Last blog post for Czech Republic trip, written in Ohio
Four kids and four adults took a field trip about one hour south to Truskovice (a very small village) and Helfenburk (ruins of a 14th century castle. I wanted to visit the village to take photos for my friends, the Whites. Their great-grandfather Tomas Trobl emigrated from there to the USA in 1914. Truskovice is a very small village, near Ceske Budejovice, home of the original Budweiser Brewery. Fortunately, it has a nice little park that kept the kids happy while I tromped around with my camera. Three years ago, I went to the home village of Bill Sedivy’s great-grandfather. Fun fact: Dave White, Bill and I had grandparents living within 40 miles of each other in South Bohemia. I wonder if there’s a market for visiting ancestors’ homes and taking pictures for families in the USA? Something I could really get into!
Not far from the village is Helfenburk. The elevation is 2,200 feet and you hike up a forest road to get to the castle. The coolest aspect of the castle for me was the fact that you could walk or climb everywhere. Liability issues in the Czech Republic seem minor compared to home. Here there would be fenced walkways with signs warning you to keep off the grass.
Alena and I went for a 13 mile bike ride around neighboring villages. Since we don’t really speak much of each other’s languages, with Lenka’s help we got our signals straight before leaving. Alena would go ahead and be sure to wait for me at any turns. I would walk up any hills where walking was quicker than my riding. The rolling hills and humidity challenged me, while Alena, who rides 100 K with her sister, had an easy day. We saw a balancing boulder, visited a folk museum, climbed a forest tower with a great view, and had a pub lunch. Cycling is popular in the area and routes are well-marked. It was a memorable ride.
A LiTTLE HISTORY
The village historian, Mr. Krejci, paid us a visit to share information about the past. This young 70-something spent 3 hours answering questions and talking about the local history. He was careful to differentiate between hearsay and fact, and had fascinating stories that he was eager to pass on. He was very passionate about his research and shared a 300 page digital document that he wrote. My curiosity has always been about how my grandfather, Frantisek Drnek, came to leave Tchorovice in 1903 and emigrate to the USA. Mr Krejci validated the story I had heard on my previous visit, but had more details (which he carefully said he could not prove, but it’s good enough for me).
In 1903, rural poverty in Bohemia was common and several older teenage boys from the village figured out how to get some money. One of them came from the Drnek home that is now my cousins’ weekend house. Grain that was the property of the local nobility was stored in the village’s 14th century fortress. The boys decided to steal the grain and sell it to a Jewish man in the next village, Lnare. At night, they filled bags with grain by using a pipe that went from a window to a bag on the ground below. When someone reported them, they went back to the buyer to get money to leave the country. If he did not give it to them, they would tell the authorities who bought the grain and implicate him in the crime. Clever entrepreneurs whose families came first? Or thieves and extortionists? I like to think they used their profits for food for the families and had good intentions, but no one can know what really happened. Either way, my grandfather came to America and here I am.
This leads me to explain how I met my Czech Drnek family. While cleaning my parents’ attic, I found postcards sent to my grandfather before World War I that were photos of family members. Unfortunately, my dad couldn’t tell me anything about them. After he passed away, I decided to go to the Czech Republic on an REI hiking trip. I also found out I had my grandfather’s eighth grade graduation certificate from a school in “Thorovich”, which I couldn’t find on the map. I got everything translated, copied it, and took it with me on the trip in 2004. My trip guide was very interested and insisted on making phone calls for me when we got to Prague. Long story short, through a series of calls, she got to my cousin Lenka, the family member who was fluent in English. Two days later I was sitting in the village house and spending a day with Drnek relatives I did not know that I had. It turns out that only my grandfather and a sister emigrated, which helps explain why I have so few relatives here. I returned in 2006 and 2011 and each visit has been great. Each time, I’ve met more family members and feel more and more at home.
Friday was July 4th & the local grocery had “American week”, so I made a USA-style cookout celebration. The cheeseburgers, potato salad, hot dogs, chocolate chip cookies and s’mores were a hit. Saturday we went to a folk festival in Chanovice at the folk museum. All the vendors sold hand-crafted items, most of which were historically traditional Czech crafts. The musicians were a Czech bluegrass/country band. I loved it when they played “Country Roads” and did the last chorus in English. I did my best not to think about the fact that I would fly home Monday and to enjoy the last few days. Before driving back to Prague, we spent a pleasant afternoon in Jiri & Alena’s pool in Cimelice.
I really hate to say goodbye, so I left with the certainty that I’ll return, hopefully with improved Czech language skills.