Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Places I Have Lived

Decades ago I made up  my mind to love every place I lived.  No matter the initial impressions, you can find beauty and pleasantness and friends anywhere.

Some places I don't remember living, such as Brooklyn New York, my birthplace, or Perryopolis Pennsylvania where my Mom stayed with me in between moves, or Sherman Oaks California where we lived for a year.  Actually, I remember one thing about that place--tumbling down the concrete stairs at our apartment building.

When I was two we moved to Sepulveda California and lived there until I was 13.  It was white-bread dullsville suburbia  and life was predictable and safe and comfortable in our 1400 square foot one-story ranch-style home with a big backyard.

My life took an exciting turn when my folks found a larger (2200 sq ft) house in Valencia (Santa Clairita Valley) (1968-1974).   The area was still rural country then, and I discovered peers who were not like me.  My college-educated father went off to work daily to an office job.  Some of these kids came from homes that were hardly better than shacks, and their fathers were blue-collar workers, if they even had jobs at all.  My high school was attended by blacks from Val Verde and Mexicans whose parents had been migrant workers before they settled down.  A few of my friends had horses and was that ever fun--one of my favorite memories is the day I rode my friend's chestnut down the main drag to Thrifty Drug to buy supplies for our school project.

Then it was off to college at BYU (1973-1976) in probably the grandest setting of any university anywhere.  But again, these people weren't like me.  I was a brand-new Mormon.  My roommates fully embraced me and helped me learn how to be a Mormon.  As for Provo, I didn't really care for it much, once I started working downtown.  Folks were either active LDS, or they were inactive bitter anti-LDS and made life hard for the other ones.

Craig's first job was in Ridgecrest California (1977-1978) in the Mojave Desert, sandwiched between Death Valley on the east and the Sierra Nevada Range on the west.  What a nice small town.  There were disadvantages such as a dearth of retail establishments.  On the plus side the people were humble, strong and faithful, the landscape was beautiful and wide-open and fascinating.  We stayed two short years.

Meridian Idaho (1978-1984).  Meridian had the deepest effect on who I am today than any place I've lived.   We turned our half acre into an orchard and garden, sometimes weeding on summer nights until it was fully dark at 11 p.m.  Our neighbors came from all over; there were tons of children in the neighborhood. We belonged to Meridian First Ward which took in the "downtown," if a farm town actually has a downtown.  These farmers had lived in their homes for 40 or 50 years or more and raised their children in these 2 or 3 bedroom little boxes.  They spoke out about what was right, even criticizing when appropriate.  They put up with me and I came to love and appreciate them.  These old folks (many of them widows) reached out to we younguns, taught us about hardship and life and canning and every practical skill.  From them I learned a person didn't need much to get by; the virtues of faith and hard work were what got you by.

Portland's Rock Creek (1984).  We spent such a short time in that area while waiting for our house to be built.  We still have life-long friends made that year.

In December 1984 we moved 4 miles down the road to the Beaverton area, where we have lived 26 years. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Introverts Unite!

I am an introvert.  There, I said it.  And I am not ashamed.  It's past time for we introverts to embrace our introvert-ism and let the world know it's acceptable to prefer quiet or alone activities over crowds or parties or large public gatherings.  Solitude is empowering!

Being born an introvert does not mean a person cannot function in high-profile roles.  And it does not indicate that a person is un-adept at public speaking or teaching or leadership positions.  We operate successfully in our own way.

During my entire lifetime I have been misjudged by extroverts.  Extros assume there is something wrong with a person who doesn't babble incessantly, who doesn't desire to be the focus of attention, or who seeks a quiet corner in a group situation.  My most dreaded part of this misunderstanding is for an extro to ask me "What's the matter?"  In fact, in an article published in the Wall Street Journal online, Jennifer Kahnweiler wrote, " . . . avoid many introverts' least favorite question: "What's wrong?" For these quiet, reserved types, nothing is wrong. So, why not leave them alone—and enjoy a little peace and quiet yourself?"

On numerous occasions peers who didn't know me well would say in a situation, "Why don't you talk?"  Or, "Why don't you ever say anything?"  Wish I'd had a smarty-pants answer then.  My usual reply was, "There's nothing to say," or "What do you want me to say?"  It's OK to to enjoy the moment people!

The same WSJ article mentions that introverts tend away from showing emotion and do remain calm in heated situations.  I can think of many times that has been true in my life.  Others might ask why I'm unaffected by the turmoil around me; I am affected but it's not my nature to "go public" about it.

I've been thinking about this since visiting my 2 grandgirls, Meme and Majd.   They are polar opposites.  Majd is the extrovert, Meme reminds me of me as an introvert child.  She enjoys quietly coloring, or standing on the 'sidelines' observing without commenting, or being happy without proclaiming it from the housetops.  And I understand her perfectly.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Home-Grown Terrorist?

 Pioneer Courthouse Square setting up the Christmas tree Friday

When I saw the photo of the Somali fellow arrested Friday night for attempting to blow up downtown PDX, it occurred to me that he might be from around here, because we have a large Somali community.  And sure enough, he is a graduate of our very own Westview High School.  4 of our 5 kids have graduated from WV.  Steven knows him from some common classes.   Kristi says, " . . .I have known him since the 7th grade when he moved to America.  I got to know him in my social studies class when we were learning about Islam. He was the only Muslim in the class and he talked a lot of his culture.  It is so weird to think that he turned into what he is now.  I cannot understand why anybody would want to hurt so many innocent people."

I sincerely hope this does not make our local Somalis targets of the idiots who would blame them by association.  They appear to be law-abiding people and can't help that they had to flee the horror in their own country.  I see the tall, willowy graceful Somali women around town.  They make a lovely scene as they practically glide rather than walk, robed in stunning, vivid draping fabrics.

This guy doesn't appear to have been the sharpest tool in the shed though.  He bought into an elaborate FBI ruse so he cooked his own goose, as they say.  If convicted he'll probably get life.  What a waste.  He could have lived out his life here in the wonderful comfortable USA.  As it is, life in prison here is in some ways better than life outside of prison in Somalia.

 The tree was happily (and safely) lit Friday night

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Washington County Fair

Last year Brooklyn decided she wanted to make a quilt for the Washington County Fair, held every end-of-July.  I had some assorted pink fabrics lying around that I had gotten for free, and she just happened to like them, and here is the quilt she made.  Brooklyn cut the fabrics, pinned and sewed them, then tied the knots at the corners to hold it all together.  She sewed the binding on too.  Cousin Lacey and I assisted her with the tasks but she did most of it herself.  And she won a blue ribbon!

You can enter just about anything you want in the fair--baked goods, preserves, textiles, flowers, vegetables, table settings, photographs etc.  Over the years we have entered quilts, pillowcases, photographs, and applesauce.

This year Jonah decided a week before the fair to sew a quilt.  We rushed to the fabric store and found some nice fabrics with wild animals on them.  Here is his quilt below, and he won a blue ribbon too!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Four Things Past Their Prime

 We all have 'old favorites' around the house that would be trash to others.  Here's a few of my favorites:

Crock Pot--in 1977, fresh out of college, we moved to Ridgecrest California.  We didn't have much, and we  even lacked normal equipment essential in a kitchen.  During a conversation one day a gal in my ward, Vera Todd, picked up that I did not own a crock pot.  She had two.  She showed up with the extra one for me to keep.   Here it is in all its glory, the Simmer-On II.  Yes they make better more versatile crock-pots now.  This one still works well and the bonus is that I think of Vera every time I use it.  And try to be more like her.

Cinnamon Shaker--Don't know where or when my Mom got this dandy little shaker, but I grew up with it.  We liked cinnamon toast and this is what we used as a shaker for as long as I can remember.  It still does the job and rustles up memories every time.

Tiger Cup--Craig took Teresa to the Barnum and Bailey Circus in Portland when she was about 4.  That would be 1989.  She brought home this cup which I adopted as my water cup.  I like the handle, the thick base that keeps it stable, and the capacity is just about right.  About 5 years ago it cracked down the side and formed a small hole, but as long as I periodically refill the hole with rubber cement it doesn't leak on me.

Mom's Jacket--When Mom died in 1994 my sisters and I went through her clothes.  We helped ourselves to a few things before donating the rest.  I brought home this snazzy "jogging" jacket and  pants.  The pants eventually gave up the ghost but the jacket still lives, and I enjoy thinking about Mom when I wear it.  Its most redeeming feature is that it's a very thin shell, which is all I need most of the time on exercise walks.  Anything heavier makes me sweat too much.  I know it makes me look like a relic from the 80s but I don't care.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Majd

One of our granddaughters has the Arabic name, Majd.  When we visited her in October she was barely 2 years old.  Yet she has a command of language that surpasses that age.  At times I couldn't help laughing at our conversations, because you don't expect a young child to say certain things.

She was playing with a set of 3 cheap dolls that happen to have wings.  I asked her, "Majd, where are your dolls?"  She vehemently replied, "They're not dolls.  They're fairies."

I asked her if she would like to visit me at my house.  She cheerfully blurted out, "Do you have toys?"  And after a pause, "Do you have kids???"

If I teased her by calling her 'be-be' she became very serious and said, "No!  I called Majd!"

When she was eating a piece of bread I broke off a corner and put it in my mouth.   Sternly and in a huff she said, "You ruined it!!"  And marched away with her bread.

The day before my departure I wanted to prepare her, so I explained that tomorrow I would be going home on an airplane.  She became genuinely solemn and declared, "I'm sad."   I wasn't even sure she would understand what I meant, but she did and it made her sad.

Majd also narrates her life continually.  While awake she is constantly talking, describing everything she is doing.  At dinner, "I put pasta in my mouth."   Changing clothes, "I take off my dress."  And so on.  And on.

Majd is a little firecracker, a little imp.  She is enthusiastic about life and  it's catching.  One day we got off the ferris wheel at the Casbah and immediately she darted out of our presence to where she could get a good view of the fair.  She sucked in her breath and jumped up and down at the sight.  It was then I realized what a beautiful sight it was with all the lights, the boats on the creek, etc.  She garners attention by intentionally being naughty, as when she takes her arms out of her car-seat straps and makes sure we all know about it. She knows how to have fun!
neighborhood playground
fun at the Casbah

She is queen of the souk.  Every visit she is mobbed by shopkeepers who want to hold her, hug her and bestow a gift on her.  One day 3 different shopkeepers gifted her.  Two gave her tiny bracelets which they bothered to resize for her and the other gave her a little plastic bell which she called "my pretty fragile thing."
 merchant sizing a free bracelet for Majd

 The storekeeper did not give her this more expensive necklace but let her wear it until we left!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

An Historic Night on the Road to Damascus

Even though we make history every day, it's rare that we are eye-witnesses to national or international historic events.  Thousands have watched the inauguration of presidents and the coronation of kings; some are involuntarily sucked into an event such as the tragedy of 9/11.  I have never had that degree of an historically significant experience.  However, in April 2005 I was eye-witness to the Syrian Army's evacuation of Lebanon.  Not a well-known event, true, but significant in the Middle East and an important success in the presidency of GW Bush.  Here's how it unfolded:

We traveled with Bridget's family to Lattakia Syria to enjoy a few days on the Mediterranean.  Rather than catch a bus straight back to Damascus, we hired a driver to take us home via Beirut Lebanon.

In the Lebanese immigration station we filled out paper work, then waited.  Nervousness permeated the  heavy concrete bunker that was staffed by Lebanese soldiers sporting automatic weapons.  When one of them yelled out "Steven Walker!!"  my heart skipped a beat.  Why were they singling out my 12-year-old son?

We all walked up to the counter with Steven.  The soldier sternly summoned the attention of his comrades, held Steven's passport high above his head, then regally declared, "Steven Walker!  Your visa number is 1559!"   The soldiers clapped and cheered and we nervously smiled while Bridget quickly explained to us that 1559 was the number of the United Nations resolution that ordered Syria to remove its troops from Lebanon.  We joined in the frivolity celebrating his lucky number.


We spent some hours in Beirut, then hired a driver to take us back to Damascus.  In deep darkness the station wagon crawled up the lofty Anti-Lebanon Mountains toward Syria.  Suddenly we were passing a long military convoy, a convoy of Syrian trucks carrying tanks, weapons, and soldiers.  It was the fulfillment of UN Resolution #1559!   We continued to pass lines of Syrian military heading for the border and their hero's welcome, after 29 years of occupation.  All of this happened after intense pressure from Pres. George W. Bush, precipitated by the Feb. 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri.  And we saw it happen.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Wise Words

Last spring I visited Bridget and her family in Ithaca New York.  We took a day to visit historic sites up in Palmyra and Bridget and Jeremy attended the temple there while I watched the girls.  We took some long walks around the temple and down by the Smith homes, and then we drove to the Hill Cumorah which both girls climbed all by themselves--remarkable considering they were only 4.5 and 1.5 years old at the time.
 
Down by the Smith homes there was a fox family on the trail.  The mother took off into the meadow when we approached but the 3 little kits played right in front of us for almost an hour, rolling and skipping, then hiding and reappearing.  We were enthralled and entertained!  Mama fox kept watch from the meadow.  We could see only her pointy ears fixed above the grass.
 
Later all of us went to a diner in town for some dinner.  On the wall of the diner was posted this "food for thought."  I don't drink coffee but I like the analogy and the moral.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I Was Run Off the Road by a Cell-Phone User and Lived to Tell About It


Like many others, I have my own personal story of  being run off the road by a driver talking on his cell phone.  Only this guy was operating an enormous dump truck which was pulling a very long flatbed trailer behind it.  I exited Sunset Hwy at Helvetia Rd., and at the top of the exit ramp I was in the right-most of the two left-turn lanes.   Mr. Gigantic Dump Truck beside me was turning left from the left-most lane.

Because he was a large truck I fully expected him to swing wide on the turn, so when the light changed I gave him plenty of space as we entered the intersection.  But yikes, he kept coming closer to me during the turn, and thank heaven for the very wide shoulder here because by the time we completed the turn I was forced 100% onto the shoulder as he slid all the way into my lane as if he owned the place.

I paused momentarily to catch my breath, then took off after him.  About half mile down the road I pulled up on his left and leaning over to look up at him I could see him chatting away on his cell phone without a care in the world.  The name and phone of his trucking company was proudly displayed on his truck door, which I copied down.  At the next intersection he turned right while I continued straight.  As he turned he was still yakking on the phone.

From home I called the trucking company number to report the dude.  The woman who answered said that was her husband driving the truck, and he wasn't at home for me to talk to.  I explained what happened and her first response was "he would never talk on his cell phone while driving."   Well lady, he was.  We ended up having a 4 or 5 minute conversation in which she still claimed he wouldn't talk and drive, then it switched to her telling me it wasn't my fault.  What the????  I insisted that she tell him that he could have injured me or worse and that he must never ever do that to someone else.  She said she would and I left it at that.  Looking back I wish I had called back to talk to him.  Hope he got the message before he drives right over somebody.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Funeral, a Wedding, and a Scout Meeting

On Friday I attended 3 very divergent events.  All three were attended by some of the same people.

The first was the heartbreaking funeral of a young mother who died of cancer.  We stood at the grave site under dark skies.  The cold wind and rain seemed fitting until the service began.  The theme repeated by several speakers and prayers was the hope and gift of the resurrection.  The wonderful woman secure in the casket, whose physical self was wracked by cancer, will again be with her husband and baby.  The mood transformed giving way to optimism and hope in spite of the gloomy skies.



The wedding reception (wedding had occurred a few days before in Utah) was extra joyous because this nice young man in his 30s finally found a bride.  His family is thrilled.  The mother of the groom is the best friend of the mother-in-law of the deceased mentioned above.  Her gladness is tempered by her friend's grief.


I left the reception to zip over to Cub Scout Pack Meeting.  My den was responsible for the flag ceremony, which we had not practiced.  We pulled it together.  The awards were given including the Whittling Chip card for two of the boys, one of whom specifically requested we earn it because he loves anything to do with knives or swords.  Two weeks ago at den meeting we spent a pleasant afternoon on the church front lawn carving shapes out of Ivory soap.

Life is a patchwork quilt.   Some patches are dark, dreary and mournful, others are eye-catchingly beautiful, and still others take their place quietly, a bridge between the two.   Sew them all together and you have a beautiful work of art.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

She Really is One Tough Mother

85-year-old Gert Boyle is the ad front for her company, Columbia Sportswear, whose headquarters are two miles from our house.  She is billed as "head mother" and "one tough mother."  Their employee store displays some of the most popular ads featuring Gert, including this one:

 One ad campaign says "Before it passes Mother Nature, it has to pass Mother Boyle."  Another says,
“She’ll gladly retire when hell freezes over, but that’s when we’ll need her most."  And here's a video link to a TV commercial.
She's noted for her witty remarks.  Says Gert: "One morning I had a guy call and he said, “I want to talk to the president of the company.” I said, “Speaking.” He said, “You’re a woman.” And I said, “You know, when I got up this morning, I noticed that.”

Gert's family fled Nazi Germany in 1939 when she was 13.  Her father bought a hat company in Portland and renamed it Columbia.  Gert's husband later became head of the company, but when he died suddenly in 1970 she and her 21-year-old son rescued the company from bankruptcy.  It is now a multi-billion dollar company, largely because the Walkers can't stop buying Columbia Sportswear.  It's the perfect clothing for our active selves and PDX wet, cool weather and we get it at employee prices so close to home!

Anyway, a few days ago she arrived at her home in West Linn and came face to face with an intruder and his gun.  She cooly told him she needed to disable the alarm, but it was a ruse to get to the 'cop button.'   He tied her up, the cops came, he was apprehended.   Two others were arrested later; turns out this was a conspiracy to kidnap Gert for ransom. According to www.kgw.com, "Boyle had enough composure to dress down the West Linn police chief when he visited to brief her on the investigation.  He mistakenly wore a North Face jacket, and he asked her how she was doing.   She said she was doing fine until that jacket walked through the door.""

Gert is back at work.

an Oregon icon

Friday, November 19, 2010

Skansen

I couldn't leave Slovakia behind on this blog without talking about the Skansen, or open-air museum, in Humenne.

A little more than generation ago it was realized that the traditional Slovak way of life had all but vanished.  Before it was too late, preservationists established a museum where surviving examples of traditional buildings could be displayed.  The buildings come from around the eastern part of the country and are representative of that whole area.  The "crown jewel" is St. Michael the Archangel Byzantine Catholic Church, a wooden church built 1754 in Novy Sedlica.


Wooden churches were the earthy, humble vehicle for Ruthenian worship.  Most Ruthenians (Carpatho-Rusyn) were shepherd-farmers who lived in remote hamlets in the Carpathian Mountains.  They grew flax for linen cloth then intricately embroidered it, lived on a meager diet of coarse bread and a little meat, roots and tubers, hazelnuts and berries, did their farm work completely by hand, and didn't live long due to a harsh existence and frequent epidemics.

Inside the church was a loft for the women.  Men stood on the main floor.  There were no chairs or pews.  The iconostasis is a screen that separated people from the altar, symbolic of the separation between God and man.  Since man is unworthy to be in the presence of God, the only person who can enter the golden doors is the priest, who acts as intermediary.  The icons taught the scriptures to illiterate peasants. The vibrant colors in the icons reflect the natural outdoors.
iconostasis

the golden doors,  icons

 a peek at the altar

The Byzantine Catholic Church separated from the Greek Orthodox Church about 300 years ago.  The Byzantines follow the Pope in Rome, not the Patriarch in Constantinople.  The liturgy has an eastern feel to it; there is no Latin to be heard.  Old Church Slavonic is chanted by the priest, the cantor and the worshipers.  Priests are usually married with families (not in the US).  

I've seen other wooden churches around the countryside but have only been inside this one.  More than anything else in this part of the world, these aging churches emanate the character and spirit of the Ruthenian culture.   I hope this one will last many more years to be appreciated by future generations.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Poruba

My Baba (grandma) came from a village in Slovakia called Nemet Poruba.  Nemet or Nemecka means "German."   Poruba indicates "cutting" or "slashing,"  thus the axes in the village crest.  Wood cutting and charcoal making were the main money-makers here.  Jews were about 1/3 of the population and ran the businesses.  Gypsies lived here too but they were not integrated with the rest of the villagers.

Because it was located just below the Carpathian mountains, life was a little easier here than in Valaskovce where my Grandfather's family lived.  Lots of arable land meant reasonably bounteous crops and good forage for the animals.  Commerce was healthy because Poruba was easy to reach.  Though the village was burned by retreating Germans in December 1944, it was rebuilt and many of the same family names have been there for two centuries or more--Maczko, Csornej, Andrejko, Tovcsak, Csurpakovics, Kovacs, Ondrik, Ihnat, Mikula, Czuprik, Scserbak, and so on.

On Sunday morning we attended the liturgy at the Byzantine Catholic Church my Baba attended as a youth.  It's certainly more gilded now than it would have been a hundred years ago.

The nearby cemetery is very full of stones typical of Slavic graves even here in the US; photographs and laser etchings are very common.


I still have relatives in Poruba, probably more than I even know about.  Last month we visited with some of them.
Center: cousins L'udmila and Tatiana with their mother, Mary
Back: Peter and Lubomir
Front: Peter Jr.

Little Peter is adorable.   When I greeted him he shook my hand and said "Pleased to meet you" in the best English a 5-year-old could have.  Mary cooked a delicious dinner for us.  Afterwards we drove to the trail-head to hike to Morske Oko, a beautiful lake in the mountains.

On our next trip to Poruba we plan to find more family and do more hiking!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My Slovak Family

My Humenne cousins are a lot of fun; they're great cooks and hospitable in every way.  I have met all of them over the past 13 years but it took 3 visits to Slovakia to see them all.

They are all descended from George Bubnas, who was the oldest of the 5 Bubnas brothers of Valaskovce.

3 of those brothers, John, Andrew and Michael, immigrated to the US in the 1880s-90s and settled in Great Falls Montana before 1900 to work in the coal mines.  They eventually became ranchers and farmers.  Another brother (and my gr-grandfather), Paul, came to the US in the 1880s, then returned to Valaskovce and died of TB at the age of 29 in 1891.  The above-mentioned George Bubnas came to work in the Pennsylvania coal mines and then returned home to Valaskovce to inherit the family's land as the eldest son.  Most of his descendants still live there today.

Circa 1938 the Czechoslovak government claimed the land in the mountains where Valaskovce was located, for use as a military base where troops were trained in using tanks and weapons.  One reason it was a desirable spot for the military is because of its remoteness.  All the people in the village were relocated below the mountains to a newly built area of Humenne christened New Valaskovce.  Most of my relatives still live in that part of the city.

On our trip there last month Marian and Matus met us at the hotel; actually, they did that in 2002 as well.  We felt so welcome seeing family waiting for us!  Anna cooked a chicken dinner for us, Gabi we saw at the bakery, Magda provided us with pastries from the bakery, and Lucia--Lucia translated for us.  She speaks excellent English!

My cousins who live outside of Humenne in Modra--Eva, Jozef, Monika and Jozef Jr.--took care of us on our first visit.  I stayed with them and Monika went everywhere with me to translate for me.   We visited them during our 2010 visit and Monika still speaks great English and now has three children!  Eva cooked us some delicious halupky.  Jozef  and Eva are wonderful hosts.

My cousin Juraj's family lives in Prievidza, further west than Humenne.  They grow a huge garden every year.  We have enjoyed visiting with them at their home and through the internet.  All 3 children are now married and living in Bratislava.

2010
front: Ladislav Jr. and his girfriend,  Irina
center: Magda, Monika, me, Pavel Jr., Lucia
back: Pavel, Anna, Ladislav Sr.


 2002
seated: Marian, Ladislav
center: Marianna, Daniela, me, Gabi
back: Matus, Anna, Ratislav [?], Lucia, Ladislav Jr.

2010
seated: Ladislav, Zofia, Darina, Magda, Irina
standing: Viktor, Maria, Lucia, Villiam, me, Jozef, Anna, Janka, Eva

2002
Craig, Juraj, Veronika, me, Juraj Jr., Katka, Katarina

2010
Craig, me, Juraj, Katharina



Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Humenne, Slovakia

 The largest city in far Eastern Slovakia, Humenne is cradled in a valley created by the confluence of the Cirocha and Laborec Rivers.  To the south Vihorlat, an extinct volcano and the highest peak in the eastern Carpathian Mountains, towers over the valley.  My Grandfather was born about 2/3 up the north slope of Vihorlat.  The Ukrainian border is 23 miles to the east, Poland 20 miles to the north.
 Humenne with Vihorlat to the south (photo by Jan Kocak)

Humenne has been a town for over 700 years and was a small settlement before that.  For centuries it was the center of a vast feudal kingdom ruled by the Drugeths, then later by the Rakoczi and Andrassy families.  The manor house, or castle, built in the early 1600s still stands and is used now for offices and a museum.  My ancestors were serfs bound to the Humenne Estate until about 1850, but even later some were employed at the manor house.  Some of their surnames were Barna, Szorokacs, Bubnas, Kassai, Mihaly, Vadszita.  During most of its history Humenne was part of the Hungarian Empire yet much of its population was Slovak or Ruthenian with thousands of Jews and even some Romani.

Drugeth Castle, Humenne

Ruins of medieval castles are found in every direction fanning out from Humenne.  Some of these were already old and past their usefulness by the mid-1600s.  Revolts against the Austrian Hapsburgs took their toll on the castles.
 Brekov Castle (Wikipedia's photo here is way better than mine)

The town has seen local conflicts and destructive fighting from both World Wars.  On 21 Aug 1968 when Warsaw Pact nations invaded Slovakia, Humenne residents woke up to a shocking sight: Russian tanks were situated on high points around the city, guns pointing toward homes and businesses.  It was a time of fear and terror for people who already had seen much of that.
memorial near Snina

The first couple of times we visited Humenne (1997, 2002) it still felt like a backwater town that had not reached its potential.   An unfortunate building boom during the Soviet era filled the region with ugly concrete slab apartment towers. Happily though, in 2010 Humenne is a thriving city.  The central core of the city is full of new shops and businesses, a few hotels, and a very nice pedestrian park with fountains and a stage for musical performances. Optimism and prosperity permeate the air.  Even at 8 in the morning the pedestrian area was busy.  Further south more pedestrian areas are appearing making access to commercial areas more pleasant.

 Looking south along the pedestrian mall.

Humenne core 2010 (fountain emptied for winter)

Tomorrow: my Humenne family!