Light & Shadow #10

Parasol Dance — Boise, ID Circa 1985

The picture of this young girl performing a traditional dance at a Japanese cultural fair reminds me of personal musings about heritage and part of the reason I’m writing these blogs.

‘Tell me stories, grandpa’ my grandson said as we fished a mountain lake on our annual camping trip.

At that moment, I drew a blank. What stories did I have that would be entertaining enough? I’m sure I came up with something, but thinking about it days later I recalled only one time where my grandfather told me a story from his youth. That was a little sad. Maybe it was because I never asked. Maybe he felt his hardscrabble life was better left in the past.

That led to another realization. Unless efforts are made to the contrary, the connection to family heritage is lost within two or three generations. The people who brought it forward are gone and life is in constant change.

My paternal great-grandfather and great-great-grandmother emigrated from Czechoslovakia — more likely Bohemia back then — to Nebraska in 1886. My grandfather and grandmother were born in America, but there was no mistaking they were Bohemians.

I grew up connected to that heritage through dad’s extended family and their friends. I heard the language often though was never encouraged to learn it. I wasn’t much for polka music and glad efforts to make me an accordion player as a little kid didn’t take!

But food, oh, that food. My memories of grandma’s bakery and other dishes are some of the deepest I have and make my mouth water now.

Which brings me to my mother. Not a ‘Bohunk’ herself, she learned enough from my grandmother to keep most of the traditional foods alive. At 97, that kind of effort is more than she can manage.

Except for poppyseed kolace.

Mom has baked thousands of them since grandma died — even passing the skill to my daughter-in-law and her mother. In a sense, kolace represent the final thread of cultural connection for the family. My grandson knows little about our history, but I know the blood runs in his veins. 

The kid loves kolace!

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