Suburban Chicago, December 31, 1961. A gentleman takes my paternal Grandmother, Tatjana, for a spin in the Rec Room. My Dad smiles in the background. My Mom's best friend, Donna, wears white on the right.
Suburban Chicago, January, 1965. I can identify that I am on my way to Lithuanian school, not regular school, because I am carrying the specific notebook the school distributed to students. The notebook had artwork depicting Lithuanian monuments and historical figures on the back cover.
When my family hosted a New Year's Eve gathering, my Mom made "Stuffed Eggs." The eggs are unlike anything I've eaten in this country, and they have little in common with deviled eggs.
Here's how we make them. We hard boil eggs. After the eggs have cooled, we do not peel them. Instead, we use a sharp butcher knife to slice the eggshells in half diagonally. Some shells, naturally, get lost in the process, but that's okay. We need more "stuffing" than shells anway.
Once the eggshells are halved, we remove the egg white and yolk and chop them up very finely: mince, mince, and mince. To the minced eggs, we add a bit of sour cream (but of course!), a touch of prepared mustard, a handful of chopped, fresh dill, salt, and pepper. We stuff this mixture back into the eggshells. The stuffing should not be mounded into the shell; it should be packed flush with the eggshell's cut edge. The eggs can be prepared ahead to this point and refrigerated.
Just before serving, dip the stuffed tops into melted butter and breadcrumbs (some people use crushed "Cheez-It Baked Snack Crackers," but we are old school and go with the breadcrumbs). Heat some butter and vegetable oil in a fry pan. Place the eggshells, breadcrumbed side down, in the fry pan and cook for a few minutes, until they are lightly browned.
Now that's a memory!
Suburban Chicago, December 31, 1962. My paternal Grandmother, Tatjana, and my Mom prepare the "New Year's Eve Eggs" in the kitchen of my childhood home. There was a phone in every room of that house because because the phone was always ringing. There's that 1957 intercom system—that never worked.
Mr. Irene's Mom was the youngest of five children born to Anna and Stanley. Aunt M was the eldest; the three middle children died. The death of the three children speaks to life in the early twentieth century, when there were no antibiotics, and the danger of death could be a sniffle away. It's no wonder that Mr. Irene's Mom still says, "Oh no!" each time someone sneezes.
The second child and the only son, Benny, was three years younger than Aunt M. Benny had a wonderful pet dog, "Sporty." Sporty bonded only to Benny. Benny was an active boy. One afternoon, he ran out to the playground, and a stray, stockyards dog bit him. Benny returned home to show his mother, Anna, the wound. The wound became infected. Anna took Benny to the hospital. Doctors admitted Benny. In the hospital, Benny developed sepsis.
Benny lingered in the hospital, but there were no drugs with which to treat him. One afternoon, Sporty howled. Anna looked at the family and said, "Benny has died." After the family buried Benny, Sporty refused to leave Benny's room. He wouldn't eat. Shortly thereafter, Sporty died, too.
When I think about that story, I remember the movie, "My Dog Skip."
Bridgeport, Chicago, 1927. Aunt M (Martha) poses with her younger brother, Benny. He died three years later.
I went to the bank this morning. A sign on the drive-up window alerted customers that today, December 30, is the last "business day" of 2011. Deposits made tomorrow, on Saturday, count as 2012 transactions. When I practiced law, the end of the calendar year was our busiest season. Many people sought to complete tax-related maneuvers before the close of the year.
Now the end of the year is just a normal day. I prefer that to the feeling of a tidal wave sweeping out the old business.
When I was growing up, I looked forward to New Year's Eve as though it were a critical milestone. New Year's Eve made me feel as though I were getting closer to adulthood. The adults got to do fun things like join the regular group of friends with whom they celebrated New Year's Eve. If the party occurred at our house, then I got to watch the grownups mingle and dance. If the party rotated to someone else's house, then I got to watch my Parents put on their fancy clothes, and I waited to see the photos from the spectacular evening.
Suburban Chicago, December 31, 1960. My Mom and Dad are ready for the New Year's Eve party.
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Suburban Chicago, December 31, 1960. My Parents ring in the New Year with fellow Lithuanians in our little suburb. The party hosts had confetti on hand!
The only sport I ever "followed" was figure skating. For several years, Mr. Irene and I attended the "Stars on Ice" show when it arrived in our town. Back then, we were bona fide "fans," and we secured "ice" seats that were level with the skaters.
In 1996 or 1997, we felt the ice shavings hit our cheeks as we watched Take Five.
I spent most of this afternoon and evening planning another fair-isle knitting project. Selecting a pattern and modifying the size are big jobs, but the most challenging aspect to knitting design is color selection. It's easy to choose hues when one works in bright shades that distinguish themselves easily. But it's tricky when I try to select shades in my favorite tones, the neutrals.
Kaunas, Lithuania, September 20, 1958. My Mom's maternal Aunt, Dora, stands in the center. Joy is to her right, and on Dora's left is Joy's mother. Joy and her mother had just returned to Lithuania. The women pose in front of the house in which my Mom grew up.
It's Mr. Irene, of course. He's about to play some tango melodies.
Verona, Wisconsin, March 2009. Some readers know that Mr. Irene is a virtuoso accordionist. He's been playing since he was four years old. Here, he entertains close friends on the day they hosted us to celebrate a milestone: the end of the first chemotherapy treatments.
My Dad snapped this photograph of me as I boarded an airplane at O'Hare International Airport. I was on may way to Venice, Italy, where I'd live for the next year. This was back in the day, before 9/11, when family and friends could accompany airline passengers right up to the departure gate.
I flew from Chicago to Kennedy Airport in New York City. Mr. Irene, who then was just a close friend—not yet a romantic interest—took the train from Connecticut and sat with me during the two-hour layover before the overseas flight departed. Mr. Irene packed a charming picnic basket with bread, Lithuanian sausages, cheese, and wine; we nibbled on the goodies in the travelers' lounge. And then I was gone.
My first stop in Italy was Rome. A family friend—a Vatican priest—met me at the airport, and he gave me a remarkable, three-day tour of the city. I visited spots usually not accessible to tourists.
The only downside about my trip to Rome was the lodging the prelate arranged. I stayed in a convent. A nun knocked on my door at 6:30 the first morning I was there, asking whether she could clean the room. My Italian speaking skills still weren't very good then, and I just yelled, "No, no, no!"
I left Rome and took a second-class train to Venice. From there, I really was on my own.
O'Hare International Airport, October 16, 1983. I still knock around in that London Fog raincoat (and its zip-in lining).
Suburban Chicago, 1965. Mom knits while I examine a dophin toy that my Dad bought for me at Brookfield Zoo. He didn't pick up "souvenirs" there often for me because a trip to the zoo's Dolphin Show was not an infrequent occurence. Purchasing a memento therefore wasn't really necessary.
My Mom recalls how the backyard of her childhood home featured an old-fashioned well. One afternoon when her mother, Jadzė, went to the well to draw up some water, Jadzė's favorite gold, chain-link bracelet unclasped and fell from her wrist to the well's bottom.
I asked my Mom whether this photo captured the moment when someone tried to retrieve the bracelet. She answered in the negative. These boys simply were two neighbors joking around.
Kaunas, Lithuania, about 1936. Two brothers stand by the well on Hipodromo gatvė.
Radviliškis, Lithuania, 1923. My Dad—the one on the left, in shorts—stands on the steps with his twin, Jonė. My paternal Grandmother, Tatjana, sat with them for this photo on the day they celebrated a visit from Tatjana's mother, Nina K.
Mr. Irene's Dad emigrated in 1949. Like my Parents, he first landed in New York City.
When we saw this photo, we asked Mr. Irene's Dad, "Why is your hair so white?" He was, after all, only in his early twenties. "The salt of the sea water turned it white," he said. He must have spent a good part of the voyage walking on the ship's outer deck!
New York City, New York, June 1949. Mr. Irene's Dad, second from left, poses with other Displaced Persons as the group arrives in America. Check out the traveling clothes.
My Dad's twin sister, Jonė, was active in scouting, just like my Dad. We don't remember whether Jonė ever traveled to the Alps when she was living in a Displaced Persons camp in the American-occupied zone of Germany.
My Dad joined fellow DP scouts in a 1948 Jamboree celebrating thirty years of Lithuanian scouting. The photos from the Jamboree have dates. We also know that anniversary fell in 1948 because that year marked three decades since Lithuania had regained its independence from Russia.
This is the first sweater I knitted. I've been knitting for a long time.
Suburban Chicago, Spring 1968. I knitted this sweater in a light, teal green wool. My Mom remembers that I ripped it twice before I got it right. She claims I cried for several days each time we unraveled it. I remember that learning to rip a sweater was the most imporant lesson I took away from this project.
Normal activities included plenty of parties. My Parents' wedding reception, for example, was a well attended event. My maternal Grandfather, Jake, also was a very social person. I sometimes think of him as the "Merry Widower." Already in his late forties by the time he fled Lithuania, Jake remained something of a ladies' man throughout his life.
Seligenstadt, Germany, 1948. A group of DPs parties under a Vytis, the Lithuanian coat of arms, hanging on the wall. (It's important to maintain a sense of national identity.) Jake, third from the right, is in mid-sentence. The tailor, Karl, is on the far right, his chin resting on his hand.
That's what my Mom's maternal Aunt, Dora, wrote* on the back of this photo when she mailed it to my Mom later, in the 1960s. Dora, of course, was shading a memory with the taint of future events.
My Mom's family traveled every Christmas from their home in Kaunas to Mariampolis, where my Mom's maternal Grandparents lived. The family made the trip by train. Back then, the 51 kilometer journey seemed like a long haul. My maternal Grandmother, Jadzė, packed sandwiches for the trip, and the train rattled along for over three hours, stopping at every small station on the way.
My Mom's maternal Grandfather, Silvestras, greeted the family as it arrived at the Mariampolis station. Silvestras rented a horse-drawn sleigh for the occasion, and he tied bells to the reins.
The visit to Mariampolis was a chance for Mom again to spend time with her friend Joy. My Mom's family and Joy's family celebrated Christmas Day together.
Mariampolis, Lithuania, December 25, 1936. In the center of the shot stands my Mom, with her hair in braids and her eyes partially closed. Jadzė is in front of Mom and quickly turns to her left to look at her uniformed husband, Jake. Joy is behind my Mom's right shoulder, stepping up on her toes and looking to her left over everyone. Dora is directly to my Mom's right; she's easy to identify because of her dimple. The other folks are Joy's Parents and relatives.
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* "Čia Marijampolėje pas mus Kalėdos; visi buvome kartu, visi laimingi …"
The Sound of Music is one of my favorite movies. Although we own a copy, it's always exciting when a network broadcasts the film during a holiday weekend. Old school.
I loved the movie before it morphed into the cultish subject of Rocky-Horror style sing-alongs. I fell for the film from the moment I saw it at the movie theatre, in 1965. The Sound of Music combined plot elements that drew me in easily: nuns, Nazis, World War II, romance, refugees, a wicked baroness, and, of course, Julie Andrew, the star of Mary Poppins.
My Best Friend and I staged a backyard production of the movie for the neighborhood. She played Captain von Trapp, and I was Maria. We sang the songs and ran around the Weeping Willows in the yard as though we were in the Alps. As our staging inched toward the five-hour mark, my paternal Grandmother, Tatjana, pulled the curtain on our play.
If you feel overwhelmed by the excitement of opening gifts, then stand up and catch your breath.
Suburban Chicago, December 24, 1965. We're opening presents in the Rec Room after eating the Kūčios meal. My Mom cleans up while Kadis, the husband of my Dad's twin sister Jonė, and my Toronto Cousin absorb the scene.
This year, the table features herring four ways, "Christmas Fish," rye and country breads, and three vegetable salads—beet and bean, potato and mixed vegetable, and seasoned mushroom. There's one dish that breaks with custom: an Italian seafood salad. That's a nod to the one Christmas Eve I spent in Venice.
Wait?! This photo shows only ten, not twelve, dishes on the table. The other two dishes—another herring preparation and hot, mushroom koldūnai—still were in preparation when I took this photo.
The living room of my childhood home underwent a makeover in 1963. This transformation occurred at the shortly after my Parents redecorated the Rec Room. Away went the gray shades and the other somber tones; in came harvest gold and avocado green.
This was my childhood parish. Here, I was baptised and got married. This church also held the funeral services of my maternal Grandfather Jake, my paternal Grandmother Tatjana, and my Dad.
Melrose Park, Illinois, December 24, 1961. Midnight Mass at Sacred Heart Church. This was back in the day when women could not enter a church without their heads covered. I remember thinking how cool it would be to become a teenager because then, I would get to wear chapel veils.
The Lithuanians in our suburb ran a Saturday school. Our school was not as ambitious as the Saturday schools that arose in areas with substantial Lithuanian populations. It was "Lithuanian School Light." Parents—some trained as teachers, and some not—staffed the school. The school work was not rigorous. Although all of us were fluent in the language, many of us graduated with primitive writing and reading skills.
I remember Lithuanian school as a place where I skirted my lessons, rarely concentrated, and acted out in ways I wouldn't dream of in regular school. I dreaded Lithuanian school. It seemed crazy that I had to go to school on Saturday when all of my American friends got to play on that day.
Mr. Irene didn't have to go to Lithuanian school. He was "exempt." That's a story for another day.
The Lithuanian school rented classroom space from our parish school. Classes took place in the morning in the school's old building. In the afternoon, we headed down to the building's dank basement, where we engaged in the cultural portion of our school day. We learned to folk dance, sing, and—yuck—recite poetry.
There were some enjoyable things about the school. I cemented a few lifelong friendships there. Once a month or so, the parents and teachers treated the children to a lunch of hot dogs and Lay's potato chips after we'd finished our cultural lessons. The school also sponsored a picnic every June.
The best part about Lithuanian school, however, was the annual Christmas pageant.
Melrose Park, Illinois, December 1963. I recite a poem for Santa and the audience. I wear a red velveteen jumper that my Mom sewed. It had white snowflake appliqués around the neckline.
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Melrose Park, Illinois, December 1963. My Mom, fourth from left, enjoys some coffee and cookies with the other adults as they watch our show.
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Melrose Park, Illinois, December 1963. Even the principal of the parish school, Sister Patricia, attends the show. Father Stanley, a Lithuanian priest, appears to be passing out plotkelės that the families take home for the Kūčios celebration.
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Melrose Park, Illinois, December 1963. Finally, a Santa Fake presents my gift.
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Melrose Park, Illinois, December 1966. This pattern continued for many years. Here, I wear a home-sewn blue dress with duck appliqués.