Growing up "Cesky" (Jana's story, part I) / Vyrustani po cesku (Janiny zazitky, cast 1.) - CzechmatediaryGrowing up "Cesky" (Jana's story, part I) / Vyrustani po cesku (Janiny zazitky, cast 1.) - Czechmatediary
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Growing up “Cesky” (Jana’s story, part I) / Vyrustani po cesku (Janiny zazitky, cast 1.)

I met Jana through the Czechmate diary couple of months ago. She has been very diligent with leaving comments on my site (thank you Jana!) as well as sending me a lot of useful info as far as Czech-American stuff goes. One day we struck up a conversation and I found out that she has a VERY interesting story. Just like Karin Gandalicova from my previous post, Jana was born abroad but both of her parents are Czech. “I bet she has so many interesting stories to tell!”, I thought to myself and then I acted upon that thought and a THRILLING interview with Jana was born (it’s kind of long so I had to brake it up into parts):

CZ: Janu jsem potkala pres Czechmate diary pred par mesici; je jedna z mych nejvzornejsich cternaru – zanechava koment skoro pod kazdym clankem (dekuji Jano!) – tak jsem si jednoho dne rekla, ze si ji trosku “proklepnu”. Zjistila jsem, ze tato mlada slecna byla narozena v cizine (US), ale jako je to s Krarin Gandalicovou z meho nedavneho clanku, oba jeji rodice jsou Cesi. “Ta musi mit tolik zajimavych zivotnich prihod!” pomyslela jsem si, a taky ze jo! Presvedcte se sami:

1/Tell us something about yourself. Where were you born? How did your childhood look like when having 2 Czech parents and growing up in the US? Do you have any funny childhood story (I am sure you got plenty) to share as far as being brought up in the midst of the 2 cultures (Czech and American)?
I was born in West, Texas USA in a multigenerational home, parents, grandchildren, grandparents. My mom teaches special needs children in the public school and my dad is editor, publisher, and owner of an over 200 year old Czech language newspaper, Hospodar, founded in Nebraska. It is one of two papers still being published in Texas entirely in the Czech language. As far as I know it was the one of the few western newspapers allowed into Czechoslovakia under communism.He did a blog cast a year or two ago about his paper.
As far as I know, I am not related to the author Ludvik Vaculik. Wouldn’t it be nice though? I love his fejetons and our family’s sense of humor is similar to his.  My father’s parents, great grandmother, great aunt emigrated while my mother’s parents and the rest of the family stayed in Czechoslovakia. My grandfather was born in Slovakia and emigrated in 1948 because of the communist coup. He managed to get across the border into an Austrian camp and then to Canada before communist agents were able to take him back. As a result of helping my grandfather escape, my great uncle Daniel spent five years in the silver/uranium mines in Jachymov.
Other members of my father’s family also spent time in prison. My grandmother emigrated in 1964 with permission of the government so she could travel later back to Czechoslovakia under communism. My great-grandmother, grandmother’s mother ended coming in 1972 and is buried in Texas. My father, born in Slovakia but grew up in Moravia, did not see his father until he emigrated in 1968, a month after Prague Spring. He was supposed to come back after six months but he “forgot”. My mother came in 1980 when on a pharmacy conference in Yugoslavia she also “forgot” to get back on the bus. While in Czechoslovakia there were only two seats left on the bus and she prayed that if God wants her to go to America she would get a seat. She got one and when it was time to leave she did not get on in Yugoslavia. Both my parents received two year prison terms if they ever came back.  I guess that was typical.

As I mentioned before I knew from an early age that I as well as my family was different. I felt exactly like the girl in “My Big Fat Greek wedding” when she brings some weird lunch food to school. I was the only girl whose mother gave her soup in my Popples lunch box thermos . I also had to be careful when eating a sandwich, which was never on plain white bread but homemade Czech rye bread, because my mom would wrap it in a napkin. If I was not careful I would get a mouthful of napkin instead of sandwich. My grandmother would bake homemade bread since the white bread was too “americke” so I never had a normal sandwich until I was older. My mother made homemade noodles to put on our soup at dinnertime which we ate whether it was in 30’s or 104 degrees F in Texas. Soup was grunt/basic necessity and we needed to make our stomachs warm for the main meal. When we traveled on trips or vacations we would take all our food with us and all I wanted was a Happy Meal. My parents are passionate about blood donation and have donated close to 30 gallons of blood each. I have no idea why other than my dad thinks it cleanses the body and is a universal donor, O and thinks he can help somebody in an ER.

My parents lack the ability to color coordinate outfits, was extremely embarrassing as a child and sometimes my dad would end up looking like one of the The Festrunk Brothers (Wild and Crazy Guys) on SNL but with no chains. They would also try to force their lack of fashion sense on to me and I would end up wear hot orange and white striped pants with a blue top to school, in tears all day in the 1990’s when acid wash jeans were cool. Luck would have it I got an award that day and had to take a picture with my awful outfit on. My mom especially has considerably improved her fashion sense and I have even complimented her on occasion but my dad is a lost cause. I have to look them over and do not like what I see sometimes. Oh well!
Being cheap sorry thrifty. My grandmother does not want to throw anything away with is a product of tough economic times, Nazi occupation, communism and coming to America with nothing. My parents are not as bad but it is hard for them to throw things away. My parents and grandmother NEVER throw anything away. I cannot get them to spring clean or have a garage sale. If we do have a garage sale I know then that my mom has been abducted by aliens and replaced.  They cannot let go of anything.  To avoid the previous fashion situation my mom has been slowly going undercover and getting rid of my dad’s clothes.
Some things are very practical such as having our old bathtub collect rainwater to water our plants until the mosquitoes hatch.  We had always had a vegetable garden with potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, cucumbers, kopr, onions, carrots and salad. Sometimes there would be a harvest but more often than not it was more trouble than it was worth.
Basically everything in the movie “My Big Fat Greek wedding” but making it Czech applies to my life. Instead of Windex being the miracle cure for anything that ails you it is garlic, becherovka, slivovice. Then instead of a Greek flag painted on the garage door we would have pictures of Masaryk, Benes and Jan Amos Komensky more often than Jesus inside hanging on our walls or various painted plates in folk style. My grandmother has the Charles bridge and Vysehrad area hand embroidered on a wall in the living room. Putting anything outside of our home would cause unwanted attention so we have to be humble about ourselves. As I write this sitting at my desk, President Masaryk is watching me by the door and on the other side of the room Jan Amos Komensky is watching my back.
The father in the movie says how every word in the English language has a basis or began with a Greek word. The thing at home was that if it was not for Czechoslovakia English would not have the words robot, pistol, dollar, or sugar cubes in their coffee, superior military equipment such as tanks and rifles, and even more superior shoes made by Bata would not exist.  My dad even told me when I was little if I brought home a boyfriend who was not Czech he would throw him out now he knows better than to make threats. I am deathly afraid of bring anyone home who is not Czech into our house because my parents do embarrass me. Especially my dad does not understand that jokes in Czech are not as funny in English. Friends would be polite and laugh anyways.
Our town has a Czech festival every year Labor Day weekend and the state fair of Texas until a couple of years ago had Czech Day so at the age of two I made my debut in my kroj at both events and have been wearing it ever since. I spent only one year participating in Sokol because I was decidedly unathletic but I would work in the funnel cake booth which was a fundraiser during our festival.
I would spend the night my grandmother would tell me Czech fairy tales using different voices for the characters when so when the wolf would eat the grandmother I would hide my head under the perina since it was scary. My favorite fairy tale was about the Kocika and the Zlate hodinky and I vaguely remember the plot.

Be sure to check out Jana’s new Czech-American Myspace group at !!

If you liked this post buy me a coffee! (Suggested:$3 a latte $8 for a pound) Thanks!

17 comments… add one
  • Tanja November 10, 2008, 11:58 am

    You mentioned so many things that ring the bell with my childhood! Like for instance, those paper napkin covered sandwiches, or your father not having any sense of style at all, or walking to school with a thermos full of soup?? That’s me!!
    Thank you for sharing that with us!

  • Ivanhoe November 10, 2008, 1:23 pm

    Oh my! That brought a lot of memories to me as well. I remember those napkin wrapped sandwiches :o)
    I’m more open to a change though and would not continue the tradition to a “t”… But I know I could never change my mother…there’s something about that hard-headed older generation :o)
    Cannot wait to read more in part II!

  • Katie November 10, 2008, 4:31 pm

    I can see SO MANY traits shared by Jana’s parents and my mother-in-law. To this day, my husband panics if he sees me adding garlic to food.
    This is so great. Thank you!

  • Tanja November 10, 2008, 4:54 pm

    To Ivanhoe: I agree, my mother is the most stubborn human being on the planet!

    To Katie: wait, why does your husband freak out if you put garlic in food? I thought that garlic to Czechs is like peanut butter to the Americans!?

  • lenka November 15, 2008, 12:24 pm

    Tani dakujem pekne za clanok. Myslim si ze moj Lukasko bude pisat to iste o mne. Vidim sa tam ako rodic zretelne aj ked som o 2 generacia mladsia. Ta slovanska povaha sa nezapre. Tesim sa na pokracovanie

  • Tanja November 15, 2008, 12:30 pm

    Taky mu balis sandwiche do ubrousku?;)

  • jana p November 17, 2008, 1:29 pm

    Sandwich v ubrousku je zaklad, v plastovym pyliku se sunka zapari ;))
    Sandwich wrapped in napkin is a must! Everybody knows, that ham in a plastic gets molded ;))

  • Anna November 1, 2009, 2:25 pm

    This was so funny to read and brought back so many memories of my childhood. My parents were Czech and moved to North Texas in the early 1970’s with my brother and sister (both Czech born). I was the American accident born later. 😉 I can remember garlic being the cure-all for my illnesses as a child. Earache? Mom would stick a mashed clove of garlic in my ears and shove a cotton ball to keep it in! She’d then wrap my head in a torn, 1/4 piece of a twin-sheet. And I remember hovering over a slowly boiling pot of salt water to clear my stuffed noses. The reference to wanting a “Happy Meal” cracked me up. Boy, can I relate! I don’t think I actually had one until I was in my teens and bought it myself! We RARELY went out to eat. It was always homecooked Czech foods and homemade bread. My sandwiches were almost always “open-faced” so everything would fall off when I took a bite if I wasn’t careful. And Jana is so right – meals always started with a soup (in our case – it was often bramboracka). Also, I love how Jana can relate to the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” That movie also reminds me so much of my family. Especially the mom in the movie when she asks “Are you hungry?”, the boyfriends says “No.”, and she says “Ok, I’ll get you something to eat.” That was SO my mom when my husband and I were dating and he’d come over to our house!! I miss the “Czech Days” at the Texas State Fair. Those were always fun. Most of all, I really miss my parents! They taught me so much that I am passing down to my own son. And all of those Czech foods that I grew so tired of as a child? I spend hours preparing the same meals now that I’m an adult so my husband and son can enjoy them.

    Thank you for the wonderful read!!

  • Tanja November 1, 2009, 11:49 pm

    Hi Anna! Your stories are so funny! I am so sorry your parents have passed away! Do you have anyone to speak Czech with now?
    Make sure you read parts 2 and 3. They are as interesting as this one 🙂

  • Anna November 2, 2009, 6:39 pm

    Hi Tanja. Yes, my sister and I still speak Czech to each other. It’s usually when she and I don’t want our kids to understand what we’re saying – LOL. 🙂 Your blog is wonderful – I’ll definitely stop by often!

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