Lady from Terxas - Helen Cyr
I felt very put upon as a child because we had to speak Czech at home while my cousins did not. What made it all the more galling was that my parents spoke perfect English without a trace of accent, my father having been born in the U.S. and my mother having immigrated when she was six. My paternal grandfather had emigrated from the Czech Republic when he was 14 and remained a fierce Moravian until his dying day though he earned a teaching degree in a University in Texas and supported his large family with his teaching. He even taught us and other members of the Czech community Czech a few weeks in several summer in formal classes in a convent school. During WWII he worked as a translator in the Post Office. My father taught us to read in Czech before we went to school and I remember standing around the piano singing Czech carols after Stedra vecera and the opening of gifts and
singing Czech songs in the car as we traveled. Mother sang Czech lullabies and hymns as she rocked the babies and I did the same with my younger brothers and sisters (and my own children). I think as much or more of my knowledge of Czech comes from songs as from books and conversation.
One mitigating factor in my parent´s decision to teach us was that my maternal grandparents never learned to speak English They lived in and around Czech communities in Texas in their lives as tenant farmers and in order to spend time alone with them in summers we had to speak Czech. In their later years my parents moved them to a farm they had bought near San Antonio, Texas within easy commuting from our home for after school and weekend farming chores, planting, harvesting, etc. What wonderful times and conversations I would have missed if I had not lived through those aggravating times of resentment. Religious and holiday customs were observed all year long with food and song. As I grew older I came to greatly appreciate the gift of language and customs we were given.
As I heard of the totalitarian regime and then rejoiced with the velvet revolution, it came to me that perhaps I could contribute something to the Czechs in return for my heritage and I thought of teaching English as a second language. This desire was intensified in Washington DC where I spent two weeks with about 60 Czechs from The Republic. My sister and I were invited to participate in a Smithsonian Museum´s Folklife Festival which featured the Czech Republic. Our credentials were as being of Czech origin and having been taught to cook some of the classic Czech specialties by our mother and grandmother. A cousin was our presenter and as we prepared our dishes she interviewed us about our Czech background and the keeping of our customs. In the evenings the hotel dining room was arranged for conversation and we talked and sang and danced until the wee hours of most mornings. Listening to and speaking Czech to folks who were so tolerant of our mistakes and anxious to communicate made me excited about pursuing my dream. I remember writing out phonetically "he is my translator" for a wood carver who wanted to communicate with fairgoers but didn´t speak a word of English.
Having been widowed, when my retirement came with all six children through University and launched into careers I was free to pursue my own desires. Two weeks after retirement found me in Boston, Mass., staying at the YWCA and taking an intensive teacher training course. After that I went back home to look through and at everything in my house to prepare for selling it; having two garage sales, giving away things and putting trash and treasures into storage, enlisting my family to make recommended repairs and changes , painting the house inside and out and putting it on the market. It reached the Market in June. Having sent out resumes and receiving an encouraging number of replies, I arrived in Prague in early August to interview and chose a school. My sister then came for two weeks and we explored Prague and Moravia where we have family in Vizovice, Zlin and Brno.
My daughter closed on the house in October for the price we had agreed on when it went on the market.
Teaching was satisfying. I had taught for three years as had been my original intention before returning home . However, the travel to teaching sites and the time required for the level of teaching I promised myself I would achieve was somewhat wearing and very time consuming so I decided to give myself a year of leisure to explore the country and see something of Europe. The year stretched into two and I began gathering documents to get some status which would allow me to stay longer than a month at a time without crossing a border. This was annoying but I took some delightful one day trips with Czech shopping groups to accomplish this.
I had thought of dual citizenship but , after spending some very interesting and sometimes frustrating time researching records in county court houses and parish churches in small Texas and Czech communities, I was told that was not possible in my case without giving up American citizenship. I began to think of other avenues and decided on permanent residency which is available to persons who have a parent born in the Czech Republic. I want to buy an apartment and retire here.
The documents necessary for permanent residency include the ancestors birth certificate, the applicant´s birth certificate, her marriage license (as the birth certificate name and married name are different), a statement that you are not wanted for any crime in the U.S., a document from the police here confirming the same, three passport sized photographs, the reply to a application at the Czech State Department stating that you would make a suitable resident, and a statement from a Czech bank that you have at least the equivalent of year´s minimum income on deposit there. I had had notarized translations made of all my documents. Unfortunately, I hadn´t specified that they make a notarized copy of the originals to attach to the translations and YOU MUST NEVER SUBMIT ORIGINALS BECAUSE YOU DON$acute;T GET THEM BACK. Running down a copier authorized to make copies of English language documents and then having these copies notarized as copies and going to the state department to get the form was a hectic day. However, it was satisfying when it that chunk was done. I had two copies made of everything which cost me but I now have copies to copy or hand in if or when the need arises. When I returned to Prague in December I had everything in order but the bank statement. When I had secured that I handed all my papers to the kind lady at the foreign police office and received a receipt. I was told to come by in two months to check on things. No information is given over the phone.
I am looking forward to early April with my fingers crossed. Surely I didn´t leave a monkey wrench in the works somewhere. In August I will have been here five years, which is hard to imagine but it is harder to imagine leaving the Czech Republic, which I don´t intend to do. My children have been and are very supportive of my endeavors. I think they like saying "my mother lives in Prague" and coming to visit here occasionally or gathering somewhere in Europe for Christmas or other times. They had me buy myself a computer several years ago and we are in constant communication. We call each other on special occasions and when we just want to hear each others voices.
Yes, I wanted to give something to the Czechs but have received so much in return: the friendship of wonderfully open folks, the musical and dramatic culture of Prague, the architectural marvels waiting around every bend in the road, the closeness to the family I Moravia, the freedom of not having a car but being within reach of everything by public transportation, a welcoming and nurturing church community where I can participate in the services and fulfilled my desire to sing when I joined the challenging choir, Saturdays or Sundays in Vsenory working in the garden of good friends and enjoying their unflagging hospitality and her Czech cooking, the IWAP community, the closeness of our group of special international friends, being invited to weddings and other family celebrations, the contacts I have kept with some of the English school staff and students, Sunday dinners in the homes of friends, and satisfying occasions more numerous than I can relate. In addition, I have taken extended bus trips with very genial Czechs and really feel part of culture and peoples.
My perseverence paid off. On April 4th I received a fifteen year residency permit. I look forward to many new advdntures and new friends.
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