redux: Churchbells in Horni Lomna

7 years ago yesterday, I saw the house where my grandmother was born, grew up, was married from, and perhaps even lived in with her first husband before they left for a new life in Canada. I’m writing about her now and was reading the old post this morning.


On February 24, Petr and Lenka took us from Ostrava to my grandmother’s village of Horni Lomna in the Beskydy Mountains near the Slovak border. I have such scanty information about her life before my father was born to her and her second husband in Drumheller in 1926 but I’ve always known where she came from, and when she was born — 1881, though her naturalization papers say 1883; I will believe her birth certificate which accords with my father’s memory… When my father died in the fall of 2009, my mother gave me a small bundle of papers which included these things and after her death in 2010, I found a few little bits and pieces, including this photograph of my grandmother, Anna Klus (or Anna Klusova as she would have been here), with her first husband, Joseph Yopek.

Petr had been calling the office of the mayor of Horni Lomna for a week to find out about accessibility. Last week there was a severe snowfall — 2 metres — so we couldn’t have gone then. On Friday the mayor’s assistant said that yes, there was snow, but people were getting through, so Petr was willing to give it a try. Bless him. As we got closer to the village in its narrow valley, the snow was astonishing, high drifts on either side of the road. But then we were there:

Horni Lomna is a village of fewer than 500 people. At the village office, the mayor’s assistant explained to Petr where the house, number 26, was located. We couldn’t drive — the road was deep with snow. So we left the car and began to walk. The village was strangely familiar with its wooden houses and tall conifers, mostly spruce, and a skittering of small birds. We’d been told to take a road that veered off the main one and we were to watch for a bridge over the Lomna River (Horni means “upper”; there is also a Dolni, or “lower” Lomna, nearby). We wouldn’t be able to get right up to the house (no longer occupied), the woman had explained, because of the snow, but we would be able to see it from a neighbouring house.

I thought of my grandmother walking this road — to school, to church, to her wedding to Joseph Yopek, and perhaps even after saying goodbye to her parents in 1911 before she left with Joseph and their five children (four more would follow) for Antwerp where they boarded a boat for North America.

And then we saw her house.

Every winter it would have looked like this, tucked below its hill in the narrow valley of the Lomna River, not far from its headwaters. Those are fruit trees around it, but what kind? Plums? Apples? Her birth certificate tells me her father was a farmer so there would have been crops of some sort and this is sheep country so no doubt they would have raised sheep and maybe a pig or two. So much I don’t know, and perhaps never will. But seeing this house, in snow, gives me a sense of where she began, and in a way it’s where I began too.

Walking back, we heard churchbells announcing noon. The same churchbells, the same road, the deep snow carrying the sound as far as the heart can travel.


Think of those two “c”s with little hooks over top. (I hope that’s the right way to describe that particular diacritic…) And that’s the name of the wonderful Czech garlic soup. I’ve been thinking about it this afternoon as I plant next year’s garlic. It’s a soup I had almost daily when we spent a month in the Czech Republic last winter. Martina in Brno said, when I asked her how it was made, that it’s a soup you can make when you have almost nothing in the house. Water, or stock. Onions, if you like. Garlic. Fried bread. Potato cut into little cubes. Maybe some cheese or ham. Some caraway seed. I had many types. I think my favourite might have been the two bowls I had at the lovely Brasserie Avion in Roznov. I’d intended to have soup, then something else from the inventive menu. But that first bowl was so satisfying that I had another. The fried bread came on the side, crisp and hot, and you put in as much as you liked, offering some to the others at the table.

Yesterday I woke with such a vivid scene in my mind that I sat at my desk and wrote the first thousand words of a novella I’m calling Patrin. Part of it takes place in the Czech Republic and part of it in Canada, two brackets of my grandmother’s life. It’s not about her, exactly, but something of her life will echo in its pages. This morning I wrote a little more and am filled with that excitement that the beginning of a book produces. I’m trying not to think of the other two projects I have in the works but I do believe that they won’t go away and might even be better for waiting.

Today I planted four varieties of garlic —  Chesnok Red, Leningrad, Georgian Fire, and Northern Quebec, all purchased from a late summer Farmer’s Market in Sechelt. Last year I grew Russian Red, bought in Grand Forks, and a porcelain variety from Gabriola Island, bought at Coombs on our way home from the Pacific Rim. They did well, producing 80 good-sized heads, enough for John and I to use this winter. Here’s a bowl of them, against the Japanese maple:

It’s definitely fall here on the west coast. Last week we picked a big bag of chanterelles and made some of them into soup for the freezer. This morning I noticed that there’s fresh snow on Mount Hallowell. Yesterday there were chum salmon in Angus Creek, undulating in the tea-coloured water, a sight that always moves me to tears. And several days this past week, we saw skeins of geese flying very high on their way south, their scribble telling of northern waters, the prospect of long dark nights, our hemisphere turning to winter.

Time to make Ceznecka with the summer’s bounty, a few red potatoes tumbled from their soil, and the scent of garlic to remind me of my grandmother’s country.