Halloween Bike Ride Tribute to Brave and Strong Women in My Family
In Czech Republic, the last weekend of October, or the first November weekend, are the days to remember our dead. Families get together at cemeteries, since often times, multiple members of one family are buried on the same graveyard. This is also a good time to catch up with your relatives after the visit to the graves, over hot coffee and strudel, on a typically foggy and drizzly autumn day. I remember carving a pumpkin lantern as a kid with my grandfather, but that part of tradition is I believe lost after many years of communist-organized night vigils at fallen Red Army soldier’s monuments, even though these included paper lanterns.
This year’s “Dusicky” weekend was especially hard for me not only for not being able to visit my gone ancestors, but also because I talked briefly to my aunt who is on her deathbed in an oncology hospital in Prague. I felt her suffering but was helpless, so I did what I do when I need to clear my head: go for a long bike ride. During this ride, particularly when riding along the foggy coast between the Tunitas and Pescadero creeks, I kept thinking about women in my family and realized that many of them were / are really strong. But at the same time I thought being strong to endure periods of hardship is one thing, being brave to make life decisions which include totally uncertain future consequences is quite another.
So images of my clan’s women, sometimes quite blurred, floated in my mental vision while I pedaled. In no particular order, I thought of their life stories and realized each of them did some things remarkable, so here is the account:
My grandma Miluše went to live in Paris in the 1930-ies to perfect her French and to have an affair with a Serbian Royal army officer. During the World War II, the night after the Heydrich assassination in Prague, she thought about marking her two little children so that they could be found after the war, in case the Gestapo would take her and her husband. At the end of her days, when her mind and body were betraying her, she kept on soldiering through without a complaint.
My other grandma Ludmila stayed in Prague during the Nazi occupation when other Jews fled, with her husband in a camp and two hungry kids, one sick with TB. She survived the Soviet occupation of 1968, unlike her Holocaust survivor husband, whose heart could not take another loss of freedom. Her many years before she passed away were a pure torture, bedridden in pain, she kept her mind sharp by reading newspaper and sarcastically commenting on the world’s nonsense. Her sister Máña, about whom I actually don’t know that much, raced cars and motorcycles in the 1930-1940-ies, when not that many women would even consider driving.
My auntie Lída shared her life and love with another woman, which must have taken a good deal of courage during those 40 years of communism, when LGBT lifestyles were criminalized. She also showed so much strength in her recent battle with cancer. My mom Hana decided to join the Prague Spring movement in 1968, not as an idealistic teenager, but a young, married woman with two kids. She ended up bearing the consequences of her decision for the next twenty years when her career was limited and she had to face daily repressions of the regime. Today, she is not afraid to hike the Alps with thirty year olds and learn computer skills. My sister Tamara was brave to ditch her stable but boring job, she quit teaching others how to design things and instead went ahead and started her own design studio, while raising two teenage daughters on her own. My wife Markéta is strong to run and finish marathons. Mostly, she was brave to have left all her previous life behind and move to a foreign country with me, and brave to having embarked on a long and uncertain path to becoming a psychologist, after more than twenty years of not enjoying life sciences so much.
So I am not exactly sure why none of my male ancestors or relatives made the picture on the Halloween ride yesterday (they certainly deserve it), but there you go girls: you make the rockin’ world go round.