As America has a largely immigrant population, it is not surprising that many of us choose to travel to the countries our relatives immigrated from. On my mother's side, my grandparents were Slovakian, both with families that immigrated to a coal-mining town in Pennsylvania. I was especially close to my grandmother, a sweet, round-faced, plump woman. Like many immigrants of her generation, her family worked to assimilate into American culture by changing their last name and adopting American traditions. Thus, despite my close relationship with her, I learned very little about her family's history and culture, and with each passing year since her death, much of what I knew of her has passed as well.
It was with this family history, that we traveled to Bratislava. No less than five minutes into our arrival in Old Town Bratislava, did a flood of memories of my Grandmother return. In the town square, an arts and crafts market featured traditional Slovakian hand-made crafts. The very first stall displayed lace angels (photo below) that were exact replicas of the lace angels my grandmother made for our family's Christmas tree. With an immediate, overwhelming wave of emotion, it dawned on me that those ornaments were not just pretty decorations, but remnants of her Slovakian heritage. I searched the rest of the market stalls for other clues to her past, but without success.
Sadly, I never did learn how to make the lace angels. My grandmother did, however, teach me to make several Slovakian cookie recipes and each year at Christmas, I make them in her memory. I have also taught my sons and my niece how to bake them too, as those cookies are the only remaining remnants of our Slovakian heritage.