Widow Celebrates: Her Husband, Independence Day & Tomáš Masaryk

Widow Celebrates: Her Husband, Independence Day & Tomáš Masaryk

It’s July 3, 2012. I was invited to an Independence Day/4th of July Eve party at a nearby loft with views of the Detroit skyline. I’m not going. I have to start brainstorming and get this blog written. My thoughts wander and I start thinking about my husband, Independence Day and Tomáš Masaryk.

Five years ago today on the eve of July 4th 2007, the Detroit Police Department called me at about 6 pm. at work. “Mrs. Novacek, your husband has fallen on the sidewalk in front of your residence. It would be a good idea if you come home. . .” The EMS was transporting him to the nearby hospital emergency room. Charles’ head injuries were very serious. He was disoriented, but communicating when I first saw him in triage.

He was taken to a temporary room and was having flashbacks, talking to his nurse about being interrogated and injured by the Communists 60 years before. Finally, they took Charles to the ICU and we were alone in a room with a window wall overlooking the city. It was a dazzling panorama as the evening sky was ablaze with fireworks celebrating the holiday and baseball game at Comerica Park. It reminded me of seeing the fireworks from our apartment on the riverfront where we also had a wide panorama of windows and balcony.

I embraced Charles’ hand and watched to see if he was aware or could see the dancing bursts of light through the window. Sometimes, he seemed to respond, but had quieted down. A feeling of terror swept over me. I fought it and tried to focus on something positive to facilitate his recovery.

I had my own flashback from the early days of our relationship. I remembered shortly after we met Charles invited me to see the City of Detroit annual fireworks display which is launched from barges on the Detroit River. I had never seen his apartment. I wanted to go, but declined. I would have to drive 60+ miles from my home there and back. I wasn’t worried about the “there.” It was the “back.” It’s estimated that a crowd of a million attend the event and I didn’t want to get caught in the traffic heading home. Staying overnight was not an option in my opinion. I didn’t know Charles well enough.

When I eventually did see Charles’ apartment I was quite amused. The living room with the river vista had been converted to a studio for his painting. The carpeted floor was protected with wood. Easels with canvases were spread out so the artist could concurrently paint and see the river and international bridge linking Detroit and Windsor.

I eyed bookshelves with stacks of classical CDs: Dvořák, Rimsky-Korsakov and Puccini and a stereo receiver/player. What intrigued me the most were framed pictures of two men, displayed as if family members. One picture was a pencil drawing with a middle-aged man., c. 1890s with a beard, mustache and goatee. He wore wire-rimmed spectacles and stood tall in formal daywear – a morning coat, waistcoat and striped trousers. Was this Charles father? His grandfather? I asked.

“It’s Tomáš Masaryk, “ Charles answered wistfully and continued. “He’s always been one of my heroes along with St.Wenceslaus, Jan Hus, Joan of Arc, Charlotte Brontë, Louis Pasteur, Marie Sklodowska Curie and some others. They all stand before me like giants holding up the world, like knights in shining armor working for their people. I always have thought I have to be like them.”

Who was this Tomáš Masaryk? With all my years of education I didn’t know, but I found out.

Tomás Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937) was a Moravian philosopher and statesman. He was a leading campaigner for Czech independence prior to and during World War I and was Czechoslovakia’s first president from 1918-1937.

Masaryk married Charlotte Garrigue in 1878 and took her family name as his middle name. They met in Leipzig, Germany. Charlotte was an American, born in Brooklyn, New York. She considered her husband’s work for Czech nationalism a very important part of their lives. She refused his offers to move to the United States in 1886 and 1899 in his effort to protect her and their children. He faced fierce public hostility for taking stands against anti-Semitism and forgeries of ancient manuscripts to bolster Czech identity. Mrs. Masaryk, however, stayed in their country, accompanied her husband to his lectures and addressed anti-Semitic students who threatened their family. She learned the Czech language, literature, history, and music and ultimately became a striking figure in Prague society. It was said by one of her friends that “Charlotte knew there is something greater than making a living. It is making a life.”

During World War I, Tomás Masaryk favored the abolition of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and worked to encourage and commit Allied support for the creation of a Czech state following the war. His pro-American attitude was well-known. Former Czech president Vaclav Havel often spoke about  how the American Declaration of Independence was considered by Masaryk to be increasingly meaningful toward the end of the war for its symbolic value and as a practical appeal to resist oppression. Masaryk worked closely with U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in the formation of the first democratic Czech Republic. In 1918, he started to prepare the Czechoslovak Declaration of Independence, whose official version is in English and was plainly inspired by the American Declaration of Independence of 1776.

Masaryk drafted the Czech document. It was edited with the assistance of friends from America and released on October 18, 1918. The American ideals, outlined by Masaryk in his draft, were changed slightly, but with minimal change in the preliminary and final versions of the Czechoslovak Declaration of Independence.

And so the first ten years of my husband Charles’ life in Czechoslovakia were lived under freedom and independence achieved because of the leadership of one of his heroes, et. al. He honored the man and remembered those “idyllic” days with a framed pencil drawing on his book shelf until the end.

On this Eve of Independence Day in July, 2012, I honor Charles, Tomás Masaryk and all of those who have fought for FREEDOM – and, I wish with all my heart each one of us will someday understand the true meaning of the word.

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