Someone asked about stories we could tell about our visits to Slovakia. Well, my title here will lead me into one for you all.
During my only visit to Slovakia last June, I met my cousin Kornelia Heribanova'. Kornelia invited my wife and I to come to dinner one evening. It was after years of reseach that I found out about her and my many other cousins in the town of Kra'l'ova' pri Senci. Kornelia didn't know any English and I don't know any Slovak. So my cousin, Lubomir Tuchscher of Piestany, acted as interpreter.
Kornelia lived with her husband, Imrich Heriban, and her daughter, Kornelia. We arrived at her home some days after our brief initial visit to find that a feast was waiting for us. We were presented with the best they had to offer. They had killed two young ducks that morning and prepared them in such a way that they would be very tender and not greesy. Also on the table was Benzin (what I called their hard liquor), wine, beer, champaign and all types of soda pop. Fine table cloth was under plates that were just outstandingly beautiful and of course Slovak hand made cyrstal glasses. Except for that first meeting, I never knew this woman existed, we were total strangers.
We began this feast with the customary shot of Benzin (about half an ounce). You can't avoid it. Though my usually alcohol consumption consists of a beer about ever two weeks or so in the U.S., in Slovakia I was well blasted on more than one occasion. I soon learned that refusing this drink (or any drink) was more than just an insult, it actually hurt their feelings. Feelings was something I had to learn about over there. They taught me that it's alright that a grown man should shed tears at meeting a total stranger, who was some distant cousin from America. And I learned to down that Benzin in one gulp and then, this is the important part, put that little glass upside down on the table after. For they will refill it, no matter how carefull you are trying to stop them from refilling that glass, you turn your head, you turn back, that little glass is full again! [As a warning I found that priests have the strongest Benzin] Well we dug in. The first course was of this delightful soup that we often we treated to. Then came the duck, which was outstanding. For dessert they served us three types of pastries that Kornelia's had spent all day making. We drank and ate and Imrich sang us some traditional Slovak songs to round out our evening.
I didn't know these people. Never met them before. Yet they treated me like this. They shed tears when we left Slovakia, real tears that we were leaving them. Gee, they shed tears when we met them too.
There was something that bothered me about Kornelia. That being an apparent growth on her neck. I asked about it, but they didn't tell me anything. In August, back in America, I had E-mail from Lubo that Kornelia was in the hospital. They only wrote that "she was sick". Then they wrote that she was home again. In November Lubo wrote that Kornelia had died from cancer. This news cut through me like a knife. Especially when I realized that she knew she was dying and yet she went through all this work for us strangers. And my cousins knew also but didn't want to upset me. So I began asking myself "What kind of people are these Slovaks?". Though people here have said they treated you like they did because you have money, you're American. I know that is totally false. It's a sense of family there combined with genuine emotions that somehow I have been missing since childhood.
If you are going to Slovakia to be reunited with your family there, I suggest that you leave something behind. Your emotional barriers that keep you distant from others. Just remember that when you meet them for the first time and everything will be fine.
"What kind of people are these Slovaks?" .........THE BEST KIND!
Gilbert Geras firstname.lastname@example.org
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