Sunday, July 22, 2007

Back-tracking in time

I am going to give you a few dates, but stories, mostly. George Anthony Joseph Homolka was born Jan. 28, 1938 in Prague, coming to Brezina when he was about 2 weeks old. His name in Czech is Jírí [Year-zee] Antonín [An-to-neen] Josef [Yo-sef]. His father, also George, was born on Jan. 24, 1908 in Horky nad Jizero, a small town in Northeastern Bohemia on the Jizero river, although his father had been managing the estate at the other end of Horepnik. They moved into Brezina a year or so later after a few renovations, esp. a bathroom & toilets. Antonin Homolka, George's grandfather, died in 1941 at about 62 years of age and is buried in our chapel tomb. The Communists did not allow his grandmother, Zdenka Syrova Homolkova, to be buried here when she died in 1960. She is buried in the cemetery in Horky. George & I went there during our second trip, fall of '90. Ladies were weeding & planting family plots. "Oh, yes the Syrovys were a very nice family - see their house over there in the opposite bluff? You're Homolka? Ah, yes, one of the town girls went to work for a Homolka in Prague near the Prague Castle." [Can you IMAGINE this after so many, many years?! It could have been just after the turn of the century, although it could have been later.] One of George's great-uncles was that Homolka. George's grandparents also had a daughter, Zdenka, born in 1900.

Now I will tell you the story of the four brothers. Antonin was the youngest, born 1874. The others were Jan, born 1867; Vincent, 1870; & Josef, 1872. Their parents both died. The court directed that the great-grandfather's partner in their brewery business take brewery and inventory, and farmed the four boys out, singlely, to pubs which owed the brewery, for the children to eat up the debts! Then an uncle, Napravník, who must have been a brother of the mother, sold what household goods remained and asked the boys what he should do with the money. They said to put it in the Austrian-Hungarian lottery. They won the lottery - 200,000 gold ducats! Uncle Napravnik removed the boys from the pubs, sending them to orphanages [Maybe you had to pay or maybe just for them to be together again...?] The archbishop took on the education of Jan, the oldest. The uncle was studying to be a priest and still had some time in the seminary. When he finished and was assigned a parish he engaged a housekeeper & moved with the boys to Hodkovice, south of Prague. Antonin was 4. He told Rina, my mother-in-law, that the housekeeper was a good baker! We haven't have not gone to this town yet.

We have a photo of the four brothers and their wives. On the back the names are written: Jan married Anna who was called Hanièka, born, perhaps Bulantová, but there's a question mark on it; Vincent married Anna, ne Benèová; Jan married Marie, ne Èerná; and Antonin married Zdenka, ne Syrová.

When the uncle had his jubilee the boys bought him a robe decorated with emeralds.

You have a number of things about George's childhood in the blog. When George, Ann, & I came here in April '90 she & I kept staring at each other. We could hardly believe all he knew. He said it was because there were so many adults around trying to make an impression on him & busy teaching him - parents; grandparents; Aunt Zdenka [often here from Prague]; governess before he was in 1st grade; Rina's school friend, Helenka, an English teacher who often visited; "Uncle George", Vincent's son, a medical student who came to work here when the Germans closed the universities; Icha, an artist - painter & sculptor the older George's roommate in cavalry training [along with Schwartzenburg, the present one's father], also avoiding being sent to work camps in Germany with possible injury to hands; and other relatives. However he also remembers an amazing number of things from WWII and afterwards.

Several things made them leave - when Jan Masaryk died George explained in school that he had not jumped from the window, but been pushed. The police came to say he couldn't talk like this. George's father was urged to join the Communist party - showing him a newspaper article which would be published, if he did not. Of course, also, all the general tenor of what was happening. Many people including good friends were being arrested, with trumped up charges. In March '48, George's father took some things to Kozolupi, beyond Pilsen, and planned their escape with Rina's brother Frantisek & wife Boska. In April they drove to Prague, leaving some things with Aunt Hana & Uncle Dick Hucl [who much later compiled the Hucl family history], but not telling them. They drove to Pilsen & had lunch in a hotel, leaving their car in the parking lot. About then they told George. They took the train to Stribro where Uncle Frantisek met them & took them to a mill hidden in the woods. After dark two young smugglers walked them across the border, where they spent the rest of the night in a farmhouse kitchen. The next day the OSS took George's father to the county seat, Tischenreuth, to ask him about conditions here. They stayed in a hotel in Bamberg for awhile, waiting for their things which never came. Then they went to refugee camp in Burg, north of Frankfurt for a few months, & then to Ludwigsburg for about a year. The Atlanta Rotary Club sent boxes of clothing which they used & sold. George's father belonged to Rotary.

George's father corresponded with a man who owned African farms, saying, "Now I can't consider buying a farm". Mr. Kapnek asked him to come as one of the managers on his huge farm. They went by ship. They had plenty of food at last! George had some adventures. He enjoyed the week resting & swimming in Mombasa, spending time with the Captain. Someone said later that the captain had cried when George left the ship in Beira. George's parents had spent alot of time on the ship studying a book of African trees - later it was apparent that they knew much more than people who'd been there for many years! After working on Kapnek's farm they went to Tracy's farm - Tracys are friends to this day. In Cape Town this April we had dinner with his granddaughter & husband. Meanwhile George was sent to a boarding school whose head was near retirement & who wanted to teach a child English before he did. He also had the kids do wood-working in the afternoons - easy to learn words, if you are holding, say, a hammer. Alot of the kids, especially the Afrikaners, left school for good when this school finished after 6th grade and went back home to their poor farms. After about 1 1/2 years he began St. George's College, a Jesuit high school in Salisbury, as was.

After living at the Tracy's for awhile, Tracy helped George's father buy his own farm. When George was home they were building & he helped supervise the builders- the foundation rocks had specks of gold in them, as they were in a gold-mining area!

They bought almost no furniture - people gave them things, some was built on the Tracy's farm. Of course Rina was making Czech dinners & pastries for many & knitting sweaters for all the babies. George & his mother liked to go to the movies about 15 mi. away - he took her, as he had his license at 16. George liked to read the "Saturday Evening Post". It was only in the '70's that the farm was making a good profit as they got a better irrigation well & pump & began doing flower seeds for Holland & California. There were a few Czechs in Rhodesia & they got to know most of them.

University of Rhodesia had no chemical engineering department and George went to the University of Cape Town. He took the train a couple times, but mostly hitch-hiked. He & friends liked to go to the movies, and he also read literature - these helped slow down his chemical engineering progress! At one point he went to Zambia, teaching school on the copper belt for part of a year, to get money to go back to UCT. After he graduated he worked on the copper belt.

After 1 1/2 years there he'd paid back his school loans. He went to London for a few months & then to Washington D.C., sponsored by people they'd met in refugee camp. He went to many Czech gatherings with "Uncle" Matt. He began applying to many companies. He had an interview at the salt works in Watkins Glen but arrived a day early, so hitch-hiked to Corning. The engineer who picked him up suggested he apply at the Glass Works. While he was in the personnel office they pulled out a letter from a D.C. friend of "Uncle" Matt to Amory Houghton, head of Corning!!! He had NO idea this had been done! He went back the next day, & then was taken to lunch at the country club, which made him late for his salt works interview - by then he didn't care.

After he was in Corning a couple weeks, working on control for the television bulbs, another engineer took him to a "Young Adults Group" dance in the Baron Steuben Hotel & he met me & knew he'd marry me!! Which he only told me much later, of course. This was in Sept. 1963. We saw each other at the group, but our first date was Feb. 22 when the group was skiing. We were married in Oneonta on August 22. Leslie was born in Corning in 1965. When she was one, we went to Rensslaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY for advanced degrees. David was born in 1967 in Troy; Caroline was born in 1969 at a maternity hospital in Niscayuna, NY. George finished his PhD in early Jan. 1971. We went at once to Africa for over a month to meet George's parents finally.

The day in Feb. we came back from Africa we began moving to Bellaire, Texas for George to work at the Texaco Labs. Alice was born in Sharpstown in 1971. Very little research was actually done there, so George joined a smaller company in Fort Worth, going there in the summer of '72. He enjoyed much of the association there, but it was a rather strange company; he left & worked for Alcon, which does cleansers for contact lenses. At the same time we began investigating working for Aramco in Saudi Arabia. We moved to Dhahran, the summer of 1974, seeing a little of Holland for 3 days.

In all of these places we'd had very little money for travel, so did things on the weekends that were close to the places we lived, going to open houses in developments, going to state parks & lakes, visiting people some. George also told the children stores from Shakespeare, which he continued later in Saudi. [Ann recently had a Shakespeare class & said that, along his stories, the plays we'd seen in 1983 the summer we spent in Oxford, it felt like coming home.]

Ann was born in Dhahran shortly after we moved there. We went to Africa for the second time when she was about 6 months. & she was baptized there. One reason for going to Aramco was so that we would have the air fare to go to George's parents. We went about every other year.

George decided to learn to dive, joining the diving club. Once he took Leslie & another time David. I went, too, when Ann was about a month old, with her as she was nursing! I can hardly believe I actually did it. I swam a little while someone watched her, but don't dive. George only did it a few years.

His big hobby was doing research on a British explorer of Arabia, Gerard Leachman, who was the first to photograph Riyadh. Aramco library has many manuscripts. We followed Leachman hither & yon - to an oasis north off the tapline; to Nanital, India; to Baghdad, where he is buried, shot in Iraq in 1920; to his birthplace, Petersfield, Eng. where we met a doctor whose father had been the other doctor in town with Leachman's father, and an old woman who had met Leachman when she was 17. The material in the Aramco library is also at St. Anthony's College in Oxford, along with much more. There is also material in Durham, and in London at the Military Museum, the House of Lords, & Kew Public Record Office [I discoved something there!!] Even Alice's friends ask now & then how Leachman's coming along! He's in a cupboard in our library. George began reading many biographies to see how authors made them both factual & interesting. Leachman's diary, written up as a sort of biography by St.John Philby, father of Kim, the spy, is deadly dull.

In Arabia George always worked in Computer Processing - which sometimes changed its name, but was always that - regulating processes with computers. He went on business trips to Texas & Arizona & Mass., & to UK, watching as new computers were being developed, often for Aramco's specific purposes. Sometimes these trips were tacked onto our vacations, but often he went alone or with other employees. Once while he was gone for several weeks I had all the rooms in our house painted, glorying in the colors, as it had been all white! Our Indian houseman thought I'd overdone it, but I didn't.

We talked about taking Aramco's early retirement, buying a pecan farm, & moving to Texas. One vacation we spent several days looking around, & nearly bought one near West, Texas, which is a very Czech community. Then came the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and we changed our direction, to Czechoslovakia.

Summer 2007, The Second Visit and Moving to Brezina

In the fall of 1990, on our second visit, George & Rina, his mother, began working with people in the Pelhrimov archives & with a lawyer in Prague. In the spring of '91 they continued this while I looked out at un-expected snow & wrote to everyone that we had survived the Gulf War.

The Farm Collective said of course we could move into the zamek in the summer, "It's yours, after all". Went back to Saudi. Made arrangements for moving. Talked with Fr. Reynold, a priest friend. He gave us his blessing - that we would be surrounded by helpful people. After we were here, in Oct. friends visiting asked if they should tell him to call a halt! When he visited several years later he prayed that we would "have just the people we needed to help" us! From Saudi we flew to Switzerland at the end of July, 1991 with Ann & the cat, met Alice who flew from the US, vacationed for a week, took the train to Pilsen, went to relatives, picked up the car a cousin had purchased for us, and drove to Pelhrimov. We stayed a few days in the hotel, bought some mattresses & bedding, went to a few offices, & moved to Brezina.

Some of the rooms you could just go into, some needed a key, & some were nailed shut. George went to someone's house & got a key. Bozenka's daughter & son-in-law & the Obcensky Forum woman came after work to start helping us clean out. Alice picked up beer bottle tops for half an hour from under a bed. I threw out about 20 loaves of moldy, blue bread. And many moldy canned pickles & strawberries. The village firemen came to remove their things - tables, chairs, dishes, booze, leaving us a few tables, chairs, & dishes, & an old wood-burning stove. They had a banquet here 2x a yr. but also used the room next door as a kind of village pub. Ann was appalled to see two crosses upside down, so we got those off. Ann & Alice removed girlie match-book covers from a door. The Horepnik mayor brought over a farm wagon to throw the junk in, & switched it as it filled. In the evenings we went to the people above for showers & supper. During the days George visited offices in Horepnik, Pelhrimov, maybe Prague. Alice, Ann, & I straightened-up, washed clothes by hand, vetted the visitors, walked to Horepnik to buy a few bits & pieces to eat. Once Alice & I had lunch out! We had hotdogs in the buffet/grocery store... Alice reconfirmed her flight at the post office telephone - we didn't have one until Thanksgiving. "You needn't spell 'Homolka' in this country!!" said the agent!

One day Ann went to Pilsen with George to the relatives to get the rest of the suitcases we'd had on the train. One day George & I went to Prague to see about our air shipment - Aramco shipped 3 large boxes that way & we'd put blankets, sheets, towels, more clothes, some dishes. The expediter lived on a hidden street!! His wife was listening to the radio about the Russian communists trying to get back in -- she had to be hoping... Also she asked if we had asked our embassy about our shipment!! George told her he could move wherever he wanted, with his things! While we were gone several builders came to visit - they asked if we had any plans so Alice showed them what I'd sketched on a tablet. She said they were disgusted, but would return, which they did. The girls also walked to Horepnik to buy us glasses for our anniversary present! "Where did you get money?" "Each time I went to Horepnik, I kept the change." later someone from Horepnik told us about this excursion! The girls also told us that if we never came back they'd decided to go to Pacov to Jaruska, the OF woman, & she'd help them! A bit scary.

People didn't stop coming. We started getting invited for dinner every Sunday - but the string attached was the family then communicated with an old Communist running another JZD. We almost had to have another wedding, because USA was not a country with which the Communists had a marriage agreement. We phoned Leslie at the post office to get us another certificate at the church in Oneonta. She thought this was quite amusing & sent us a fancy wedding congratulations card. George got the certificate officially translated in Tabor - he had to wait for the man, but the neighbors said he'd be back, as he had small children. He was embarrassed to translate for George, but added a couple words after he'd got George to do the translation. While he was gone some neighbors came over here & invited us for coffee, but they used different words than I knew, & I told them something crazy. The translation was accepted by the town hall.

Rina had to come sign some things - she came in November for about 3 weeks. She owned a percentage from the 1930's. Normally she came only in the summers, until George moved her here in the fall of 2001. George's grandfather had a will, & his father & we had those. Also, one vacation here a woman came running from a store in Horepnik, waving a piece of paper with a name & phone number. There was a man in another town who wanted us to come see him. In the early 50's he'd lived in George's grandmother's room, now our room, & had found & kept all the papers between the Knight von Eisenstein & Antonin Homolka from the 1908 purchase of Brezina & he gave them to us.

We were returned the forests in Jan. 1992. That spring we found out that the zamek had never been confiscated!! In the fall we hired a young man from Horepnik to be the farm manager, but we had back the garden & park. George called Pepik his "field marshall". The property is not in one neat square - maps from the archives Pepik pasted on a big piece of paper - there were bits & pieces that George didn't know, although most of it he did. The fields were mostly returned in the fall of 1993.