A Stitch in Time: Part 5 – On Cowsheds and Velvet Dresses

Milada Steinerova Kavkova with their own cow when she was old

In this episode we have four stories set in the Czech or Moravian countryside, tales of ordinary people living through times that were anything but ordinary. Three of them take us back to the Stalinist years of the early 1950s in Czechoslovakia, and the fourth story is more universal, a tale of good advice well taken.

Milada Steinerova Kavkova wearing her own dress | Photo: archive of  Johana Trejtnar

In her story The Blue Velvet Dress, seventeen-year-old Johana Trejtnar tells us about a dress made by her great-grandmother, who was a seamstress in the mountains of north-eastern Bohemia. “I feel that a lot of what I live today comes from everything that my ancestors went through,” Johana says.

The following extracts gives us a flavour of Johana’s writing:

She touched the soft material for the future dress, buried her fingers in it, imagined her daughter, walking down the street in the beautiful blue velvet, and for a moment she got lost in the back of her mind, in a maze of spools and buttons and years long past. Only the toll of the faraway church bell urged her to get up, blow out the candle, carefully fold the fabric into the darkness of a closet to be continued the next day and get to bed.

Johana Trejtnar | Photo: Radio Prague International

The dress has remained in the family to this day – and was the inspiration for the title of this whole series: A Stitch in Time.

We also hear two stories from the period of collectivisation in the 1950s. In A Necessary Sacrifice, thirteen-year-old Michael Lovitt writes about his great-great-grandparents, who were made to give up the farm in Moravia where the family had lived for generations. Michael writes from the point of view of his grandfather, the ten-year-old Jiří, as he witnesses the loss of the farm.

Michael Lovitt | Photo: Radio Prague International

Jiří’s grandmother asked his grandfather what happened at the municipal office, and he told her that they forced him to hand over his land and threatened him with a gun to his head. He said that he had no other option. Then he laughed that at least there would be less work for him to do – Jiří could see all his grandfather’s pain in that laugh. Deep down Jiří knew that his grandfather wanted the best for his family, and in this case, he did the best thing for his family but one of the worst for himself.

Temnice village | Photo: archive of Jiří Pavlíček,  Michael Lovitt

Fifteen-year-old Jakub Liška tells a similar story in František’s Sword, about his great-grandfather František, who lost everything when the communists came to power.

David Vaughan and Jakub Liška | Photo: Radio Prague International

Unlike Michael, who has grown up in Prague, Jakub still lives in the small town where the events he describes took place. “I can still see the house he lived in in our neighbourhood, so he’s still in my heart. When I pass his house I can feel like he’s there.” František was still alive when Jakub was a small child, and Jakub writes of his fond memories of a wooden sword that his great-grandfather made for him.

In Train Tracks Ahead, Amal Al-Kheir from Brno tells the story from the point of view of her grandmother, who grew up in a wooden cottage in the countryside, but left her old life behind to go to medical school.

Amal Al-Kheir | Photo: Radio Prague International

I met people who changed my life by just showing or telling me small things or sentences which I remember to this day. One of the inspiring sentences was “To never stop reading and to read everything that will get into our hands, even if we think that it would not be interesting.” I was told this by a professor at my medical school. He was the head of the radiology clinic and a very kind man with a wide perspective and was full of wisdom. He told us so, in order to always be open to all aspects of world knowledge – to see or to be aware not only of the things that are in our direct view, but also of things that might change our perspective, or widen our knowledge. That is what is inspiring me these days and what I will to the future.

Listen to this episode, to meet Amal, Jakub, Michael and Johana, and hear them read their stories and talk about their inspiration.

This series was created in cooperation with Class Acts. Special thanks to Leah Gaffen, Tereza Dubsky, Lenka Žižková, Robin Smith and to many others who have helped to make the series happen.

Author: David Vaughan
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  • A Stitch in Time

    I was approached by Leah Gaffen from Class Acts, an initiative that works with bilingual children in Czechia, with a particular focus on drama and writing.