The Spirit Lives On

*** dedicated to my grandparents ***

My grandfather Stefan Stiglic was born in Krmes, Slovakia in the year 1879. My grandmother Kornelia Takacs was born in Egyhazfa (Kostolna pri Dunaji since 1950) in the year 1884. Together they lead different lives just a few kilometers from one another.

Stefan was sent away to trade school and became a craftsman at two trades; shoemaker and blacksmith. Kornelia was educated to become a seamstress. Grandfather had a capacity to learn languages and when he joined the army in the late 1890's, he was not allowed to fight but rather he became a translator as he was fluent in eight languages.

The picture above shows my grandmother and grandfather with my Aunt Mary and Uncle John. The photo was taken in 1909. Aunt Mary is now 91 and Uncle John is 87.

Together they had many things in common. They both knew how to grow their own food and raise their own livestock. Schooled in the "old world" methods they were masters at their crafts, which would serve them well when they would make a new life for themselves in America. Deep within them was their deep love of God. They were married in 1905 at St. John The Baptist church in Kralova pri Senci. That same year they came to America.

I never knew them. Grandfather died in 1923 and grandmother died in 1941, I was born in 1947. They had eight children and growing up they would talk about their lives at family gatherings. After a family reunion in 1972 I began my family research. With the years of interviews I gained a great respect for my grandparents. While they always remained more like legends than real people to me. There was something missing in my research. I often wished I had first person experience that comes with actually meeting someone you research. But that was impossible, so I believed.

My grandparents never talked about the "old country" to their children. It was like they were leaving that life behind them and making a new life in America. My mother, her seven brothers and sisters recounted endless stories about their parents. They talked about the garden, the animals, grandmothers cooking and grandfathers years of hard work here. Within five short years they bought a home and paid cash. Then two years later they bought a second home and a lot to grow a bigger garden to feed their large family. Because grandfather was not only a skilled blacksmith but now fluent in nine languages (adding English) he become a valued employee when it came to communicating with all the other immigrant workers at his job. While grandmother made dresses in her home to earn extra money for the family.

Collage of my grandmother, Kornelia Stiglitz, from 1909 to 1941

Grandfathers early death meant that my grandmother was a widow with eight children and no income. I have heard many times how hard it was then, but they were a family and together they did what they had to do to survive. No one ever was cold or hungry nor went without shoes or clothes to wear. The details of this period have always amazed me by the strength this family had to overcome their hardships. They sang together, danced together and prayed together. Now these same children were in their 70's, 80's and one in her 90's and they talk about this period of hardship as the best time of their lives.

This was my family story but I was finding out that there were many other first and second generation Slovak Americans that share these experiences with their own families. There's something common here, a bond of character. Traits like hard working, highly skilled, good farmers, honesty, good cooks and deep faith in God were part of the remembrances of many others as well.

Then I went to Slovakia. Stayed with my relatives in their homes. I felt like I had been there before, but had no direct memory of it. Then like a shock wave I knew the connection. I was living with the memories of my mother, aunts and uncles. Here, coming to life before me was that which I had studied for some 23 years. But there was more. Now I was a member of this family too. So warmly and instantly accepted by them. What I hadn't learned from my interviews was in their eyes. Their wide open eyes staring deeply and sincerely with love towards me. Their eyes that showed me sympathetic hearts.

For whatever reason, I have found that mentioning prayer or God is just not the kind of subject to be talked about in America. People seem to steer a wide course around it. But I admit that I prayed to find my relatives in Slovakia and I found them. I also prayed to help them if they needed it. What I found was that they gave me more than I gave them. For I was the one that needed something that they had. That being to experience and be part of their Slovak family. I believe that one day I will be with the grandfather I have never met and the grandmother who never held me in her arms and we will turn towards Slovakia and see that the spirit lives on. The spirit lives on.

June 23, 1996

Gilbert Geras

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