have you seen the tigger movie? tigger is in search of his family
roots, and he looks for his family tree. the whole movie is about
his adventures as he looks for a tree, filled with "momsy tiggers,
and popsy tiggers, and tiggers i never knew". cute movie, and it
reminded me of our own adventures as we searched for our own slovak
my great-grandfather majk kollar's military passport said that
his birthplace was the village "nameljakubovany", in presov county.
so on our way to presov, we bought a detailed map of slovakia, and
irina found an itty bitty village called "jakubovany". so far, so
when we got to jakubovany on sunday around noon, it was empty. no
people, and no cars. no mailboxes with people's names on them. no
street names, and no phone book in the one phone booth. the single
store was closed. and nobody was at the church. no tiggers anywhere.
mere mortals might have quit at this point, but we perserved. why?
because the chances that we'd ever return to this eastern slovakian
village that was 30 miles from the borders of poland, ukraine, and
hungary were slim.
we went through the church cemetery, trying to find some ancestors.
these european churches on top of hills look really cute, but they're
also exposed to strong and cold winds. most of the graves were marked
with wooden crosses that were impossible to read. many were unmarked
at all. and after searching most of the graveyard, all we found
were shivers and sniffles. dad went back to the car. mom had to
go to the bathroom, so as she was looking for a convenient tree,
irina and i decided to take a quick look at the remaining stones.
now when i'm looking for something, i always find in the last
place that i look. even when i try to beat the system by looking
at the last place first. don't ask me why. anyway, this was no different,
and the last gravestone we checked was the one with "kollar" on
it. and even better news: it was a husband and wife gravestone,
and the husband, josef kollar, only had a birthdate on his stone
armed with this information, we drove again through the town.
we saw a man walking, and i drove up next to him. do you speak english?
no, he didn't speak english. do you speak russian - gavarit pa-ruski?
neme nozhne - he understood a bit of russian, so irina asked him
if he knew where josef kollar's house was: gedye josef kollar dom?
this sounds easier than it actually was; although he understood
a few russian words, he didn't bother trying to speak any of them.
but slovakian is similar, and through a group effort of his slovakian,
irina's russian, and our hand signals, we think we understood that
josef once lived close to the church, on the right.
it was getting exciting! we drove back towards the church, on the
right. but no tiggers came out to meet us or help us, so we decided
to designate one of the older houses we saw as the old kollar homestead,
and took a picture.
so, happy ending, right? we found the town, we found references
to kollars. we had a picture of josef and his wife elizabeta, and
we found the area of josef's house. and we designated the tigger
family tree to be located there. no momsy or popsy tiggers, or tiggers
we never knew, but we knew we had the right place. success, right?
but wait: there's more...
mom has this travelling habit of asking the driver to stop so
she can take a picture of something she saw go by. usually i don't
mind, except when i'm on a busy road, or in a bad neighborhood,
or when a cop is behind me. she does this a lot, and as we were
driving away from our new family tree, this was no exception. i
would start driving, then stop suddenly. mom would get out, take
her picture, pause, walk around a bit, pause, take another picture,
and get back in. i would drive 20 more yards, and we'd repeat the
process. several times. you get the picture. anyway, after all this
starting and stopping, i noticed that a family was looking out of
their kitchen window, laughing at us.
so we assembled our crack communication team. do you speak english?
no. gavarit pa-ruski? nyet. ugh. gedye josef kollar dom? the man
put on his coat, came outside, and tried to help us. and eventually
he took us next door to meet josef's daughter anna, who lived right
anna was a bit overwhelmed at the four of us. she invited us inside,
and we struggled to communicate the fact that mom was also a kollar.
finally, irina asked for a piece of paper, and i drew out a family
tree. and all of a sudden it hit her. anna's face lit up, she exclaimed
"you're my cousin!" (in slovakian, irina says), and gave mom a great
big tigger hug, and kissed her on both cheeks!
technically she was mom's second cousin, but communicating that
was beyond our rudimentary skills. and it didn't matter anyway,
because anna started pulling out the family pictures, comparing
birth dates of herself, and her kids and grandchildren. then she
whipped out some desserts, coffee, and potato salad, which we all
what a wonderful thing to discover tiggers you never knew! we
all got caught up in the excitement, and this made the communication
so much easier. irina was soon answering in slovakian, and we started
picking up a few words ourselves. everybody was smiling, laughing,
talking, and time just flew by. all of a sudden it was late. plus,
it had started to snow, and dad and i were getting worried about
how we were going to drive safely out of the village and over to
presov. it took a bit to extricate ourselves, but after a few hugs
and embraces and kisses, we got our shoes on and were all ready
to go when in walked thomas, anna's brother. after another round
of hugs and kisses, we discovered that he lived next door, and he
insisted we go over to his house and visit with him and his family.
visiting is what us tiggers do best, so we all bounced through
the snow over to thomas' house, where we met and hugged and kissed
his wife, his daughter-in-law, and their 6 day old granddaughter.
we sat in their living room and watched a video of their son's wedding,
and ate open faced ham and pickle sandwiches, and drank lots of
vodka. i guess tiggers tend to do a lot of toasting when they meet
each other, because we toasted life, and good health, and our trip,
and his son, and their new granddaughter. and my kids, and irina's
slovakian, and us tiggers finding each other, and whatever else
came to mind.
the vodka was gone, and it was time to go. thomas gave us water
and soda for the trip, and after the next round of hugs and kisses
and squeezes, we put on our boots, trudged through the snow, and
brushed off the car. anna and her husband came out, gave us more
sandwiches and desserts, hugged and kissed us again, and we piled
in the car, leaving behind our new family tree and the tiggers we
did we find the right town? are they really our cousins? does
it really matter? as dad said: we'll take em! whoo-hoo-hoo-hoooo!