“Your sister's daughter? I didn't know you had a sister.”
“Of course,” she explained, obviously perplexed that I didn't know. “Your Aunt Mary.”
I had never heard of Mary.
When I asked my father, he merely flipped his hand dismissively and said, “Oh her, she married a drunk and we never talked about her.”
Being a Nazi-sympathizer was the least of my father's failings.
The little boy in the photo with my father was one of Mary's sons, Joseph Hrabovecky. That's Slovak.
My father was the son of Slovak immigrants. No, not from the Slovak Republic nor Czechoslovakia. They left their homes in the Carpathian Mountains of Europe when the land was still a portion of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They were coal miners there and coal miners when they settled in Pennsylvania. No, don't waste your time looking for any nobility in my bloodline. My mother's parents were also a coal mining family, her father from France and her mother from England.
My father escaped the mines by becoming a professional prize fighter. Joseph Hrabovecky escaped by joining the U.S. Army.
They both migrated to Baltimore, Maryland. My father and his young family after a brief though successful career in the ring, and Joseph following his first tour of duty in the Army.
When World War II erupted, Joseph reenlisted. My father took shelter in the defense industry, at the Bethlehem Ship Yards at Sparrows Point near Baltimore.
Inasmuch as I never had any contact with any of the Hrabovecky family, details are sketchy, but the Internet is a wonderful research tool.
I wish I had known about these cousins long before now and had known this part of my family. It's sad when families simply can't get along.
I well remember spending a day with a work acquaintance, Liz Montoya, in the San Joaquin Valley of Southern Colorado. As we drove past ranches she named the families who owned each and recounted their histories for several generations in the past. She told me stories of the days when the U.S. Army first arrived and built a log stockade. They were ill-prepared for their first winter and the families who owned the surrounding ranches each took a soldier or two into their homes and cared for them until Spring. Her recollections were fascinating to a young storyteller who had been denied his own family history.
I pray that my children and theirs will someday appreciate the effort I've put into collecting as much as I can. People who don't know history, especially their family history, don't know who they are, where they came from, and where they are going.