GRANDPA’S MYSTERIES

As we drove past old houses and an abandoned store, Mayor Elena’s office and the adjoining post office came into view. I anticipated seeing her again, and meeting Mrs. Alžbeta Hudecová. The mayor invited Alžbeta to join us to share memories and history of Nedašovce. I hoped to take a picture of the beautiful painting hanging on the wall in the mayor’s office – an aerial view of Nedašovce, colors ablaze with fields and flowers and buildings. The artist who painted it was commissioned to capture the town by Elena’s father. Overwhelmed as I was by the events and emotions of that first meeting, it didn’t occur to me to ask to take a picture of it.

Imagine the surprise when we arrived in Nedašovce, only to find the office of the mayor locked up tight with no one in sight. Now what, we thought? Miloš made a call to the office assistant who graciously drove to meet us. The mayor, he was sad to say, had been called out of town to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, hours away. She would not be back any time soon. He made some calls, but no one else was available. We would miss the opportunity to talk to Mrs. Hudecova.

Oh, I was so close, but the door slammed shut! To say “disappointed” would not begin to describe our feelings! Was there some way to redeem this trip? Miloš, Lydia, Ivana and I stood in the parking lot and pondered our dilemma. All we could think of was to walk around the town, and take a look at “THE HOUSE.” On our previous visit, Lydia & Ivana had translated as an elderly resident of the village shared his early memories of Nedašovce that included my Grandpa’s family. He had directed us to the house, now empty, that my family had lived in. It was an incredible discovery.

So, now we walked down the road and around the corner – and there it was, this house full of secrets and mysteries. It appeared the same as the last time we had seen it; old, tired and neglected. I wondered: Did my grandfather actually live in it, or just his family, after Grandpa left for America? How long did the Diviš family live there? Did they own it? Rent it? How old was it? So many questions, and too few answers. How could I ever solve these mysteries?

As we approached the house we observed a man in the yard. Surely he saw us, but he did not acknowledge us nor show any signs of interest in our presence. We kept our distance, daring to take a few pictures but moving on. In the yard was a pile of debris, filled with wooden objects, perhaps cabinets or furniture, likely from within the house. These had not been there last year. Was this the owner of the house and, if so, what were his intentions? Repair, remodel, or tear it down? Perhaps it will be gone if and when I visit again. We knew the way to the cemetery, so we continued walking in that direction. It was a discovery we had made last year, thanks to that same elderly gentleman’s directions. During our visit with him in Mayor Elena’s office, he had told us that Jošef Diviš, youngest brother of Grandpa Štefan was buried there. On this second visit, we spent considerable time wandering up and down the rows between large headstones and markers, but found nothing new, so we walked back to the car.

I didn’t want to leave; we had come all this way only to meet a dead end. I welcomed Miloš’ suggestion that we visit the Catholic Church of Vysočany. We drove a few miles away from town, and found the church. There were cars parked nearby and we took that as a sign that mass might be in progress. It wasn’t long before people began to come out. Miloš went in to look for the priest, and soon reappeared with him. The sisters and I watched from the car as the two men walked to a house nearby and disappeared. We waited, and waited, and waited. Tired of doing nothing, I coaxed Lydia out of the car to explore the area. We walked toward the house and a nearby chicken coop. A small flock of white chickens roamed around a grassy area. I was very tempted to climb the steps to the house and knock on the door, but Lydia wasn’t convinced we should bother them, so instead we continued down the road.

We walked a few blocks around the nearby neighborhood, seeing old abandoned houses, but no villagers. Finally we saw the Krpelans’ car approaching us, with Miloš and Ivana inside. We were anxious to hear what the priest had to say and what had caused the delay. Much to my surprise, Miloš produced a sheet of paper with a long list of names and dates he had written down – baptism dates for my grandfather and his family members! The priest had a book recording these events and dates, going back to 1860 –what a stroke of genius, Miloš! He had taken the time to painstakingly copy it because, he told us, we would not be allowed to photograph it!

This new treasure that I held in my hand recorded the names of Štefan and his siblings (at least four of them), along with dates of baptisms and deaths. It was an amazing discovery–, but also created more questions! Were these all of Grandpa’s siblings? And what became of them? I remembered a family story that Grandpa’s sister had become a nun. How could I trace that? More church records? (Written in Slovak, remember!) One entry from 1888 on this record showed the death of Stefan’s younger brother, 4-year-old Augustin, named after their father. In 1890 another son was born, again named Augustin. (Miloš would later tell me that that was the custom: to use the deceased’s name again in the family). Did we miss a grave marker for young Augustin in the cemetery in Nedašovce?

Interestingly, of all of Grandpa’s siblings listed, only Jozef’s offspring were recorded. Was that a clue that he was the remaining Diviš living in this parish (quite possible as he was the youngest sibling)? Miloš had written “Solčany” as the birthplace of Jozef, not Nedašovce. Was that significant? Did the other Diviš siblings scatter, or leave Slovakia as my Grandfather had? (Grandpa Štefan had 12 heirs, but all in America!) Jozef’s wife, Maria, bore him seven children, and possibly three were still living. In 2015, we found his younger daughter, Anna, in a care facility in Partizánske, thanks to an address our visitor in the mayor’s office shared. Anna had given us the address of her youngest sister, Margita, who lived in Nováky. Both of these women were advanced in years. I had sent both a letter before this visit, but neither had responded. How could I connect with any grandchildren of Jozef, who would be my third cousins?

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10 Responses to GRANDPA’S MYSTERIES

  1. Irmgard Swanson says:

    What a fascinating story from Marie and her search for information about her grandfather! I hope that she will be able to return again to teach and also have the chance to continue her search. Her experiences with her students also reminded me of my time teaching in Martin. The students I had and the staff I worked with remain a blessing in my life and give me great pleasure whenever I think about them.

    • Debbie Hunt says:

      Marie,
      I loved reading this memoir of your time in Slovakia. What a fascinating mystery. I am in hopes that the saga will continue. Peace and Blessings.

  2. Marie Coffey says:

    Thanks for taking the time to read about Grandpa! Yes, sweet memories serving at CCE. Can’t wait to go back! Blessing to you!

    Marie

  3. Dawn Shipman says:

    Wonderful story, Marie! Did you take the photos, as well? I look forward to hearing more of “Grandpa’s” mysteries!

    • Marie Divis Coffey says:

      Thanks Dawn! I appreciate your comments, coming from a real author! I did not take the pictures, Juraj put them together when he posted the story . Think he did a great job! I like them all,especially of the little village and the church. They did a great job of posting it! Feel free to share the link!

  4. Hedwi Tkáčová says:

    I am so HAPPY that God made possible your second trip to Nedašovce. Story of your family in Slovakia will be complete once, I am pretty sure ;) Pray for you, dear Marie!

  5. Marie Coffey says:

    to see Grandpa’s name, and donate in his memory:

    https://www.lams.sk/donors/

  6. Angie says:

    Thank you Marie for sharing this interesting, well-written story.

  7. Heather Clark says:

    What a sweet story! Thanks so much for sharing.

  8. Roslyn Ward says:

    Marie,
    I would love to see your picture of the house. What a blessing! Going again in 2018?
    Roslyn

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