It's been said that my Gramma Hlavacek cheats at checkers when she thinks no one is looking. Though I've never seen it myself, I can just imagine her sneaking a move or two when her opponent (usually a Grandchild) turns away from the board. No one is going to argue with her, she's a cute little old lady for Pete's sake. I just can't help but smile when I think of her doing that. There are a lot of things about Gramma that make me smile. Some of my earliest, fondest memories are of family gatherings at Grampa and Gramma Hlavacek's farm for holiday dinners.
The farm is gone now, sold to the local power company years ago. There still are a lot of memories, though of Grampa and Gramma and of the family gatherings out at the old place. The schedule was almost always pretty much the same.
Once we all got there, after church, all of the cousins would get together and run wild over the farm. We would terrorize the chickens (or in some cases, as I recall, be terrorized). We would play hide-and-go-seek, tag, crack the whip or we would wander through the barn and rummage through the garage. Eventually one of the parents would catch us and we would be banished to the yard. Of course it was a farm and so there was no lack of mischief material. There was the nearby orchard, and I seem to remember at least one occasion of getting caught raiding the raspberry patch out back.
Inside the house, it was another world. Before dinner, the Dads and Grampa would play cards and drink Stroh's longnecks while the Moms and Gramma worked on dinner preparations and talked in Bohemian so that none of us could understand. I've often wondered just exactly what they were talking about, and why they spoke in Bohemian. It must have been pretty good, or pretty bad. The few words I've managed to pick up over the years, I've gotten in trouble for repeating. For example, I know that I'm not suppose to call my brother a kuzshinitz, weather it's true or not.
Throughout all of this conversation, Gramma would listen, laugh or scowl appropriately and occasionally add her own two cents. Eventually, the conversation would drift around to taxes, husbands or something similar and Gramma would always say: "What ya gonna do, by golly?" I've always loved the way she says that, it has such a characteristic, comforting sort of feel to it.By the time dinner rolled around, we would all be pretty hungry, if we hadn't filled up sneaking olives or deviled eggs from one of the various trays at the side of the dinner table. The meal itself was always fantastic and way too big even for the combined appetites of the three families to finish. After an extended and heroic attempt though, the conversation at the table would get pretty dry as far as the kids were concerned and we all would get back together in the living room. After a few minutes, Gramma would always bring around some candy in the winter months and ice cream bars in the summer months.
Neither the candy or even the ice cream could compare to the very best desert: Gramma's apple pie. To this day, it is the best I have ever tasted. I've asked all of the relatives for the recipe, but Gramma never wrote it down. It was always a handful of this and a pinch of that, with apples from the orchard nearby; never the same pie twice, but it was always good. One of the best birthday presents I ever got was the year Gramma baked me one of her pies for a birthday cake.
Aside from the farm, the candy and the pie, I've often wondered what Gramma's life was really like. It seems like there was so much of it to know, and I've only seen the surface. I do know that she came to this country from Czechoslovakia when she was very young. I know she married Steve Hlavacek and had three daughters: Mary, Frances and Emily. I know she loved her husband very much and she missed him terribly when he died nearly 20 years ago. As I write this, I know my Gramma Hlavacek lies in a hospital bed 2,400 miles away, not too far from the old farm, but I suspect she's ready to leave now. She's ready to be with Grampa. She's ready to leave this world, its checker games, apple pies and its farms and I guess that's all right. She deserves to leave it now for something better, more peaceful. And in any case....what ya gonna do, by golly?