When Jeff and I first planned our trip to Slovakia, I didn't really know what to expect. I knew that my dad's side of the family was all still there, people I hadn't seen for 20 years. But I didn't know what it would mean to see them again.
I have put off writing this post partly because it's difficult to describe how meaningful it was to see my family again. I was so very glad to see them. And while I had trouble communicating, and didn't always understand their words, I just wanted to be near them. Their gestures, their expressions ... it all made sense to me. It drew me in. I wanted to touch them, to memorize the way they appeared to me... in that moment.
At first, it was just my cousin Ivan, my aunt Zuzka, and us. We had lunch in Zuzka's kitchen. The last time I visited, my Babka was still alive, puttering in this same room. It was all remarkably familiar to me, and though Babka's bed in the lounge was long gone, I could still imagine it there, with her shape, hunched over, sitting on the side.
We had chicken soup, the kind I grew up with and now make, with carrots floating in the middle, and homemade noodles. There was chicken and duck and mashed potatoes, and wonderful cabbage rolls. Kaiya surprised me with her love of the cabbage rolls.
After lunch, we ventured outside, where Zuzka set up the swing her granddaughter used to use. Kaiya and Izzy took turns swinging, and we explored the land.
|Ivan loved holding Isabelle, but she never let him for long...|
|She even found a baby to hold.|
Zuzka continues to take care of her land. It's about as big as a long subdivision lot, but it is well tended. Apples, potatoes, carrots... herbs of every kind, cherries, strawberries, and other berries. Chickens, too. So much is there.
We walked up and down, exploring it all, amazed at the hard work my aunt still does every day. Kaiya especially loved it, taking her turn at working the soil, loudly proclaiming she would one day be "a farmer's wife"!
|The underground cold storage where Zuzka keeps her fruit and vegetables|
Throughout the afternoon, more of my family arrived. My uncle Pista and his wife Anka arrived next, happy to fawn over Isabelle. Pista reminded me of his visit to Canada when I was a child... how we went to a Bluejay's game... how he loved our old dog Muffy.
|Ivan, Anka, Zuzka, me, and Pista|
|Zuzka, now the family matriarch|
|Pista with his daughter Elenka|
|Anka did not leave Izzy's side all day.|
|Zuzka smiling at her great niece|
We moved back inside, ate a little more, drank a little more, and in time, Zuzka's other son Emil arrived with his family. My heart felt like it would burst. Everyone came! They were all there to see us. We could all just be together.
|Zuzka talking with Emil's children, her grandchildren|
Emil is quite shy. But Jeff was keen to learn more about him. In speaking to his son, he learned about Emil's metalworking trade. Emil soon offered to show Jeff some of his work in his workshop, right in the backyard. It was incredible. And it was great to see Emil in his element. You can see some of his work here.
At the end of the afternoon, we all walked together down to the cemetery, where my grandparents and Zuzka's husband are all buried. Again, I was overwhelmed with the meaning of this walk. I felt incredible fondness and love for my family, and though in reality I was wrangling a toddler down the street, in my mind, I was walking arm and arm with my aunt Zuzka.
|Izzy took her time, but Zuzka and Anka stayed near.|
Finally, we were all together at the grave. It was a moment I will not forget.
|I have a special fondness for these two.|
And one last photo of all of us together. It was hard to say goodbye. I would like to promise that we'll be back, and soon, but we know the twists and turns that life takes. I held both Zuzka and Pista's gaze for a long time as we said our goodbyes. I only hope I can see them all again.