Just a few days ago beautiful, charming, determined, lovely, loving friend Vera Frantom passed away. A longtime Running Springs resident, I met Vera when I owned my newspaper in Running Springs in the 1980s. At the time she owned a wonderful Czech restaurant (where Blondie’s is in Arrowbear Lake) and she called it, appropriately, Czech Made.
To honor her and to print her story I met with her and we were immediate friends way back then. She was beautiful, funny and we quickly stuck up a wonderful friendship. Although I had not seen her for a while every time I drive by Blondie’s I think of Vera. Here is the story I wrote so many years ago about her triumphant journey to America so many years ago. I entitled this November 28,1991 story “Giving Thanks for a Life Together, For Freedom and For Love). In her honor I am printing it again . Vera, I hope you’re sitting on a great big fluffy cloud and are reading this story all over again. It truly was ALL ABOUT YOU! I will miss you forever!
“By tradition, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November, however, every day brings cause for thanks. Those of us who were born in this country cannot comprehend what it is to be born afar, particularly in a Communist country, and yearn for a life free of tyranny. This is a special Thanksgiving story so prop up your feet, grab a cup of coffee and be thankful for all the blessings you have.
“To walk into Czech Made Restaurant in Arrowbear is a little like walking into another country. By tradition, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November, however, every day brings cause for thanks. Those of us who were born in this country cannot comprehend what it is like to be born afar, particularly in a Communist country, and yearn for a life free of tyranny. This is a special thanksgiving story so prop up your feet, grab a cup of coffee and be thankful for all the blessings you have.
In August 1968, the Russians overran Czechoslovakia with their massive military might. The next year Vera Frantom came to the United States for six months on a tourist visa. She gave custody of her small son, George, to her parents because she had been told he could join her within the six months she would be in the U.S. This was not to be because he ended up being held for “ransom” in a political situation that had absolutely nothing to do with either one of them. Their 15-year separation led to frustration, anger, bitter disappointment but utter determination on Vera’s part to be reunited with George.
This November 3 marked the seventh anniversary of George’s arrival in the United States after being held in Czechoslovakia for political reasons. You see, when Vera came to the United States the government in Czechoslovakia was under one government and while she was gone it changed completely. At that time, in order to visit the United States you had to have a sponsor and her’s was Jim Slemons who owns Jim Slemons Jeep dealership in Newport Beach and Big Bear. While she was here, she married an American citizen and prior to her marriage , she was assured that her son could join her within six months. She knew that once she went home to a Communist country she would never be allowed out so she waited three years until she could become an American citizen. Then she went home in an effort to bring her son out of Czechoslovakia because she was a naturalized American citizen and the Czech government would not be able to keep her there.
Because George’s father was alive in Czechoslovakia and was working as a civilian with the Warsaw Pact he talked to high military officials in an effort to stop Vera from Regaining custody of George.
She won the first battle but on the last day of the proceedings her ex-husband appealed. Because this occurred, she had to fly back to the United States for references and be back in Czechoslovakia in two days. After all her work, through, (and after living in Czechoslovakia for nine months). she ended up losing the custody battle. George was taken from his grandparents because the government felt he was to “Americanized” and they were teaching him American ways and that America was an unfit country in which to raise a little boy. Since the father was a Communist he got custody of George.
When he was 18-years-old George left his father and returned to his grandparents’ home. He attended auto mechanic school for three years, but he has become the furthest thing from a mechanic. He runs Czech Made restaurant.
Years before, the American government had issued George a visa and when its six-month expiration came and passed, they continued to hold it until the boy was able to get out of the country. He was, more or less, a political prisoner and his fate was tied to those of two children he didn’t even know.
It seems that in 1969 a Czech father took his two children from the country and the mother didn’t know where they were. When the father died, the children’s grandparents put them up for adoption. The children were adopted by an American family and two or three years later the mother learned of their whereabouts. She asked the American Embassy in Prague to return the children but she was told that they couldn’t do that and told her that she had to go to Los Angeles to go through the court system. (Her request for their return had to be forwarded to the U.S. through the state department because the children had been adopted by U.S. citizens.) The mother’s visa and trip were paid for by the U.S. Government
By this time the children didn’t speak Czech but through a translator she learned they didn’t want to return with her. The mother returned to Czechoslovakia without her children but the Czech government didn’t allow George to leave at that time, either. They said he was being held captive by the Czech government and until the two children were returned to their mother they wouldn’t let George leave even though they knew he wanted to be with Vera.
He was finally allowed to leave the country when the political situation started to ease. By this time he was 21-years-old and his grandfather began to help him with the complicated visa process through the Czech government.
I like to think that he knows exactly what George is doing and that all is well with his family.
Three weeks ago the brother and sister drove up to Arrowbear to eat dinner at Czech Made because they live in Highland and had heard of the Czechoslovakian restaurant. A flabbergasted Vera and George met the brother and sister whose lives had been so intertwined with their own.
When George arrived in the U.S. he lived in Cerritos with his mother and Howard. The family purchased Czech Made on August 1, 1989 from the owners of the Apple Tree Inn after dining at the charming Hwy. 18 restaurant. When she asked the owners if they wanted to sell their establishment they said, “Yes!” and Vera and Howard suddenly had three days to change the menu and get ready to open.
George’s grandfather, Vera’s father, always had a dream to come to the United States and own a restaurant on a highway. After George arrived in the U.S. on November 3, seven years ago, his beloved grandfather died the next month. He never got to see his grandson fulfilling his own dream.
JOAN: Of all the stories I have written all these years this one still speaks to my heart! Vera’s death a few days ago has touched me deeply and while I hadn’t seen her in a long time she is one of those special people that I will never, ever forget. My thoughts are with George and his family. She was, in a way, part of my family as well.