Day 6, 7, 8 - Family Reunion!
Trip Start Jul 21, 2010
17Trip End Aug 26, 2010
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Today, Day 6, we decide to scratch our plans to go to nearby Terezin and instead opt for a day with zero plans ... .... so, we slept in, went down to the International Music Festival that was happening in the Old Town Square, and ended then night with Simon watching the kids and Janice and I enjoying our final night with Christina and Thoeger. We went to a place called Touch, a modern thai restaurant. Really good stuff. I had ostrich meat (much more like beef with a slight spice than chicken)! Afterwards, we enjoyed a couple of drinks at a cool bar called Jewel and Janice and Christina snuck away for an inexpensive thai foot reflexology massage thing. ... A great night with two people we consider friends now
Back home to sleep ... and we wake up for Day 7. Today is the day we journey to our grandfather's home city, Skutec. The town is just over 5,000 people and is nearly two hours east of Prague. To get there by train would mean half a day spent between three transfers, so our relative Lida who lives in Skutec has arranged to have us picked up from the outskirts of Prague. Its really difficult to drive in to the town center unless you are a taxi (many roads blocked from public use) ... so we have a short walk to the Mustec metro station near our apartment and take the B train east to its last stop where we are greeted by three Styrsky men with vehicles! We split our group between the vehicles and off we go to Skutec. Our driver, a mid-20's man named Roman, speaks zero English, so combined with our zero czech (and our mini-translating dictionary packed away) ... its a quite, nap filled drive. ... .... through the country side. Lots of small towns, signs on the road pointing this way and that towards various tourist sites, and tons of blue skies above.
Before long, we see signs for Skutec ... and are soon pull in to the parking lot of a three story building, which turns out to be the school that Lida teaches at ... which will also double as our accomodations for the night! She has arranged with the administration for the third floor's bunk bed rooms to be ours, and the hot water has been turned on for us to use for showers and such
Our hometown, Skutec : http://www.skutec.cz/gallery.php?akce=obrazek_ukaz&media_id=101
The time for the first surprise is announced by Lida ringing a loud cowbell ... and we all assemble and follow her outside the school building and across the street to a gate. She stops us and asks us to close our eyes, and we open them to follow her in to a beautiful garden. The garden has been in the family for ages and she and her sister now tend to it. Their home (the second oldest in Skutec) rests on the land with the garden along with a fantasticly ancient barn. Its a scene out of a movie as we walk through to the opening of the barn ... where we see a hanging American flag in the barn's doorway, with a larger Czech flag hanging in the opposing entryway. ... and there, in the barn ... nearly 30 of our relatives that have gathered from the surrounding areas! Every one of them a Styrsky (or on their way to becoming one by way of marriage) !! ... !!!! We were stunned! As we stood there gathering this all in, Lida began a more formal greeting of our party and a ceremonial welcoming bread (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bread_and_salt)
Then, one by one, our family members came up to each of the group and introduced themselves. Many of them already knew us by face by photos we'd exchanged with Lida before the trip! "You must be Asher ... and Janice ... " ... it was wonderful! We felt so loved and welcomed and home and ... wonderful. ... and we'd just begun!
Inside the barn were eight tables FULL of food ... home made baked cookies and cakes and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kolache ... ... and once again Lida gathered us all together for a toast to our return home ... ... everybody held their shot glass up high and cheered and drank.
And then, it was time for suprise two ... ... Lida called us to follow her outside the barn and out of the garden, just a block or two away ... to a restaurant nearby that had a meeting hall prepped for our arrival and ..
As we began our walk towards the restaurant, suddenly my eyes met with my grandfather's eyes. It wasn't him, of course, ... but the resemblence was more than just striking. The man's eyes, eyebrows, mouth, chin, ... the way he talked and looked ... ... it was as close to seeing my grandfather again as I will ever get. And it made me weep. We talked and laughed, but the moment we got to the restaurant, I ducked in to the restroom and cried. A happy, sad, longing sort of cry session for my grandpa Al. ... He was a good man.
When I came back to the table and sat down, this distant cousin of mine grabbed the two chairs next to Janice and I and we spent a good portion of the rest of the day together ... (it didn't hurt that he was one of the men in the group who enjoyed drinking with me!) ...
After lunch, I grabbed Samuel by the hand and we went to the bar ... seperate from the group. I ordered a beer ... and we walked outside in to the garden ... hand in hand ... and poured one out for Grandpa Al.
Surprise three ..
Back to the barn and garden ... where we spent the rest of the day talking with relatives, filling our faces with treats, beer, and shots (my younger bro Simon had his first shot and a glass of wine!, then acted like he didn't feel it, but he was totally feeling a buzz), ... lots of laughter and stories ... there were at least four people who spoke excellent English, and when they left or were somewhere else, ..
Another suprise revealed, hung in this beautiful barn ... ... a professional crafted commemorative plaque in honor of my grandpa Al ... so amazing.
I feel like I'm doing a great disservice in that I am HORRIBLE when it comes to remembering names. There were so many great, loving people, ... all sorts of characters ... all of them fun and enjoyable ... and yet my mind is drawing a blank on the names! ARGH!!! ... Four of our family members worked in a local butcher's shop (that 'we' own), Lida and her sister Verka stayed there in the olllllld house with Verka's son John. One of our cousins loved "everything old" and so he donned some traditional Czech garb and broke out the crank-turn-record player thing and played us some music that Grandpa Al would've listened to ..
We stayed talking until the sun went down and it was too dark to see. Then back to the school across the street for sleep. Its 10:30pm. We are exhausted, and full to the brim with drinks, food, desserts, memories, love, ... and at least for me, a great sense of accomplishment ... to be here, after all this time ... one of my life long dreams realized ... and it was more than I could have ever hoped for. Lida and all of our relatives ... THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! Our experience was more than we could ever repay. Really. .... They went over the top in every way. They spared no expense and treated us with a royal reception. Just. Amazing. Simon captured it best when he, me, and Samuel were not-sleeping in our bunk bed room ... talking in to the night ... and Simon said , "Serioiusly, this may be the best day of my life."
Wake up to many of our relatives joining us (and have I mentioned that they are SERVING US the whole time?!
We head back across the street, for a tour of Lida and Verka's home (its like a museum!) ... well decorated, it feels calm and comfortable ... I notice there is no heating source! And it snows a LOT here. I ask Lida about it and she explains the use electrical heat sparingly in the winter but that Skutec shuts down 100% of the towns electricity for four hours each day because of power issues. Its a good reminder that this country is just twenty years out of communist rule and reconstructing itself in many ways. Same with the health insurance situation. I inquire to Irena as to her opinion of the public health insurance system and she definately is not a fan. Lida gives some more input and says it was better under the communist system and that now there are a lot of problems with it. Apparently 2/3's of the private insurance companies that were set up to support the public health system have bailed (21 out of 30) ... and the whole system is experiencing lots of growing pains. ... Irena says Peter can tell me more about it, so hopefully we will have a chance to talk later in the trip
Finally, its time to head back to Prague. We load up the cars, hugs and ajoys and ciaos abound ... and we are off.
Couldn't have asked for a better time. A life long memory FOR SURE. None of us will ever forget it.
Back in Old Town Prague, ... me, Janice, the kids, and Simon move in to our final apartment for this last week in Prague. Its on the 4th floor, in an attic like room ... really nice place. No view, but the A/C works well, and its above the noise of the city.