Steamboat junction combines sound, light and motion

I will remember one carp story forever. One family got so attached to their live carp, they could not bring themselves to butcher it. They took the live carp to a nearby brook and released it into the shallow water. The carp probably didn’t make it, but they felt better and from then on they purchased fish filets from a well-know store in hometown Zlin and that was Rybena.

I think my uncle John butchered ours. The family usually placed the carp in a tub. One year I put the tub outside on the apartment balcony. When I went to check on the fish next day, it almost froze. I had to smash the ice and resuscitate the fish.

So, the Christmas Eve menu in Czech Republic consists of breaded fried filet of carp, potato salad, mushroom or fish soup and the great cookies.

In later years, non-carp lovers substituted the carp for salmon filets. We stick to the tradition and I buy either cod or other white meat fish. I make tons of potato salad with our own pickles.

Watch for more Christmas Eve traditions

Copyright © 2013 story and photo by Emma Palova, lead photo courtesy of the Internet

Silver Sunday

Silver Sunday escalates Christmas fever

By Emma Palova

Silver Sunday is the second Sunday before Christmas that literally makes the Christmas holiday fever rise by several degrees even though it is usually cold outside at this time of the year. It is also the third Sunday of the advent in the catholic religious year.

Outdoor Christmas markets in most European cities on major squares, are in full swing by now, and they will be open until Dec. 23rd & some on Dec. 24th. The rush is on for everything from nuts and poppy seeds for baking purposes, wooden toys and other crafts, apples and dried fruits, ornaments and keepsakes.

Christmas markets in Czech Republic
Christmas markets in Czech Republic. Photo by Adela Kobylikova

It’s also time to get a Christmas tree. Although back in Czech Republic most families decorated their tree on Christmas Eve, here in US our family has adapted to the custom of putting up the tree at least two weeks before the magical day.   Christmas Eve is a magical day, but a lot has been lost in the translation of the feast of Adam&Eve that falls on Dec. 24th in the Czech name day calendar.

In Czech language, that magical day is called “Stedry Den” which translates exactly as Bountiful Day. Families open a bounty of presents in the evening. I will write more about the customs of that day next week as we draw closer to Christmas.

And even though, I miss deeply some of the customs in Czech Republic, I have replaced them with new ones here in USA.

This year, we totally immersed ourselves into the tradition of cutting our own Christmas tree right after Thanksgiving because three-year old Ella from France was here. We did it many years ago when kids were little at a farm somewhere in Ionia County.

Ludek & Ella cut the Palova family Christmas tree at Horrocks Nursery
Ludek & Ella cut the Palova family Christmas tree at Horrocks Nursery

I couldn’t remember where, so I looked up on Google Christmas farms in Ionia County and found Horrocks Nursery Farms just north of the city of Ionia.

We were in for probably the best tree cutting experience in my entire life.

We waited in the pole barn for a horse-drawn wagon ride by a pair of some 2,000 pound Percheron horses named Clementine & Clodis. It was a crispy sunny Saturday, as we headed out on the tree farm. No snow yet. We found the lot with Scotch pines, and cut a beautiful Palova family Christmas tree. We chatted with a friendly guy who had the shotgun seat on the wagon.

Back, in the barn, we roasted marshmallows and hot dogs in the open fire wood stove as we helped ourselves to cider, hot chocolate and coffee, while Christmas movies and music were playing in the background.

“This is great,” I said to my husband Ludek. “Next year we’ll have Josephine with us too.”

Going back to Christmas customs both here and in Europe, now is also time to send and get cards even in the era of the web. Over the 20+ years here on the American continent, I’ve received hundreds of them, but kept only a few.

One of the few precious ones, a definite keepsake, is a card from Brno with a nativity scene and a score to a Christmas carol. One of the most precious cards that I had sent out was made from a photo at the Meijer store in Cascade.

Although I can’t find it now, I remember precisely what was on it. We were picking blueberries as a family on a farm near Ludington in the 90-degree heat. We’re all holding blue pales and shielding our heads from the scorching sun with funny hats. My daughter Emma was wearing a t-shirt with a Polar bear on it.

“Happy holidays,” the card with mistletoe clip art and snowflakes said.

Speaking about passing on traits and such; both my daughter and I have the same sense for juxtaposition.

To be continued……

Copyright © 2013 story and photo by Emma Palova

EW This WordPress.com site is about Emma's Writings.