September 30, 2011

Street Food

Kaunas, Lithuania, Summer 1943. My Dad's twin sister, my Aunt Jonė (on the left), enjoys a sandwich with a friend.


Kaunas, Lithuania, 1941. My Dad (standing on the right, wearing glasses) and his friends pause for a snapshot on their way home from school.


After World War II, most Lithuanians fleeing the Soviet occupation landed in Displaced Persons camps. Many camps were located in what became Western Germany. The "DPs" waited in the camps for permission to emigrate to one of the countries accepting refugees.

The DP camps featured separate, barracks-style living quarters for men and women. The Lithuanian DPs called the building housing single men the "Žirgynas."

Žirgynas is the Lithuanian word for "stud farm."

Seligenstadt, Germany, about 1946. Residents of the "Žirgynas" gather for dinner. They appear to be sitting down for the Kūčios meal because there are evergreen sprigs at the place settings, and a lit Christmas tree stands in the background. My maternal Grandfather Jake and my Father-in-law both lived in this Žirgynas while they were DPs.

September 29, 2011

Customs House

Tauragė, Lithuania, around 1929. Tauragė sat on the border between Lithuania and East Prussia/Germany, in a geographically disputed area known as the Memel region. This is a photo of the Customs House. The word "Customs" appears on the building in both Lithuanian and German.


Suburban Chicago, April 1962. When I was a little girl, nothing made me happier than the times when Dad snapped my picture. Mom knitted the little suit I sport in this photo. It was aqua and white.

September 28, 2011


When I was growing up, I learned about holiday customs. Lithuanians, for example, celebrate Christmas on the night of Christmas Eve ("Kūčios"). The Kūčios meal consists of twelve meatless dishes, one to represent each of the Apostles. All of the foods are cold dishes so that the hostess does not have to cook on such a solemn day. On Christmas Eve, we primarily eat vegetable salads, gefilte fish, and marinated herrings. Lots of herring: herring is served at least four ways.

Enforcement of these traditions is inflexible. During one memorable Christmas Eve, we had a guest who did not eat fish. Cold fish therefore was out of the question. My Mom roasted and served a duck. My Dad spit bullets about the breach of Kūčios protocol. Even now, over thirty years later, my Mom usually says on Kūčios, "Do you remember when I roasted a duck on Kūčios?!!" as if that were a really screwball, Lucille Ball-like, thing to do.

Today, rigid food-pairing rules still affect daily meals. For example, if one is serving meatloaf ("Zuikis"), it's not appropriate to offer peas or carrots alongside it. The traditional side dish for meatloaf is a bowl of hot, shredded beets spiked with vinegar and macerated in sour cream. Roast duck is stuffed with apples and served with hot, braised sauerkraut. Roast turkey is stuffed not with stuffing but with prunes—or as they say today, "dried plums." A sauté of cabbage, bacon, and onions must be served with potatoes; never rice. Cold Beet Soup arrives with a side of a hot, peeled, boiled potato sprinkled with fresh dill.

There are also unbending seasonal rules. A "winter salad" consisting of navy beans and beets would never include a spring or summer ingredient, like peas, carrots, or dill. A "spring salad"—similar to the Italian Insalata Russa or the Russian Salat Olivier—would not feature a winter ingredient, like a dill pickle, an apple, or beans.

Strict food rules make the timing of this photo easy to identify. The food on the table tells me that this is an image of Easter dinner. Cooked young birds, veal, and a "Tree Cake" ("Šakotis" or, in parts of Lithuania, "Baumkuchenas") all say "Spring."

The clock in the photo reads 9:00. It looks like it is dark outside. Can the family be eating late? Or is it morning? Mr. Irene thinks it's a mid-day meal for a family that might have attended a Resurrection Mass. Or is the clock broken?

Whose portrait hangs on the wall?

It must have been a rather warm spring day because a window is open.

Some things in this image are familiar. The curtains mimic the sleeves of Lithuanian folkdress blouses: linen with woven, decorative sashes running in horizontal lines. Even though the photo is black and white, the potted primroses on the table might as well be fuchsia with yellow eyes. I look at the edge of the tablecloth and think that it, too, is certainly linen because it looks like someone had trouble ironing it.

Thanks to my "New" Cousin for making this photo available to me in digital format.

Tauragė, Lithuania, probably about 1935 or so. This is the family of my paternal Grandfather, Jake. Jake sits, in uniform, on the far right. To his right is his mother (my Great-Grandmother, Wanda), and behind him are his brother and sister. Jake's niece and brother-in-law stand next to his sister. Seated on the left are Jake's nephew and his father (my Great-Grandfather, Cody Sr.).

September 27, 2011

Poodle Reunion

Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, 2011. Things are going to the dogs.


Soviet Union, 1924. Great-Grandmother Nina K. sat for this photo seven years after the death of her husband, Pavel.

It's hard for me to look at her face without being overcome by her penetrating sadness.

September 26, 2011


Yesterday's "Bacon, Please" post led me to crave "Koldūnai." Koldūnai are Lithuania's version of the Russian "Pelmeni" (пельмени), or Siberian Meat Dumplings. Every culture has a variety of savory dumplings: Pierogi, Pot Stickers, Pasties, and Ravoli.

Koldūnai were a delicacy during my childhood. Making Koldūnai was culinary theatre. My paternal Grandmother, Tatjana, labored over the hand-shaped wonders for the better part of an afternoon. Flour flew. Every surface had sticky dough on it. When Tatjana boiled the dumplings, the faint perfume of marjoram scented the kitchen.

This morning, that craving led me to a Russian market. I bought a two-pound bag of Pelmeni (made in Buffalo, New York). We boiled the Pelmeni, and Mom fried up minced bacon to serve—in its fat, of course—with the Pelmeni.

We sat down to dinner. I said, "Grandma has risen from the dead."

Suburban Chicago, 1962. My paternal Grandmother, Tatjana—whom we all called "Baba"—looks like a Baba as she teaches me the art of making Koldūnai.


Jadzė was my maternal Grandmother. Unlike Tatjana, Jadzė was Lithuanian, and I don't think she ever left the country during her life. She may have visited Poland. Her Mother, Zigmunta, was Polish. How that came about is a story for another post.

Jadzė's life was short. She died of melanosarcoma of the optic disk shortly after her fortieth birthday. She died before her husband, Jake, and my Mom fled Lithuania. As a result, I never met Grandmother Jadzė. Based on what my Mom has said about Jadzė, I know I would have loved her as much as I loved Tatjana.

Now, this blog has a "cancer" tag.

1910, Mariampolis, Lithuania. Jadzė as a young girl. The large hair bow was a customary accessory for young, Eastern European girls. You'll see it frequently in the photos to follow. Tatjana once tied such a bow in my hair in 1967. The bow gave life to accelerated teasing, as if my Lithuanian accent and cat-eye glasses weren't sufficient justifications for adolescent cruelty.

September 25, 2011

Bacon, Please

Only a Russian—or a Lithuanian—would continue calling a dish "vegetarian," even though she garnishes it with bacon.

I write this with the greatest affection.

Sour cream, anyone?

On the Street

In the 1920s, most photographers worked in studios. The bulky equipment and nature of the craft prohibited frequent, candid picture taking. That makes this snapsot unusual. This photo shows my Mom, as a child, standing on a stoop with her mother, my maternal Grandmother, Jadze. Jadze was Dora's tame sister.

Notice the coats and boots. Although the materials appear expensive, the clothing looks like it might have been refurbished from last season's wardrobe. The hats are stylish and adorable.

Kaunas, Lithuania, 1927. My Mom and my maternal Grandmother pose for a snapshot.


In the 1930s, my Mom's maternal aunt, Dora, adopted the glamorous look that came into fashion on the eve of World War II. Think Marlene Dietrich with auburn hair.

The first stories I heard about Dora pivot on her forward-looking viewpoint. More provincially wired people found her views and behaviors scandalous. Others recognized that Dora simply was born about sixty years too early.

Despite Dora's progressive nature, she did not get out of Lithuania after the Soviets occupied the country in 1944. Many relatives fled in July 1944. We are not sure why Dora stayed behind. One explanation is that no relatives offered her and her husband a way out. Another explanation is that her husband refused to flee, and she stayed with him.

Most of those who left Lithuania that summer thought they would return home in a few weeks. People assumed the Soviets would occupy the little country for a few months, and eventually, the Germans would push the Soviets out again, as they had before. As a result, people—including my Mom—left the country with few belongings. Most refugees hid their cherished possessions with relatives or buried them in the countryside. My Mom did not even think to pack her hand-woven national folkdress. How I would have loved to have that!

Mom did pop a winter coat and two pairs of shoes into her suitcase. She still doesn't know why she packed those items. Smart move.

Kaunas, Lithuania, 1936. It's Aunt Dora! She's no longer either a Gibson Girl or a Flapper. Instead, she's updated her style to the glam Hollywood trends.

September 24, 2011

Amber Fawn Reunion

Verona, Wisconsin, September 2011.


Soviet Union, 1940. The is my paternal Grandmother's mother, Nina. After the Russian Revolution and the execution of her husband, Pavel, Nina continued to live in the Soviet Union.

Nina's expression, the way she holds the wildflowers, her hat, and her ill-fitting stockings speak to me.

Lifespans were shorter then, and times were harder. People looked older. It's difficult for me to digest that Nina was only sixty-five years old when this photograph was taken. I also find it amazing that her daughter, Tatjana, was about that same age when we sat for this snapshot.

Grandmother, Fifty Year Later

1962, Suburban Chicago. I give my paternal Grandmother, Tatjana, a hug.

A Grandmother Who Wore the Pants

Tambov, Russia, 1912. This is my paternal Grandmother, Tatjana. Tatjana was about sixteen when she posed for this photo. I love the shoes!

Tatjana liked to ride horses, and she once broke a tooth when she fell off of a horse.

Although Tatjana grew up in Tambov, she attended university in St. Petersburg. There, she studied chemistry. After my family moved to the States, Tatjana lived with us. She used to do the cooking because my Mom worked at a full-time job. Tatjana collected her recipes in a classic, 1950s, Mead composition notebook. The notebook was black with white speckles, and it had a sewn binding. Tatjana added the chemical formulas for different ingredients in the margins of those recipe pages.

September 23, 2011


Kaunas, Lithuania, 1925. My Mom poses with a large fur stole. That stole probably belonged to her aunt, Dora.

Army Cadet

Tsarist Russia, 1915 or 1916. My maternal Grandfather, Jake, while he was a cadet-student at the prestigious military college of the Russian Imperial Army. Mom refers to the military college as "Russia's West Point."

Why did a Lithuanian graduate from a Russian military college? During this time, Lithuania was part of the Russian Empire. Young men in the non-Russian provinces could wait to be drafted or enroll in one of the colleges. Enrollment would ensure a career as an officer upon graduation.

Jake's career in the Russian Imperial Army did not unfold as he anticipated. Shortly after he graduated, the Russian Revolution erupted. He served for a short time in the "White Russian Army," the forces the combated the Bolsheviks. When the Bolshevik victory appeared imminent, Jake fled to his native Lithuania.

In Lithuania, Jake continued his military career. Between 1918 and 1940, he served in the Army of an independent Lithuania. He would wear a Russian uniform once more later in life, when the Soviets occupied Lithuania in 1940, and drafted Jake into service.

We often use the uniform that Jake wears in particular photos to identify from about what year the photo dates.

I think Jake is extraordinarily handsome here. He has descendants who have the same eyes.

September 22, 2011

September 21, 2011


Soviet Union, 1950. This is Natasha, a sister of my paternal Grandmother, Tatjana.

Natasha appeared earlier in this 1910 or 1911 photo in the bottom row, at the far left.

September 20, 2011

Baby Llama!

Brookfield, Illinois, 1961. I visit the Children's Zoo, within Brookfield Zoo, and fall in love with a baby llama.

Six Siblings

Tambov, Russia, 1910 or 1911. My paternal Grandmother, Tatjana (top row, far left), with her five siblings. These are the children who witnessed the execution of their father, Pavel.

Russian Roots

Tambov, Russia, around 1905. These are two of my Great-Grandparents, Pavel and Nina, the parents of my paternal Grandmother. Pavel served as one of Tsar Nicholas II's fourteen governors.

The Bolsheviks executed Pavel during the 1917 Russian Revolution. They shot him in front of his wife and his six children.

Į sveikatą!

Brooklyn, New York, 1954. My maternal Grandfather, Jake, belts out a toast with one of his bridge-playing friends. Let's party like it's 1959!

Pumpkin Reunion

Spring Green, Wisconsin, September 2011.

Hats in a Different Generation

Suburban Chicago, 1964. My Mom and I model fashionable hats. You may think those cat-eye specs are cool, but I was the target of quite a bit of school-yard bullying because of them.

September 19, 2011

Shelling in Cape Cod

Cape Cod, Massachusetts, 1963. Summer is ending.

College Kids

Kaunas, Lithuania, 1939. My Dad (in the long pants) as a student, with his friends. What must the temperature have been? The guy on the far left is wearing shorts, but the woman next to him is wearing a light coat.

My Dad, as sometimes was his habit, sports a pocket watch. Look at his shirt. Wouldn't it be stylish today on a lanky stallion?

I love the shadows of the leaves on the wall behind them.

Wedding Reception

Schweinfurt, Germany, 1948. Woot! It's my parents' wedding reception. Mom's not wearing a bib; that's a white blouse. Dad is about to make a little vodka toast. The priest is having a great time. Check out the timely hairdos.

September 18, 2011

Sweet Memory

Venice, Italy, April 1984. My Mother and I relax at the Campo dei Frari, near the Archivio dello Stato, where I did research for my dissertation.

Bedtime Shadow Story

Kaunas, Lithuania, around 1940. My paternal Grandfather, Vytautas, the former cavalryman. This photo likely dates from the first year of World War II, when the Soviets initially occupied Lithuania. My paternal Grandmother, Tatjana, probably snapped this photo.

I wonder if my Father acquired his pipe-smoking habit by imitating his Dad.

September 17, 2011

Fresh Off the Troika

Tambov, Russia, Winter 1913. My paternal Grandmother, Tatjana, her Brother, Lev, and her Father, Pavel. Of all the photos we have, this one is in the poorest condition. That's because Grandmother carried the snapshot slipped between the pages of a Russian Orthodox prayer book that jiggled in her pocket as she escaped Russia during the 1917 Revolution.

Grandmother fled on horseback to Lithuania—newly emancipated from the Russian Empire—catching a ride with a Lithuanian cavalryman, Vytautas, who was retreating from the collapsing Imperial Russian Army.

Grandmother settled in Lithuania, married the cavalryman, and gave birth to twins, my Father and my paternal Aunt.

UPDATE: It was a Roman Catholic prayer book, not a Russian Orthodox one.

Summer Portrait on the Porch

Here are some members of my Father's side of the family:

Palanga, Lithuania, about 1920. This photo features my paternal Grandfather, Vytautas (far left, with legs crossed and holding a cigarette), and his extended family.

I can't yet identify many of these people, but I would like to get to know the woman sitting to my Grandfather's left. She looks relaxed and thoughtful. When I was little, I resembled the girl who's standing, holding a book.

Notice the maid, who is lurking in the background on the porch. She is the one wearing an apron.

Dora Gets Her Wish

My Mother's maternal Aunt, Teodora ("Dora"), liked it when people paid attention to her. An auburn filly with green eyes and a porcelain complexion, Dora was a rare beauty in the mousy Baltic States. Her fashion sense was keen, and photos show her transforming from Gibson Girl to Flapper to Glamorous Vixen. Even in the steely, Soviet 1950s, Dora looked like an unpracticed double for Joan Crawford.

Dora also was, as relatives whispered delicately, "ahead of her time." In the 1920s and 1930s, she worked full time as a paralegal in a large notarial office whose most important clients were British. At night, Dora played the background keyboards in cinema houses for silent movies. In dour Lithuania, she wore sleeveless dresses sewn in bright colors. She waited until her thirties to marry. When she did wed, she married a twice-divorced man, and she chose not to have children.

Mariampolis, Lithuania, 1920. This is my Mother's maternal Grandmother, Zigmunta, and my Mother's maternal Aunt, Dora.

September 16, 2011

Nothing Here is Chronological

I have hundreds of family photos dating back to the 1860s. How they land here will depend on what interests me. I can't be tied to a linear path. That would keep me from posting snapshots that date from a year or decade that this blog already covered.

Besides, I don't think in a linear way. The stories will fit together once I've exposed more pieces.

For example:

Mariampolis, Lithuania, 1927. My Mother's Maternal Grandparents (Zigmunta and Silvestras), her wild Aunt Dora, and her Uncle Edvardas, who died at the age of 29 from a ruptured appendix (that appendix problem seems to run on both sides of the family). Flapper!


Welcome to "Amber Reunion," the old photo blog.

Atlantic Ocean, June 1949. This is where everything began. These happy folks are my parents, as immigrants, aboard the "General W.M. Black," the vessel that transported them to the United States. They were Displaced Persons from Lithuania, and they had lived since the end of World War II in the American-occupied zone of Germany.

The ship sailed from Bremerhaven. My Mom was shocked by how small it was. Men and women slept in separate quarters, and everyone ate oatmeal. Most of the passengers got sick during the trip. My parents had never felt better.