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  • Mar18

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    Last summer in my blog post Then and Now: Simanek Family Home I described a nice find when I looked up my grandmother’s home in the Czech Republic using Google Street View and then found a matching photo in our family albums.

    Aaand, we’re back in The Republic again!

    First, thanks to a distant cousin, Pavel Vanac who sends me all sorts of links and information on our shared Vanac lines. He has been looking for all the Vanacs and descendants and is hoping to have a reunion one day in Prague and I really hope I can attend.

    For this year he has scaled back the idea to an online reunion – which may be difficult since I have only a tiny bit of the Czech language in my brain. (We normally communicate using Google Translate between us – which has sparked some fun confusion on both sides.) But I am still looking forward to that!

    Back to the story here – Pavel sent me a small photo over the weekend with the message: Read More | Comments

  • Mar8

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    Family Resemblance - BabushkasBoy, when I started researching my family history I didn’t think I’d see such a strong family resemblance so far back in time.

    Can you say babushka? Sure you can.

  • Feb5

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    Horse Drawn Carriage Driver's LicenseAt right is my grandfather Joseph Vanac’s NYPD “Traffic Warning Card” for a a “Horse Drawn” vehicle, circa 1922.

    I am happy to report that Grandpa had a clean driving record. Not sure how clean the horse was on the streets, though.

    Calvary Cemetery, Queens, NY
    In the 1920 census he lived near the Queens cemeteries where he worked as a stone mason. His entire enumeration district contained only two pages – probably hundreds of times more people buried in that area at the time than lived there. Also: horses.

    (Photo source: Wikimedia Commons.)

  • Oct12

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    My Mother in Traditional Czech outfitMy grandparents emigrated from Czechoslovakia in the early 1900s, met and lived up on the west side of Manhattan when they had my mother. That community had a very strong Czech component, as did some parts of Queens they later moved to.

    John Klecka in Traditional Czech outfitMy mother grew up learning both Czech and English, attended Sokol gymnastics and other social events at the Bohemian Hall in Astoria.

    My Mother and Great Uncle John Klecka in Traditional Czech outfitHere are a few photos of my Mom in her traditional outfits, along with her maternal Great Uncle John Klecka.

    (Good job fitting into that same outfit when posing with my Mom so many years later, Uncle John!)

    We still have my Mom’s flowery outfit saved in my Babi’s steamer trunk, although we are hesitant to take it out after having been folded in place for so many decades.

  • Sep20

    2 Comments

    When I was eleven,
    eleven days before my father’s birthday,
    as I tiptoed up the creaking stairs at bedtime
    he called me from his bed.

    My boyish perspective of him
    was as a somewhat mysterious being
    who had existed full grown, free range and in power
    forever.
    Mike Tierney, Baseball Uniform
    Although I had seen our family photographs
    I didn’t really link the baby in them
    nor the yard full of dirt and gardens
    and odd bits of wood lying about
    to him.

    From these photographs I did understand
    he was in the Navy during the war
    but didn’t see any of the fighting
    (which I, of course, attributed to an imaginary
    undercover spycraft they needed him for)
    and that he and my mother met at work
    and went to the beach together.
    Dad, Navy
    I also suspected that quite a bit seemed to have happened
    in the several years before I was around
    while my brother and sisters were,
    thanks to the projector and slides
    that smelled of electricity and dust
    he took out at intervals and the mote-filled light
    he pointed at the wood panel walls.

    I can recall his taking me to work in Manhattan
    down through dark and dingy subways and streets,
    printing out pictures of Snoopy for me
    made up of the alphabet in unlikely formations
    by machines of great size and noise
    using paper with alternating bars of white and green.
    Dad & Buddies, Central Park
    And our trip to the Museum of Natural History
    early one Sunday morning, so early the museum was far from open.
    He talked a man cleaning out a side street bar
    into giving us two short bottles of White Rock cola
    which we carried back to the museum steps
    and sat drinking, sweet and warm,
    while he pointed out places in the park he used to play
    and the architecture of buildings that stood coldly around us.

    On this eleventh day before my birthday,
    I can see my father sitting upstate in an Adirondack chair
    a blanket covering his legs and keeping him warm
    in stuffy summer air
    with The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich in his lap.

    I can remember walking from the bedroom steps
    to him after his call
    and his blue, blue eyes looking at mine.

    I can feel his thin arm reaching around my shoulder,
    his kiss on my head,
    his “Goodnight, Johnny”
    and his hug longer than expected.

    I can look back over my shoulder
    his eyes still on mine
    while I climbed the stairs to bed

    just before cancer won the day.

    Tonight,
    On this eleventh day before my birthday,
    the same birthday my father was approaching when I was eleven,
    as I climb the creaking steps
    to my own children’s bedrooms
    I will think of his kiss
    and I will kiss their clear, sweet faces
    as they sleep.


    Upstate, 1974 Upstate, 2012