Saturday, November 01, 2003

November 2003- Pitfalls in Learning Czech

We'd found some old horseshoes around the place, and since I'd learned "Shoes", "boty" and "horse", "kun", I figured I could say horseshoes in Czech. So I did. When everyone finished laughing, they explained to me that the word in Czech is not horseshoe - how very funny! - but under-metal. German has the same construction with different words, naturally. Horseshoe is podkova in Czech.

Another day I wanted to explain I was planting flowers near where ancient narcissi come up every year. Flowerbed would be Kytky-postel, no? No, not at all. Flowerbeds, herb beds, small vegetable gardens are each designated with the word zahon. It took me awhile to learn, so I caused laughter anew each time I asked, "Now, what do you call kytky-postel?"

Pole was another word I had trouble remembering. Spelled sloup, pronounced slope. Well, for the most part, poles should not slope. They ought to stand upright. Such words are called false cognates.Here's another false cognate - protoze. I was quite amazed that Czechs spent so much time talking about proteges. That is, until I found out that protoze in Czech means "because".

A couple of us have had problems buying matches. One daughter asked for "srdce", "heart" while everyone in the store stared. They cracked up when she finally pantomimed striking a match, saying "ohen", "fire". Elsewhere, I asked for candles enough times, that the owner would automatically ask me if I didn't want matches, sirky, rather than svicky.

This same store was kind to me when I first arrived, inviting me behind the counter to pick and chose. They were especially kind, because I sometimes knocked things over in that crowded area! One time, though, I just pointed at the plum butter, demanding svesky povidky. The woman was puzzled, but gave it to me. When I got home I realized I'd demanded plum stories, rather than plum butter, sveska povidla. How did she keep from laughing?

A favorite English-speaking-person-in-Czech-store involves an IWAP friend, Linda, the ballet teacher from South Africa. She didn't take a dictionary, but asked her neighbor how to say her grocery list in Czech. By the time she was in the store, she'd forgotten the words, of course. So she pantomimed, and being a ballet teacher she was good at this. It must have been quite a sight the day she'd forgotten "vejce", "eggs". She tucked her hands under her arms, flapped her wings, and cluck, cluck, clucked.

November 2003 - The Point-lace Handkerchief

I carried the point-lace handkerchief twice this summer.

It resides in a handkerchief box from the late 1920's - a flat cardboard box with a picture of flowers on the cover - There's a piece of blue tissue paper around it to keep it from yellowing. It was at the Philadelphia daughter's house for a few years in a dressing table of about the same vintage as the box, and now is at the Boston daughter's house in the guest room desk drawer. For several years it was here in the Czech Republic in my dresser.

In the box with the handkerchief and the blue paper is a letter, written in 1930 or 1931, by my great Aunt Iva Clark, to "My dear niece Ruth", my mother, wishing her happy birthday.

She says that she is working on something "just for you", but had not yet finished it. [What? Maybe the off-white knitted coat which my mother wore every summer for over 50 years.] Aunt Iva apologizes that she is sending something used, and starts explaining that "Years ago I used to do fancy work..."

This is an ironic statement to the rest of us, because she really never stopped doing fancy work. I know of at least six family houses which have her handicrafts - knitted things, crocheted things, embroidered things. I have a photo of our grandson Benjamin, now 10 months old, wearing a sweater Aunt Iva made for me in 1938.

The point-lace however required younger eyesight and fingers.

I would imagine Aunt Iva did it in the late 1890's, perhaps when she & another woman had returned to Kansas after homesteading, on their own, in the Dakotas. She made two.

One she made for her sister, Anna, and the other for her mother, Catharine Anthony Clark. She said that my great grandmother Catharine Clark had carried it in the wedding of my grandparents, Herbert Anthony Clark to Dora Markham, in 1901 and in the wedding of Aunt Anna to Mr. Jillson in 1912.

My mother penciled notes at the bottom of Aunt Iva's letter, "I carried it in Dorothy Jillson's wedding to Walter Bailey in 1941 and at Jim's [my brother's] to Emmy Hoffman in 1966. I forgot it at yours & Julie Bailey's.

Now I have added my own penciled notes - I guess I could write that I forgot it at the weddings of our son and our daughters. But what I did write was that I had carried it during the christening of Benjamin and in the wedding of my niece, Becky Clark Hunt to John Monroe both in the summer of 2003.

And, I tell you, it was a lot of work! It kept falling out of wherever I tucked it! But I'm glad I did it.