Reading the Freedom Writer’s Diary with my remedial English students was such a pleasure because of the perspective they brought to both the discussions and as we wrote our own diary entries.
I don’t know if I’ve ever felt a need to drop my cultural identity. In fact, I wish I’d been more steeped in it, or paid more attention to the details. My sister can speak a little Czech. I wish I could go back to those Sokol Hall days, of cakewalks and kolache, pork and sauerkraut, pretty embroidered white blouses, polka music; my aunts, uncles, and cousins all gathered; my Grandpa Piskac’s home and that clock with the children on the moving swing, tanks of fish and the smell of his pipe; piano lessons on Friday nights and baking chocolate chip cookies in turns, but mostly eating the dough.
It’s comforting to think on it–glass bottles of soda in wooden crates in my grandpa’s basement and getting to have one for a treat. The stairs leading down were steep and those from the kitchen door to the driveway were even steeper. Family was always gathered there and there are photos of everyone standing on the little porch and all the way down the stairs so that we fit in that frozen moment in time.
Holidays when the men sat around a card table and played that card game. Czech words issued from their mouths as they placed bets and teased each other. The deep sounds of their voices echo in my mind, but I cannot make out the words. The women cooked, cleaned up, chatted, and tried to keep track of us kids. We played all over the house and found ways to get more cookies from the trays on the table.
Traditions that brought us all together on a rented bus as we rode to Lincoln to meet up with more relatives in the big hall. On the trip, my Uncle Tony would walk down the aisle and take all the kids’ orders for Burger King. We would get so excited at the prospect of a cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate malt, but these orders never materialized. He helped us to pass the time and we fell for it every time.
As I think about all of this and write it down, the bare bones of it, I realize how much of my culture is really still a part of me. I can smell the sauerkraut and pork, taste the rich pastry of the kolache, and breathe in my family culture.