It’s the birthday of my late husband Charles Novacek’s mother Maria Patko Nováčeková. She was born on January 8, 1902, in the village of Ožd’any in Austria-Hungary, the present day Slovakia near the Hungarian border. As Charles stated in his memoir, Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance “Mother’s native language was Hungarian and I learned to speak it proficiently from her.” She read Hungarian stories and poetry to her son.
Charles dearly loved “Maminka.” He said she had a beautiful voice and a pretty face — he wanted to paint it. She wasn’t a big talker, but had a quiet manner about her and was very polite.
Regretfully, I never met Maria Nováčeková, but from Charles and through photographs I’ve seen of her I could tell she was graceful and well-groomed. Even though she was from humble roots, Maria had attractive clothing and a simple elegance that made her seem aristocratic, but not pretentious.
Charles said his mother loved the arts and music and instilled that love in her children. In Border Crossings, he describes an event his parents attended at a nearby spa when his nanny had walked him over to hear his mother sing.
“It was on the first floor, elevated only about six or seven steps above the sidewalk. A large double door was closed, so I peeked in, opening it just a couple of inches, and I saw my mother standing on the podium, singing with the musicians. She looked beautiful, and was dressed in a long lace gown trimmed with white, undulating fur at the bottom; the melody she sang was the zwischenspiel “Von Der Golden Pavilion” by Hans Henrik Wehding. Father, wearing his full parade uniform, stood at the window watching her. When she finished, the music continued and Father went to her to ask her to dance. The parade sword flashed at his side as they danced together. I remember crying, though I wasn’t sure why, and I watched the entire scene until my nanny pulled me away to go home.”
Charles enjoyed traveling with his mother to visit her friends in Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Poland. They traveled by train, or in a one-horse buggy if the distances were short. “Mother took me with her to Rimavská Sobota, our district town; to Ožd’any, where I was born; and to Filakovo and Lučenec.” And Charles told me she especially liked taking her son “Karci” (Hungarian for Charles) to Banska Bystrica to a café that served ice cream pie.
Charles said his mother was the backbone of the Novacek family. She was brave and was rarely frightened or helpless. An excellent homemaker, wife and a loving, strict mother. She even taught him how to cook, clean and do needlepoint! I was lucky enough to benefit from Charles’ Hungarian/Slovak cooking talents.
Charles’ mother passed away on December 13, 1968. He wrote, “Her passing drove a deep hole into my heart, as if by a spear. I could not speak of it much then, and I still cannot do so.”
How grateful I am that Charles had such a loving mother who was so devoted to her son. Today I celebrate what would have been Maria Nováčeková’s 113th birthday!
Happy Birthday, Dear Maria!