Monday, August 1, 2016

Are You Related To...??

My grandmother and the Juneks,
Bay City, 1940. I got the "goofball"
gene from her.

Earlier this year I was sitting with my 96-year old grandmother (my Dad's mother - Irene (Zielonka) Orsak) in Denton and we were looking through photos. There was a batch of really sweet pictures of her and my grandfather in 1940 or '41 at LeTulle Park in Bay City with another couple their same age... drinking sodas, climbing trees, horsing around. There was a label on the back of one photo that said "Mrs. Edwin Junek." My grandmother told me they were friends with Edwin and his wife, but didn't remember her name.

That same week I got a notice in my email about an article that had just come out in Edible Houston magazine about the kolach baker Lydia Faust in Snook and it was written by a Sarah Junek (whose family has roots in Snook.) The name was so unusual to me that I contacted Edible Houston and asked them to send my contact info to Sarah. I was, at the time, working on my own article (on Texas Czech picnics) for Edible Austin magazine so thought we'd have a lot to talk about it.

Sarah Junek and me, 2016, at the
Foodways Texas annual conference,
where we sat on a panel together
about gender roles in the
Texas Czech kitchen.
With help from Sarah's Dad, we found out that the Junek couple my grandparents were friends with in 1940 was Sarah's great-great aunt and uncle, Edwin and Willie Ollie (Orsak) Junek.

To me, this is the quintessential Texas Czech story... Sarah and I became friends (and figured out our families are connected) by asking "Are you related to.....??" 

My grandmother (left) and
Sarah's great-great aunt, 1940.
As I was doing fieldwork for the traveling exhibition Texas Czechs: Rooted in Tradition, I was constantly coming into contact with Texas Czechs who had to basically vet me first, before feeling comfortable talking to me about their family, their traditions, their role in the community. One way this was accomplished, was by asking if I was related to this or the other Orsak somewhere in Texas. Usually I wasn't (there are a lot of Orsaks in Texas.) But follow up questions would be "Is Orsak your maiden or married name?" or "what is your mother's maiden name?" or "who were your grandparents?" or "where did your parents grow up?" 

My ancestors gave me plenty of ammunition to pass this test with flying colors and I am grateful. My maternal grandmother's brother was the Bishop of the Houston-Galveston diocese, and my mother's paternal grandfather was the State President of the KJT for years in the 1930s.  Another of my grandmother's brothers was a Monsignor with a serious reputation in Lavaca County for being a hard ass teacher (pardon my French) and a lead-foot. Invariably, whoever I was trying to start a discussion with in my fieldwork would know the names Morkovsky, Kallus, Migl, Marek, or Raska, etc. and I would be "taken in", so to speak.  I was suddenly accepted, a member of the clan, worthy of attention, and taken seriously. It was comforting. 

Juneks and Orsaks, LeTulle Park in Bay City, 75 years ago.

So, I was especially pleased to have this kinship/community connection with Sarah, who is a great writer and lover of stories and history. (Read her article about Lydia Faust, "The Czech Queen of Kolache"here.) She works at the Royal Theater in Archer City in Archer County and with the Archer City Story Center. In her own words, she is "cobbling together an arts education community out of the Royal Theater."  She's also been making an effort to help older Texas-Czech women in Snook tell their food stories. A kindred spirit. The Texas Czech community needs way more people like Sarah Junek and Lori Najvar of PolkaWorks and Susan Chandler at the Texas Czech Heritage Museum in Temple collecting the stories and memories of the community, especially if they're members of the community themselves... bringing that knowledge to interviews and fieldwork and, let's face it, being asked "Are you related to...?" and passing the test.

Just to put her money where her mouth is (and the food stories are), Sarah has a pop-up kolache booth at the Archer Farmers Market at the Archer Feed store on Saturday mornings. Visit her, if you're out West Texas way and support Texas Czechs making Texas Czech food. (Photos of Sarah's kolaches and booth below are stolen from her Facebook feed.)







2 comments:

  1. I actually met some of your relatives (first cousins, but I've already forgotten the first names) at the Praha Picnic this year! We were all at the same table. I should have taken photos for you.

    http://thefriedchickenblog.blogspot.com/2016/08/praha-2017-road-trip-to-praha-picnic.html

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  2. When I was younger and telling my grandma about my friends, she would always ask “The Questions” - who were their parents and grandparents, where were they from, etc. I didn’t appreciate the significance of it back then.
    Like you, I am still the recipient of "Are you related to ...?" questions. Since I have been working on my family’s genealogy, I can now happily answer them and it opens up a whole new dimension. It shows how you fit into the Cozy Quilt of Texas Czechs.
    Now it’s come full-circle - I have now turned into my grandma! In working on my family's genealogy, I am always asking people "Are you related to ...?" :)
    And during my recent trip to the Czech Republic, I used a version of it with the local people. I volunteered my ancestors’ connections to that village - and yep, instant acceptance!

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