Alena Remembers Hana:
I’m over 80 years old now, which makes me one of keepers of the memories, as we say. We remember best what happened in our childhood and our youth, and that’s the time we like to remember best.
Our town was never large; the families all knew each other, and it wasn’t any different in our family. My parents knew the whole Brady family very well and when time permitted, we visited each other as friends. Several times my brother and I took part in such visits with great enthusiasm. My brother and George were always getting into things (Hanicka and I, as little girls, held them back a little), investigating and discovering everything. Like every old house, theirs [?] breathed with the spirit of the generations, and with a little mystery as well, and for boys who were excited by the spirit of the Boy Scouts, it was a source of discovery. Long, secretive corridors where there were wonderful places to hide, the garden that went right down to the brook, the gazebo. Unfortunately, our parents found our high spirits too much to bear, so mother cut off our visits and the parents went by themselves.
My uncle, my mother’s brother, the head teacher Rudolf Kleveta, was Hana’s class teacher. Sometimes the teachers had to be away, and they asked for someone to take their place – they called it “supply teaching” – and so my mother, who was also a teacher, sometime taught George and Hanicka.
The uncle and the aunt of the Brady children were the Hajeks, who were special people. Whenever Dad would make any reference to Ludvik Hajek, he’d always refer to him, familiarly, as Ludvicek. My mother was the class teacher of their daughter Veruska. I think that the Brady children found the last feeling of family love before they left Nove Mesto was here – with their uncle and aunt.
Every week, we would go with Dad on a visit to our godmother, the teacher, Maryna Nedvedova, in the house next to the Brady’s, or to the academic painter Karel Nemec, who was our godfather and a great friend of Dad’s and at the same time, a close acquaintance of the Brady family. We’d always stop in at the Brady’s store and Dad would buy me a chocolate that Mrs. Brady would pick out.
I always looked forward to seeing Mrs. Brady. My parents were already used to my endless questions, but Mrs. Brady never minded answering them and she would show me everything in the store. And there was lots to look at; the store was always busy; there was always something going on. People used to say that you could shop better at the Brady’s than anywhere else. During the year, Dad would do the shopping at the Bradys, and before and during the Christmas season, Mom would look after it, including the poultry we’d ordered. I always asked Mom to let me help her. For me, the greatest culinary delights were the large, pitted dried plums from Bosnia. We really loved those and Mom would buy them for me. I don’t think you can get such delicious plums any more like the ones from Bradys when I was young.
Another unforgettable experience was a huge apple, as yellow as a lemon, called “Ontario.” Such goods were brought in tall, beautiful crates made of thin, split wooden slats. Each apple was wrapped in thin tissue paper and packed in the crate – and that indescribable aroma – Mrs. Brady showed me everything. Later, whenever I spent time abroad, I would never forget to visit the marketplace and ask for “Ontario” apples, but they never had them. Whenever I went shopping with Dad, Mrs. Brady would stuff plums into all the pockets of my apron (back then, little girls wore aprons over their dresses). She never forgot about the plums. Mr. Brady would take Dad outside the shop and there they would talk together and laugh.
When I was young, there was a lively social life in our town. Citizens met with each other, there were outings to Plaskovec forest, and in summer, on Thursday and Saturdays, there were goulash parties with dancing at the Sokol hall (where the billiard room is today). Then there were balls – Sokol balls, skiing balls, sports balls, student balls, merchants’ balls. The Bradys attended them all – or “the young Bradys,” as they were called. They were very well liked in society. Everyone sat at long, common tables, as my parents often told me, and they remembered those occasions to the end of their lives.
Another meeting place was the Harusak Hut; that was the destination for hiking excursions. The young Bradys were seldom missing from such occasions. The main crowd were fans and lovers of skiing and Mr. Brady was a great sportsman and was active in skiing in Nove Mesto. The tenant of the resort, Mr. Stepanek, set up a swing for us between the tall trees, and it was paradise. You could swing very high on the swing, but you could go highest of all if you stood up on the wooden seat. That was forbidden, but I did it all the same; my brother Pavel pushed me and I flew! But I had new soles on my shoes, and at the highest point of the swing I slipped, lost hold of the rope, and fell down among the roots of the trees. My brother ran into the cottage, shouting that I’d killed myself on the swing. Dad ran out, but Mr. Brady was the first to reach me, and he took me into his arms and put me in the car he and his wife had come in, and he took Dad and me to the doctor. It turned out fine; I had the wind knocked out of me, and a huge bruise on my bottom, a bloody nose, and scratches. In a week, everything was okay, but my family always remembered gratefully that during that week, the Bradys sent someone from the store to the school every day to ask my mother how I was doing.
I look back at my childhood experiences over the distance of time, and even though I’m old, I still see them like a child, and in my case, my memories are always related to the Brady family. As they say – time has borne it all away – and I only regret that my brother Pavel didn’t live to see George’s frequent visits to our house. When those near and dear to us depart, all that remain are memories. As my mother used to say, no one can steal your memories, and it is in these memories that our nearest and dearest can always come back to us.