Every day I run out the mail box or jaunt by it on my way home. Every day that letter doesn’t come again. My thoughts are plagued with questions. “Did I take it too far?” “Did I push too much?” Then I convince myself that he just hasn’t had the time. In a follow up to my research and interviews I sent my grandfather a letter. I asked some pretty simple questions. I felt like they were unobtrusive but pushed enough to garner answers that would further my own goal for this project and allow him to share the sentimental aspects of his heritage.
Question 1: Can you share with me a recipe that you grew up eating and a memory that surrounds it? This question seemed so appropriate because the one and only way I even knew of my Czech/Bohemian heritage was through cooking. Every year when I see my grandfather for a holiday his comforts seem to come from these Bohemian recipes. As well as, my memories of my great grandmother often center with her around the kitchen and cooking. As well, my grand father and his father were bakers. My great grand father owned his own Czech bakery which I found out through newspapers. My own grandfather worked most of his life after the military working in a Chicago polish bakery.
Question 2: Do you remember any specific traditions or customs that your parents brought over from Bohemia? This question I hoped would reveal things that were important to him growing up. Because frankly I don’t know any of them. I know the food traditions. But if there are Czech traditions that my family carry out I am clueless of their origins and clueless if they have meaning.
Question 3: Did your parents ever talk about their adjustment to the United States to you? Now this one I realized might push the envelope some but I fully expected him to just ignore it if he didn’t wish to answer. This question would pry at the reasons why this heritage has remained a secret. Which is something I honestly can only provide an academic answer too. That still saddens me since I feel like that goal of this project and the one question I could not get answered other than through historical research.
Question 4: Do you think there are any important things I should share with my girls about your parents? The truth is my memories are vague and of an eight year old girl. Most of the time I became lost in translation due to the heavy what I believed to be slavic tone. But I want to share this with my daughters. Every holiday I replicate recipes to the best of my abilities for them to at least taste that heritage. But I want stories. They have stories of all other aspects of my family. But this that is so rich and so close is untouchable at times and that is difficult.
For many years my correspondence with my grandparents took place via letter writing and we always carried a sentimental bond that way so I believed this might be the best way to finish off this research. But I haven’t heard from him yet. It has been almost two weeks since I sent him the letter. I am hoping that I am not hearing because he is busy or not feeling well. He did under go an emergency gall bladder surgery about a week before I sent the note and I know he wasn’t feeling very good even after.
So my research on this project has to fill in the gaps that I cannot communicate either because people are deceased or because I cannot get those that I can talk to confirm. The way I have filled in those gaps is similar to what I read in part 3 of Beyond the Archives. I just allowed history to parallel with locations, times and people where I could and when that didn’t work I tried to rely on the stories I had been told and when that didn’t work I tried to let the archives tell me the story. But the reality is some things still remain and likely will continue to remain a mystery. I have to find a way to be okay with that.
I started this project all starry eyed and hopeful that I could answer every question out there that I had or every mysterious story I have been told. I quickly learned that I cannot uncover the truth to every story. But I certainly did uncover some very important truths. And that cannot be lost in what I did not find.