A Stitch in Time: Part 6 – Bellbottoms, Sugarcane and the Beauty of the Unknown

Lucy Erent’s father and grandparents, Leningrad 1977

This is the last episode in our series A Stitch in Time, where young people tell stories from their family’s past. We have a taste of sugarcane from Guangdong province in China, we meet a Jewish boy in Baltimore who remembers his own circumcision, and a teenager from Brno takes us to a twilight zone of the unexplained.

Lucienne Erent and David Vaughan in the studio | Photo: Radio Prague International

These three very different stories reflect the complexities and some of the mysteries of the world we live in. Nathalie Rowe from Brno recounts an experience her father had as a soldier, for which no one has ever been able to offer a rational explanation. An-Li Frisk imagines her biological parents having to leave their life in rural China to go to the city, and Lucienne Erent tells the story of her father, leaving the Soviet Union as a thirteen-year-old for a new life in the United States.

Lucienne’s father was the same age as she is now when his journey began in 1977. In her story From Leningrad to Baltimore, she writes:

Lucy Erent's father,  Baltimore 1978 | Photo: archive of Lucy Erent

I often connect my thirteen stable years of life in Prague to my father’s journey which twisted and twined all around the globe, ending up in Prague, but with a long American odyssey through Los Angeles, Chicago, and Baltimore until, if we move backward along all the stories I’ve heard, we finally get to the very beginning: Leningrad, USSR, city of White Nights and grand bridges opening for passing ships, with the small ghosts of former communist pioneers, my dad among them, wearing red ties and marching around in perfect lines. 

With humour and literary flair, Lucienne tells the story of her father’s first years in the United States. Lucienne herself has spent all her life in Prague. I asked her about the traces her family’s past has left on her own life.

Děd Moroz | Photo: Wikimedia Commons,  CC0 1.0 DEED

“In December,” she says, “it’s a mixture of Chanukah and Christmas. And we don’t just have Santa Claus. Sometimes it’s Děd Moroz – which is the Russian Father Christmas. It’s fun.”

An-Li Frisk, who lives in Brno, never knew her biological parents in China, so she imagines them leaving their farm for the city. “I feel quite disconnected from them, so I felt I could relate by having to dive into their experiences. It’s quite sad, because they had to change their lifestyle. I also felt sad, empathising with their situation.”

An-Li Frisk | Photo: Radio Prague International

This is how An-Li’s story, Last Days of Sugarcane, ends:

It’s quite strange, but sugarcane is of the past - we look back on it as one would on a historical spectacle - you could say in our case - a sweet history. We moved into a high-rise apartment on the 7th floor - life now controlled by the repetitive rhythm of money.

Nathalie Rowe also lives in Brno. “I have a British father and a Czech mother. I can’t say where I’m from because we’ve moved about so much that I can’t define that yet. But I have found many comfortable places where we have lived.”

Nathalie Rowe | Photo: Radio Prague International

Her story, The Man on the Hill, recounts a mysterious event that occurred when Nathalie’s father was serving in the British armed forces.

Here is a short extract:

The captain walked squinting, trying to make out his face but all he could see was a dark silhouette under that cap. They were now about twenty metres away from him.

“Who are you!” the captain shouted one last time. No response. “Alright men, move in!”

“Captain look...”


“He is gone!”

Nathalie Rowe and David Vaughan | Photo: Radio Prague International

The captain looked back. The figure was nowhere to be seen. They started running to the hill, but by the time they reached the top there was nothing left.

The mystery is never explained. “I think it’s very important to embrace mysteries,” Nathalie says. “As humans we always want to figure out and come up with an explanation for something, but there is quite a beauty in the unknown – and it certainly makes a great story!”

Let's Write | Photo: Radio Prague International

Listen to this episode to hear Nathalie, An-Li and Lucienne read their stories and talk about their inspiration.

This is the last episode in our series A Stitch in Time. Many thanks to all the young people who contributed stories, also to Leah Gaffen and Tereza Dubsky from Class Acts, and to Bára Dočkalová who composed the theme tune – with Vít Beneš on the piano.

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.