Bozena Samanek (Božena Šamánková)

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Author: Martina Roe (CzechFolks.com PLUS)

presented herself to Czech readers in Sydney in 1991, where she published her first novel “Útek z domova”, (describing the family’s escape from Czechoslovakia). In her second book “Andělské schody”, published in 1994 she is returning to her childhood and her life of a young woman responsible for a family in the war years. “Perpentuum mobile” is the closing part of a trilogy, and describes the difficult beginnings after arrival in Australia, and the developments in the lives of her family. It was published in 1995 and in the same year she also published her second book of poetry “Jak život šel.” Two years later she published her last book “Opál na dlani” (Opal on the palm), stories of very unusual experiences which happened during her lifetime.

In Prague, in the thirties, she published a small collection of poems. In Australia she wrote a number of short stories in the English language, which were published in the magazine “Fellowship of Australian Writers”. (They were: “Day of Execution”, “London Calling”, “A Thought”.)

Božena was born in 1906 in Stráž near Jindřichův Hradec in Southern Bohemia, the Czech republic. After the communist coup in 1948 she emigrated with her husband and three children to Australia.

Day of Execution

It was nearly the end of summer but the little village was still as busy as a beehive. Wheat, barley and oats, already tied in big bunches, were loaded high on the four-wheeled wooden carts pulled by a pair of horses. On uneven roads they were swaying from side to side before reaching the big barn. The harvest was good and they were ready now for the long, cold winter and despite their hard work there was satisfaction on the faces of the people. Children, still enjoying their school holidays, were in the field too. Cows were grazing on harvested fields and children watched them so they don’t wander into neighboring areas. They brought with them young puppies while the older dogs had to stay at home to guard the houses.

The sun was high in the sky when the clock on the village church struck twelve and the bell started ringing. The beautiful silver tones flew in all directions like invisible birds, for long enough time to say prayers. It rang every morning at six o’clock, when the day was awakening and at night when darkness slowly spread her wings over the whole country. It was the rhythm of the village. Seasons changed from spring to summer. autumn to winter but the ringing of the bell was always the same, like the greeting of a good friend. For the children the bell ringing mean something different. They hardly heard the morning bell and at noon it usually announced two things to them: when in school, it signaled the end of lessons, but it also meant a good hot meal every day. That particular day was not different. With the first sound of the bell they jumped to their feet and with a happy cry of “hurray, hurray”, rounded up the cows. They were not far away and arrived home before the bell stopped ringing.

Then came a different sound. The village messenger stood on the hill next to the church and with two sticks rapped on a drum. People stopped on their way waiting for the news. Well, nothing serious, they thought. In a nearby village a wild dog had bitten a postman. The dog was shot. Saliva around his mouth had indicated that he may have had rabies. The postman was in hospital for observation. But it all happened a few miles away. The real nuissance was that all the dogs must be put on chains immediately. If one was seen running free, the dogcatcher had the right to shoot him and the owner would be prosecuted.

When people sat at the table for their lunch that day, they all had one and the same problem. For every house had a dog and some people had young puppies waiting for a new home. Children still had a week of holiday and with so much work in the fields it was hard to watch them all. Before lunch was over the problem seemed to grow to enormous proportions. On these little farms, where every animal had a name it was as if they were members of the family. Pets were like children, dogs made the closest of friends. Their breed was doubtful, a mixture of everything, but their faithfulness was enormous. If a toddler wandered out of sight and was likely to get hurt it was the dog who would pull him out of troubíc. But now the dogs were chained and the puppies were tied to long strings. When they found they were not free to run, they started crying like babies. They got tangled in the string. They were choking and children, seeing them so unhappy, cried with them. The dog catcher was busy these days. People hated him. Dogs smelled him from long distances and barked wildly with their bared teeth.

One little girl, Maria, was very sorry for her dog.
“Poor Nutty ! I would like to let you run for a few minutes if you promise me not to run out of the yard. Understand ?”

Nutty was licking her face and Maria took the chain off. In a flash, Nutty run to the gate, through the hole and out onto the street. Dogs were barking in the yards and when Nutty turned his head, he got the shock of his life. The dog catcher was not far from him. Nutty run to the last house in the street, then turned to look around and there he saw a back lane along the small gardens. Thanks to God, there was a hole under the back gate. He crawled through and run to his kennel. Maria’s mother had just finished the milking and saw him hurrying to get inside.

“On no !” she thought and quickly snapped the chain onto his collar. Than she picked up the milk and walked to the house. Before she reached the door, the dog catcher was at the gate.

“That dog was on the street. He’s mine”, he shouted , still out of breath from running.

“How could you see him on the street, when he is in his kennel?”, innocently inquired Maria’s mother.

“I know him and I am sure it was him on the street. I want to see if he’s on the chain”, said the dog catcher.

Maria’s mother went to the kennel calling, “come on Nutty”. Nutty still shaking, reluctantly came out and the dog catcher saw with his own eyes that the dog was chained. He swore and left.

It turned out to be a real “dog life” for the dogs and people alike. Dogs were not used to being on their chains constantly, day and night. They wanted to see their friends and couldnt understand what happened. They pleaded with the children to let them go by licking them. They barked with disappointment when nothing happened. They howled all night and in a few days they went wild. They snatched bowls of food out of hands in a desperate hope they would be taken out or off the chain. Some stronger dogs broke their chains and were seen running outside the village, returning to the houses at night trying to steal some food.

Rumors were that more dogs were sick with rabies and people were scared to go out after dark. How can this problem be solved, wondered the villagers. They were as desperate as the dogs. They all run outside their houses when they heard the village messenger beat the drum. And they were still there when he moved to another part of the village to bring his message.

Everyone was stunned; unable to move or speak. It could not be true! Some young girls followed the messenger to hear him once again. But the way they came back, dragging their feet, confirmed the bad news.

In view of the big danger involved, health authorities had decided that all dogs within a certain radius were to be shot next day. There was nothing that could be done. It was a bleak day. Cold wind and dark clouds created a funeral atmosphere the same as the villagers felt in their hearts. Dogs were given a special breakfast that morning and lead to one spot where thick bushes prevented people from watching the proceedings. The dogs were happy at first. They were on the street again with other dogs. But why the leash? The sad faces and tears in the people’s eyes? Something was very wrong.

Execution had already started. Some people wanted to have it done, so they needed not to think about it any more. Others waited for something to happen that would save their pet. From their houses they all slowly went in one direction until they were all on the road to the hill overlooking the village. Along came Reg, a big hunting dog; Blacky, with the white front and paws. And there was Spotty and Nutty and hundreds of others, all following their masters taking them for a walk. Under the tree on the hill was a little table at which an official was seated with an open book.

He wrote down the name of every dog and its owner. Another man took the dog by his collar and patted him gently.

“Comeondoggie.”

Some dogs were struggling and needed encouragement, some were bewildered and helpless. Just a few yards away a clump of thick bushes made a natural screen. Nothing was seen nor even heard, except a little crack and in the next minute the owner was handed back his dog’s collar.

The day was over. Birds went to sleep in their nests and farm animals settled down for the night. Darkness swallowed the countryside. When the sound of the bell stopped and vanished above the forest, a terrible silence settled on the village.

It was as though the village itself had died.

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Božena Šamánková: Den popravy

Božena Šamánková se představila českým čtenářům v Sydney v roce 1991, kdy vydala svůj  první román “Útěk z domova” (popisující útěk své rodiny z Československa). Ve své druhé knize “Andělské schody”, která byla publikována v roce 1994, se vrací do svého dětství a života mladé ženy, která je zodpovědná za rodinu ve válečných letech. “Perpetuum mobile”, závěrečná část trilogie, popisuje složité začátky po příjezdu do Austrálie a vývoj v životě rodiny. Ta byla vydána v roce 1995 a ve stejném roce také vydala svou druhou knihu poezie “Jak Život šel”. O dva roky později vydala svou poslední knihu“Opál na dlani” – příběhy o velmi neobvyklých zážitcích, které se staly během jejího života.

V Praze, ve třicátých letech, vydala malou sbírku básní. V Austrálii napsala několik povídek v anglickém jazyce, které byly publikovány v časopise “Společenstvo australských spisovatelů”. (Byly to: “Den popravy”, “Londýn volá”, Myšlenka”.)

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One thought on “Bozena Samanek (Božena Šamánková)

  1. I am very happy and proud that my mother’s stories and books are of interest to today’s readers. Everything she wrote was written with feeling and from the heart. All she has wriiten is based on true happenings. Some of her stories are also of historical value. They capture the life of ordinary people at the beginning of the last century.

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