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The Story of Two Families

 

An Original Short Story by Susan Rektorik Henley

(C) Copyright 2000

 Chapter Three--A Need for More Land

 Frank Rektorik sat on the porch of his farm house near Moravia, Texas. Bees buzzed and droned in and around the flowering vines which climbed the trellises of the porch. The tasseled tops of the corn leaned and straightened with the pulse of the spring breeze. Richly green and dotted with wildflowers, the pasture near the house was a calm and serene sight. On the gently rolling hill, his spotted milk cows grazed as did his horses and mules. A stand of Cedar Elms rimmed the far end of the pasture and shaded it from the late afternoon sun. From somewhere there came the gently clang-clang of a cow bell. At fifty-eight years of age, life was stable and good for Frank. Usually, this view, the gentle breeze, and the sounds of spring would lesson the severe and solemn look on his face. However; today, there was almost a scowl on his face; he saw nothing, and he was too deep in thought to notice anything.

Puffs of smoke periodically arose from his pipe as he contemplated and considered his conversation the prior afternoon with his good friend, Mr. J. E. Jalufka. The two men had been friends almost since the very time in the year 1888 when Frank, his wife, Marie Matous Rektorik, and their six small children settled here after immigrating from Morkovice, Moravia, in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. John, his eldest son, had only been ten then; and, Alois, his second son, only five years of age. How small, bright-eyed, and excited those boys (and their three sisters) had been as the steam ship on which they traveled came into port and passed the tall and proud Statue of Liberty on their way to the immigrant center at Castle Gardens. Both boys were men now. Both were tall of stature with handsome features. John sported a waxed handle-bar mustache these days which made it easier to tell which one was which at just a glance. It was the future of his two eldest sons which worried Frank and gave rise to a great air of intent and purpose. Puff after puff of smoke arose and was carried away by the gentle breeze.

John and Alois, now called Louis, had been instrumental in the success of the family here in Moravia. He had needed them on the farm and they did not to finish school as did the other children. John had almost completed all nine grades when he had been taken out of school. Louis, however, had only been through the third grade. Their education would have to be the business of the farm...the building of fences, husbandry of the horses and mules, stewardship of the soil, and the guarding against the predators which came craftily by night and made off with chickens and the newborn of the sheep and cattle. Yes, he had, perhaps, been a strict and purposeful taskmaster. He had to be in those early years. The success of the farm meant the success of the family. If they had not all worked and persevered, the outlook for the whole family would have been grim.

There would be a marriage soon. Louis was now twenty-three years of age and deeply in love with one of the neighbor's daughters. Johanna, or Janie as she was called now, was the ninth daughter of Jan (now called John) and Veronica Sramek Hrncir. The John Hrncir family welcomed the Rektorik family to Moravia, Texas, when they settled here in 1888. The Hrncirs had lived in this area since 1873 when they moved here from the High Hill area of Fayette County, Texas. The friendship which came to be between John Hrncir and Frank Rektorik made the adjustment to this new place, this new life, easier for the Rektoriks. It was good to know someone who knew how business worked here and how to get things done. John's parents, Joseph and Anna Svoboda Hrncir, had immigrated to the United States in 1860 from Lichnov, near Frenstat, Moravia, in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

What a horrid surprise it had been to arrive in Texas on the brink of the Civil War. One of the main reasons why the Hrncirs had immigrated was to avoid the conscription of their eldest son, John, into the Austrian army. Here in this new land, John, at the age of fifteen, was once again almost conscripted...this time into the Confederate Army. It was only though his skills with wagons and oxen that he escaped military service by serving as a teamster who hauled Texas cotton across the border at Brownsville, Texas, when the Texas ports were blockaded by the Yankee forces. This too had been an unpleasant and difficult choice.

Crossing Texas with drays loaded with bales of cotton and pulled by teams of oxen was a dirty and tedious job for inevitably the way was either dry and dusty or wet and muddy. There were times when they traveled for days without finding fresh water. The oxen suffered not only from the heavy labor under the brutally hot Texas sun but also from the lack of water. More than once, when these dehydrated and thirsty animals finally caught the scent of water on the wind, they bolted and could not be stopped until they and the wagons which they pulled were in the water. There they sat until the thirst of the oxen was sated. At other times, it rained, and rained, and rained. The oxen would sink almost up to their chests in the mud with each step. The wheels of the wagons would quickly build up mud so thickly that the wheels could make no progress. Time and time again, the mud had to be scraped off of the wheels.

And then, there were the bandits, on both sides of the border, who wished to take the gold received by the teamsters for the cotton which they carried. There were times when young John Hrncir carried the gold on him, for the robbers usually did not search the youngest members of the team because they did not think that the young ones would be trusted with the gold. When this no longer worked, the teamsters began hollowing out holes in the axles of the wagons. The gold was placed inside and then sealed with wax. Again, it would not be long before the thieves learned this trick too. There were times when the gold was lost in order to save the lives of the teamsters. The work of the teamsters was not as dangerous as that of the foot soldier; however, it was still risky and perilous.

It was the teamster gold and gold from the sale of their own cotton in Mexico which financed farm land for the Hrncirs after the end of the Civil War. First land was purchased in the High Hill area. Later this was sold and much more acreage was purchased near Moravia, in Fayette County. The soil here had been rich as had its history been. Sam Houston had crossed this land (pursued by the Mexican Army) as he and his forces fell back after the fall of the Alamo. It was here that John Hrncir had settled into the life of a farmer and raised his large family. From time to time Mr. John Hrncir would sit on his porch and tell of the narrow scrapes in which he had lived through as a teamster carrying contraband cotton for sale in Mexico.

Frank was pleased with the prospect of Louis marrying Janie Hrncir, a daughter of John Hrncir. She was a lovely young woman with a sweet disposition and pleasing manner. She would be good for Louis and this union between the Rektoriks and Hrncirs would cement the friendship which already existed between the families. The problem which posed itself to Frank now was how would Louis support a wife and family? Frank and Marie still had numerous children at home to support. Every bit of land they owned here was still needed by them. There was money to purchase additional land; however, the land in the area was starting to show signs of over utilization. Crop yields were down and erosion was carrying away the precious top soil. No, it would not be productive in the long term to buy more land locally. Another location would have to be found.

As he sat in the shade of his front porch, Frank Rektorik watched his old black dog come through the front garden, onto the porch, and then wait before him. "King" exchanged a few wags of his tale for ascratch behind his ear from Frank and then flopped down on the floor at the feet of his master. It was of his oldest son, John, whom Frank thought of now. John had been the primary subject of his conversation with his good friend, Mr. J. E. (Ignatz) Jalufka, yesterday afternoon. John was of mutual interest to them both because he was married to Agnes Jalufka, one of Mr. Jalufka's daughters.

Mr. Ignatz Jalulfa ran the general store in Moravia. In that large two-story building there was not only a store but also a bar and dance hall. The store served as a meeting place for the sparsely scattered population of farmers around the area. On some weekends there were dances with music provided by a polka band. Mr. Jalufka always had to keep an eye out on the teenage boys who saw the dance as an opportunity to alleviate the tediousness and boredom of farm life. A wall of sweet-scented jasmine along the side of the store attracted the young women who picked fragrant blossoms to wear as corsages to the dance. The young boys would sneak around the building and up through the lush jasmine so that they could jump out at an unsuspecting young lady as she picked the flowers. The shriek of the startled young woman was almost always followed by a chorus of cackles by the boys and heavy foot falls as they fled in the darkness.

If all the shrieking and his having to chase the boys away from the jasmine weren't enough to keep him busy, several of the boys had come up with a new way to get into the dance for free. When a person bought a ticket to enter the dance, the "ticket" which they would receive was a small scrap of cloth and a pin. Everyone at the dance would have a swatch of the same cloth pinned onto their shoulder. Last month, Mr. Jalufka noticed a group of boys strutting around the hall and acting very proud of themselves. He did not remember seeing them coming through the ticket line and, at first, thought that they had crawled in through a back window (as they had done before). When Mr. Jalufka confronted them, one of the young Hrncir boys boldly showed this "ticket" of blue calico. He had almost let them go when Mr. Jalufka realized that the flowers on the Hrncir boy's "ticket" were yellow instead of red as they should have been. The boys had made their own tickets. Mr. Jalufka grabbed the Hrncir boy by the shoulder and was scolding him good when something fell from the boy's pocket. Mr. Jalufka looked down on the wooden floor to see a small pile of fabric scraps of all colors and patterns...it was the boy's personal supply of "tickets." As Mr. Jalufka reached down to grab up the scraps, all the boys broke and ran. They pushed through and around the dancers and drinkers as they fled out and into the refuge of the night. Mr. Jalufka just chuckled at the ingenuity of the boys. What would they come up with next(1)?

John Rektorik had worked as a bartender for his father-in-law, Ignatz. Jalufka, ever since he had married Agnes in 1902. John was tall and handsome. This plus the combination of his clear blue eyes and waxed handle-bar mustache were enough to turn the heads of many a young woman. Agnes was a petite beauty with a creamy complexion, thick and wavy hair, and dark eyes full of mystery and emotion. John and Agnes had been attracted to each other for a long time. John had wanted to marry years before; however, Agnes and her mother insisted that she take advantage of the opportunities available to her here in America before she settled down. Agnes enrolled and attended classes at the Female Department of Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She graduated not only with a degree in music but with an understanding of the concept of "temperance" which was alien to many in the Texas Czech community of Moravia. All during the time Agnes was at Baylor, she and John Rektorik remained true to each other and frequently exchanged letters. John Rektorik was 24 years of age and Agnes, 21 years of age, when they married. A son, Jerome, was born to them the following year.

It was an unfortunate event arising, in part, from John's job as a bartender which led to a family discussion at the Jalufka house and the subsequent visit by Mr. Jalufka to talk to Frank Rektorik about the future of their children. Agnes knew precisely how long it took John to close the bar and travel home. Each night she waited up for him...sometimes she read but most of the time she played the piano. Two evenings back, John was late coming home. So late that anxiety and fear overtook her and Agnes felt that she had to search for him. By the light of a lantern, she hitched a broom-tailed horse to the light buggy, and drove towards Moravia hoping to meet John as he came home. When she reached Moravia, she still had not found John. She checked the store, found the doors locked, and all the lights out. She returned to the buggy and headed home thinking she had missed John somehow. Thank goodness the moon was rising and it was easier to see. However, she again did not find John on the road and he was not at home when she arrived there.

Again she turned the horse and buggy back towards Moravia and urged the horse into a trot. This time when she arrived at the store, she headed around the side. As she passed the heavily-scented jasmine bushes, she heard laughter from around back. There, seated at a table beneath a large tree, was her husband John; his brother, Lois, and several of their cohorts with a keg of whiskey. Immediately the emotions of fear and anxiety changed into anger. Agnes pulled the shawl more closely around her shoulders and stepped forward. "JOHN," said she, "Drive me home NOW!" All was silent. John sat down his shot glass and without uttering a word, he walked over to Agnes, returned to the carriage with her, and drove her home. There were few words exchanged that night. Agnes sat at the piano and played the scales over and over and over. The next day she went to see her parents.

"No more bartending!" is what Agnes said to her father. "I want John out of the business." Mr. Jalufka knew that his daughter had her mind made up. He could tell by the look on the face of his wife that she agreed with her daughter. They were two strong-willed women and he knew he might as well start looking for options. There would be no peace for him until he came up with a plan. So he visited with his friend, Frank Rektorik, to discuss the future of their children. A relocation would have to be made. The land here was showing the ill effects of years of farming and the land prices were high. It was time to look to the black clay soils of the coastal prairie where acres and acres were available for just a price of just a few dollars.

The End of Chapter Three

(1) The main story lines of the boys in the jasmine and with the fake tickets are real. They did, however, happen in the 1930's when the store and dance hall was owned by a Mr. Blahuta. These youthful adventures were shared with me by one of the perpetrators, Mr. Alex George Hrncir, during a visit at his farm outside of Komensky, Texas, in June, 2000.

This is a special story for me. For in it I will pull together people of whom I have already written and tell the tale of a time when dreams of success were made into reality. Over the years, I have collected oral histories, maps, newspaper articles, historical commission bulletins, books, obituaries, and even the records of a land survey conducted in 1805(when a request was made by a Spaniard to have the land in this area granted to him, his sons, and their overseer). I have walked and traveled this county since I was a child and have studied the faces of those who appear in this story in old photographs of them. I even knew some of them (sat in their laps, loved them and was loved by them). Unfortunately, I cannot vow that everything which I have written here actually occurred as written because the day-to-day details have been lost with the passage of lives and times. What I can assure you is that this story is based on real people, a real place, and a specific time. The details are filled in as accurately as I can based on considerable research, study and meditation. Also, the “color” is added based on my understanding of this land and my love of these people, their lives, and what they achieved. For now I am calling this “The Story of Two Families.” Someday, I might decided on another more catchy title; but, it will always remain the story of two families.

Susan Rektořík Henley

Kdo chce s vlky byti, musí s vlky vyti!

"If you run with the wolves, you must howl with the wolves!"

 Remember who your people are, keep and tell their stories.

Rekindle and keep the fires of the culture alive!