I love costume parties! But when my husband George and I were invited to a costume party in our town of Martin, we had no idea what to wear. I had no clue where I could rent or borrow a great costume for this special occasion.
I worked in the City Hall helping the mayor of Martin with English correspondence. In the afternoons, I worked with a doctor who was starting the hospice program at the hospital compound. George assisted small businesses with marketing. A Slovak officemate told me that the city hall had a large collection of costumes for rent.
We were surprised to find that an entire building was dedicated to costumes from every region in Slovakia. I was totally unprepared for the huge rooms on each floor with racks of every size and regional costume. They had belts, shoes, hats, ribbons, vests and even undergarments to go with the costumes. The costume for girls were more elaborate than for the boys. They had blouses with puffed sleeves, colorful vests and flared skirts with ornate aprons. The girls wore black leotards and boots with chunky heels perfect for dancing. The boys’ costume was not as elaborate. They wore white cotton shirts with hand embroidered vests and long pants with a belt, hat and boots.
Since we lived in the Turiec Region, I asked for that costume for George and me. We tried on several outfits to find one that not only fit but looked good on us. Finally, I found a colorful striped vest with a floral apron that went over a blue gathered skirt. George loved a vest that had hand-embroidered designs which went well with my costume. He searched for a belt for his long pants and found a black hat that looked perfect with his outfit. Wearing these outfits made us, Chinese Americans, feel right at home with our Slovak friends. The Halloween party was a huge success, and we even used this photo for our Christmas card that year.
Winter in Slovakia was long and cold especially for us Californians. We found that other festivals were even more important then. In November we joined in celebrating 1,600 years since St. Martin’s death. There were lottery tickets for sale for a live goose. I was hoping to win, but unfortunately my number was a little off. Back home I was famous for the Peking Duck that I cooked every Christmas for family and friends. I often substituted goose for this recipe because it was bigger and could serve more people – Peking Goose!
That afternoon we enjoyed a variety show in the theatre where young singers and dancers in their native costumes performed. For dinner, I was hoping that they would serve goose wrapped with thin pancakes. Instead, we had typical Slovak blood sausage with creamy sliced potatoes and pickled cabbage. While we finished our dessert, an accordion player dressed in his Slovak costume, entertained us with Polish, German, Czech and Slovak songs. We sang and clapped hands until after midnight!
Our host family was very special to us. We lived with them when we first arrived in Slovakia. I helped Elena Delikatova prepare dinners every night and even cooked a Chinese meal for the family on her birthday. I taught her parents how to play mahjong afterwards. We were sad to leave our friends in Slovakia after serving two years. At our farewell party Elena gave us a beautiful vase with the same blue floral hand-painted traditional design that matched the two mugs presented by the Peace Corps at the end of our training. I treasure these items very much and displayed them in my living room in San Diego.
Two years after we returned to California, my husband suddenly died of a brain aneurysm. When the people in Slovakia heard about this, many of them sent cards and condolences to comfort me. What kind and caring people. They even had a special memorial service for my husband in the church I attended every morning while living in Martin. Both George and I had many fond memories made possible by Peace Corps!