It sat in the back of our attic, a musty old picture that would loom out at us from the back corner of the area under the eaves where we would store Christmas decorations and the odd nick-knacks and brick-brack of our family. The gilded frame and the dusty, faded print showed traces of what looked to be a once rich and regal portrait.
I will admit that through most of my young life, I envisioned it to be a picture of “Christ the King,” – some picture picked up along the years by my bachelor great uncle or some other family member.
Cleaning out the attic several years ago, the picture and frame saw the light of day for the first time in as long as I could remember. The dust and grim of time and age hid from view the picture that lay underneath. Over all of those years, I imagined that the lack of vision was caused by the darkness of the attic, when in reality it was the darkness and grim of time.
My brother grabbed the picture, took a glance at the state of disrepair, and threw it on the pile that was destined for the garbage heap.
“You are going to throw that are you?” I asked incredulously.
“Its all beat up and you can’t even tell what it is.” My brother replied.
“You could cut out the picture and keep the frame.” My sister-in-law intoned.
I will admit I was aghast. While my packrat nature may not match the skills of my father (who lived through the great depression), I do have a great love and appreciate for history – which also extends to family history.
Picking the picture out of the trash, I carefully laid it aside with my things and went back to work cleaning and sorting.
Part of my love of history extends to my family. My father’s side of the family is very proudly Bohemians. Now the largest area of the Czech Republic, Bohemia was a center of culture for centuries, both as a stand alone kingdom and later as a dukedom in several empires. Rarely did my family discuss the history of their native land and most of the stories revolved around the family lore – the hail storm that was the straw that broke my great-grandfather’s back and pushed him to move to America. The arduous journey by steam ship. The trials and tribulations of settling in a harsh land.
But there were some hints of the ties to the new land.
Complaining about something to my grandmother in my youth, I remember her saying, “pray to the Infant.” What did she mean? There is a famous statue in Prague of the Infant Jesus which has miracles attributed to it…and is said to protect the Czechs in their hour of need.
While singing the words to the famed English Christmas Carol called, “Good King Wenceslaus” my grandmother stopped me and asked me if I realized I was singing about not just any king, but the most famous king in all of Bohemian history. A great leader, pious yet wise, caring yet regal. A great roll model for any youth, but especially one that had 50% Bohemian blood coursing through their veins.
A close examination of the picture later in the day, once the dust of cleaning had settled, the dust and grim was slowly wiped away with the aid of an old sock/rag. It was a king, the crown upon his head proved that. He was a warrior – the sword showed that. But the angel that accompanied him carried a martyrs’ crown. In small letters, under the painting gave the name, King Vaclav….which to our English tongue translates, “Wenceslaus.”
On the back was cardboard, seemingly from a shipping package that had the year emblazoned on it, “1907″
My family thought enough of this King/Saint – a wise ruler, filled with charity and concern for others that they had a picture sent over (or as a gift) to remember.
Can I do any less?
Each year, on the Feast of King Wenceslaus, September 28th, I raise a glass, eat a koblahey or two, and toast the saintly king, “Na Zdraví!”