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Of all our states I know Nebraska best. A thousand delightful impressions linger in my memory forever. Pleasant little towns and the fragrant, wholesome countryside. with large fields of rustling corn; the silvery surface of Platte River, tinted in rose and pearl by the rising sun; a moonlit evening in a boat on the Big Blue River, from whose banks rise trees festooned with the lace of wild hops, of a narcotic perfume, while the clamorous music of the cicadas calls forth to mind Vrchlicky's verses. The river shores covered with a rank growth of milkweed that stains one's hands with its milky blood. It has a pretty blossom much resembling the edelweiss, for which people risk lives in the Alp mountains. Milkweed covers Nebraska's prairies and bare places in rich profusion, beautiful and neglected, except when a sharp plow tears it by the root and lays it low in its grave.
And the pictures change as in a kaleidoscope. Farms smiling with prosperity, their generous hostesses greeting visitors heartily and conducting them about yards filled with poultry, orchards and gardens, barns and grain cribs--all through their domain, evolved by the work of their hands.
I see country roads bordered by cottonwoods and golden sunflowers, so agreeable to the eye of man and birds in autumn, but not so pleasing to the farmer. I see brooks and streams where the wild grapes grow in the thickets, and slender nettles with their strong odor,--so strong that when wheels but touch them, it pursues the traveler a long way.
Again the picture changes. Now I see rows of blooming linden trees in the main street of a little town bustling with a Fourth-of-July celebration. I see sultry August days, when the wind seems to blow from a forge, when people grow languid with the heat, but the corn grows before one's very eyes, -- murmurs, rustles, crackles and ripens as if by miracle. Wild doves coo contentedly on wire fences bounding the fields and whippoorwills sing the praises, in melancholy tones, of the beautiful moonlit night. The snort and whistle of threshing machines, leaving, in their wake, stubbled fields and piles of grain. The waning autumn with its array of purple asters and crimson dahlias, golden straw and orange-colored pumpkins, and all about the goldenrod, without whose beauty Nebraska is unthinkable. Then the keen and cold winter, with its snows gleaming as diamonds in the sunshine, with its winds and storms, when a warm room and a book are best. The country sleeps so soundly that not even the loud shriek of the railroad engine, reverberating in manifold echoes from the snowy hill to the snowy cliff, awakens it, -- although the sound is so penetrating that it lives in my memory through the lapse of a quarter of a century. But Nebraska sleeps in winter, sleeps until spring, when her fields awaken and her towns and villages, with their pretty homes, bordered by brick walks and ornamented by gardens, bloom with purple lilacs, white snowballs and red and pink peonies.
For each of these and a thousand similar pictures, enshrined in memory, I have a name, a place and a dear friend. There were many of these friends and they told me much. They told of former days, how the country looked before the hands of Czech immigrants uncovered all this beauty and prepared it for those who came after them. But they did not say that to build up those wide fields of corn made the hands callous and hard. They did not tell how much human sweat moistened the soil before the little, primitive dwellings, where pioneers found scanty shelter against cold, rain and summer's heat, were transformed into comfortable, roomy and prosperous homes of later times. That which was accomplished by human hands is visible. But nobody sees and perhaps ever did see the tears of women who came with their husbands from civilized lands to the frontier. How much longing, silent weeping, immeasurable sacrifice is buried in the soil of Nebraska's fields and foundations of her towns and villages! What various hardships and sufferings were endured by our people who came from Czechoslovakia, people of courageous hopes, boundless patience and great and beautiful dreams, --who of us now can appreciate and who can believe? Who, in this day of speed and hurry can vision, even in imagination, all the trials and disappointments out of which grew present comforts and prosperity? The first Czech who came to Nebraska, if he could return to his first home there, could not believe it himself.
To him, the first, the second, third, and tenth, to their wives, their first children -- those children who were not called to school by bells in fine, modern buildings in every mile, as are called the children of their descendants, -- the history of Czechs in Nebraska is dedicated. They were its originators, just as they were the originators of this earthly paradise -- Nebraska. Without them Nebraska could not have been what it is today -- a state so largely Czech, to which every Czech heart turns as to another home. It was they who built up almost entirely Czech towns, established large Czech settlements, and hospitably opened out their arms to their compatriots, -- and they, in turn, founded homes among the Czechs of Nebraska and reared their sons and daughters in such manner that all the Czechs in the United States know and esteem them.
Materially and culturally Nebraska is the pride of Czechs in this country. Our gratitude is due the Czech pioneers and their wives who did not leave our state in those early days when misfortune and apparently insurmountable difficulties assailed them, but who stayed and surmounted them and conquered. Thanks be to them for all they have done, whereby this beautiful book, which they have lived and live and will live on in their descendants, could be written.
Los Angeles, Calif., April 1927. BOZENA PAYLIKOVA.
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