I paused to take all of this in – and practice some mental gymnastics in reason and logic. If this church had original records of the Diviš family, then it seemed reasonable to conclude that Grandpa and his siblings attended this very church in their youth, AND lived in THE HOUSE, which would make that house more than 100 years old! How old was this church? I wish I had gone inside the church and taken pictures! (Note to self: Do it next year!) How long had the priest been there? Perhaps there were people in this parish who remembered the Diviš family! The first notation Miloš made was the marriage of Augustin Diviš (1860-1937) and Anna Navratilova (Martinkovits) in 1879. Did they move into THE HOUSE after their wedding? And if indeed, Maria Diviš, Grandpa’s older sister (born 1884?) gave her life to church service, would that be recorded in the parish records, too? Miloš would not have known to ask about that, but his inspiration to visit this church was providential. It opened up many possible roads to explore, along with many more mysteries!
What a discovery and there we were, about to leave “Ground Zero” with more questions than answers. I pondered all of this as Lydia and I climbed back into the car with Miloš and Ivana and headed to their home in Prievdzska, 30 minutes away. As we drove, we shared our thoughts, playing detective, speculating about how these new puzzle pieces might fit together. We remembered the Nedašovce village member we met last year, and the wealth of memories he shared, and how instrumental his help had been.
Our conversation made me think of something else that gentleman had told us. Brother Jozef had been a shoemaker by trade. Miloš now remembered that years ago there was a shoe manufacturing company near Nedašovce that employed many workers. Miloš added that this manufacturing business housed their employees – did the company own THE HOUSE, then or now? Where could I find out more about this shoe business? Perhaps Jozef, or his father, Augustin, or Štefan, or maybe other siblings had worked there. But Grandpa raised his 12 children on an 80-acre farm in Michigan, back in the States. Thinking back to THE HOUSE: It was in the heart of the village, with houses all around, and maybe a small garden plot, but no acreage for a farm. Had Grandpa been in the shoe business early in his life, and then after leaving Slovakia in 1909, turned to farming? More mysteries, few answers, and all of them in Slovak!
This discussion continued into the dinner hour at the Krpelan home. Miloš wife, Iveta, served us traditional Slovak savory and sweet dishes, a delicious soup and potato-squash pancakes. Iveta and I enjoy many similar interests, among them sewing and cooking. Telling Iveta that she needed a “crockpot” for her wonderful soups was a challenge, but her daughters were more than happy to translate for their mother. She enjoyed sharing pictures of the cakes she has decorated. The evening ended with a music recital from Lenka, who is 8 years old, on the piano, followed by Lydia, who is accomplished on the accordion as well as the piano. Breakfast the following morning was the traditional Slovak plate of cold cut meats, rolled “rose bud” fashion, tomatoes and cucumbers from their garden. Pictures, hugs and goodbyes preceded the ride back to school. While the Diviš family remained elusive, this special family that God had blessed me with had taken me into their home and hearts, and my Slovak trip was all the richer and memorable, thanks to them.
Back in the classroom, it was time to refocus on my students and our studies. Though the first week was ending, the language school was only half over. There were many more lessons to learn, and conversations to have! A favorite part of each day was the “walk and talk,” when teachers and students headed outside to the mall area next to the school. Discussion topics included building, statues, traditions, countries and our lives. Those times were enjoyable for all, and frequently included a visit to the ice cream kiosk, where 50 cents Euro bought one scoop of the best ice cream! It was a favorite and frequent stop! On one occasion, we visited the local library. My students translated for me as the director, Ms. Vandlikom, gave us a tour of the facility.
I wasn’t the only one wrestling with mysteries. My students were puzzled over American idioms such as “losing your marbles,” while I pondered one of theirs: “falling off the strawberry.” Phrasal verbs and other forms of grammar were a challenge as well. It was gratifying to watch them work hard to gain mastery of my language, almost as amazing as it was for me to learn theirs – well, all six words that I can say, so far!
The last day of school was a bittersweet celebration of the work finished and the friendships we forged. The goodbyes were hard. It was not uncommon for the students to bring the teachers small tokens of appreciation on the last day, but the bag Lydia handed me was not small. Imagine my surprise when I looked inside and pulled out a painted canvas. Artist Ivana’s choice of subject might have been a mystery to any other observer– it was just an old house– but to me, it was THE HOUSE. Grandpa’s. Tears came to my eyes as I recognized it. This would be my prized treasure to remind me of “Serving Slovakia 2016
Marie Diviš Coffey
- July 2016 -
Post Script: Much research awaits in my quest to “Find Grandpa” and to “Solve Grandpa’s Mysteries.” However, there’s no reason to wait to honor his memory. The CCE staff members have purchased and are in the process of restoring a building that once housed printing presses used by the Communist regime. By God’s grace, where propaganda was once printed, there are now classrooms that honor God and teach young Slovaks about freedom in Christ. On the wall of the entrance, there will be a list of names of those who have contributed, as well as individuals honored. It is my vision to see Grandpa Stefan’s name there. Will you join me in giving to this endeavor in Grandpa’s name? To do so, send a check or money order (no electronic options currently available) made out to “New Heights Foundation.” In the memo line, write “CCE/Stefan Diviš.” Mail your check to: New Heights Foundation, 7913 NE 58th Ave., Vancouver, WA 98665, USA. Be sure to include your address to receive a receipt in the mail. New Heights Foundation is a 501(c)3 organization, and your donation will be tax deductible. I hope you will prayerfully consider being a part of Grandpa’s legacy.