In Search of Family and Craft Roots

Reconnecting with family on the 2014 Slovakia Heritage Tour meant more than returning to family villages and finding relatives who still live in Slovakia. For Dana Gerberi, cialis generic her father Mike and Uncle Larry, as well as cousins Marian Pezdek and Margie Gipson it was a chance to rediscover their own family ties and memories.

As the September tour traveled from the plains of Bratislava to the mountains of Eastern Slovakia, Dana, a health sciences librarian, heard many new family stories about her father and uncle growing up in a close Slovak community in Chicago, where lives were dominated by the United States Steel mill. Their grandfather and father worked there, as they did too, as teenagers, before going on to college and careers in medicine and computers.

For Mike and Larry, separated for many years by jobs in different parts of the United States, it was a time to catch up and remember their Slovak grandmother and extended family. They often rode their bicycles to her house after school to discover their favorite Slovak foods waiting for them on the porch. On the September Slovakia Heritage Tour, they bonded over stuffed cabbage, halusky, kolac, struedel, pierogi, and all the other traditional foods that brought out even more childhood stories. Dana was surprised to find out that her uncle cooks many of the traditional dishes that she’s known her father to make on the holidays.

In addition to visiting their family villages in the Zemplin region, south of Michalovce, where Mike and Larry’s grandparents and father were born, they also explored the rich pottery heritage for which the villages in this area are known.

Whether it’s genetic or cultural, Dana feels a strong pull to the region’s dark-brown pottery with its distinctive patterns of swirling dancers, colorful flowers and geometric designs. Before the tour Dana researched the well-known, multi-generational Parikrupa potters of Pozdisovce, a village near the Gerberi ancestral villages of Stretavka and Budkovce.

With the help of their guide, they knocked on Jan Parikrupa’s door and were greeted warmly by the potter, the last of the dynasty who had recently retired from doing ceramics. Happy to have fans of his work from the United States, he took them through his pottery studio containing a beautiful display of the family’s work. They also visited Jan Magara, a 90-year old man who worked in the Parikrupa pottery in various positions. They were welcomed into his house where he shared stories translated by their guide and showed off several pieces of Pozdisovce ceramics.

Dana’s interest in the Pozdisovce ceramics and Slovakia traditional crafts spread over into the rest of the September Heritage Tour as she introduced the group to the Ul’uv (pronounced oo-luv) Craft Centers, located in key cities around Slovakia, each one highlighting the traditional crafts of their region. Through stores, classes and studio space, Ul’uv represents and preserves the traditional handicrafts of Slovakia.

“A visit to an Ul’uv Center is important for travelers who are looking for authentic connections to the old country and the beautiful things our ancestors used to make, decorating and creating practical objects in an artistic way to brighten up their homes,” Dana explained.

Tour leader Judith Northup-Bennett was happy to learn about the Ul’uv Centers and what they are doing to preserve Slovak craftsmanship. “With Dana, we visited the large Ul’uv shop and craft center in Bratislava (Bratislava has two Ul’uv shops),” she explained. “It was a wonderful discovery as the work is very high quality and reasonably priced. It’s a place for travelers to buy beautiful, locally- crafted, Slovak gifts to bring back to the States and support Slovak artisans.” For more information on Ul’uv, you can visit its web site: http://www.uluv.sk/en/web/home/

Cousins Marian Pezdek and Margie Gipson also grew up outside of Chicago and spent a lot of time together as children in their extended Slovak family. On the September tour, they took two side- trips to visit their parents’ family roots in Stratena, just south of Poprad, and in Jablonka, an Oravan town, now just over the border in Poland. In Jablonka, Marian found the church where her 95-year-old mother made her first communion.

Not everyone on the 2014 Heritage Tour had Slovak roots, Juan Meza of Houston, TX returned for his second Heritage Tour of Slovakia after discovering the beauty of Slovakia and the history of Central Europe on the 2012 tour. Juan has traveled, studied and lived extensively in Spain and France but he’s been drawn to Slovakia and the chance to experience European history and culture from an Eastern, Slavic, perspective.

“The 2015 Slovakia Heritage Tour will stay completely in Slovakia to make the most of exploring its history, culture, crafts, and beautiful countryside,” said Northup-Bennett. “People love Slovakia and the chance to experience it up-close and personal at a relaxed pace. By staying in Slovakia we can include the Pezinok-Modra Wine Festival, and a visit to a small village. This year Vienna, Prague and Krakow are offered as extension tours for people who can spend a few more days and see some of the important cities that figure in Slovak history.”

Submitted by: Judith Northup-Bennett
Branch 918