Tuesday, April 16, 2013

In Praise of the Czech Heritage Society

Me, J.G. Hrncir (Lavaca Chapter President and
brother of my late Aunt Jerrilyn) and my cohort, Lori Najvar
I am a member of the Travis-Williamson Co. Chapter of the Texas Czech Heritage Society (CHS), though I rarely go to meetings, but last Sunday, Lori Najvar and I made a presentation to the Lavaca County Chapter of the Society at their quarterly meeting, which happened in the Hall of Fame room at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Hallettsville, the county seat of Lavaca County. We did our dog and pony show about our exhibit, Texas Czechs: Rooted in Tradition, currently in production. The Society was started in 1982 and is dedicated to the preservation of Texas Czech heritage through genealogy, history, music, customs, food, costumes, and language. It does this work through 15 chapters across the state. 

At these kinds of meetings, one must first sing the Czech national anthem and recite the Pledge of  Allegiance. (What other group is so comfortable with their Amercian-ness that they pass out the words to the Pledge of Allegiance in another language? I love Czechs.) Then one must sit through the requisite reading of the previous meeting’s minutes and the treasurer's report. But after that, the group surprised me by discussing one activity after another. From a tarok tournament (card game) to hosting the statewide Society meeting; from Youth Day at the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center to crowning their chapter's 2013 Queen, JG was leading the group in fulfilling their mission. They've even built a pretty useful website.
2012 Miss Lavaca Czech-Slovak Queen Caitlin Orsak
(no relation) crowning the 2013 Queen. At left is the 2012
Miss Lavaca Little Czech Sister, Kenna Kubenka.

After our presentation about the Texas Czechs exhibit, there was very good discussion among the members about what kind of information we were focusing on. We were reminded how the community feels defined to a certain degree by a very strong work ethic and the values of faith and citizenship. I heard again the saying "Bez prace, nejsou kolache." ("Without work, there are no kolaches.") These sentiments were echoed in the speeches of Caitlin, Kenna and Ashley, the Chapter Queens and Little Sister, as they told the group what it meant to them to have a strong Czech heritage.


Ashley Becan,
2013 Miss Lavaca Czech-Slovak Queen


And then, there was the potluck... chicken salad sandwiches, deviled eggs, pecan and lemon meringue pies, ranger cookies, buchty (cheese roll or pecan roll), chips and dips, homemade pickles and coffee, tea or Lone Star beer. And the door prizes... homemade noodles from Martha Sitka and homemade Mustang grape wine from Evelyn Konvicka (which I won by choosing my own number without realizing it!) Lori and I enjoyed a glass on her front porch after we'd driven back to Austin that evening. She reminisced about the Mustang wine her parents made which she got to sample as a kid, just a small amount, over ice. Mustang grapes grow wild and Lori and her family would pick them in the pasture, growing on fences and up in trees. I offered my 14-year old a taste when I got home with the bottle. He took a tiny sip, but scrunched his nose up at it.


Martha Sitka's pecan pie.


Helen Janak's deviled eggs.


Kountry Bakery's buchty.



Even better than the food itself, though, was the talk around the svacina (snack) table. Kenna Kubenka’s mother told us she and her husband had Kenna attend a whole hog butchering this year, not just the sausagemaking which she’d seen several times. She wanted her daughter to know where her food really came from. One woman came up to tell me that my grandparents would come to her family’s farm near Wied every year for loads of tomatoes. There was also mention of outhouses, ungrateful children who don’t work hard, walking across fields to get to church at St. Mary’s near Hallettsville, and someone affectionately calling my grandmother Aunt Nita, even when she wasn’t an aunt.  J.G. and his wife Janice regaled us with stories of visiting the Czech Republic, sleeping in the Hrncir home from the 1860s, and offering connections with museums there at which our exhibit could be displayed.

Though we received generous contributions from Chapter members to help make the Texas Czechs exhibit happen, we left the meeting with so much more... inspiration, validation for our efforts, a renewed respect for the CHS, connections, full stomachs, and homemade wine.

If you would also like to make a donation in support of the exhibit Texas Czechs: Rooted in Tradition, you can do so through PayPal on the PolkaWorks website or contact me for a mailing address to which you can send a check. 

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