Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Going Home

Michael (pronounced Mee-khale), my Rusyn researcher, pulled over at the top of the hill just past the village signs. We were following behind him, and once I got out of the car, I understood the stop. Nestled in a valley so green, I soon forgot the past several days of pouring rain. I was entering the village my ancestors called home. Once called Hosztovicza, once called Vendegi, now called Hostovice.

I purposely placed no expectations on this day. I had no goals, other than to visit the 'home village' and leave with a sense of place. There was no agenda established with Michael, and I really didn't know how we would spend the day. But Michael has been taking American and Canadian "roots-seekers" around for some time, and apparently he had some ideas up his sleeve.

We met Michael earlier that morning in the Billa hypermarche parking lot in Snina, a larger town down the road. This is far north-eastern Slovakia, about as far as one can get without entering Poland or the Ukraine. Up to this point, I had only communicated with Michael via email. He had discovered my grandparents and great-grandparents birth records that were archived in Hungary. Doug and I decided that since we had traveled this far, we shouldn't just drive blindly though Hostovice, so I contracted Michael's guide services for the day.

Our first stop in Hostovice was the mayor's office. Vasil Hudik, pictured below, has been mayor for 20+ years, and knows his community. Michael introduced me and gave him the nutshell version of my story and told him my grandparents names, Nicolaus Kicsa and Maria Szteranka. The mayor immediately responded that there were currently some Szteranka relatives living in both Hostovice and neighboring Osadne. He also indicated that at the time my grandparents and great-grandparents were alive, they were the only Szteranka family around. This was a very important piece of information. It meant that the Szteranka folks in the village now were bound to be related. The Kicsa side, he said, was not as clear. Apparently there was no one in the village now with that name, but there had been several Kicsa families at one time.

At one point, Michael, while rapidly translating back and forth, informed me that he and the mayor were speaking Rusyn. Not Slovakian, but Rusyn. This is a Rusyn village, the people here speak Rusyn, and those that do speak Slovakian probably do not speak it well. The mayor himself does not speak Slovakian well. We are in Slovakia, several km from Poland, several more km from the Ukraine. But these people identify themselves not as Slovakian, but Rusyn. More on this aspect in another post.

The mayor makes several phone calls, but none of the Szterankas are home. He calls around to get someone to open up the Greek Catholic Church for us. We meet the parish priest, and I am surprised that he is not an old man with long beard, and dressed in church vestments. Instead he is young, a stylish 2-day beard, dressed very sporty. The church was built in 1764, 1843 or 1862, depending upon who you talk to. Either way, my grandparents and great-grandparents would have sat on these pews, celebrated important events, and mourned the passing of elders.

The inside of the church was opulent. I am amused by the photo of the priest with Doug and I (who are wearing garishly bright yellow and green jackets), and that our bright jackets barely stand out against all the gold and glitter. It speaks to the power of the church and its priests and bishops.

I made a donation to thank the priest for his time, he asked for my name and my grandparents' names. He indicated that he would mention me at the next church service. I said that I need all the help I can get, especially after viewing the ceiling paintings illustrating the place where Satan takes the bad people (skull and crossbones included).

The writing on these two painting is Cyrillic, which is commonly found throughout the Rusyn region. It draws elements from both West and East (East being illustrated by its striking resemblance to Russian). I have no idea what the painting captions say, but since Satan is in the picture, I can only assume it isn't something cheery.

The cemetery is situated behind the church, and the gravestones are adorned with flowers. I imagine it wouldn't be too bad to be buried here, when you could have such a grand spacious view.

Michael heads us back to the mayor's office to reconvene, and see if the mayor has made progress on contacting any Szterankas. I show the mayor some photos I have of my cousin Bruce in Hostovice a few years back. The mayor identifies some of the "Szteranka" ladies and their husbands and gives us a house number in Osadne. I have not seen my cousin Bruce in more than 20 years, but recently reconnected with him via email after hearing that he had been to Hostovice. Bruce took his father, my uncle Mick, on a journey home to Hostovice a few years before Mick died. Bruce returned and visited with some of the "relatives" since, but never knew exactly how they were related.

Osadne is smaller than Hostovice's 350 population, and only 2 km away. We pulled up in front of a house where a couple was working their garden. I assumed Michael was going to ask for directions. After a minute, he waved me over and introduced me. I was soon to learn who they were.


Anonymous said...

Dear Aunt Nancy,

We have read your wonderful story together. We like the Church and the beautiful village and the twins. We also like Fergus and his dog friend. We really want
Uncle Doug and especially Aunt Nancy to come and visit us. Maybe you could sleep over with us. Love Frances and Gabba and our whole family including mommy and daddy and Sabine and Frenchy.

Anonymous said...

PS Make you bring Fergus and drive in your car. Love, Frances and Gabba. Please send us a message, Love Frances and Gabba.

Kate said...

wow... this is amazing. Much better than Iowa...