Grandfather and grandmother
I do not have the dates when my grandfather and my grandmother were born, neither I have the ability to find that out. Both were born in Moravia (part of Czech Republic), grandfather came from a town called Trest and grandmother came from a town called Telc. Grandfather came from a highly respected family. According to local information one branch of the family (Gentleman named Havran), after the battle on “White Mountain” (in Czech “Bila Hora”), they had to give up their small castle and if they wanted to avoid political reprisals they had to accept a commoners surname and at the same time move into the town of Trest. This branch gave up on the Hussite’s movement (followers of Jan Hus) and accepted Catholicism. The parents of my grandfather placed their faith above all things and so became pillars of the town – a highly respected family and an example of all examples. For that reason grandfather helped in the church (acolyte) and hoped one day to became a priest. He had two brothers, but I know nothing about them. The boy was named Ferdinand after his father and became their pride and joy. A bright and good looking boy – liked by many and also a good Catholic.
Pilgrimage time came along. This was a procession in a form of a pilgrimage during which they had planned to visit a church exclusively visited by pilgrims near Trest. The boy could not sleep that night, he was so excited about the next day when he was going to carry the picture of his patron and protector Saint Ferdinand. He had to get up at three in the morning as the procession was starting its pilgrimage at five. It took an hour to get ready: getting washed, dressed and having breakfast; all this while it was still dark outside. Before he left his mother blessed him with a cross and then he left the house by placing his right leg first into the street (Czech custom, for good luck). At that time a light could be seen in many other houses as other people were starting to get up. The church was illuminated with all its candles. He entered the vestry and greeted respectfully the priest; he was given his outfit in the form of a skirt, shirt and a hat, and immediately he left the vestry and entered the main body of the church where he went to hold the picture of his Saint. Many were there next to their banners. Little boy Ferdinand was there with another boy with whom he was to share this banner; they were right at the front of the procession. The procession went past his house while the church bells were heralding the event. In the doorway was his mother looking proudly at her beloved son. He walked tall with his stand swinging, this way and that way in rhythm with the biggest church bell. This way and that way, this way and that way.
Perhaps his mother could already see her son as a priest leading a similar procession sometimes in the future. Perhaps she could see the rewards she was to receive in heaven because she brought him up so religious and at the same time dedicated him to God. Who knows? Her husband had been ill for years, bed bound. She could not help herself. Perhaps God could help her husband. She did ask young Ferdinand to pray specifically for his father. The pilgrimage was going to take quite some time. Soon the sun was hot above them throughout the walk, when finally they arrived at a brook, which was about half way. Reverently he placed the stand in a ditch and like all the others rushed towards the brook – his feet felt as if on fire. What a suffering he was placed into with those new saintly shoes. Others were already cooling their feet in the clear and cold water of the brook so he still had to find a spot for himself. Here, on a steep bank he sat down and in second his shoes are off. Later on he will put them on slowly if not rather go barefoot like many others. It will be hard for him to walk barefoot while carrying shoes and the banner of the Saint; why think about it now. The key now is to cool his feet. Once more he looked towards the road where he left his banner. Happy, although his feet hurt, he smiles, they are being cooled by the water. It is so pleasant, even that the water is so cold, perhaps this will refresh them even more, he moves them up and down, up and down. “Au” he suddenly screams – something sharp shot through him - perhaps it was in his ankle or perhaps higher up in his calf or even in his hip. He does not know, he feels he should get up, run around the grass for a while, most probably it is nothing. It has happened many times before, he never says anything; once he even kicked his big toe so blood came out. It will be nothing, but somehow he cannot get up, perhaps his leg has gone to sleep, now he is up and now what. He suddenly falls as if cut down by a blow and his leg hurts with a shooting pain. Now it is even worse than it was in the water. He is not able to get up again, they helped him up and take him to the road, they leave him next to his banner where he is left to recover. He looks at his banner, his leg hurts and he knows he will not be able to carry the banner to the pilgrim’s church. Later on he looks sadly behind the banner as it slowly disappears in the distance, carried by somebody else and finally he sees the sun reflecting on it as if saying goodbye – his banner with his patron saint. He returned home with a neighbour who took those that wanted to go, but were not able to get there on their own. He spent a long time convalescing and before winter came the leg stopped moving. Over the years the leg became shorter as it even stopped growing, (in my opinion he had polio: note by translator). Ferdinand became a cripple for life, limping through life, but with an enormous life’s energy. No, he will not be a priest, that he discovered during the first winter, he suffered greatly even though he prayed to his patron and God also. He became a handsome young man, tall with a high forehead (a sign of intelligence ) – he was always full of energy and with it he was clever – he went and trained as a hat maker and furrier. The years went by, his friends went away, many to Vienna to learn a trade, next came times when his friends were chasing girls, sitting at night in the moonlight in romantic spots declaring their love, perhaps these were the saddest times for Ferdinand. Because of these reasons he dedicated himself to work – surprisingly he was not disillusioned by his work like others were disillusioned by their love lives. One after another of his friends got married while he carried on working on his bride, that what he called The Big Telc Agricultural Exhibition - a 25 year old Ferdinand was working on his part in it. The first thing that went wrong was his 10 meter tall chimney with a hat on top, it fell down so it had to be constructed again, but on the day of the opening of the Exhibition smoke was coming out of the chimney, not only the chimney, but the hat on top. There was a big board advertising in Czech and German: “Ferdinand Havranek, hat maker and furrier from Trest.” In fact he had the first steam hat press in the world. Unfortunately this caused some difficulties - the commission insisted that this steam press had a safety valve like every other steam machine plus a pressure gage and a whistle . This obstacle was resolved by the designer by taking out a washer and replacing it with a valve, a manometer and a whistle. Technically these were as useful as if these things were placed on the table next to it. During the exhibition grandfather had to whistle periodically behind the scenes as no vapour entered the system. Whatever the situation was it was important that grandfather had a certificate and in theory the machine was tested and approved. Nobody knew where to place this invention be it among machinery or chimneys so for that reason he ended up as a special attraction among the fun rides. This proved to a blessing in disguise as the rest of the exhibition was poorly visited, but this part was highly frequented even to the late hours of the night. Thanks to this, grandfather had the opportunity to press thousands of hats with his steam press. This first hat press became the forerunner of irons, as used today, but introduced there over a hundred years ago. When grandfather started at the exhibition he had hired one local girl who was sewing ribbons, by the end he had hired eleven of them, all sewing ribbons. The last one worked only on the last day, be it for nothing but demanding the most of the attention. Somehow she became pregnant and grandfather to avoid problems decided to marry the girl and so Anna Maresova from Telc became Mrs Havrankova and therefore my grandmother. That is how things were in the beginning when the world was formed. I cannot swear to it as I was not there, neither I was present at that exhibition as I was not yet born. From then on my grandfather became well know throughout the whole of Moravia for his hat press. Besides it created a good income. In the Brno exhibition he used the hot water from the steam container to make tea which he distributed to his workers while the ten girls worked. Girl number eleven had to stay at home as a child was born and he was named Ferdinand, after his father. After one winter they decided that it would be a good idea not only to press hats, but also sell them. At that time straw hats became popular, but obviously he had to stock all sorts. One day he even introduced by accident a new colour. When the girls were pressing the hats for my grandfather, he noticed to his horror that the hats instead of being white were tea yellow. They tried to ratify it but the tea die did not want to budge. A client came in looking for something else, noticed the colour and soon returned with several hats insisting that these should be stained with that same colour as those they were preparing for their next exhibition somewhere in the world. After that a board was placed in the window: Havranek stains hats with tea yellow, latest fashion. This was a great asset, great income while grandfather went on tours. Grandmother produced further six children, something that grandfather did not consider a laughing matter. Perhaps that is why he stopped going to exhibitions as he was now responsible for seven children, seven hungry mouth to feed plus his wife and all the temporary worker he was responsible for. He a physical cripple, he who was thinking to commit suicide by drowning, he who would never be able to walk properly. When years ago he went to a pub for a dance and when the first girl he picked left him there standing and he heard a drunk guy say: “Cripple, he should be ashamed of himself”. He was hurt and that stayed with him for the rest of his life.
Grandfather loved his family. He saw himself in each one of his children, he took a responsibility for them something that I would not want even in a dream. One day when he gets old his time should be easy. His children should look after him. He tried to instil in them honour and the best character possible. Honour and character and what came of it? He lived a cruel destiny, one that rarely happens. His son Ferdinand, a trained hat maker and furrier, follower of grandfather, physically taller and of an athletic figure, he should have replaced him and taken over the business. After fulfilling his military service he decided to work with the railway as a railway employee. Of course, he started with menial jobs and later ended up as an inspector. He died in this employment. This was my grandfather’s first disappointment as he was his favourite son. While working with the railway he came home two or three times and always there was remorse and even perhaps arguments. Later on he married a dancer come singer. She took him away from family so that he did not even come to his father’s funeral. His daughter Matylda. A beautiful girl, kind, something that I concluded from her photograph. A dream of beauty, worked with fashion, but died at the age of twenty-five due to an abortion. She left home to go to her employment and her last photograph arrived once she was already buried. My mother, Johanna, was the only one that tried to help her parents when they needed it most. She lost her home and became disappointment number three. Next my uncle Leo, a trained salesman. He returned from military service and married a prostitute. After his divorce he came back home to be supported by his father. He lived a poor existence, his character was little to be desired and after several other woman he went to live in Slovakia where he lived with a much younger women. Grandfather did not live long enough to know about his demise. He was killed by either Germans or Slovaks and this was something to do with his ill character, something that I always expected to happen. My aunt Albina married a drunkard, who was also a gambler, he lost money that grandfather could not spare. Uncle Ladislav was also a trained salesmen, in fact he was the kindest son, he had a kind heart and many abused this. Grandfather sorted him a delicatessen shop in the town of Teplice. He sided with the Sokol group and since these people were in a minority they shopped on tick and in general never paid their dues. The German people avoided the Czechs so eventuality the shop went bankrupt. At that time, his father became so ill that he would not recover. He did not know how his son had died. During the First World War he was buried alive in a hole with other soldier (these were all assigned to telephone communications). When they found them, his fingers were cover in blood as he tried to reach freedom. His mouth was full of soil. It must have been a terrible death, all suffocated. Aunt Anna, was still very young , just out of school when grandfather died. She and grandmother tried to run the shop for a while. She tried hard even worked on repairs. When one day she met her first and last husband to be, they sold the shop on tick, but unfortunately the debt was never paid. Anna married a postal worker who later even became a director in the postal ministry. She is still alive today (1957) and has had two daughters.
Right now I am returning to the town of Trest. “ Deus ex macina” ruled the world. Small family enterprises died out, factories were started and then even larger factories. The machine became a God, in the small town of Telc it was not possible to sustain so many hat makers and furriers. Many closed down and went to work into the factories especially in the town Strakonice. On many doors poverty knocked. Some migrated even to other countries. The exodus to bigger towns was encouraged by local offers of regular work and a decent living wage. Towns like Teplice, Sanov. Spa places renown internationally had expensive rents so to start, people lived on the outskirts like Trnovany where live was exclusive to the poor. Poverty in Moravia stayed for years to come.
My grandmother was able to just cook with water. Dumplings were drenched with water instead of butter sometimes with milk or some artificial fat. On Sunday I was asked to make noises as if we were baking and grandmother would place a pinch of vanilla on the cooker so it would smell correctly. Slowly the shop made some money to at least buy food. My grandmother would alter her clothes over and over. When finally people recognized my grandfather's ability and his good character they started being his clients. They had started again in Vienna, grandfather was tied to a chair and while working he was breathing in tons of dust. He should have given up sooner. He started coughing, choking and their family doctor was treating him for asthma. He was treating him for asthma while his heart was choking with fat. One day he found it so hard to breath, he was wheezing. There where no other medications only opioids, these slowed him down and finally sent him to sleep for ever. His heart gave up it was no able to work any longer. It was the first funeral in a new Catholic church built in front of the house. He helped with the financing of the church, but he entered it only once, well he was carried in in a coffin. It was his goodbye, but I am sure he could have cared less. Knight in life, physically a cripple; symbol of virtue. I was there when he died. I know he was fighting incredible pain, he was not fighting death, but the pain was so great he just did want to live any longer. He was 56 when he passed. When did his destiny toy with him most? With whom? And grandmother? I will talk about her later. With her death my life felt as if it had ended. That is what I felt when I went to her funeral. Nobody ever could give me that zeal for life like she did.
My grandfather was disappointed with his faith, he became indifferent to it and he never went to church. My grandmother went in rarely, I do not why, because she was afraid of her husband or out of her own conviction. She never stopped anybody from believing. Only on Christmas Eve she would say “Our father”, grandfather would be there saying it with us. One Sunday grandfather was lying on the divan reading a newspaper (National Politics), anything interesting he would read out loud so that his wife could hear it. There were some news about an old church used by pilgrims. The church was hit by a bolt of lighting during mass and many people died. None of the saints there saved the church or the believers in it, he added on. It made me remember that here about five years ago during Easter also during mass twenty people died in Saint Teresa church. About a hundred were maimed and hurt. This was due to a lit candle. A girl’s dress caught fire and in seconds she became a living torch. The word fire was shouted by the lady that started it. Unfortunately this resulted in a panic and due to this the outcome was even worse. Also the church was full of believers and according to custom each was holding a lit candle.
Grandfather did not know what it was to laugh or to sing, but he was not odd or bad tempered. I loved him, but differently to my grandmother, he was like my father, but with this love there was a kind of fear and respect because of the image that was created by my grandmother. To receive his praise I would have given up my life, but he did not use praise very often. He would rather give me a small coin and say go and buy yourself something. He would treat his clients in a rather odd way. Many people said that shopping there was often a pretext to just have a conversation with him. A lot of work was done for the Knight called Clary, hats, coats for gamekeepers, bags to keep the passengers of a carriage warm etc. From left over skins my grandfather created patterns from which he made a rug. He exhibited it in the window. While it was there crowds of people use to gather there until the rug got sold. It was bought by a client of a spa for his study room. From the income my grandfather ordered a one and a half meter cylinder, which became the town’s pride, in those days this kind of advertising was not done.
My grandfather use to smoke. He was frugal so he would smoke only one cigar a week. I had to go and fetch it every Sunday morning with his paper and the cigar had to be as light in colour as possible. I was told go bring his newspaper, National Politics, and in the shop next door buy a short cigar, tell him it is for me and it has to be of light colour, if not he will get it back. I still can hear my grandfather as if it was today. I never said who the cigar was for, they knew me well and of course they would have never believed me that the cigar could be for me. The cigars were always light in colour, the shopkeeper picked the lightest one and then placed it in a wooden box of cigars. From these boxes I use to make picture frames, at the end nobody wanted them as I had made so many. Christmas Eve after dinner and after sharing the gifts, grandfather smoked his cigar, my memories of that period are clouds of smoke from his cigar mixed with Christmas spices. During this time he did not take any notice of me, not a word was shared. Once I said mum can I have some money I need a new notebook. Grandmother was mixing plums in a large pan and she said take some, they are in the top draw. I picked one that was shiny, possible one that was used with a goose when she was fattening her. It was so shiny that the shopkeeper gave me lots of small change in return. Perhaps he was mistaken, but I was not going to give him that money back. I wanted to hide this. Grandfather blamed me that I stole a gold ten crown coin that he had in that draw. I kept saying I did not take it and that time grandfather got very angry. He leapt into the corner where he kept his heavy oak stick, raised it to hit me over the head. I closed my eyes, but I felt how my grandmother jumped in between us. “Jesus Christ, you are going to kill him!” I was shaking with fear, I saw the stick hit full force her outstretched hand protecting me. She screamed with pain and fell like a log unconscious next to me. Grandfather threw the stick into the corner and run out of the room. They dragged poor grandmother to the doctor. Her hand was black, blue, dark brown. I am there with her and she lies: “I fell down.” For a long time she carried her hand in a sling and after taking the bandage off she use to soak it in salt water for days to come. After that I felt even closer to her. Grandfather did neven look at me for a long time. One day I jumped onto a broken bottle with my left leg and cut my foot. That time he stroked me and the next day he gave me a leather ball. One that he had made. The ball was so beautiful with many colours, I was so proud. I kept thinking once my foot heals I will kick it around. I never did that, it felt as if I was going to offend my grandfather so I only played with it using my hands. The ball stayed at home. I went away to study a trade and when I returned the ball was no longer there. My aunt Albina had two boys so they needed the ball.
Author Notes: I have translated the story as it was written, I modified a few things that I did not find clear and explained one or two things, in brackets.
I wished to share it as it is interesting and will give people an insight of time gone by.