She sat in the armchair, the sunshine slanting through the living room window, her blue eyes lighting with joy, then clouding with tears.
For Magdalena Pivonka, the last week has been a nightmare. Last Tuesday, her son Michal, 20, announced in Washington that he had defected, that he had signed a five-year, $1 million contract to play hockey for the Washington Capitals. The money that he will make was small consolation to his mother.
"I do not understand what that kind of money means," she said softly. "That is Western. I do not know the West. I have never been there."
Kladno, about 20 miles west of Prague, is an industrial town of about 100,000. It is filled with apartment buildings like the one in which the Pivonkas live: two- and three-story buildings with peeling paint on the outside and peeling wallpaper inside.
The small but tidy apartment is where Michal Pivonka had lived 12 years with his sister, father Lubomir and mother. Magdalena Pivonka had taken a short break from her job at the huge steel factory, which dominates the town's economy, to talk about her son.
He had called the night before, she said. "He sounded as if he was okay. I think, right now, it is harder for us. It is still a shock that he is gone."
In a corner of the living room, a tan suitcase sat open on the floor. "That is all I have left now of Michal," she said, turning away, embarrassed by her tears.
Michal Pivonka was always a star athlete. He threw the javelin as a boy and began playing hockey at age 9.
"He was No. 1 in the country in his age group," his mother said. "Michal has always been a boy who decided what to do and then always did it. He has always been a success."
She went to the tiny bedroom that Michal had shared with his sister and began pulling out his medals. She laid them in front of her visitor. They were track and field medals dating back to when he was 14.
"But he loved hockey. By the time he was 16, people told us he would be a star. Always, he played. Even in here. I would come home from work and hear noises as I came up the steps. I would come in, and one of my vases would be missing.
" 'Michal,' I would say, 'Have you seen my vase?' He would tell me no. Then when I was taking the trash out I would hear this rattling and I would look and there would be my vase."
She laughed, enjoying the memory of a mischievous son now so far away. She pointed at the radiator under the window. "Always when he practiced, he shot low," she said. "It made him a better shooter, and he never broke my windows."
Times have changed, especially in Czechoslovakia. Martina Navratilova can return home after 11 years and, with the world watching carefully, be treated with respect by the government that officially does not acknowledge her existence.
But for the family of a defector, the move is still traumatic. A friend of Lubomir Pivonka said that the father is very proud of his son, that the move made sense because of the money and because repercussions against the family of a defector are not what they once were. But it is still difficult and dangerous.
Michal Pivonka left home on a 7 a.m. bus on July 7, leaving to take a vacation in Yugoslavia with his girlfriend Renata. His mother said she did not know he was leaving for good that morning. "His leaving was a shock to me, sudden," she said.
Friends say different. Friends say the move had been planned for months and that was why Michal was concentrating so much on learning English that, according to one source, in his last year on the Czech national team, Pivonka "was more interested in studying his English than in playing hockey."
Michal Pivonka's life here was not uncomfortable by Czech standards. The Pivonkas are considered middle class. Lubomir Pivonka earns 3,200 crowns a month and Magdalena 2,600; combined, that is about $600. Their son will now be making about $25,000 a month.
"I cannot even understand what that kind of money means," Magdalena Pivonka said. "I am glad that Renata is with him. He will need a Czech woman. She is like a daughter to me.
"I hope in a year one of us can get a visa to visit Michal," she said. "I do not know Washington. I hope for him it will be a nice place."