Two years ago on the final day of our spring tour to the Dallas area, we had the great pleasure of spending a full day in West, Texas. Before arriving, we knew only that West was a Czech heritage site. We spent our car ride practicing the Czech songs we’d learned in preparation for our visit, hoping our pronunciation might measure up.
When we arrived, we were greeted by our hosts and spent the day being whisked from place to place, getting a real sense of the town’s culture, community, and rich history. It was a tiered cultural experience unlike anything else–a Czech village nestled in the heart of Texas. We helped to judge the annual barbecue contest sponsored by the Volunteer Fire Department [although, for many of us it was our first time, and as one judge blogged in response “…when you’ve got a $15,000 grand prize I don’t think I would want a couple of yankee girls who have never judged before as part of the judging system”]. We visited the West Rodeo and heard stories of how it had been growing in popularity. We were taken to the West cemetery to see some of the town’s original metal works by Czech ancestors of the 1880s. We went to the Czech Bakery for Kolaches and other treats. We wandered through a decades-old blacksmith shop. Our trip culminated in a concert we sang in the West Fraternal Auditorium.
Even from our single day in West, we could sense the incredible pride in this community. Everywhere we went, we were greeted with smiling faces, open arms, and vivid stories. People were so excited to show us their town and teach us about its history as a refuge for Cezch immigrants in the 1880s. The day we visited happened to be a sad day for the town. Cyril “C.W.” Cernosek had just passed away, a beloved servant of the town of West as a city councilman and in a variety of other roles for the Czech community. But in their grief, people selflessly felt the need to apologize to us for the effects this might have on attendance at our concert. All we could do was assure them again and again that we were just so grateful to be there and to glimpse their lives through this brief window. Here are some of our reflections:
The thing that sticks out to me the most was how welcoming they were and how excited they were to have us. It was beautiful to be taken around town and shown just how much their Czech heritage meant to them, and how much pride they had in that heritage–not to mention the delicious food that they gave us, both at the bbq and in the bakery!
The first word that comes to my mind when thinking about West is warm. From judging the ribs contest, to visiting the amazing Czech bakery, to touring the town, to performing later that evening, everyone was so kind and welcoming to us no matter where we stepped. Locals were always ready with a story about times past and a friendly smile. It was an unforgettable experience to visit such a culturally rich place filled with lovely, proud people. My thoughts and prayers are with them during this difficult time.
My favorite memory of West is the tour we took of the old blacksmith shop, where nothing had been touched for decades. When we were inside the main room, we heard a story of how our guide’s father had organized the people of West to band together to ambush some KKK thugs who were threatening the town’s Cezch residents. I remember vivid imagery our guide painted of young men up in the rafters, waiting to jump down and scare away those fear mongers. West was just brimming with culture and history and compassion. Even after our concert, our hosts insisted we take plates upon plates of sandwiches back with us for the drive to Dallas. Their kindness was unyielding.
What I remember most about our tour of West was that all the people we ran into with our guide were not only acquaintances, but were friends. I think that there’s a closeness that exists between the members of the West community that has been lost in other towns and cities. They are hard working, good people who truly care for each other. They really are a model for all neighborhoods and communities.
I am so sorry to hear about what has happened in West. I remember very fondly my time at West, eating Kolaches, helping at a barbecue contest, and meeting some of the kindest people in the world. West, you are in my thoughts. I hope the recovery progresses quickly so things can return back to normal soon.
The Slavic Chorus came to West as guests and performers, and the town welcomed us, strangers as we were, during a transformative time in its own history. West was in the midst of building a story of itself. We got to see so much of the town’s history–its railroad, graveyard, blacksmith shop–because the stories of West’s ancestors, of the work they did to establish the town and the lives they lived, are the ones that modern-day West treasures. We all felt humbled by their generosity. The people of West were generous with their time, with their food and personalities, but most of all with themselves and the contents of their hearts. How, after all that, could we not feel dismay at what has happened and determination to help?
West really left a mark on us. Now it’s time to do something for them. We were devastated to hear of this week’s horrible blast; immediately upon hearing of it, we were all transported back to that beautiful day and seized with the sense that we needed to act. In the aftermath of this tragedy, we’ve been doing our best to follow what’s happening in West and to learn how we might be able to help. At present there is no access to water and limited electricity and natural gas in town. They may go without water for up to three weeks. Debris remains abundant and a curfew is in effect for health and safety reasons. But we know these hardships will be surmounted, as we’ve seen the indomitable spirits of West’s citizens. Still, there are things we can all do to help.
At our spring concert, we took up a collection of funds for West that we’ll be sending down to help. If you would like to donate to West for the recovery and rebuilding effort, we encourage you to visit POINTWEST Bank. The Knights of Columbus have also established a relief fund for West. You can also visit this link to read about other donation sites.
As a token of gratitude and remembrance, we also dedicated a Cezch song, “Což se mně, má milá, hezká zdáš,” to the West community at our spring concert. We hope you enjoy it.