Monday, August 19, 2013

158th Prazska Pout

Last Thursday, I attended the 158th picnic of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in Praha, Texas. I thought it would be interesting for you, dear blog follower, to first read about my great grandfather, Alois Morkovsky, attending the 28th Praha church picnic. Below is his account of getting to Praha. At the time (1889), he was a single man of 19 working for a farmer in Moulton. He worked the fields, built a hayloft and stable, and hauled loads of stone from Praha for the lining of a well.
He wrote "The Parish Feast in Praha took place in August, and it was more than half a year since I had been there among my old acquaintances. But how to get there the 10 miles distance? We had a young horse that had a habit of first throwing the rider and then letting him mount again and ride. I put on my stout, everyday clothes and saddled the horse. He was full of mischief and indicated that he intended to throw me to the ground. I did not give in. I lost my hat and was hanging on with only one leg, but I did not fall, though the horse tried all his leaps to throw me. His color was bay, but he exerted himself so much that he was all covered with white foam by the time he stopped his foolishness. Then I changed clothes and rode him to Praha. There I found my mail for almost a year past, and among the letters was one from my older brother Joseph. It was only then I learned that, after a painful illness, our father had died of blood poisoning on January 26, 1888. The poor man had enjoyed little happiness on earth. So there remained only my brother Joseph, and the younger one, Adolf. The pastor in Praha at this time was Rev. Fr. Zak, and they were just beginning to build a new church." 
Unfortunately, my great-grandfather didn't write about the picnic itself, but I assume that, even with 130 years between our experiences, we both listened to polka music, both drank a beer, both visited with friends, both were HOT, and ate a similar meal. His trip to Praha, though, was tainted with the sadness of finding out his father had died, while my trip was gratefully less heavy. I did think of him, though, maybe looking out onto the same trees, ruminating about his own ancestors that had passed.

But one can't be too melancholy at the picnic, whose atmosphere was, as you might imagine, joyful. The town is not called Maticka Praha (Mother Praha) for nothing and even on the church's sign the event is called Homecoming. The picnic is truly a sort of Texas-Czech family reunion with happy visitors coming from all over the state to be embraced by the culture to which they feel very strong ties. I ran into the State President of the Czech Heritage Society, visiting deacons from the Czech Republic, my cousin Noel and her mother and son, Gene Marie Bohuslav from Moravia and then her daughter Rene from Austin, the PolkaBeat folks, accordionist Chris Rybak, Miss Czech Texas-Lavaca Co., and Carol Filer and her parents from West. I drug my 14-year-old son and a friend of his along, too, but was really there to film, photograph and interview with Lori Najvar and the PolkaWorks crew for our Texas Czechs exhibit.

Lori and Maria in the church choir loft lugging film and camera gear.
Praha is one of Texas' "painted churches' - you can see some of the
lovely details on the ceiling above their heads.
My favorite moments were spent dancing, enjoying a peaceful moment inside the church after mass, and interviewing Helen Schaefer, the woman who's been in charge of the kitchen at the picnic for over 20 years. She was so generous with her time (the kitchen crew was ridiculously busy, of course) and her knowledge. She had to have been exhausted, but was as kind and smiley as could be.

Lori and I interviewing Helen Schaefer in the kitchen. 
And Helen has to be absolutely fearless to take on serving 5,100 people in one day with just volunteers and love. Everything is literally homemade... the volunteers even peel all the potatoes themselves, starting at 2am that morning. The event is a well-oiled machine and even though the food lines were long, people inched along steadily, visiting and drinking beer and listening to the music as they waited.

An intrepid volunteer in the kitchen after most people had been served. 
And the food is so worth the wait!... the menu is fried chicken, Praha stew, sauerkraut, buttered potatoes, green beans, a pickle spear, white bread, tea or water and a dessert. My plate had a cherry kolach in it.  Helen told us that the only change they've made to the menu since she's been in charge was eliminating the canned peaches. I didn't miss them. My plate already weighed like two pounds! I've been eating the leftovers since Thursday night and loving every bite.

I could not stay as long as I would have liked, but did get to hear both Central Texas Sounds and Texavia as I was working and eating. I love to polka dance and enjoyed one twirl around the pavilion dance floor with Gary McKee, self-proclained King of Fayette County. Thanks, Gary!  You can see a few wonderful photos by Bill Bishop here, including one of Gary and Earline. There was just no way to have a bad time at the picnic. Who can be down when polka dancing and drinking a beer? It's simply not possible. But what made me most happy during the day, besides the accordion music, was being told that, like the picnic in Moravia, attendance at the event continues to RISE every year, even though the number of parishioners continues to decline and get older. Children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren volunteer to come back home and put in the hard work to make the event happen. For the church, for each other, and for the Texas-Czech community.

PolkaWorks has some photos up on our new Flickr page, along with images of other Texas-Czech fieldwork and other PolkaWorks projects. Please have a look at the sights, people, and events that we've been capturing.

Run out of kolaches? Let them eat cake. 

1 comment:

  1. The only thing I missed was poppyseed! There were no poppyseed kolaches. The food was amazing. I could eat that Praha stew everyday for the rest of my life. Of course, a nice cold beer doesn't hurt either. Wish I would have met Gary - I wanted to polka so bad! Love you Dawn!