Vojen Koreis


My books in English:

The Fools' Pilgrimage


The Kabbalah: a timeless philosophy of life

Asylum Seekers in Heaven

Mephisto and Pheles

Golf Jokes and Anecdotes From Around the World

 R.U.R. ( & The Robber / translated from the Czech, edited and introduced
by Voyen Koreis

THE FAMILY (17th to 21st Century)


People generally believe that while we can choose the friends we wish to associate with, the family we have been born into is ours no matter what and that we can’t do anything about it. Most people also are of the opinion that it is a matter of chance, which family we will be born into. While the first of the premises I have to agree with, as indeed there isn’t much we can do about our family other than accepting or rejecting it, I’m not so sure about the second. The longer I’ve been in this world, the more aware I have become of the so called “chances”, and of their roles in our lives. That ultimately, there are no chances, and that everything that happens is a consequence of what had preceded it, that everything has its causes! That while something might appear to us to be purely coincidental, the reason for that is that the true causes remain hidden to us. However, I am inclined to leave such philosophical and metaphysical essays to the last chapter.


My Great-Grandfather and the Flooded Mine


I have already mentioned that the silver-mining town Příbram about 50 km south-west of Prague was the place where our family from Father’s side originally came from. They mostly were either technically orientated, in which case they usually had something to do with the mining industry, or they had artistic leanings, and often became musicians. Great Granddad was the technical type, and became some sort of mining engineer at a young age. Together with a colleague, also a young man, they went to Prague as part of their duties, and had come to lunch in one of the pubs that was frequented by various administrators from the mining industry.


The talk was about a disaster that has left the salt mine in the Polish town of Wieliczka flooded with underground water and totally inoperable. The mine was not insignificant; in existence since mid 13th century, and its definite closure were to come only with the end of the 20th century, and it is now a major tourist attraction. However, in the 1850’s the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy was not prepared and probably could not afford to lose such important source of “white gold”, as it was known from the ancient times. Various remedies were being suggested by those present, and discarded. Our two engineers listened, and eventually had let themselves be heard that given the free hand they would certainly get over the problem. Part of it may have been due to the arrogance of the youth, part to some experience in the industry that was similar to salt mining; in any case, an important looking man took them aside, and after finding out more about them to come with him to some governmental office or other. In any case, the two mining experts were on their way to Wielicka the next day.

They soon realized that the task was not going to be an easy one. They tried this and that, without success. It might have so happen that they would be going home with the tails between their legs, if not for the great idea that saved them. Was it the plate of bacon and eggs they had for breakfast? They had ordered several freight cars of bacon from somewhere in Hungary. Out of the blocks of greasy stuff they had built a wall in the most exposed place, which they reinforced with stones or bricks. The water stopped sipping through, and the one that had accumulated they could now pump away. Using the same method they the other spots and in the end could celebrate the victory over the water element. The mining works could resume!

Their legs were badly damaged with salt, and they both had enough of mining. Fortunately, the rewards they got made sure that they did not have to return to a mine, be it a salt of silver one. Granddad's colleague became the custodian of the Imperial Test residence, while great granddad became the Protector of the Imperial Waterworks in Prague. That’s what is says on the funeral notice from 1891, which I have hidden somewhere.


The Mayerling Tragedy


The Konopiště Castle
    While I am on the subject of family myths, I would like to mention another, this time involving one of my great-great uncles. I have forgotten his name, if I ever knew it, but the story, let's call him Joseph. He was destined to become involved in the event, the story of which has shaken the world in the last decade of the 19th century, and which I have heard told several times, so that it had stuck. As a young boy, this Joseph was growing up at the castle of Konopiště, which nowadays belongs to the handful of top tourist attractions. His father was one of the permanent staff there. Around 1880, the castle was the favourite hunting place to the Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, who was then in his early twenties. The boy, about ten years younger, was breading rabbits, and the Archduke Rudolf had accidentally shot one of them dead. He had apologised to Joseph, compensated him somehow, but also liked the ways the young fellow was conducting himself. He called in his father, and had made an arrangement with him that the boy would become one of his personal staff as soon as he grew up. Several years later this relative of mine thus became the Archeduke's valet.
    As such, he was also present on the day when the so called Mayerling tragedy took place. Mayerling was a hunting lodge at the far end of the Wienna Wood, another favourite place of the Archeduke. To this day it isn't known quite what has had happened -- there are many theories, most of them of a conspiratinal character. One thing is certain; the Crown Prince and his fiancé the Countess Vetsera (left) were found dead in the main chamber. Murder-suicide was one of the possibilities, but since it involved the future Emperor the speculations were endless. If the UFO's had been known at the time, some press would surely had made them responsible. It is generally believed that it was Rudolf's valet who found the dedad couple. Therefore, it could well have been (and probably was) my great-great uncle Joseph. The Emperor himself had made all those present come to Wienna, where they had been sworn to the utmost secrecy. They had all been given new jobs or even new identities ─ Joseph, who would have been still quite young at the time, had ended his working life as a rather prosperous public servant, he worked for the internal revenue office in Prague, where he eventually became the director. To his death he apparently never breathed a word of what had happened at Mayerling!

Great Grandfather
the Protector of Imperial Waterworks in Prague   

Left the house at Pohořelec Square, where my Great Grandfather lived and where Grandfather was born. It looks shabby, but it was a good address. The building behind is the end of Černínský Palác, occupied by the Czech Foreign Ministry  even to these days, and where my Father was employed.

    I must admit that I don't know a great deal about my Great Grandfather. As I have already said, he was the Protector of Imperial Waterworks, and as such he was based in Prague. I do know however where he lived, and I would have been passing the place almost daily some years later. I have already described how it happened that this ancestor of mine got to  get the above job. He stayed with it for the rest of his life. One day maybe I will find the funeral notice that I have somewhere, with the date of his birth and death and other details; then I would fill it in here.

Grandfather - the Choir Master at Zbraslav

    His son Jaroslav Koreis (1870-1930) was one of those family members born with the artistic talent. He was accepted to the studies at the Prague Conservatory, which he must have successfully completed around the year 1890. I'm not even sure which instrument was the subject of his studies - he may even have studied composition, in which case he might have been under the tutelage of Antonín Dvořák, who was the Director about the same time. But he may have studied any other instrument, because he was able to play practically all of them. Including the organ, which was over the years to become his main instrument. However, at the time when he was finishing his studies, he was apparently a crack trumpet player. So much so that almost immediately there was a job offer for him - to play the trumpet with the orchestra of the Russian Imperial Opera in St. Petersburg. But the faith decided otherwise; obviously he was not destined to live through the Russian revolution, which was to come some years later.
    What saved my Grandfather from having to flee from the Reds? His insatiable libido, it seems. He had made my grandmother pregnant, even before he could have disappeared in Russia. Was it a shot gun wedding? Possibly. Or perhaps my ancestor might have had a high sense of morality, who knows? It was the heights of the Victorian era, and things were not told openly, as they would be now. People still "did it", as did these two, and the result was their first son Rostislav, born in 1892. My Grandmother's maiden name was L
öbl. That looks to me a German version of a Jewish name. Does this mean that I have some Jewish blood running in my veins? It's quite possible. The job Grandfather had lined up with the imperial orchestra in St. Petersburg was of course gone, but fortunately there was another offer. Grandfather became the organ player, and the Choir Master in Zbraslav.

Zbraslav. In the background the hill Havlín, where both my parents are buried.

    Towards the end of the 19th century, when Grandfather came to live there, Zbraslav was still a relatively small country town, only some 15 km south of Prague. Nowadays it has become a part of Prague, as one of its suburbs. Zbraslav has a rich history. The first mention in writing comes from the beginning of 12th century, but the archaeological finds point to there being a Celtic fortified settlement as early as the 6th century BC. The king Marobud, the contemporary of Augustus of Rome, may have had his seat there. The Cistercian Monastery that was in Zbraslav in the 13th century was very important, also politically. The Abbott Konrád Zbraslavský (1247–1329) 
was the man who practically on his own brought the dynasty of Luxemburg to the Czech throne, by arranging the marriage of the last female member of the Přemyslid Dynasty Eliška (Elizabeth) to Jean of Luxemburg. The sculls of the last male Premyslids, Václav II. and his son Václav III., together with that of Elizabeth, are on display in the church. As a child I was totally fascinated by them!

The church and the monastery in Zbraslav

    Grandfather played the organ, practised with the choir, taught the various musical instruments, annually conducted the Ryba Czech Christmas Mass, all that in between making children, and playing cards with the parish priest and the schoolmaster. Altogether my grandparents had twelve children, of which my father Dalibor was the fourth. Grandfather stayed at Zbraslav till the end of is life, which wasn't very long. By the time I was born, he was gone for thirteen years.
    I don't know much about the youth of my father, however I know well the place where he was growing up, having even lived there for several months when I was about ten. Thus I know the garden where he would have played, the way to school, the school itself, even the place where the Koreis children went to swim in the river Vltava. Water in the river would have been warmer though in their times than in mine, as there were no dams up river yet, to release the cold water from the bottom. But they had other things to toughen them up, no doubt. The clothes were handed over from one child to another, the food was scarce, especially when the 1st World War had begun.

    With the 91st Regiment

    When it did begin in 1914, Father was still by the school desk, as he was not quite seventeen. A year later, with the college in Prague still unfinished (that happened only after the war), he and a number of his schoolmates were called up into the army. He was assigned to the 91st Regiment, later made famous by Jaroslav Hašek and his Good Soldier Švejk. From there he was immediately sent into the course for the future officers. When he returned as Cadet, the following had happened, like taken from the pages of this reputedly first true anti-war novel ever written. I only have it second-hand, from my mother.
    By the end of November 1916, the news had reached the regiment of the death of the Emperor, Franz Joseph I. The young Cadet Koreis was given the task of informing all the officers about this sad event. In the course of these duties, he entered the tent belonging to the 11th Company of the 91st Regiment, first lieutenant Lukáš, the real Lukáš, who was the model to the second main character in Hašek's book. The Lieutenant was just having an afternoon nap while lying on the field bed.The Cadet was not sure of what to do, but the news of his Majesty's death seemed to override everything else, even the Lieutenant's no doubt well deserved nap. He stood to attention and reported:
    "Cadet Koreis, Sir! I obediently report to you, Sir, that his Majesty, the Emperor Franz Joseph the First, had died!"
    Some faint growling was to be heard from the corner of the tent. The Cadet was not sure if he was heard, so he repeated his report once again and louder. Lukáš only turned on bed and waving his hand towards the exit from the tent, he said:
    "Good! Exit."
    The Cadet was not sure if he heard correctly. He would have eventually left the tent, but the Lieutenant finally had put together what he had heard while asleep, and what he had said himself, which could have easily passed for a high treason. He jumped off the bed, stood himself in attention, and made the Cadet repeat his report for the third time!

    The classical novel that Hašek wrote follows the part of 91st Regiment to Galicia (now divided between Poland and Ukraine), and eventually to Russia. Father however was transferred to another regiment, and was blown by the winds of destiny to the Balkans, where he stayed until the end of war. Here too, he contracted malaria, the disease that bothered him from time to time throughout his life. Meanwhile, the war had ended and the new state of Czechoslovakia was born. Father stayed in the army for a while, and ranked Lieutenant now, he was stationed in northern Slovakia, where in the area of river Orava disputes persisted of whether it should belong to Poland or Czechoslovakia. This was the background to the novel Where are you Going, Mountain Man?, which he later wrote. In it he returns to the time when he was in charge of one of the garrisons on the borderline, which was subject to frequent rides by the Polish troops, as well as attempts at sabotage and propagandist activity by the enemy.

    Because, enemy it was, of that there could be no doubts! Later, after the 2nd War, the two countries belonged to the same Communist block, therefore this period of history was virtually dismissed, scratched out of the official anales. Now, nearly a century later, hardly anyone knows about this relatively small episode of the European history,
but this doesn't mean that it wasn't a fully fledged war, with fighting, shooting and people dying. The League of Nations, the predecessor to the current United Nations, eventually stepped in and at first ordered a plebiscite. Father was named one of the overseers of the plebiscite; that however was to be called off, while some sort of an agreement about the positioning of the borderline was reached between Poland and Czechoslovakia.

    Father stayed in northern Slovakia for about two years. He met his first wife there, who was a teacher in one of the villages. Of their life I don't know much at all, except that my half-sister Lada was born to them in 1930. And that their marriage was over by the mid 1930's, when Father had eventually met Mother. Lada studied in Bratislava, and became a medical practitioner in Prague, but I had practically no chance of meeting her, let alone getting to know her, until I came there in 1990. After that we had met each time I visited the country, usually at least twice. We found out that we understood each other very well. I found out one thing, though. The subject of our father leaving her mother was taboo, and had to remain so. From the little that Lada that told me, I had worked out that she either did not know at all about the main reason of their split, or maybe did not want to know. She blamed Father's oldest sister Jiřina from making him leave her mother, for reasons that Lada had never made clear to me. True, Father went to see aunt Jiřina straight after he found out about his wife's infidelity and his best friend's betrayal and, and his sister naturally told him that he had to divorce her. After all, that and nothing else would have been expected of him, especially in the 1930's. He would have been considered a weakling, had he not taken a strong stance.

    On the other hand, Lada only knew her mother's side of the story, and naturally, she would not have told a young girl that she had slept with her father's friend. And I don't think Lada would have even imagined that something like that could have happened. She grew up believing that her father was a war hero, fighting with the occupiers of their country. She did not even know that Father had married again and believed that after the war's end he will return to them and they will once again live as a family. It was her mother that had lead her to believe that. Imagine the shock the 15 year old teenager would have got when her war hero did indeed return, but with his "new" wife of about seven years and a two year old little brother in tow! Lada stayed with us in Prague intermittently, but when she got place at the medical school in the Slovak capitol Bratislava, she decided to move there. She married young while still studying, had three daughters. Eventually she moved with her husband to Prague, but when the Soviet invasion happened in 1968, he went to Germany wher he found a job in a hospital. It was understood that Lada will join him there with their daughters, but instead he had divorsed her and found himself a German wife. One of the daugters, also Lada, who was old enough to have a pasdsport, came to live with them in Gearmany, the other two grew up in Prague, where their mother was a general practicioner. Her life wasn't easy! During our meetings many years later, once or twice I was on the verge of telling her what I knew and from very reliable sources at that, about our father's split with her mother, but each time I baulked. Somehow I sensed that it would not have come down well. Lada died in 2005, without learning the truth. Maybe, she suspected it, who knows?

    Mother Antonie (1904-1992)

    The Jandejsek family Mother came from on her father's side, arrived to the district of Kolin about the middle of the 19th century. Maybe it was an act of prophecy that had lead them to leave the valley where their town of origin Kralovice was situated. It is no longer there. The valley of Želivka River was a century later flooded with the waters of the dam that was built there to supply the capitol Prague. Maybe some soothsayer made them pick up their belongings and move some sixty or so kilometres north. The Jandejsek clan are tenacious people of mostly short and roundish statues. They tend to live long, often past ninety, in  case of one of my great-grand uncle, even to within a few days of reaching hundred. Unless of course they die of something that would not be a great problem in our times, as happened to my grandfather, who died of blood poisoning combined with pneumonia. at a mere 43 years of age. By the time I was born thus both my grandfathers were gone for many years.

    The Jandejseks had a house and some fields in Bohouňovice, several kilometres south of Kolín, but had made a family business of roof tiling, which to them apparently was more successful than farming. My great-grandfather František Jandejsek was doing very well in this business ─ he had run a roofing company in Kolín that had about twenty employees, owned partly another factory, and still managed to grow fruit trees for profit. He died in 1945 at 93. There were several other long living ancestors of mine, including my great-great grandmother, whose grave I saw with her age of 98 written on the stone. Mother had left me quite comprehensive records of her side of the family, when she visited us here in Australia. She was 74 at the time, but her memory was still near perfect ─ all the details that filled one notebook she carried in her head, all the dates, day, month, year of people's birth and death, going back several generations. This admirable ability, which she only lost in her final years, I have not inherited ─ to this day I'm having problems remembering just the birthday of those nearest to me!

     There is no need to bore the reader with a lot of detail that my mother supplied, but I would like to concentrate now on my other grandfather (left), whom I have not met either, but of whom Mother had talked to me a great deal. He was born in 1878 and died on 15th December 1921. He was apprenticed as a joiner, but soon became a businessman. After he married at about 23, he hired a pub in Červené Pečky near Kolín, later another, a bigger one, eventually he had one built new, with a large garden where he could have a bowling alley to attract weekend visitors from Kolín. Then he bought the next property that had a hall on it, where soon he had ran the only cinema in the town. He seemed to have had the local entertainment industry pretty much sewn up. Next, he planned to monopolise the liquor business in the Kolín district, but his sudden death had prevented any such plans. He got injured while gathering ice on the local pond, got the blood půoisoning and while in hospital, caught the pneumonia. Maybe some higher authority had decided that there was enough liquor in the district (and perhaps elsewhere)!

    From the three children grandfather had produced, Marie was the oldest; within a couple of years she after her father's death she married a professor of mathematics from Kolín. This sister died of tuberculosis shortly before the war, which had affected her husband rather badly, as he developed a mental disease. I remember him, as when I was a small child he stayed with us in Prague. A tallish lonely figure of a somewhat heavy bold man, moving about as if in a trance ─ I even remember the shocking news that one day reached our family: "uncle Bert jumped in Dejvice under a train"!

     Back to Mother. She was born on 5th June 1904, thus she was only seventeen when her father died. The death of her "daddy", whom she loved very much, had impacted badly on her, and it was not made any easier when her mother, my grandmother, had married soon again. Not only that - she married a man who was inspired immensely by becoming a part-owner of a pub! While he was taking advantage of his sudden fortune, drinking rum and talking to patrons, the business was struggling. Eventually they had to sell it ─ Grandmother bought a general store, which had been doing so - so, mainly due to her industry, while her husband sat in the ante-room, drinking rum. As this second marriage moved to an inevitable end, which however was not to come for some years, Mother drifted away from the ruins of the family and became completely independent. She moved to Kolín, found herself an office job with an insurance company, and even accommodated and looked after her brother, who was nearly ten years younger than her.

    Grandmother Josefa Cháberová (1882-1959)

    When I write about Mother's side of the family, I'm being helped by the memoirs that she wrote, but Grandmother had also written some autobiographical notes, parts of which I also happen to have here. In her writing, the lack of education is sometimes visible, but also some basic talent for telling stories. Some of them would reach quite deep into the 18th century, though the dates are missing on the early parts. Interestingly, she also mentions her brother, my uncle Čeněk, who also wrote some chronicles of the family. Given that my father wrote a novel, and some smaller works, that I am now a full-time writer, and that my son is a trained journalist (though he has a public relations job), there is a great deal of evidence that writing and this family have always been friends. Here I reprint a substantial part of Grandmother's memoirs, trying to maintain the style, which is not at all easy to do in the English translation.

    Grandmother's Memoirs (written in the 1950’s)


For a long time I have been planning to write these memoirs. I will try to describe everything truthfully and without adornments, I will even provide the dates, if only approximate ones, as to find it out exactly would mean to run about the registrar offices - also this was already investigated by my brother Čeněk, who is enjoying his retirement in Pardubice. He needed these documents at a certain time, whilst I did not. He wrote the chronicle of our family, all the births and deaths, all the marriages with all details, so that anyone who might be interested could find it from his writings.

I on the other hand will try to describe the life style of our ancestors, their happy times and their grievances and burdens. It will be a fairly long story, and as I am no scholar, I hope you forgive me if I make some mistakes or if it does not come out as well as I would have wished. So I am going to begin, to the best of my mind and of my conscience.


My oldest remembrances belong to my grandmother from my mother's side, so first I will write her life story.

Kolín, the district town, where and around which my family from Mother's side mostly lived.

My grandmother's name was Marie Kedrštová and she came from Ohaře near Kolín, from the other side of the river Labe. From there also came all the other members of the family and their ancestors. Her father's name was Václav Kedršt and he was a bricklayers' supervisor. He had two brothers. Together with the second of the brothers, they would journey to Hungary, to find work there. They always went during the summer, before the winter time they would come back, bringing money, salami, bacon, even wine. During their absence the youngest brother looked after the family house. Their parents probably could not have been alive at the time, at least my grandmother had never mentioned anything about them when describing these times. Father of her father, that is her grandfather, was also named Václav, and he and his ancestors owned a large farm; as farmers they were very "well-off" and he was an uppish and defiant sort of a fellow, indeed. One of his extravagancies: he owned a pair of shoes with silver plates on the heels, leaving the imprint in the ground wherever he walked on a soft ground, which read: "Vašíček Kedršt walked through here". However, he took a bad end. It was probably in the seven year war, during the reign of Maria Theresa (1756-1763), when he was called into the army and had to go, with two pairs of horses, two wagons and a helper and lots of provisions, and he never came back. His wife was left alone with three boys, it must have been difficult to keep on farming, so they had lost everything. They were left only with their house, the boys became bricklayers, their mother probably died, so that they kept the house on their own, like it happens in fairy tales. These must have been hard times for them, if they were forced to become tradesmen. Farmer's sons only rarely learnt to be tradesmen in those days, but they must have had the courage, if they were able to journey all the way to Hungary every year - this also makes it obvious that there was not enough work for them at home. When they had saved some money, my grandfather's father built a nice little house in Ohaře - his brothers helped him. The house in Ohaře was opposite the school and on the gable it had a sundial, as my grandmother recalled.

Then her father had married. My grandmother's mother came from Chrčice, she was 17 years old when my great-grandfather married her, she was a seamstress, she sewed everything by hand, there were no sewing machines as yet - she would embroider hats with the gold for the farmers' wives. My grandmother used to say of her that she was "finicky". She had a mother who sold yeast, she carried her kit on her back on the way round the villages. Yeast came from the brewery. She only had this one daughter - there was never any talk about a father or anyone else. And her daughter, whom she had apprenticed to a dressmaker, was probably dressed better than the other girls, and my great-grandfather, who as they say was a man of the world, took a liking in her and married her, even though he was a lot older - but my grandmother did not know the date of his birth. She knew that her mother was born in 1817, and her father about 1807, his father could have been born sometime between 1782 - 1787, and could have lost his life even during the Napoleonic wars - it could certainly be investigated further. My grandmother was born about 1835, but she was not sure about the exact date, even though she could read and write, but only in "kurent" (cursive) as she called it. She went to school, her father made sure of that, she was also friendly with the schoolteacher's children, and she must have been quite bright, because her younger sister Rozára could not read or write at all. She also had a brother, but did not talk much about him, she was not too close to her family after she got married, she only kept exchanging visits with her sister. She must have had a nice childhood, her father worked, her mother made dresses, so that they lived quite well in this house opposite the school. Then the father died, mother was not so good in things of this world - grandmother used to quote her father, who said: "my wife doesn't pull anything apart, but doesn't pull much in either" - so they only just made ends meet, the girls became servants and the brother stayed with his mother.

Grandmother said that her first job was in Bělušice with the Jews. They owned a pub and a store, there was plenty of work, even enough food, but she did not stay for long. The young fellows harassed her and also - they had brandy and bread for breakfast and during the day they liked giving out the same to the others instead of wages, so she left.

She went to Tři Dvory to her cousin's farm, there she would cut grass and work as a cow girl. She managed alright, because she was a good and tidy worker. From there comes the story she used amongst others to relate: One housewife was visited by a relative who lived in the city and who brought with him some coffee, which he asked her to brew straight away. The coffee was green, it was the only way it used to be sold in those days, so the farming wife washed it, put it into a bowl, topped up with water and boiled it. The coffee was still hard, but in the end she strained it, put it on a plate, then added some grease, topped it up with fried sausages and brought it all to the table The guest stared at it, then he began to laugh, asking her what she did with the water she had boiled it in, she said that she tipped it out, what else would she do with it? In the end the coffee had to be washed again, roasted and boiled and only then they had enjoyed the  proper coffee with cream. This was also the first time my grandmother was drinking coffee. In Tři Dvory grandmother used to go to dances, and this how she became engaged to my grandfather.


The second story about grandfather begins here.


Grandfather was an orphan... In Liběnice there lived a handsome youth, whose name was Dobiáš. His father was a municipal servant who looked after the sheep and pigs for the local farmers and his son was probably helping him. He fell for a girl from Dolany, she was the daughter of an impoverished farmer named Němeček and a great beauty, as grandmother said. And so these two young and handsome people fell much and much in love with each other - and suddenly there was the recruitment into the army for eight years. There were all the farewell promises - and the soldier left for Brandys to the Dragoons. A boy was born to the girl, it wasn't probably easy for her, something like that was a great sin and a shame, even though the young people would have certainly got married if they have had the chance. The young mother somehow managed for a time, she even kept the child with her, but as she was pretty, another man came along and she moved in with him. Her young boy probably was not taking it too well, so his grandfather in Liběnice took him in and looked after him.

In time the soldier came home for a leave, they would not let them out very often in those days, and when he saw what had happened, that his bellowed is expecting another child, he said goodbye to his father, went back to the army and after some time there came the news: the dragoon had mounted his horse, gave it a whip, pulled himself head down from the saddle - and let himself be dragged by the horse to his death. And so little Franta stayed with his grandfather, minding the cattle and the cabbage garden, sleeping in a shed - no school, no apprenticeship, nothing like that. When nine years later his grandfather died, what of the boy? His mother had her own family, so he was to become a ward of the local council, as it was customary at the time. Liběnice would not take him, neither would Dolany, where he belonged after his mother - he bore her name, Němeček. It was resolved when a herdsman from Starý Kolín heard about him and took him on. There he continued to look after the sheep and the pigs, and managed so-so, growing up into a handsome young man. He could not read or write at all, as he never went to school and no one would be concerned about his education. On his own he taught himself to play the trumpet, and when he took his sheep out of the village to the grazing fields in the morning, he would blow his trumpet and the farmers run out their sheep onto the village green. The whole day he minded them while they were grazing on the meadows near the river Labe, and in the evening he took them back to the village, from where they would go to their homes by themselves. Always helping him was a good sheep-dog - they understood each other well! And each dog, he had several of them in succession, would be named Žulda.

Even though grandfather was religious, he never went to church, he hardly ever could go because of the sheep, he had to stay with them even on Sunday. Nevertheless, he boasted how he was praised by a priest from the pulpit in front of the whole assembly. It was on the Feast of the Holy Angel when all the local farmers came to the church even from large distances, so it was a big occasion. One of the priests held the service early in the morning and it so happened that grandfather was taking his sheep to graze, and begun to play the song "Angel of God, my Guardian...", directly under the windows of the rectory. The priests liked it very much and one of them praised him from the pulpit, saying: "I have been to many churches, but never have I heard a shepherd play so nicely, as in the present place..." Grandfather would often repeat these words in front of us, and always stressed the word present, because this was an unusual one for him. He did not say if there was anything else in it for him, an invitation to the table, for instance...

Starý Kolín (old town Kolín)

In Starý Kolín he must have stayed for a long time, then he also mentioned staying in Osek, he used to say that there were only rascals and poachers there - he learnt there how to poach rabbits. He would only tell us about this in a whisper, in full confidence. In Osek he stayed for a while and then he went to Tři Dvory. And there the fate made him meet with grandmother - by then he was a strong and good looking fellow. She must have liked him, I only remember him in his old age, but he must have been a handsome man, tall, with a roundish face and a pointy nose, small lively eyes, he was always cleanly shaven and perhaps even did not know how to get angry, he was always smiling, healthy, sun-tanned - from ever staying outdoors. Grandmother had a smallish rather than medium sized figure, oval face, blue eyes, pointy nose, rather an average looking blonde, but lively and bright. It must certainly been of her doing, to get him to the church in Týnice... so a poor man met a poor woman and they got married. A famous marriage ceremony it was not, it was set up by the bride’s lady employer. They moved then to Dolany, to grandfather's home village. Grandfather tended the sheep and grandmother went to work to the Funds'. Grandfather's mother never liked the young couple, she had several other younger children, grandmother never said much good about her.

In Dolany, the daughter Nanynka was born to them, our mother. To Dolany also moved my other grandmother, I'm not sure if her brother had died, but she stayed there with them and finally she stayed with us. They had to work very hard even for those times, and with the other mother there, it was difficult, so they moved to Hluboký Důl. Grandfather worked at Čejka's, grandmother served there and they lived with the Dvořáks'. It was a house with thatched roof, the owner lived in one room and the young couple in the antechamber. Dvořák was a smart looking fellow, I have some recollection of him.  He was a tailor, but did not make many dresses, in summer he looked after his orchard. He would walk onto the village green, where there were several nice cherry trees, nicely dressed, with a shiny large chain on his somewhat bulging tummy, a hat with feathers and a green ribbon; and what about his shoes, no one had such shoes, perhaps with the exception of the manager of the Baron from the Pečky estate. They were of the roll-up kind, high to the knees, ever shining beautifully, above the instep ornamented; these he would wear in summer or in winter, together with a long pipe, well, he looked like a real nobleman. They had no children and his wife, a small brunette, carried apples and cherries in a pannier all the way to Kolín, to get more money, sold them from door to door, begged out a lot of other things and forever only run in circles around her husband. Grandfather told us that they had plenty of rabbits from them to eat. Grandfather too must have taken a liking in rabbits, according to him they always had some in store, grandmother told us that when he brought in a rabbit, he skinned it and whole of it went into the pot to boil, then she made a sauce from plum jam, added some almonds and raisins, if she had them, and with potato dumplings or scones they had plenty of food. Grandfather also told us that when the brother-in-law, who was married to grandmother's sister, came to the feast, asked straight away, "Do you have a rabbit, brother?" , grandfather denied it, but when grandmother put it on the table, he laughed "And what is this?", then he staffed himself so much that he became ill.

When they lived in Hluboký Důl, there came the war of 1866. Grandfather was minding the cattle on a fallow near the state, or as they used to call it then, the Imperial Highway, when he would suddenly hear: tramtarata traala traal tramtaratam tramtatam and so on, it was the Prussians marching and the road was full of them, he was so scared and pulled all the sheep into the valley as far away as he could. This trumpet-call he did not like and he said: "Ours, they can do it better."

There follows the lyrics of a song about the Prussians that would be difficult to translate and parts of a couple of other folk songs.

The war ended soon and it caused no harm to them, only father told us about the incident that occurred when he was twelve years old.

Čejka, who was the employer of both my grandfather and grandmother when they were in Hluboký Důl, also owned a pub. A small one, as there were only seventeen houses in the village, it used to be called "Na bídě" (The Penury), it used to be quite profitable, until the Imperial Highway to Malín and Čáslav was built, before that it was on the old Regal Highway from Kutná Hora to Kolín and Prague, which then became obsolete. The local population did not bring in much money. The lessee had walked out and the landlord got the idea that our folk might take it over. Grandfather was not much interested, he could not count the money properly, but grandmother was willing to try. She hated brandy and now she had to sell it, and it was supposed to be a good one, from Janovice, it was still famous when I was in the pub. They had beer on tap and during the festive season there were dances held with a musical band and during the Lent, even a masked ball. They stayed there for several years and their second daughter Marjánka (Marie) was born there - my mother was then fourteen. She was supposed to be very pretty and lively, but at seven she got diphtheria and died, this left them very sad, and grandfather often remembered her... but the life had to go on.

The Čejka’s had a son, somewhat older than Nanynka, and the young fellow became infatuated with Nanynka and went crazy about her. For a while they sent him away to stay with some friends, but he came back and wanted to start it again. Grandmother knew that it would have lead to nothing, Nanynka did not like him either, he looked a bit retarded, he was also ill for a long time, but he was going to inherit the farm, so what should they do? They had saved a little money and the farmer Jirsa in Nebovidy was looking for a shepherd, so they bought a house there, said goodbye to the pub and it was resolved that way. The young fellow was scared to go to Nebovidy, the girl was young and pretty, she had plenty of suitors and they would have run him out of the village, he was not much of a hero. So everything ended up well. Grandfather was a shepherd again, the women folk went to work in the fields with the Jirsas', they had renovated the house, and only the death of the little girl still troubled them.

The house was a solid one, it used to be once the local granary, there were four rooms and a hall, an oven for baking bread, but grandmother would only use it twice a year for baking cakes, a small garden with hedges and a yard from which steps lead to the road, behind which was a creek, a little farther still was a well, from where we were getting our water. Behind the house there was another road and then a hill with trees, for the whole of summer occupied by geese and chickens. Two windows looked into the garden and the front two over the creek towards the hill and behind it, directly in front of the window was the church tower. It was a nice house, grandmother kept it clean, even though she had two tenants there.

In the front room lived the Hruška family, with about four children, at the rear the Pekárek family, they had about six of them. This was at the time when we used to go to school and we were there often at noon break. Those children used to walk about naked in summer, wading through the creek, and during the winter months they had to stay home, because they had no clothes or shoes. Their fathers both worked and their mothers did everything they could, but with so many hungry mouths to feed from the small wages - and when their father had a few drinks in the pub on Saturday night, there would be even less left there for them. It often used to happen that there was no work in winter and of course no dole either, people used to go hungry and there were lots of them. Grandmother Zápotocká could tell us about that, they used to share the yard with us, this was later in Hluboký Důl. Their father worked as a lumberjack in summer and the rest of the time he cut stones on the road. During winter, when it was freezing or there was sleet, he would sit by the stove and there was the smell of pancakes, black like ashes and garlic soup - and we would be envious of them. But she had probably forgotten about that, or doesn't like to talk about it. Grandmother and grandfather were relatively well off, grandad was not a spender and granny held the treasury - and she could count very well.

My mother was very pretty, as our aunts later told us, none of us have taken after her, we all look like the Táborský family. She had a lot of suitors, was full of fun, well dressed, she was the only child. Grandmother put into her everything she could, as she used to say, her outfit, even saved for her dowry. And thus my mother's youth was wonderful. When she was young she had her hair worked into a braid and coiled on the top of her head and held with pretty needles, she looked majestic with her nice tallish figure. She owned a lot of clothes and went with the fashion. Even I had been sifting through them, they used to hang in the grange all covered, she would no longer wear them as they were out of fashion.

(There follows almost a page long description of Nanynka's clothes, full of specialistic terms, which would be very difficult to translate and probably of little interest to anyone.)

Had any of these workers of the brewery in Červené Pečky (established (1623) delivered beer to my grandfather's pub?? Almost certainly!


And so the finitive Nanynka went with a girl friend to Pečky on St.John's Day, where there was a parade and after that a dance. It so happened that Mother had a boyfriend from Pečky, handsome, with dark eyes, a good dancer, with whom she danced there. But the devil so arranged it that there was Josef Táborský from Hluboký Důl, also dancing merrily. And he was so very good at that and, of course, prowling for girls. Nanynka Němeček enchanted him and so he went after her. And would not let go of her. The other boyfriend did not like it, he was a local, so he got together a party - and they went after Pepík (Josef). Others joined in, and there was a brawl. Father later boasted how he had sorted out the whole pub in Pečky. He probably won in the fight, but in the meantime the girls had slipped away.

Pepík was determined though, he found his way to Nebovidy, trying particularly to win grandfather's favours. The other one was also determined, but perhaps not so adventurous as to go to Nebovidy, which were Father's home ground and that would not have promised much good for him. So in the end Pepík had won. Granny said that she liked the first one better, that Father was too wild, but granddad sided with him, she used to say that he probably bought him some drinks in the pub and won him over this way. But she had nothing to regret, dad was fine, and he loved mother, the bundle of children are the proof of this. And so there was a wedding, probably a more noticeable one than that of my grandmother, mother was the only child, and a well known local beauty, father was the son of a landholder, there were flower girls, groomsmen, a feast, music, everything as it should be - and the world went spinning on and on.


The Chronicle of the Taborsky Family begins here


Our father Josef Táborský was born in 1853 in Hluboký Důl, in the house number 4. His father's name was also Josef Táborský and he died at 35 years of age. Father told us that his father was quite healthy, when in the middle of the night he dreamed that someone was knocking on the door. He jumped out of bed as he was, went out, but no one was there. It was in the middle of winter, and as he went back to bed, already he did not feel too well. It got worse and within three weeks he was dead. Father said that he may have twisted his bowel, but such a thing does not happen, more likely he died of pneumonia. He left a widow and five children. Their grandfather was still alive, he only died much later, father said that when he was 80 years old he was still able to cut the crop.

Taborsky family lived in the house on the top of the hill since time immemorial, it could certainly be in the records of the Parish of Nebovidy. Father's mother came from Pečky (always meaning Červené Pečky), her maiden name was Uhrová, they were also landholders, their house on the fringe of Pečky looks down to the town; it is still there, but in a new shape, as it once burned down - when it already had a new owner.

Mother had several brothers, they left home, but two families still live there. Grandmother was given a field near Malá Vysoká as a dowry and they used to go there to work on it all the way from Hluboký Důl, until they later sold it. Father's father also had sisters, they all married, one to Pečky into Špatenka family at Prakan, in father's young days they used to say that there was a ghost there. Father insisted that he saw it himself, a big black dog walked into the room, put its paws onto the table and looked into the window, and then it disappeared - no one else saw it, only himself. Father went to school there, there was no school in Nebovidy as yet, and for lunch he used to go to his aunt. He may have had a fewer, they would not measure it in those days, so he may have gone like this to school. In any case, there even used to be a song in Pečky, about the spook in Prakan where Špatenka family lived, it was supposed to be a noisy and mischievous one. Then the house burnt down and after that it stopped. The other sister married Sasma from Nebovidy, they had a little house in the colony, a small field, he was a parish clerk, she sometimes visited us. They had two girls and a boy, he was apprenticed to a shoemaker and badly wanted to marry me, but I was too young - he wasn't too bad, but a shoemaker, I wouldn't have anything to do with him. Eventually he married elsewhere, inherited a house on the railway line near Stary Kolin, and had two daughters - he gave them 100 000 each for dowry, life with him would have been more peaceful for me.  The third sister was in Polepy, their name was Vnouček, they had a house there and went to work. We had no contact with them, father was too fussy, but they would not visit us either. Finally the fourth aunt, Vondráčková, she lived in Hluboký Důl, was a widow and had a son Eman. They had a house near the creek and auntie was selling tobacco and yeast - it already looked like it does now. Eman, I don't even know what he used to do, but he married and had a son, also Eman, and soon he died. The young mother had remarried and little Eman stayed with his grandmother. This aunt was a strange looking person, small, broad, with a wide face, wide nose, small receding eyes - and those lips: they were huge, fleshy, with the mouth so wide. She was always quite a bit dirty, we were all scared of her. Her house was a mess, in the living room where there was no floor, just stamped out soil, there were all kinds of things. On the stove on the bench a number of pots and assorted pans, bags and odd bundles of herbs, even bottles with leeches, big spotty ones. When we went there for tobacco or yeast, we looked around in an amazement. Once I was there, standing and waiting for her to give me the yeast, and suddenly a big black hen making a lot of cackling noises comes flying out of the bed - and I was outside immediately - the hens laid eggs in her bed! She could also work magic and ward off diseases. She would take you into the garden under the shrub of elder - she even took me there once - I had to kneel on the ground and cross, and she was shaking the elder tree and mumbling something, making such strange clicking noises with those big lips, that I had my eyes on the top of my head and would never come near her again, even if I needed to be cured again. They used to say that she was warding off the sap.

Once, it was at night time in that room, she brought water, I don't know if it was supposed to be holy water, she measured it by spoonfuls into a pot, then she added glowing charcoal, and I'm not sure whether some other things, it cracked, out came a smoke, she covered it, again mumbled something, and then - I don't know if it was her brother or her sister - she took that person and rubbed that water into their arms and legs, even their chest and backs, always mumbling with those lips; this was to be repeated several times. When she rubbed that water in, she measured the remaining water again, by counting the spoonfuls. Of course, there was less water - she said that she was catching consumption (tuberculosis). When she repeated it, the amount of water had increased by the spoonfuls - she said that consumption was leaving the body, how she did it, I have no idea.

She also warded off "stříle", I don't know what was that supposed to be, she put warm ears of corn onto the neck and the head. But mainly she would be helping the cows, when they gave little milk, with some herbs and  incantations. Also the goats when giving birth. And those afflicted with the evil eye - then she would pull up the person's shirt, rub the forehead and also say some incantations. She always came obligingly when called upon, usually in the evening, she would be given a meal and something extra to take home, and this is how she made a living. She also applied leeches when the patient had fever - she put them to the head or to the neck and left them there, until they fell off by themselves, full of sucked blood. Whether this would help, I don't know. People still believed in such things a lot, so she used to do it until her death. No one ever said anything about how she had learnt it and where, she did not have any apprentice to pass it onto. The house belonged to her, after her death it went to Eman, his mother also lived there with her husband and children - that's when Eman went out to learn the trade. My father was his guardian, he send him to Pečky to Slejška's engineering workshop, no pay for three years. Slejška was a good master and not easy on his boys. The boy often wanted to run away, but my father always sorted him out. His master happened to be short tempered, he would say: "Eman this and Eman that", and next he would give him a good slap... and soon another one. Eman lasted till the end, he grew up into a fairly handsome fellow, blond, curly hair, except for those lips, which he inherited from his grandmother - because of that we would make a fun of him. He worked somewhere for a while, then he was taken for his service by the army, they sent him to the gunsmith workshops, promoted him - so he signed up with the army. Later he was in Croatia, found himself a girl there and married her. He too was thinking of me, but as he was only a year older and an apprentice for such a long time, he was too young for me. At fifteen I was already dancing with much older guys, so what of such a young boy. Later, when he was already married, he came to our pub in Pečky, in a nice uniform, but somehow swelled-headed after the army manner. We talked a bit, but it did not come to much, I too thought myself to be a pretty girl publican, so our parting was a cool one and I never saw him after that. Eventually he died in Kutná Hora as a childless pensioner.

Church in Červené Pečky, where some of my ancestors would have married

So back to the Táborský family...

When the householder died, he left a widow with five children and an elderly grandfather. The house was not very big, it had a thatched roof, with two small windows overlooking from the top of the hill the village green. In front there was a large room with a low ceiling and an oven, the hall and a chamber at the back from where lead the steps into the cellar, one more room with a window into the yard, a cow-shed and a small barn, a fairly large oblique shaped fenced yard with a well at the far end. On the other side there was a small reserve building of a small hall and one room, with the cow-shed and hen-house attached to it, behind the building there was a garden and behind it a sizeable field. They owned another field on the Kolín side, appart the one near Malá Vysoká that grandmother received for a dowry, and perhaps another block of land near Labe river and also had a lease on some land near Kolín. That was not a great deal for such a large family, particularly when an allowance had to be made for the pensioner. The widow kept the farm with the grandfather for a while, but it probably did not work very well, so she hired a labourer for extra help. In those days they were not difficult to find, farmers' sons rarely went to learn some trade, there were few factories, so they tended to stick with farming - and if they came from large families, there was no other way for them than to go "into service". Grandmother's labourer was one of them.

His name was Franta Záběhlický, he came from Březová, past Kutná Hora, originally a landholder's son, but they had lost their house. There were several children, the talk was that they did not manage too well, so that they went bankrupt and Frantik found himself work with the widow Taborská. He was an sprightly fellow and even though he could not read or write, he was able to work out what might eventually happen if he makes a good effort. And he had not miscalculated, even though he could not count very well either. He stayed there for some time, was good at farming and good at other things too, and thus before long the widow Taborská became the wife Zabehlická. One boy died young. The new householder was a good worker, perhaps he had some share in the farm, he bought a horse, leased some more land and later had a large barn added to the house, he was not bad to the children and he adored his wife, to which my father later attested. More children came along, and before my father had married, there were five more. Early on he would have had to work with grandfather, and as the children grew up, they were required to help and their stepfather was the boss. And though he had married a widow with five children, it worked quite well for him, as grandmother used to say, he was shrewed and cunning. So as the children were growing up, they managed quite well, there was plenty of work for them, their old man made sure of it that they would be earning their keep.

It so happened that after some time a large farm in Hluboký Důl was up for a lease, it was named "U Prosů", with about one hundred acres of land it was the largest farm in the area. And there came the news: Záběhlický had leased the farm from Prosa, it belonged to his wife and they lived in Čáslav, where her husband was a solicitor. How did Prosa come to own the farm nobody knew, it either was his wife's dowry, or as often happened, some stupid party had to sell it after a court action to pay for their solicitor's fees and expanses. In any case, they never worked the farm. I remember the lady owner a little. She had reserved two furnished rooms in the house for herself, and occasionally stayed there for a time, always on her own. Tall, slim, dressed in dark colours, she had the iron barred windows opened and the place cleaned for her by a maid (Zábehlický family maid, naturally), she would be seen in the garden, or she would go out for a walk in the fields with the tenant, always carrying a red umbrella. We would all stare at her as if she were an apparition, and after she had left, we would be keen to find out what it looked like in her rooms. We climbed to the barred windows, but there were dark curtains behind them, so that not much could be seen, but we always look in with reverence and an awe. But the tenant was not afraid of her, he would call her Madam and would kiss her hands and who knows what else, at least, later when he was already a widower, people had all kinds of views on it.


This is all I have of my Grandmother's writings


So much Grandmother, mostly citing her own grandmother's words. She too had lived through good and bad times. While the grandfather was alive, obviously he was a good provider, the family was doing well. After his death things went bad. My mother certainly thought so and she said more than once in front of me that her mother did not choose the second husband well. But marriage is always a two sided thing, people might thing whatever they do, but no one could see the whole of it. As far as I'm concerned, the wisdom that sometimes leaps off the pages of her memoirs, seems to have been somewhat diminished as she got older. Do I hear you say that its the fate of all of us?

Grandmother became a communist. She genuinely believed, like many left orientated citizens, that in her mold age she found the universal remedy for all human problems. When I came to visit you as a boy and teenager, she made me sing with her some of those awful propagandist songs ─ you know this one? ─ and she would begin to sing some of the terrible songs composed by a career minded composer. I knew what to do, that I had to humour her ─ I knew that from very young age of maybe six or seven that I have to be careful about what I say, no matter who was present. My mother had pumped this into me. So I pretended that that I agreed with whatever the regime said, pretended that my attitude towards the socialistic principles was a positive one. We may have listened to the Radio Free Europe at night, at the time of the greatest darkness in the early fifties, but I knew that I cannot mention that in front of my own Grandmother. Even now I believe that she would have been capable of dobbing in her own daughter, such were the times we lived in...

Granny had lived with us after the war in Prague, so that I had the chance to get to know her as a small boy. Later she moved to Kolín to my cousin Iva, when after the suicide of her father it appeared that the council might forcefully put some tenants into the house she inherited. Occasionally I would visit her, and that’s when I had the chance to realise how much indoctrinated she had become with the communist doctrine and propaganda. True, she saw a great deal of poverty around her in her youth, and some social injustice as well, as we all did and do even now. But the communist ideals could be very catchy and they have seduced a number of intellectuals, and not only in the countries where communism took roots. Look at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge in the thirties, for example, where quite a few of highly intelligent sons and daughters of English top families had been indoctrinated!

Granny’s only son and mother’s younger brother Ladislav became a convinced communist. It stayed with hiom, more or less, till the end of his life, until he died in his early nineties. He was what I call a "genuine communist". There weren’t many of those. Uncle became a member of the party as soon as he reached adulthood, at the time when there were absolutely no advantages to be gained from that, the opposite, if anything. That’s why I never held it against him, even though I would not agree with him. My mother had had a number of quarrels with him, to no avail. Uncle Ladislav after the war became acquainted with my father's family, and particularly with one of his sisters, Libuše. He married her and they had a daughter. Thus I have got something rather unique ─ a double cousin! Radmila is my cousin from both sides of the family, which has to be a bit of a rarity. The marriage of her parents unfortunately didn't last, and her mother died quite young. Radmila was brought up by her aunt Jiřina at Zbraslav. Uncle eventually married aunt Naďa. Years later, when I was in the Brisbane house of the painter Pavel Forman, brother of the famous film director (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus...), who grew up in the same region, our talk somehow turned to my uncle. Pavel said: "Excuse me", he ran somewhere and came back with a photo of himself with my uncle and aunt. It turned out that Aunt went to the same class at school as he did. It's a small world...

Granny lived with her son and his family of three children in the flat above the Kolín bank. Uncle was the bank manger a that entitled him to have the flat. For several years he was even the Chairman of the District Council, which was quite a high position. In other words, he was an apparatchik. Granny went to a home for the elderly for a while, obviously under the influence of the propaganda, but soon wanted to get out of there. I could imagine how, with her political convictions, which she would trumpet everywhere, she would have gotten onto the nerves of the elderly, who probably gave her their own. She would not have been popular, that's quite certain.

Granny had asked Mother to take her to live with us in Rokytnice. She arrived, but within about a month she got ill. At first it looked like an ordinary bout of flu, but after a few visits the doctor said that it was a case of advanced sclerosis and that Granny was going to die. Then she fell into a comma, and he said that it was a matter of hours, and that there would not be any point in taking her to hospital. I remember the last night, and how we took turns with Mother going to see her and listening to her heavy breathing ─ she was not aware of us or anything around her. At about 2 AM I got up and went to see her, and even when I was still behind the door I knew that she was gone. The breathing had stopped. I woke up Mother and we both went into her room. Indeed, Grandmother was dead. She was 77.


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