December 31, 2012

Ring it in.

Suburban Chicago, December 31, 1962. Happy New Year!

Let's dance. We don't mind the carpeting.

Suburban Chicago, December 31, 1968. It's almost midnight, and the adults have gathered in the Rec Room. It's another opportunity to dance! A family friend takes me for a spin. My Mom's best friend, Donna, dances with her husband, Vytenis.

Knitting: The Road to Recovery

"The accident made it difficult for the author and filmmaker to write or work a camera. His doctor suggested what Mr Roberts considered a radical therapy—knitting."

Mo Rocca understands knitting.

And we haven't even touched on all of the psychobabble about knitting.

No creases for Irene.

I promised yesterday to post another view of the 1963 New Year's Eve table.

Suburban Chicago, December 31, 1963. Lily offers someone sugar—or just a sugar lid—for coffee. My Mom's best friend Donna—in the center wearing the dress with the illusion neckline—watches. There's a "Reišutinis Tortas" (Nut Torte) on the table; my paternal Grandmother, Tatjana likely baked it. It was a dry torte made with hand-ground walnuts. Tatjana soaked the layers with a rum syrup, spread lingonberries for the filling, and dressed the torte with a penuche icing. I longed for a moist, spongy, frosted American-style cake.

Do you see the little ashtray with the ceramic tile inlays? We used to make those. Hot plates and ashtrays were practical objects for the popular tile projects.

When we were looking last night at the photo I posted yesterday of this table, Mr. Irene and I noticed that the damask tablecloth had creases. Tatjana carefully ironed tablecloths after she washed them. But I think she folded the tablecloths, stored them in a drawer, and then took them right out of the drawer—without further ironing—when she wanted to use them. Mr. Irene wondered if the creases didn't make an imprint on compulsive-neatnik-little-Irene because—since we've been married—I always store tablecloths on coat hangers in a closet (never folded in a drawer), and I obsessively iron them (sometimes right on the table) before we finish arranging the place settings.

Someone put a balloon on the phone.

Suburban Chicago, December 31, 1961. Mom dances with Vyentis, the husband of her best friend Donna, in the Rec Room. It was easy to dance in the Rec Room before my Parents had wall-to-wall carpeting installed.

Related by Marriage: Party Hats

Chicago, Illinois, December 31, 1952. Friends of Mr. Irene's Dad whoop it up on New Year's Eve.

December 30, 2012

Dad enjoys the New Year's Eve table.

Suburban Chicago, December 31, 1964. Someone else is hosting a New Year's Eve party, and Dad has taken off his glasses and moved closer to the Other Irene. Everyone is enjoying the "cold menu" that the lady of the house (the "gaspadinė") has prepared.

The New Year's Eve Table

I wrote last year about some of the rigid food customs Lithuanians observe. Although the Kūčios traditions are the least flexible, other rules govern the every-day and holiday tables.

We observed some New Year's Eve guidelines. Guests usually arrived later in the evening—say between 8:00 and 9:00. The hostess served food at around 10:00 pm. The idea here was to keep people dining until midnight arrived so that the party wouldn't drag on and people wouldn't drink too much.

The New Year's Eve meal consisted of cold foods. This wasn't an attempt to lessen the hostess's load—like it was on the day of Kūčios. Instead, the cold meal acknowledged that the guests were eating a late-night "snack," not a substitute for dinner. The meal therefore focused on "užkandžiai," or what the Russians would call "zakuski" or "first courses."

My Mom and my paternal Grandmother, Tatjana, always prepared "New Year's Eggs" when it was our turn to host the party. Tatjana also made her "Babos Vinegretas." Because it was New Year's Eve, Tatjana decorated that salad with lump crabmeat. Sliced hams, roast beef, and lingonberries joined the table. We often also served "Košeliena," or pork head cheese (we served it, but I never ate it). Sometimes we had "Amerikoniškas Shrimp Cocktail;" I didn't like horseradish then, so I would not eat the cocktail sauce.

A day or so before New Year's Eve, Dad drove down to one of the Lithuanian bakeries in Marquette Park to buy sweets for the party. He'd pick up Poppy Seed Strudel, a Nut Strudel, perhaps a torte—if Tatjana didn't make her Nut Torte or her Pavlova Torte—and some chocolates. If we were feeling especially festive, Dad would head up to the North Side and bring back goodies from Lutz's Pastry Shop. A sweets table from Lutz's signaled good taste.

Suburban Chicago, December 31, 1968. Mom's coordinating the dessert course while Vytenis, the husband of Mom's best friend Donna, makes a clever toast.

A View of the Table, 1963

Suburban Chicago, December 31, 1963. It's time for my Parents again to host the New Year's Eve party for our suburban colony of Lithuanians. The redecoration of the house is completed, and a heavy, Spanish chandelier now hangs over the dining room table. There's that fruit bowl again. Mom hasn't bought "fine china" yet, so the guests eat off of the dishes she collected with receipts during a Jewel Food Store promotion. The coffee pot had a little holder for a candle warmer underneath it. The flower-like pieces on the table—with the gold stems and white, ceramic buds—are candle holders. You can tell it's an extraordinary day because there is a box of potato chips on top of the refrigerator.* 

Lily—wearing the black dress—talks with the Other Irene. Behind the Other Irene is the plastic plant. The fellow on the left was not a frequent visitor, but he's sitting next to my Mom's best friend, Donna. You can see her left hand, holding the cigarette.

I'll post a photo of another view of this table tomorrow.

*I can't remember the brand name of that 1957 refrigerator, but it lasted over 32 years. Mom replaced it only because the handle fell off, and no one carried that part any longer.

The Best Party Guests

I was very fond of my Godparents. I looked at them the way other children view their Grandparents—as people who spoiled you because they only saw you occasionally. The only living Grandparent I had as a child was Tatjana. There was nothing exhilarating about spending time with her because she lived with us, I shared a bedroom with her, and she never spoiled me.

My Godmother created a sack full of lush memories for me. My Godfather was a playful, good sport who had been a lifelong friend of my Dad's.

Suburban Chicago, December 31, 1963. My Godparents and I take a break from the New Year's Eve party to pose for a snapshot in the living room.

It's the eve of New Year's Eve again.

I have many photos from New Year's Eve. I'll be posting some of them over the next few days.

Suburban Chicago, December 31, 1962. Mom and Dad are heading out to another New Year's Eve party. They stand in the area between the living and dining rooms. My Parents had not yet redecorated the house, and the gold wall-to-wall carpeting only later covered the wood floors.

Do you see the fruit bowl standing on top of the bookcase? We still use it.

December 29, 2012

The Destination

Glacier National Park, Montana, July 1968. We reach the destination of our unexpected hike.

Norwegian knitting ...

... resurges in Norway.

I am in good hands.

Suburban Chicago, December 1959. My Dad snaps a photo of my paternal Grandmother, Tatjana, and me before he and Mom head out for the evening. Tatjana wears one of her many housecoats; this one had satin piping. Tatjana did take care to put on lipstick for the snapshot.

Let's catch up after dinner.

Suburban Chicago, December 31, 1961. My paternal Grandmother, Tatjana, has cleared the table, and she chats with Vytenis, the husband of my Mom's best friend, Donna.

Related by Marriage: What's on the menu?

Marquette Park, Chicago, Illinois. Mr. Irene's maternal Aunt Martha—in the center, wearing the aqua dress—dines with friends on New Year's Day.

December 28, 2012

Salamander-Glacier Reunion

Glacier National Park, July 1973. We approach the Many Glacier area during (what would be) our last family vacation in the park.

Do you remember when people used to "dress up" to go shopping?

Chicago, Illinois, March 1973. Mom stands on Michigan Avenue, near Monroe. She's already been to Marshall Field's; she carries one of the store's boxes. The skyline has changed over the years: compare it here. The Hancock Tower—under construction since 1965 and completed in 1976—stands in the background.

It's snowing again.

We don't expect to get as much snow, however, as we did during Draco.

Verona, Wisconsin, December 2012. A squirrel negotiates the blizzard "Draco."

Gauging age.

Suburban Chicago, December 1961. My paternal Grandmother, Tatjana, had just turned 64 when she posed for this photo. Her eyes speak to the many hardships she had weathered.

December 27, 2012


Brookfield Zoo, January 1964. What opinions does he have?

UPDATE: "Be careful about interacting with swans."

Let's play in the snow.

Suburban Chicago, January 1960. I'm still looking for the spot from which to launch my sled.

Related by Marriage: The Third Day of Christmas

Suburban Chicago, December 1959. Mr. Irene's maternal Aunt, Martha, and her husband, Wally, have arrived for a visit at Mr. Irene's childhood home.


Schweinfurt, Germany, 1948. My Dad, in the center, watches another scouting ceremony.

December 26, 2012

Here's the creek, when it was clean.

Suburban Chicago, January 1964. This is a view of Silver Creek before it became polluted.

Related by Marriage: The fellows finished Christmas dinner.

Camp Irwin, Barstow, California, December 25, 1951. Mr. Irene's Dad—second from left—and his Army buddles have polished off the Christmas turkey.

The Second Day of Christmas

Suburban Chicago, December 24, 1966. Sometimes there are too many choices.


Kaunas, Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, about 1973. Here's another image of my Dad's cousin, Henry, and his beloved Dachshund, "Musytė."

December 25, 2012

Christmas Evening

Verona, Wisconsin, December 25, 2012. I hope your Christmas Day was beautiful.

Hey, thanks for all of your hard work!

Melrose Park, Illinois, December 1964. Vytenis—husband of my Mom's best friend, Donna—thanks Santa Claus for a successful showing at a Lithuanian-School Christmas Pageant.

Another Christmas Line Up

Almost everyone is here!

Suburban Chicago, December 25, 1961. We're in the living room on Christmas Day. From left to right: my Toronto Cousin, her Father Kadis, Kadis's wife (and my Dad's twin sister) Jonė, Jonė's and my Dad's Mother Tatjana, my Mom, my Dad, and I.

I'm wearing that aqua and white suit Mom knitted.

Related by Marriage: What else are you expecting?

Marquette Park, Chicago, Illinois, December 25, 1958. Christmas may be here, but everyone's expecting Mr. Irene's arrival. From left to right: Mr. Irene's Dad, Mr. Irene's maternal Grandfather Stanley, Mr. Irene's Mom, Mr. Irene's maternal Great Aunt Petra, and Mr. Irene's maternal Grandmother, Anna.

Are you playing with your new toys?

Toronto, Ontario, Canada, January 1956. Two similarly dressed sisters join my Toronto Cousin for a play date. You saw this trio earlier here.

Merry Christmas

Suburban Chicago, December 25, 1983. We are grateful for what we have.

December 24, 2012

Christmas Cards: Last Edition

December, 1984. The eleventh in my Dad's series of photographic Christmas cards featured another snowy branch.

This was the last photo greeting Dad produced.

If we're all still around next year, then I will post a series featuring the photo cards that Mr. Irene and I have sent out during the last twenty-four years.

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Empty-Nester Kūčios

My Parents celebrated Kūčios alone in 1983. I lived in Venice that year, and I did not travel home to the States for the holiday. Chicago also experienced a record cold spell during Christmas week, and other family members were not able to spend Kūčios with my Mom and Dad. Many people didn't want to leave their homes for fear that the power would go out and water pipes—especially in homes with hot water heat—would freeze.

Suburban Chicago, December 24, 1983. Mom and Dad start Kūčios by breaking the plotkelės.

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Suburban Chicago, December 24, 1983. Meškė joins Mom and Dad at the Kūčios table.

Christmas Manners: Can we open the gifts now?

Suburban Chicago, December 24, 1964. I look up from the Kūčios table. Mom works on a can of lobster! There's a plotkelė on the dried fruit compote in front of me. Dried fruit compote—no wonder I look miserable.

Keeping close people close at Christmas.

Mariampolis, Lithuania, December 25, 1936. My Mom and her family spend Christmas with her maternal Grandparents. Mom stands in the back row, with her eyes closed. Her friend Joy stands next to Mom, and Joy's father is behind Mom. My maternal Grandmother, Jadzė, is in the front, at the left, wearing the dress with the funky spoke design. Next to Jadzė is Joy's mother, and next to her, Joy's Grandmother.

Here's another photo from the same celebration.

It's Kūčios!

"Kūčios," or Christmas Eve, is the day Lithuanians celebrate Christmas. I first wrote about the holiday here, but if you want to read more about our Christmas Eve traditions, then click on the "Kūčios" label.

Or read this charming reflection by Daiva Markelis, who—like me—is a first-generation Lithuanian raised in the Chicago area.

The Christmas Fish is made, and I am happy with this year's results.

December 23, 2012

Christmas Cards: Tenth Edition

December, 1983. The tenth in my Dad's series of photographic Christmas cards featured a glimpse of the Door County shoreline.

Sledding is not much fun when there are no hills nearby.

Suburban Chicago, December 1961. I am stuck on the flat driveway, wearing my Mickey-Mouse mittens.

Santa Polka writes on its Facebook page: "Bob Dylan must have been inspired by his Lithuanian -Jewish roots when he wrote this holiday polka; Merry Christmas !!"

It's never too late to learn something new.

Door County, Wisconsin, February 1979. My Dad taught Mom how to cross-country ski the same year he taught her how to ride a bicycle. I remember the mid- to late 1970s—when my Parents became "empty nesters"—as truly happy years for them.

Dad wears his beret and one of the many zippered cardigans Mom knitted for him. Mom "frogged" the piece some years after Dad died, and she reknitted the yarn into a lovely sweater for me. I wore it a couple of days ago.

Christmas Manners: Enjoy the tree.

Kaunas, Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, about 1961. My Kaunas Cousin—holding the sympathetic, plastic-faced Soviet bear doll—enjoys the New Year's Tree with her maternal Grandparents, Suzanne and Henry; her Mom, Kaunas Nina; and her Father.

December 22, 2012

Christmas Cards: Ninth Edition

December, 1980. The ninth in my Dad's series of photographic Christmas cards featured Gigi in her red coat, walking along a lane in Liberty Grove township.

Winter Warmth

Door County, Wisconsin, December 1978. Sometimes it's nice to go without television.

No, Irene, there is no Santa Claus.

Melrose Park, Illinois, December 1967. It's time for another Christmas Pageant at our little Lithuanian school.

I was a more eager participant at earlier celebrations. Here, I have figured out the Santa Fake thing, and I don't look enchanted—or nervous—about reciting a Christmas poem.

Check out the Lithuanian straw ornaments. They're made from drinking straws!

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Melrose Park, Illinois, December 1967. Even my folkdancing looks unenthusiastic.

Related by Marriage: Also Served

Near Panevėžys, Lithuania, 1942. Mr. Irene's paternal Great-Uncle, Uncle D—the brother of Mr. Irene's Grandmother Veronica—served in the Lithuanian Army during the years of independence (1918-1944). Many men of his generation had military careers.

Uncle D's uniform is identifiable because it has epaulets, and the Lithuanian coat of arms, the Vytis, is on the cap.

Welcome, Winter

Verona, Wisconsin, December 22, 2012. A blue Christmas needn't be "blue."