You Mean More to Me Than Cs

cecka

“I win!” I jumped up and ran to the chalk-drawn line to pick up both Jacob’s and mine chains of C’s. I was the winner and my six year old heart was bubbling with excitement.

“No, you didn’t!” Jacob shouted. “My chain was closer to the line!”

“No, it wasn’t!” I spat back. “Mine was closer, I won and you are a sore loser!” I yelled clutching the treasure in my hand.

“Give it back!” shouted Jacob and ran towards me. I picked up all my Cs off the grey tile floor and dashed for an exit out of the tower block. Suddenly I felt something under my foot. Crunch! Jacob and I both froze. I moved my foot and we both stared at the pile of broken pieces.

“How could you!” shouted Jacob and started to cry. I was too shocked to say or do anything. Just a moment ago I felt on top of the world having won five beautiful sparkling blue C’s making my chain twenty eight pieces long, but instead of enjoying the initial euphoria, I was crushed like the plastic pieces on the floor. Everything was ruined. I turned around and ran out of there, tears streaming down my face.

I was a first grader in 1983 communist Czechoslovakia, and what happened to me that day was a typical scenario. Wins and losses dominated our lives, and friendships were made just as quickly as they were lost forever… Our lives would never be the same, we caught a C-Fever – a very contagious and crazy obsession that totally swept the nation overnight. We called it “Céčka” (pronounced Tsechka) -Cs- small pieces of plastic colorful alphabet letters. Cs were the most common. There were other shapes that could easily connect and make a nice chain like Ss or Gs, or section signs (§).

They came in many different colors and finishes. The most valuable ones were see through, those that glowed in the dark, or very pretty ones that sparkled in metallic shades – each of those was worth at least three normal pieces, because they were so rare. In fact all Cs were rare. The demand vastly exceeded the supply. You couldn’t just go to the shop and buy them. Children collected them and used them to make bracelets and necklaces. You could get them by playing a risky game called the line, or exchange them for different colors or shapes.

Cs also became “the” children’s currency to buy toys or favors from each other. We would say, “Will you change one C for five candies? No? For three Korunas (money) then?” or “I’ll give you my toy car for ten C’s.” It was a thriving and serious tax free and totally unregulated business amongst us kids despite our socialist upbringing under the rules of communism.

A long chain of Cs not only made you rich, but it was also a symbol of status. Without Cs you were nobody and your life wouldn’t be worth living. I remember how separated and alone I felt when I watched an excited group of children playing with their Cs. I was an outsider, because I had none, and then to my amazement an older boy took pity on me and gave me my first three Cs. I didn’t even care that they were ugly black color. They were mine, just mine!

I hop skipped all the way home holding my three treasures tightly in my hand. Once in my room I sat down on the carpeted floor and I couldn’t stop looking at them in awe. I unmade and then made up the tiny black chain again. I enjoyed the sensation in my hand. Perhaps I could play the line and win more, I thought. I could picture it clearly. I would win a long chain, and then I would show it to Katherine, she would surely play with me again. I smiled. And I would attach it to my school bag, so everyone could see it.-

“Gia, get ready for your ballet lesson!” Mom interrupted my daydreaming. We boarded a bus and that day I was even lucky to get my own seat. (No elderly around) I sat there feeling the C’s with my fingers, and imagined how my life would change for the better. The possibilities were endless.

“Give me the Cs, I’ll keep them safe,” Mom said by the door to the ballet lesson. I shook my head and hid my hand behind my back.

“Oh, come on, Gia! I’ll put them in my handbag for safekeeping, and you can have them back after your lesson,” said Mom and laughed.

“Do you promise to keep them safe?”

“Yes, I told you, you don’t have to worry.”

I opened my hand reluctantly and watched the Cs disappear in Mom’s handbag. The ballet lesson was never-ending. I couldn’t wait to feel the Cs in my hand again. I was usually the last one to leave the room, but this time I was the first out of the door.

“Mom, give me my Cs, please!” I said breathlessly.

Mom looked at me with sad eyes. “I am sorry, Gia, I lost them,” she said, and I couldn’t believe my ears, my worst nightmare became reality. My world flipped upside down for the second time that day.

“How could you? You knew how important they were. You promised!” I cried, large tears running down my face.

“I am so sorry, there was a very bad accident,” Mom explained. “A man was hurt, there was blood everywhere, I got upset and reached for a handkerchief in my handbag, that’s when they must have fallen out,” she said with liquid eyes.

Her explanation doused my anger, but I was still gutted. She wanted to make it up to me and promised to try getting me a pack of Cs, but it was almost impossible. Occasionally word spread they were for sale, everybody rushed to the store and waited in a long queue for hours. Many would leave with nothing, because they didn’t have the right connections/a magic word that would make the shop assistant reach under the counter.

Parents got sucked into the craze just to help their kids. Everyone was searching for Cs. Small packets of them were even used to bribe officials or shop assistants to obtain something else that was in shortage.

Nobody knows exactly who the first children were that found the bundles of discarded Cs, (a product that failed twice before), in the dumps. They were originally made in the late 1960s as an accessory for girls’ mini skirts. The idea didn’t appeal. Twenty years later the product was revived and marketed as a chain curtain for doorways, but again the manufacturers failed to spark an interest, and bundles of them ended up in the dumps where the children found them.

Cecka 2

A few weeks after Mom lost my first tiny chain of black Cs, we were visiting my parents’ friends, and while playing with their young kids in their room, I spotted something sparkling on a shelf. “Wow! You have Cs?” I could barely hide my excitement, when I picked up a chain of about nine Cs and- gasp!-the most beautiful metallic blue section signs.

Monika peeled her eyes away from her doll and looked at me. “Oh, that…take it, if you want,” she said. I couldn’t believe it! A huge smile spread across my face.

“Are you sure, Moni? Don’t you like them?”

“Nah, come play with the dolls already!” she urged me, completely uninterested in the Cs, or without having any idea what it meant to me.

And that’s how my chain started and it grew from there. Over the next week my original nine C’s grew to twenty. At school everybody gasped when they saw the shimmering metallic blue finish section signs, and I changed a few for four ordinary C’s each. I played the line and won more. I was no longer the outsider, in fact my social life dramatically improved.

I loved exchanging the Cs with others or playing with them on my own. I sorted them by colors, then I let the chain slide through my hand. It felt nice on my skin and it made a pleasant sound too. A sound of happiness. At bedtime after the lights were switched off, I played with the glow in the dark ones, and when the glow faded, I put them under my pillow. My life was simply perfect, until the incident with my best friend and puppy love Jacob, that is.

A few days passed and I missed my friend, I thought I lost him forever.

“Just go and see him, say you are sorry and offer him some Cs,” Mom advised.

“But that’s not fair, he started it! It’s his fault!” I pouted.

“Maybe, but ask yourself, what is more important to you, playing on your own with your Cs, or giving a few of them to Jacob and playing with him again?”

Mom had a point. By then my chain grew even longer, and I could spare a few Cs to save a friendship. I ran out of the door into the sun lit street, just as I heard Michal David singing on the radio, “Cs, we’re collecting Cs…”

Jacob was sitting on a step in front the entrance to his apartment. I slowed down. He lifted his head and looked at me with big brown eyes. A moment passed. Then we both smiled.

“I am so sorry, Jacob! Here.” I handed him a chain of ten Cs.

“I am sorry too,” he said and took the chain.

“I missed playing with you, and you mean more to me than Cs,” I said.

“I missed you too. It was so stupid,” he said. Then he divided the chain and gave me five Cs back.

I smiled. “Shall we play the line?” We looked at each other and laughed.

“Nah, let’s get our bikes instead,” he said.

A few months later Clara, a mean girl that sat behind me, started passing Ss to me during class. We became best friends, and it’s a friendship that has lasted longer than C-Fever. Over time Cs became more common in the shops, and Grandma would bring a pack every time she visited. Soon I had a chain so long it stretched from one side of our flat to the other. I had so many that they lost their charm. Over time my interests changed, and as I grew, I took them out of my treasure box less and less. Then the Iron Curtain fell in 1989, and the market was flooded with a vast variety of attractive toys from the West and the C-Fever finally subsided.

Writing © Gia Joseph 2015

Photo 1: photo http://www.kukatko.cz/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/cecka.jpg

Photo 2: Radka Páleníková, Alík.cz

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. giasuniverse
    Dec 22, 2015 @ 22:38:29

    Reblogged this on Gia's Universe.

    Like

    Reply

  2. Dalo 2013
    Jan 23, 2016 @ 11:43:20

    Boy, there is something incredibly sensitive and beautiful about the mind of a child. And your story opens up such great memories of how important things were back then…and how wrapped up we could feel about things that now seem so trival ~ but were so important back then (and the memories important now). Your story takes me back to times when I had similar times with my sisters and parents – and the rich feelings I had; and it is your writing style that makes it so easy to flow along with your story while also feeling memories of my life with what you wrote about 🙂

    I am now also very curious of this game you call “Céčka” 🙂 Cheers to a great day!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • giasuniverse
      Feb 11, 2016 @ 20:16:11

      I know! I try to be mindful of that, when my own kids perceive something “trivial” as super important, because it is important to them. 🙂
      Thanks Randall! And you never know, one day, if an opportunity presents itself, we could play “Céčka”. Lol
      Take care, Gia x

      Like

      Reply

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