Monday, July 18, 2011


Time passes and memories fade a little, but I never will forget the day I didn't have school in Wharton so I rode over to El Campo with mother.  At that time she was teaching in the El Campo Independant School District.  Mom was at a turning point in her career.  She  worked very hard to bring that about too.

Mother had made a lot of milestones in her lifetime already.  She had been woman's swimming champion for Missouri in her youth.  She had won a writing contest the Baptist Women's Missionary Union in Missouri had held and in a day when young women did not travel unaccompanied, she had made her way to New Orleans to present her work at a conference there.

She was one of the first women school teachers in the public schools in  Missouri.  Did I mention once before that we Slavs sometimes consider this as our land but because there is so much space here we are just downright hospitable about letting everyone else move in and live around us?  There are limits.  On her first assignment some official of the school district thought that a single young woman should be in "need" of uh,, ah ,, shall we say "comfort?"  When he refused what I am sure was at first a very polite "ne," the official learned a lesson about the limits  of Slavic hospitality.  The moral of the story is, don't jack with no žena who say to  you "hvala ti, ali ne."  If you don't listen to her when she says "thank you, but no", she just might shoot your kneecap right off of you and make you walk funny the rest of your life so you remember how to behave.  Majko moja, my mom - the Pistol Packin' School Marm of south eastern Missouri!

She went back to college after that school term was over, finished her first degree and married papa on graduation day.   I suspect papa was a bit more courteous than that fellow from the school where she had worked.   Their trail to Texas is something for another day I think.   She had already been one of the first, if not the first, certified "bi-lingual" teachers in Texas. Now she was in the process of becoming part of the first wave of "Special Education Teachers" in the State.

This was the woman I was with on kind of a mother and son day that October so very long ago. As soon as we were out of the driveway and out of earshot  of papa she punched the button on the car radio which was already set to KULP El Campo.  We didn't listen to the radio with papa in the car, not that he didn't like the music, he just didn't think people ought to drive and watch the radio at the same time.

There on the radio was Schwartzkopf I believe his name was, but oh dear, the brain cells might not have that just right anymore.  At  the time he was who we listened to at the stroke of 9:00 every day we had time for the Polka Hour.  Imagine my surprise as we entered El Campo when she didn't turn down the street toward her school.  I had no idea where she was going.  She turned on Jackson Street and then she parked by the radio station.  Bewildered,  I followed her in.  Out to meet us came our favorite Disk Jockey.  I was floored.  Awestruck!  My mother knew the MAN! So cool. He gave mom a record and shook my hand - "dobrodošli" he said and quickly wrote out his autograph for me.  In a moment  he had to get back and change the music on the show - he was still live on the air when he slipped out to see us.

Mom used the record in her class room for Halloween that year.  I don't remember exactly what song it was now and the autograph has long since been lost along the way.  Dennis Svatek and the Dance Hall Boys do a song that reminds me of that day with mom everytime I listen to it. It's called "Strašidlo", "the Spook."  Like a lot of the other "strašidlo" songs in Slavic culture, Svatek's Strašidlo is a bit humorous so I tried to pick up a little of that in the video.

I just now heard from Dennis about where he got the lyrics to the songs his group sings. "As to you wondering about lyrics, everything I have came from John Ondrusek. Where he got them I don't know, they are all handwritten by him, he may have gotten them from old songbooks, I know some songs he just wrote down the words straight from the recording ..."   However Ondrusek came up with the lyrics, this I know from hours and hours of research - those are the oldest and best lyrics anywhere for these traditional songs the Dance Hall Boys and then the Czech Melody Masters sing.  They preserve the flavor and the smell of the folk origins of these songs.

So now we've introduced a new character into the plot.  Who is John Ondrusek?  A post on  Slovak World in Yahoo Groups says "Dennis Svatek writes about his friend John...It is with a heavy heart that I pass along the following info. John Ondrusek, founder of the Dancehall Boys and a good friend, passed away this past Sunday from complications from cancer."  According to his obituary, John Charles Ondrusek was born in Sinton, Texas 23 August 1951 and he died at the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Houston on 27 June 2004.  The obituary says "Lots of folks have danced to the polkas of the Dancehall Boys & John 's accordion."  Dennis goes on to say "Whatever else went on in his life, when it came to Czech music, he gave
it his all, and he always strove to present it the best way he could. He was a great singer (I still am amazed at how well he could sing and enunciate those Czech words, something I strive to do from his example); a hell of an accordion player, and a fantastic music arranger. He helped instill in me (and the other guys in our band) the importance of trying to get the songs right, trying to put down the full arrangement of a song if we possibly could (you would be surprised how many Czech songs you hear bands play actually have additional sections  or parts that don't get played...), trying to put down on tape or perform in public songs that other bands wouldn't or couldn't touch.  In his time, John Ondrusek was undoubtedly one of the best harmonika players around. A listing from the Austin Chronicle from way back says "The Dancehall Boys  - John Ondrusek or Dennis Svatek" along with a phone number. From Dennis Svatek's YouTube Channel here are the Dance Hall Boys  singing Wild Goose Waltz  back in 1995.  That's John on the harmonika and with the vocals.  Majko moja sometimes told me that if I had just kept up my clarinet I could be successful like that young man.  I think she kind of liked his voice.  Mom and Dad both played harmonika at least until I was seven or eight and they had a special appreciation for those things.

The river of time flushes forward.  Here are the Dance Hall Boys with Strašidlo.  Remember mom and her class while you watch the video - that's what I had in mind when I put it together.  Actually, looking back, that's not all I may have had in mind.  There was a freindship that had begun with an individual who likes castles.  So, there is a castle in the video.  Castles are spooky anyway aren't they?

do sljedeći put, blagoslov - until next time, blessings,

Canovals a.k.a. Slavonac


  1. Your Mother sounds like a lady I would have liked to have known. Could you show us a picture of her some day? A picture of John Ondrusek would be good too. Sounds like he was really dedicated to the music. You're a good storyteller, Canovals. Keep it up. :)

  2. Ah, perhaps one day you will see Majko moja,, yes
    and we will certainly return to John Ondrusek ,,
    they both (not together) figure in more to come!