November 17

It drives me insane that I can never remember anything from my childhood – only fragments which don’t help me to see the whole picture anymore. I only remember flavours, scents, emotions and bits and pieces of conversations I once had or heard. I can also evoke a few very inaccurate mental images. 

I’ve just read two posts where people described something that had happened a long time ago – they described it in an amazing amount of detail. But my mind is blank. I don’t remember the names and faces of neighbours my mum talks about and I even struggle when recalling names of the teachers and schoolmates I once knew so well. Is it due to my profession; due to the fact that I constantly have to learn new things so my brain needs to select and dispose of old pieces of information? Is it fair then to ask my students to talk about their earliest memories when I myself don’t know what to say? 
At the moment I’m trying to recall what I did on November 17, 1989 – precisely 25 years ago, when the history of our country had taken a totally different course. Unfortunately, I haven’t got a clue when I think about the day. It was exactly one day after my 17th birthday. Damn! I don’t even remember what I did on my birthday. I was only 17 and I wasn’t in love so there’s nothing special to remember. What if the police banged on my door and asked me to remember? What if it helped to solve an important case? The information must be somewhere there at the back of my brain. 
Let’s try again. I was in my penultimate year at the secondary school. I remember that the final year students were in Prague on an educational trip. They were in the epicentre. I don’t know how I actually learnt about what had happened. It must have been the conspiratorial whispers and the frightened glances of the teachers. I bet our headmaster was worried on that day. Some time ago he had punished my classmate Petr for his little rebellion – for inscribing the name of Václav Havel on his pencil case – and now crowds were chanting his name in the capital city. That was certainly disturbing. What my headmaster didn’t know on that day was that a picture of the once despicable Havel was going to be displayed in every classroom soon. 
I remember a meeting in the gym – I’m not sure whether it was on that day tough. It was definitely around that time. It was exciting because we didn’t have regular lessons. We were all sitting on the parquet floor. The atmosphere was full of anticipation. To my mind there were four groups of teachers – the brave ones, the cowards, the angry ones and the neutral ones. The brave ones openly sided with the protesters and thus risked being sacked. The cowards remained silent because they had families to feed. The angry ones were pro-communist and pointed their fingers in a threatening manner. The neutral ones didn’t care or they were just cautious. I don’t blame any of them. I wondered which side our class teacher was on. I thought she was the cautious one. I don’t know now. 
Oh dear, it must have been so difficult for the adults – it must have been the cause of many sleepless nights and the worst nightmares. Nobody knew what the ultimate result would be. Nobody knew whether to speak or remain silent. My father was over the moon though. He had refused to join the communist party despite all the minor threats. My mother had surrendered because she was afraid for her kids’ future. There may have been another reason; her deceased father, my beloved granddad, used to be a big shot in the past. But I know nothing about him. I think he was a director of a big company or something. He died when I was six. I only remember his affection towards me. I remember how much he loved me – his only granddaughter. I remember how he played with me, wearing his funny cap…
Anyway, my parents argued on that evening. My mom was almost hysterical because she was terrified; my father spoke with a victorious intonation. I remember I was confused and felt sorry for my mom. I had never seen her like that. I just wanted her to stop feeling the terror, but not being a mother myself, I didn’t understand anything at all. Oh, and my little brother was probably in bed, dreaming his sweet dreams of ignorance. 
It was one of the least violent demonstrations in the history of the whole world. That’s why it’s called the Velvet Revolution after all. Czechs were ready and ripe to embrace the change. The fact that I don’t really remember much of it proves that luckily, at least for the younger generations, it wasn’t a very traumatic experience. Even nowadays, in the 21st century, there are so many fights and wars small kids will remember for the rest of their lives if they happen to survive, so I’m proud November 17 wasn’t one of those nasty moments in the history of humankind. 

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About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for more than 20 years. I love metaphors and inspiring discussions concerning teaching, learning and linguistics.
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4 Responses to November 17

  1. Roseli Serra says:

    What a moving post, Hana! I'm speechless! You really touch my heart.

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  2. Hana Tichá says:

    Thank you, Roseli. Now I am moved by your comment 🙂

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  3. Sandy says:

    Hi Hana,
    Thank you so much for writing this. I've spoken to a few people about their memories of Communism, the beginning and the end of it, and what it was like to live under that regime.
    I find it constantly fascinating what stands out to us as important in our memories. Often it's not the huge sweeping political changes, it's the little impacts on our day-to-day lives, like one friend who was about 8 when the change came, and couldn't understand why suddenly they had to stop calling their teacher 'comrade'. I think we remember the things that we need to remember, and the other things will come back when our memory is jogged by some sight, sound or smell. It's these things that often aren't documented, or come out when people collect oral histories, but these are the things that make up our lives and make human history so rich.
    I've kept a diary since I was 17, and one of the reasons is so I can remember as much as possible – I think it's improved my memory, and it's certainly improved my writing. When I first started I'd write about 3 sentences, with almost no information. Now I write about one A5 page a day – I'm not sure how exciting or interesting it will be in the future, but I can't sleep if I don't write it now!
    Looking forward to reading any more of your memories you choose to share 🙂
    Sandy

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  4. Hana Tichá says:

    Hi Sandy. First of all, thanks for the word 'comrade'. Ironically, I think I've never used it in English, and if somebody had asked me how to say 'soudruh', I'd be lost. The truth is that back then I didn't have an opportunity to use this way of addressing people (my English teachers were rebellious and didn't ask us to do so) and I haven't had to since then either because the regime ended when I left secondary school.
    It’s interesting what you say about your diary writing. It seems you are a well-organized person. Whenever I started a diary, I quit a few days later. I think it’s a pity because diaries can be a great resource of lost memories. But even before I got a decent digital camera, I used to take lots of photos, especially when my kids were young, and these images represent memories as well. My numerous albums are a kind of a multi-volume diary. I’d like to thank you for reading my posts and taking the time to leave comments. Have a great Christmas time!

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