Sometimes, complicated things come together with little doing of our own and present a surprising moment of magic.
There are several separate pieces to this story.
No. 1: My great-uncle was a foreign missionary. His family traveled to and lived in places the rest of us read about or saw in books and magazines. When I was a little girl, every four years or so, my uncle Guy and his family would come home to Mississippi on furlough, and our whole extended mega-family would stop everything and go to my great-grandmother’s house for days.
By that time, my uncle’s many brothers and sisters had families of their own — so, we’re talking about a significant crowd of folks getting together, telling stories, listening to stories and just hanging out. I will always be grateful to have been a part of a family that valued coming together, with no real plans other than to be there for each other.
Without any doubt, his family’s travels and tales of foreign places planted the seeds of travel in my own future.
No. 2: Shortly after I met the man who would eventually become my husband, I started trying to figure out his family’s story, which was a tale with a lot more twists and turns than anyone else’s I knew.
Back in the mid-1800s, my husband’s father’s family came to Mexico from different places in Europe. His great-grandfather’s family was from France. His great-grandmother’s family was from Prague. Through the years, his cousins have filled in many of other details. Along the way, I’ve gathered that one of his ancient relatives was a botanist of some renown. In fact, in Prague, there was a statue of this man, whose name was Benedikt Roezl.
No. 3: Two weeks ago I found out I would be traveling to Prague for work. I hadn’t been to Prague since 1993, the year I lived in Slovakia teaching English. Back then, friends and I made several trips to the city. It was, then, so full of unfolding beauty. Even back in 1993, though my husband and I weren’t married yet, I knew about Benedikt Roezl and his supposed statue. I spent some time looking for it — with what turned out to be the wrong spelling of his last name, I got nowhere. Still, when friends and I were in small parks around the city, I always kept my eyes peeled.
This week, armed with more information, including the right spelling of my husband’s great uncle’s name and a general idea of where the statue should be.
Shortly after I got here, my uncle Guy’s oldest daughter — also a foreign missionary whom I hadn’t seen in more than two decades — sent me a message saying that she and her husband live in Prague and I should come visit with them. My work colleagues and I had a busy week planned. I wasn’t sure a visit would work out, but on Thursday night, I was pleased to find myself at her dinner table in great conversation with her and her husband.
I told them the story of my husband’s long lost uncle and where I believed the statue to be. My cousin, Melinda Kyzar, said, “That park isn’t far from here at all. We should go after dinner.”
Even though I had seen pictures of it, there was a real possibility that this statue, which had been erected more than a hundred years ago, would not be there. After dinner, the three of us took a tram toward the park. Once there, we had to make a decision to go left or right. It was a sizable park. Melinda’s husband said, “I have a feeling that it’s this way.”
I agreed, and we started walking along a large path that twisted and turned, much like this story.
As we made our way around a curve, we saw a huge statue at the end of the park. I was amazed. This was a monumental (literally) monument.
And sure enough, it was Benedikt Roezl. Under his statue, along with his name and the dates of his birth and death was an inscription, along with two words to describe him. The first one, I could make out. It was the Czech word for “botanist.” But I couldn’t figure out the second one. It was, “Cestovateli.”
My cousin’s husband, Russell, said, “That word means traveler.”
And with that, I smiled, and felt a certain kinship with old fellow.
Email Jan at firstname.lastname@example.org