I’ve been thinking about my foster mother lately, Nelly Bly. She was born in Scranton, PA, the only girl out of 18 boys! Yes youngsters, before the Duggers, poor women had large families simply because birth control was unheard of, and/or you happened to be Catholic. Nell’s parents had immigrated from Czechoslovakia, and I distinctly remember her crying when we watched Russian tanks roll into her ancestral home in 1968.
The Warsaw Pact invasion of August 20–21 caught Czechoslovakia and much of the Western world by surprise. In anticipation of the invasion, the Soviet Union had moved troops from the Soviet Union, along with limited numbers of troops from Hungary, Poland, East Germany and Bulgaria into place by announcing Warsaw Pact military exercises. When these forces did invade, they swiftly took control of Prague, other major cities, and communication and transportation links. Given the escalating U.S. involvement in the conflict in Vietnam as well as past U.S. pronouncements on non-intervention in the East Bloc, the Soviets guessed correctly that the United States would condemn the invasion but refrain from intervening. https://history.state.gov/milestones/1961-1968/soviet-invasion-czechoslavkia
Like the Ukraine today, the Czech and Slovak people were leaning toward the West, instituting reform and banning censorship. Communist Russia put her big bear fist down and that was that. I wonder what Nell would have thought of the Velvet Revolution, when Czechoslovakia peacefully split into two states for purely political motives on Jan 1, 1993? She died when I was pregnant with the Bride, and we still thought a poet might be elected President.
Nell was a proud Slovak, but she didn’t like to cook. For special occasions however, she would prepare Halupkis ( pronounced ha-LOOP-keys). This is a mouth watering stuffed cabbage, simmered for hours on a big bed of sauerkraut. Nell’s father used to make his own sauerkraut in the basement in barrels, but she was happy to buy it pre-packaged. I like to imagine her as a child, picking a cabbage out of their garden, helping her mother grind the meat in the kitchen, and tenderly folding the leaves around the rice and meat mixture.
Maybe because she had so much responsibility in the kitchen, as the only girl in her family full of brothers, she loved modern day conveniences – or should I say “mid-century modern?” One of my favorite dinner nights was “Chinese.” I think it was La Choy, but in the ’50s you could find a box in the grocery store with everything you would need to make dinner. The original Hamburger Helper, only you didn’t need to cook anything, just warm it up!
I translated that to “Taco Night” in our house. I’d add the packet of Mexican seasonings to ground turkey, stand up the hard Old El Paso tacos and let the kids pile whatever they wanted on top, which usually meant lots of cheese. It’s almost wistfully tender to think back about the days when we didn’t need to know where our food came from, so long as it showed up on our table.
And today I admit, I will occasionally cave and whip up an organic Annie’s Mac and Cheese for the Love Bug. Am I willing to order one of those Blue Apron type dinners that would be delivered to me in the mail, with instructions on how to prepare all the fresh ingredients? NO.
Because grocery shopping is my God-given right. I want to smell and feel the fruit, and know when the salmon was delivered. But I understand that working women, and men, are still looking for time-saving ways to serve a meal to their family, even if it’s not two dozen people at the dinner table.
Maybe I’m thinking of my Mother because next year, Bob and I are planning to visit Prague. But today I’m heading to the ballot box in VA because I do believe in birth control and I don’t believe in censorship. And I want guns out of the hands of abusers, and the mentally ill. And I have to think that Nelly Bly would agree.