Igor and Bozhena
—eternity (n. singular); the totality of time without beginning or end, infinity
The black figures on the digital watch continue with their unending rhythm; seconds into minutes into hours. The days and weeks, represented by the sequential MON to TUE to WED, suddenly to became SUN, which in turn became MON and repeated the process, while 30 or 31 changed into a 1 and would signify that yet another month of "The Journey" had elapsed. A journey which began many years ago, long before digital watches had come into fashion, or being, for that matter. An age when the information on watches, as well as clocks, was circular and time always reverted to the beginning before embarking on yet another round. I look at the physical indication of time on my wrist, and then feel myself being pulled into that vortex whose center lies in the past.
Although not exactly obsessed with the passage of time, nine-year old Igor had always been more aware than most children of his age of its imprint upon daily life. He thought back to that trip by train which, from his nine year old point of view, had lasted for at least several eternities. A timeless sequence of changing forms, colors and visions, now blurred by yet another passage of time. Eventually that particular part of the journey came to an end. Yes, eternities and passages of time were round like clocks and watches. They did have a beginning and an end with something in the middle. It was quite obviously the part in the middle that turned them into eternities. It seemed to be 'logical'. This was a word, and concept, that he had learned from Bozhena, his mother and one of the wisest people he had ever known. She had insisted that even children should learn to not only accept what was happening around them, but to examine and question it. To apply 'logical thinking' to every situation.
He was doing the best he could with the information he had at his disposal. He had begun discussing 'eternities' with his mother and she had corrected him and explained than an eternity was a passage of time with no beginning and no end, hence 'logically' there could be no such thing as 'eternities', it didn't make sense and hence was not logical. Then she corrected herself and mentioned that occasionally poets would use the term 'eternities', but what they really meant was eternity. Igor silently accepted this explanation, but at the same time he now, for the first time, was aware that even mothers can occasionally be slightly mistaken. He had personally experienced 'eternities' and knew for a fact that they existed.
Igor, his mother Bozhena, and his younger sister Cristina, had at one point boarded the train; there had been a very long passage of time, a lot of 'middle', and then they got off. After several months of waiting, another eternity began. This time the forms viewed were somewhat monotonous since it was the vista of an endless sea that changed little from day to day. Had it not been for the changing patterns of the clouds, and the fact that the sun altered its position from one side of the ship to the other, he might have considered the possibility that time had come to a standstill. That would be an entirely different type of eternity and he didn't know if his young mind could deal with that particular concept. His mother had carefully explained that logical thinking made things clearer, easier to understand than if you accepted only small parts of the whole. At this point he decided to temporarily suspend attempting to understand it. To his young mind the passage of time and 'thinking logically' almost seemed incompatible.
The initial excitement, on boarding the train in Bratislava, the largest city in that part of Czechoslovakia, had abated and been replaced by impatience. An impatience triggered by a desire to get somewhere, anywhere. He remembered that they had passed through Vienna. That was when his mother had cried; she had tried to hide it, but he had seen her tears. In answer to his imploring look she had volunteered that there was nothing wrong, but this particular city was filled with memories, happy memories of when she and her husband, his father Ivan, had first been married and they had spent their honeymoon in this enchanting city. Without verbalizing it, he considered that if they were happy memories then she should be smiling or laughing, so why was she silently attempting to hide her tears. Logical thinking occasionally presented more questions than it resolved.
After many train stations, stops and changes, the three passengers finally disembarked in the port city of Marseilles, in France. Eventually they had boarded a large ship with a foreign name. Igor did not understand the name, but felt that it undoubtedly was a word which had something to do with eternity. It had initially been exciting, but had rapidly changed into tedious boredom as the large ship relentlessly continued on its passage through the Mediterranean and then across the Atlantic Ocean. He had been assured that they would eventually arrive in Venezuela, but he was beginning to doubt that this particular eternity would ever end. Not only did the days seem to repeat themselves, but the entire ocean trip seemed to be a repetition, like a nearly forgotten memory. The ship's motors seemed to be functioning, he heard them and felt them, so knew they were working, but there were no trees or other distinguishing landmarks to indicate passage.
Some months before, Bozhena had decided that it was time to leave her native Czechoslovakia and had bundled up her two children and valiantly set off across limitless distances to seek a different future. To not just willy-nilly accept destiny, but to change it. The second World War had finally ended and then came a time of reconstruction and adjustment. A national adjustment with a quirk which Bozhena found difficult to accept. The Nazis had fled with the liberation of their country by the Russians, but the Soviets had come and then decided to stay or at least offer yet another political ideology for popular consumption. For years Slovakia had been suffering one 'occupation' after another. With the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Czechs and Slovaks, in 1918, had joined to create an independent, cooperative nation. Unfortunately the Czechs were more numerous, as well as being more powerful, and had attempted to impose their language and culture upon the Slovaks almost from the very inception of their 'mutual' alliance. Then came the Nazi occupation followed by a Russian inspired socialist system. Fiercely independent Bozhena decided that she had had enough and one morning during Mass she heard a voice telling her that it was time to leave. Now whether she actually heard that ethereal voice or merely invented it was pure speculation. Young Igor had often suspected that his mother was not beyond invention if it suited her purpose; he knew that she would never actually tell a lie, but just might elaborate a bit.
'Elaboration' was another of the many special words she had taught young Igor. She told her children marvelous stories every night. Her stories were far superior to anything in books since they constantly changed. When questioned as to this ability to alter and transform what they had heard before until it was hardly recognizable, she had explained that this was 'elaboration'. So, Igor reasoned, she may have elaborated a bit about what had happened in church. They left Czechoslovakia with little more than what they could carry in their suitcases, but Bozhena carried something very special with her, a secret. It was a secret that she had carefully guarded for many years and now she would soon be able to share it her children, Igor and Cristina.
There was one thing they carried in abundance, memories; so many memories. The memories which Igor had of his father were very special. In fact he even kept them in a specific part of his young mind. Nothing else was allowed entry into that designated area. At any time he could open that domain by just remembering his father's smile. It was like a key for a locked door. It was a handsome smile, not really big, but unlike any other. Not like cousin Pavel's smile which went from one ear to the other. Igor had often thought that 'bratranec' Pavel had the biggest mouth in the entire world and obviously far more teeth than were necessary.
Igor remembered again his father's smile. He retained a vision of his father also smiling with his eyes as they narrowed into dark, twinkling slits. Then there were memories of those long walks under the spreading trees by the Danube river there in Bratislava, just the two of them; looking down at the water as it flowed in relentless passage to somewhere. Igor remembered the comfort and security of knowing that his father was by his side. Although it was something he couldn't see or touch he could nonetheless feel his father's love as he looked down at Igor with his compassionate brown eyes. There were also memories of going fishing. The joy and excitement as a sharp jerk was felt on the line and his father helped Igor to pull in the first fish that he had ever caught.
His father also liked to talk about what had happened in the past. About all the castles of their country, the rulers of the area where they lived, and about how everything was connected. It was interesting, but sometimes there were so many facts included that Igor got a little confused. But his father never tired of patiently explaining so his young son could understand how one part fit into another part. He could still hear his gentle, melodious voice. Igor loved to just listen to its soft, lyrical sound. Most of all Igor remembered him at his piano, an enormous old Bosendorfer. That was when his father entered his own special domain. He played the most beautiful music imaginable and while playing gazed off into space. Igor knew that he could see something that no one else in the entire world was capable of seeing or experiencing. Maybe he was communicating with Mozart. He talked about Mozart a lot. Igor looked up at the wispy white clouds, listened to the ship's churning sound as it pushed through the sea, and then closed that repository of memories and locked it securely with a single tear.
Then one day that infinity of endless waves and the constant smell of salt laden air had come to an end. Igor's first impression of Venezuela was that this current eternity included living in paradise. They were staying with a Slovak family in the city of Caracas. It was warm, intensely green and the nights carried marvelous new fragrances and different sounds. The Masarik family had left Czechoslovakia just before the Nazi occupation. Sara Masarik was Jewish and unlike many others, they had heeded the dark rumblings. They had read about events in Germany and had anticipated the coming storm. They had found life in this new country to be both wonderful as well as challenging. It involved learning a new language, customs and a very different way of life, but they were content and in only nine years had financially prospered. Igor soon made many new friends and was happy to think that this eternity might indeed last forever. But then his mother came up with another of her constant surprises. This was just a stopping point and hopefully in a short time they would once again be traveling. Suddenly Igor was not quite so happy.
Bozhena was at last able to reveal her long held and closely guarded secret. The children knew that their father, Ivan, had been a professor of history at Comenius University in Bratislava. One afternoon he had not come home from his classes. Nor did he return during the following days. Igor demanded that they go to the university to look for his father, but Bozhena explained that the school had temporarily been closed and many of the teachers had been put in detention camps.
Then suddenly one night they left their home in the city and went to live with their grandmother in Nove Zamky, in a remote, rural part of the country, near the Hungarian border. Their mother had never attempted to explain to them that their father's disappearance may well have been due to the fact that she and her husband had spent several years living in the United States, a country that was now at war with Germany. It might well have been that he openly protested the "protection" of Slovakia by the Nazi regime. She went on to inform her children that at one time their father had been a visiting professor at a university in California for three years and during that time both Igor and his younger sister had been born in that country. They were by birth United States citizens, a fact she had never been able to share with them before. Bozhena was in a curious position since her children were US citizens, yet she was not and would have to apply and wait for admittance. So, as soon as her papers were arranged, they would be heading for that fabled country. Igor was not impressed with his mother's revelation since he was living in the present, which meant Caracas, his new friends, especially Carlitos, and was perfectly content to continue doing so.
Igor had met Carlitos on his second day at his new home and there had been an immediate problem, language. Not communication, just language. They could both point, and smile, and laugh and play. They just had a problem with specific words. It was at this point, on their first day of playing together that they invented their longest lasting game. Carlitos held up the ball in his hand and said, "pelota". Igor responded by calling it "gula". Carlitos handed the ball to Igor, who now called it 'pelota' and waited expectantly as Carlitos hesitantly called it 'gula'. A tree became an 'arbol' as well as 'strom', a flower immediately had two names, 'flor' and 'kvet'. Occasionally they would encounter words that were almost exactly the same; sugar was 'azucar' and 'sukr'. From time to time there were minor differences they had trouble reconciling. Carlitos had pointed at a pair of shoes, certainly not his own since he resisted wearing them as much as possible, and said 'zapato' and that elicited a response from Igor of 'bota'. Carlitos looked a bit confused and attempted to explain that 'botas' (boots), though certainly something you put on your feet, were a quite different thing in Spanish. The two boys continued with this game for as long as they knew each other and before long Igor was speaking a rudimentary, though passable, Spanish and Carlitos was probably the only young Venezuelan boy spouting Slovak.
For Igor the only thing amiss in this new life in Venezuela was the absence of his grandmother, her soft warmth and her delicious food. He enjoyed 'arepas', a type of Venezuelan bread, delicious black beans known as caraotas, and all the other savory flavors of this mild, tropical location, but missed his daily kasha and the heavy dark bread, fresh from Baba's oven. Most of all he missed her stories. She was also very good at elaboration. He missed all the marvelous things she had shared with him about the world around them.
She had taught him how to put his face to the wind and know if it carried rain. She had shown him how the formation of a butterfly's wings affected the very manner in which it flew from flower to flower, where it savored nectar and carried pollen. It was the pollen which helped to form the flower's seeds. Those seeds, when ripe fell to the ground and germinated. They grew and formed the flowers which would provide the nourishment for subsequent generations of butterflies. A process which was round, much like the hours on the clock. They explored a nearby forested area and she had explained how to find the best wild berries. Which mushrooms were edible; those same '’champinon' which gave the flavor and substance to delicious dishes such as 'svichkova pechenye', meat with mushrooms and sour cream and the various 'goulash', thick soups redolent with vegetables. Mushrooms which could be chopped finely and would fill those marvelous savories called 'piroshgi'. She taught him how to tend the plants which grew in their vegetable garden and provided much of their nourishment.
She had also been very definite about how each and every single flower was different and individual, just like people. They might look the same from a distance, but upon close examination each was distinct, unique and precious. Lessons which were indelible, never to be forgotten, and would continue to influence his life for all of his many 'eternities'. Most of all he longed for her melodious voice, softly singing songs which were a part of, and as old as, the land which they considered their home. Many nights he had covered his head with his pillow, so no one could hear him, and cried because he missed his 'Baba' so much. Her absence in his life was a vacancy which no one else could fill.
Igor was inordinately proud at the age of 8 that he could identify a specific yellow flowered plant by its name in Slovak, Czech and even a complicated Latin binomial. His grandfather had died several years before, and having taught botany at the same university as his father, had left treasures for him to relish. Botanical books with exquisite line drawings and descriptions of countless plants of the region - and the world beyond.
Time passed quickly—relatively speaking, and considering Igor's penchant for dividing all periods up into greater and lesser eternities. Then nearly two years after leaving Czechoslovakia, Igor, his mother and sister arrived at the farm of Karel and Hana Bilak in southeastern Kansas. The Bilaks had immigrated to the US some twenty years before and had volunteered to sponsor Bozhena and her children until they were able to care for themselves in this new land. They arrived at the farm on a cool day in early spring and upon entering the warm kitchen, which smelled of freshly baked bread, Slovak sausage, cooked cabbage with caraway seeds and other familiar fragrances, Igor immediately felt at home. Yes, he was probably going to enjoy this current eternity. Igor's well being, and moods, had always been dictated by the status of his stomach.
The farm consisted of slightly over 150 acres of land, much of which was planted in wheat, corn, soy beans and alfalfa. There was also a part which was reserved as pasture land for the small herd of milk cows. Unlike the flatness of much of Kansas this southeastern part of the state was composed of rolling hills and numerous small streams and larger rivers. Igor adjusted quickly to life on the farm and took pride in accomplishing all of his many daily chores to the best of his ability. The family was up well before dawn to begin the process of milking the cows, feeding the chickens and various other animals, drawing water from the well, eating enormous breakfasts and then he and Cristina headed for school. They walked nearly a mile to the one room schoolhouse, which had a total of eight students, a bell tower, and the most dedicated and wonderful teacher that a student could ever hope to encounter. Miss Watkins took special pride in helping her two newest students to learn and deal with the complexities of the English language and, when necessary, she never tired of repeatedly explaining the same word or concept until they understood what she was attempting to convey.
After school there were a number of chores which had to be completed before it got dark and the cows had to be milked again. Then after a large meal Igor and his sister did their homework to the light of a lantern and Bozhena and Hana helped them with their study of English and history and the various subjects they were studying in school. Igor had not known that his mother knew English so well, and though she spoke it with a decided accent, her knowledge of grammar was excellent and she was insistent that her children understand the intricacies of their new language. Very insistent.
Karel had a special large chair which he occupied every evening, then after lighting one of his marvelous curved pipes with aromatic tobacco, he disappeared into his world of reading. When they first met at the railway station in Parsons, the nearest large town to the farm, Igor had immediately liked Karel. He was a big man and looked somewhat a large, gruff bear, but when he opened his mouth to speak everything he said came out soft and gentle. Now Hana, on the other hand, was exactly the reverse. She was petite and looked like the epitome of sweetness, something straight from a candy store. But beneath that candy-coated exterior was the hardest, strictest and most demanding person young Igor had ever encountered. He made it a special point of never unnecessarily crossing her path. To incur the Wrath of God would have been a gentle reproach in comparison to incurring the Wrath of Hana. A specific reason for his not incurring her displeasure was that she controlled the kitchen and that might mean that there wouldn't be a second helping of dumplings, 'knedli', or one of her rich desserts, primarily based on fresh fruits and thick rich cream.
Some evenings the entire family would spend the time listening to programs on the radio. Since electricity had not arrived in this rural area, the radio was powered by several large batteries which were charged by a small windmill attached to the side of the house. Many evenings were spent with Hana or Bozhena playing the piano, primarily popular music or folk melodies from Czechoslovakia, with occasional impromptu performances of Chopin, Mozart or other classical works performed by Bozhena. She was also capable of getting that far away look in her eyes when she played the piano. Igor silently wondered if it was possible that both his parents were capable of communication with Mozart, even though he had been dead for such a long time.
Spring turned into summer and the work on the farm increased. In fact the school terminated its classes in May so that the children could help their parents with the work on the farms. Early spring had been devoted to plowing and planting. By summer it was time for the harvest of the acres of golden wheat, accomplished with large machines which traveled from farm to farm and all the farmers cooperated in helping one another. The women worked together to provide enormous amounts of food to feed the hungry harvesters. Hana, Bozhena and Cristina were busy on a daily basis canning and preserving the bounty of the large vegetable garden which would nourish them during the long Midwestern winters. Their work was stored in a large 'storm cellar' made of stone and built into the side of the hill near the house. It served two purposes; as a storage facility and also as a place of protection during the passage of tornadoes which frequently crossed this section of the country during the summer months. Then came the cutting and baling of alfalfa which was stored in the upper portion of the large barn and served as feed for the cattle during the long, cold winter when the pasture land was buried deep in snow.
Besides his daily chores and helping with the work of planting and harvesting, Igor had time to wander, alone, among the vast areas of the farm. One spot where he spent many hours was alongside the creek which passed through the cattle pasture. It was bordered by large trees and abounded with an infinite variety of wild life. He watched and partook of the complexity and beauty of nature. He spent untold hours in minute observation of small details of insects and plants. Also of observing how all was an integral part of the totality. It became a part of him and he a part of it. He discovered that the divine spirit, that 'God' which many found only within the confines of a church, was for him everywhere evident. And it was here in this special spot that he was closest to 'Baba'; he could almost hear her voice or see her beautiful, wrinkled fingers as she held up a flower for him to smell and examine.
Soon it was winter and one of the most severe that the inhabitants of that area could remember. Snow covered the landscape and enveloped all with its imposing silence. Then one night it began to rain slightly, a rain which froze on the trees and covered everything with layer upon layer of glistening ice. As the smaller tree limbs became too heavy some of them would break off and fall, creating a magical twinkling sound. It was a special experience which Igor never forgot since it bordered on being magical. It seemed that nothing so exquisitely beautiful could possibly exist.
Bozhena had decided to spend the winter with one of Karel and Hana's married daughters who lived in the nearby town of Parsons, some twenty miles from the farm. She had obtained a job working at a clothing store there and was finally able to help pay the Bilaks for their infinite kindness. She was also squirreling away a certain percentage in the local bank since she was hatching yet another of her plans for the future. Naturally it involved traveling.
Nearly two years had passed and soon they were packing their bags once again. When Bozhena and her husband had lived in the US it had been in Southern California, near Los Angeles. Bozhena did not like cold weather and had been longing to return to the warmth and familiarity of the area where she had lived with Ivan. Perhaps she was trying to recapture those precious, lost moments. Life in Kansas seemed to exist between two extremes, very hot or very cold, Bozhena was looking for something a little more temperate. When they arrived at the train station in Parsons and were saying good-bye to the Bilaks, Igor momentarily began to wonder if his entire life was to be composed of traveling, punctuated by what seemed to be short stationary periods. Rationally he knew that it was the reverse, but in the world of larger and smaller eternities, Igor’s time was a little disjointed. However this new 'train eternity' was of a much shorter duration. He had discovered the incredible joy of becoming so immersed in reading that all else ceased to exist. Time no longer existed! It was a new revelation and evidence to his young mind that even though 'eternities' can vary greatly in the amount of space they occupy, that he now had the facility of controlling time, those very eternities that had been plaguing him all his life. At least that's what he thought at the period of this discovery. Although it wasn't really a completely formulated scientific theory and a blackboard covered with marvelous numbers to substantiate his discovery. Nothing more than a passing thought as the train pulled into the Los Angeles station.
For the last two years Bozhena had been corresponding with Ray and Martha Clark in Whittier, a suburb of Los Angeles, where she and Ivan had previously lived. Ray was a faculty member at Whittier College, where Igor's father had taught. The Clarks had offered to help Bozhena in any way possible if she decided to return to that area. Ray's mother had recently died and the Clarks volunteered to rent Bozhena the now vacant house, which was located in nearby Alhambra. Within days of having moved into their new home Bozhena had obtained a job working in a children's clothing store owned by Mr. Ankar, a Turkish immigrant to the US. Bozhena explained to Igor and Cristina that she had probably gotten the job since her grandfather, their great grandfather, had been Turkish and she had of course mentioned this fact to Mr. Ankar in the course of her interview.
Now Igor had never heard about this particular maternal great grandfather. That evening the children learned all about him. It seems that Turkish Gramps had arrived in Bratislava via the Danube River aboard a boat. He had chanced to see their great grandmother Hrushka, immediately fallen in love and decided to stay. Though he didn't verbally express his suspicions, Igor felt that perhaps his mother had invented yet another story to facilitate her present need, namely that of employment. However that might be, Amir, or Turkish Gramps, became a permanent part of the family history. Igor did know that one of his maternal grandmothers, Kazinka, had been Ukrainian. In fact, Igor decided, adopting his mother's penchant for elaboration, Kazinka was undoubtedly a wandering Ukrainian gypsy with large flowing skirts, dangling golden earrings and her nomadic nature would genetically help to explain his mother's inclination for frequently packing their bags on those periodic changes of location.
He was beginning to feel comfortable using the English language, though it still required a great deal of work, and he excelled in nearly all his school courses. He was supremely content with this new eternity, one which he hoped would not include any new trips to faraway places. The children's clothing store where Bozhena worked was a great success and soon Mr. Ankar was opening other stores in nearby communities. Bozhena had a knack for anticipating the coming fashions, and fads, in children's wear and had been promoted to general manager and purchasing agent for the growing chain of stores. Eventually she was able to arrange for purchase of the house where they lived and even bought a car.
For her two children a trip with their mother at the wheel was always one of the most frightening experiences of their life. They had endured arduous travel on three continents, but a trip to the nearby supermarket with their mother driving was absolutely terrifying and caused panic in their young hearts. Bozhena frequently had accidents, though fortunately none of them were ever serious; she took them in her stride and may have even felt that they were an integral and necessary part of driving. How could you possibly get from Point 'A' to Point 'B' and not scratch up a couple of fenders or lose a tail light or two? Their car, which had been in a fairly decent condition when purchased, soon looked as if it had barely survived several world wars. In the small community where they lived she soon became quite notorious and it was rumored that drivers would quite literally get off the street if they saw her coming in their direction. Among other qualities Bozhena also had a very strong constitution and was never ruffled by hysterical drivers who often felt that she had purposely set out to destroy their automobiles.
Bozhena's second major investment was her piano and, unlike her vehicle, it received the utmost in lavish care and attention. Similar to a medical check-up, it received a tuning every six months, and the children couldn't get near it with a cookie or even slightly soiled hands. Igor and Christina had to practice daily, after thoroughly washing their hands several times in a near religious ritual. Bozhena's teaching method was simple; first a few scales to limber the fingers and the mind and then a little Bach or Mozart. The first pieces they learned weren't something simple like 'Twinkle twinkle little star". According to Bozhena it had to be 'MUSIC', and she had very definite ideas about what comprised music. She played almost daily and though she seemed to enjoy the music of Mozart best, it was those rare times that she played Chopin or Schumann that she seemed to enter another world. The children knew that she had transported herself into the land of memories and was thinking about their father. She rarely talked about him, it was as if the pain would have been too much for this incredibly strong woman to bear.
Igor, an astrological Cancer and home loving youngster, lived in a state of near constant fear that his mother would one day suddenly announce that they had to pack their bags since they would be leaving for Madagascar or some other exotic place that he had perhaps never even heard of. But no, it would appear that Bozhena's one and only destination, when she had heard that legendary and angelic voice in Slovakia, was the home which she purchased there in California. She never again changed residence, though she was in later years known to suddenly board a bus, train or airplane and zoom off for a few days.
Only once did she return to her native Czechoslovakia and spent a month visiting with the family there. Upon returning to California one of her terse comments was, "They're never going to change." It was uttered with absolutely no emotion in her tone of voice and Igor never knew if that pronouncement was negative or positive. It was much like her having said, "The sun is in the sky."
High school was filled with activity, likes and dislikes. Igor discovered that his interests were not those of the majority of the students and sports, school dances and parties were not a part of his preferred activities. He excelled in history, science, language and literature. Art was also of great interest but it had to take a back seat to more academic interests. He was president of the Science Club for two years and an active member throughout his high school days. More important than all school activities was curling up with a good book. That could mean anything from literature to his monthly purchases of Astounding Science Fiction and Galaxy magazines. Although he worked at a local corner market for several hours every day after classes, he always found the time to study, and continued to be on the honor list throughout his four years of high school.
Books, reading and discussion of material read were an integral part of their household. Bozhena had turned the large dining room into a combination mini-library and eating area. Whereas in most homes it was considered bad manners to read while eating, in their home it was almost the rule. Bozhena had always considered nourishment for the body and food for the mind to be intimately related, hence the dining room contained shelves of books and books stacked on books. Cristina, whose job it was to set the table, never neglected to put the dictionary within her mother's reach.
Igor often occasionally ate at the homes of some of his friends from high school, but he never found anything to compare to the feasts which were daily prepared by his mother. And he remembered the delicious meals prepared by his grandmother, whom he still missed daily.
It was at the end of his sophomore year in high school and Bozhena had been secretly planning a surprise for Igor. She had been corresponding with a distant 'cousin' who lived in Arizona. Igor had long ago discovered that nearly any Slovak or Czech in the United States was probably in some way related to his mother, though he was never sure of the exact genealogical ties. Bozhena had arranged for her young son to spend a month in Arizona with ‘Uncle’ Ivan, ‘Aunt’ Meta and his two ‘cousins’, George and Elizabeth. Igor adored his mother, but not necessarily her surprises. An eternity of sweltering heat, sand, rocks and cactus was not exactly Igor's idea of a fun filled experience.