November 30, 2011

Go ahead and play, but I'll hold onto the toy rifle.

Suburban Chicago, 1955. My Mom, on the left, chats with a friend while she watches the children play in the park.

I love you *this* much.

We're celebrating a special birthday today.

Suburban Chicago, Spring 1963. Hugs to you.

Napoleons, Two Ways

Napoleon Bonaparte lingered in Lithuania during his Russian campaign.

Lithuanians claim that a chef created a "Napoleon Torte" ("Napoleonas") to honor the French general upon his arrival. Napoleonas consists of about twelve sheets of paper-thin puff pastry, held together with a rich, vanilla buttercream and a few layers of apricot jam. We cover the torte with buttercream and sprinkle the top and sides with crumbled puff pastry—that is, with the puff pastry layer that fell apart.

Legend maintains that when the French returned home, they asked Parisian pastry chefs to reproduce the Lithuanian delicacy. No one succeeded at making the torte in its original, complicated form. As a result, the French settled on a streamlined version. Today, French Napoleon pastries still consist of about four layers of puff pastry filled with a simple pastry crème.

We like Napoleonas in any form, Lithuanian or French.

Here is my Lithuanian Napoleonas:

Door County, Wisconsin, August 2000. No, this isn't 2011-fresh Napoleonas. This is an old photo for the old photo blog.

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In the Lithuanian city of Kaunas, the citizens also renamed a mound the "Napoleon Hill" because Napoleon stood on it as he watched the French Army cross the Nemunas River.

Napoleon's Hill, Kaunas, Lithuania, 1934. My Mom and my maternal Grandmother, Jadzė, sit in the park on Napoleon's Hill.

UPDATE: Look at my Mom's and Jadzė's hands and feet. Does this this mom-mimickery look familiar?

Can you give me a lift?

A boy gets the attention he deserves from the older, paternal cousins:

Kaunas, Lithuania, about 1932. My Dad gets carried away by Vytas (on the left) and Henry.

Bear Grass

Glacier National Park, Montana, July 1966. Mom captures Dad and me on a trail while we hike.

November 29, 2011

Related by Marriage: The Wedding Rings

I mentioned—I think twice before—that Mr. Irene and I exchanged our Grandparents' bands as our wedding rings. I've already introduced my maternal Grandfather, Jake. He's the person whose ring Mr. Irene wears.

These are Mr. Irene's maternal Grandparents, Anna and Stanley, on their wedding day. Anna and Stanley each emigrated from Lithuania as teenagers. They met and married in Chicago. Their wedding took place at the first Lithuanian parish in the city, St. George's.

Lithuanians divide their immigration histories into three waves ("bangos"). Mr. Irene's maternal Grandparents emigrated to the United States during the "first wave," that is, during the early part of the twentieth century. The "second wave" rolled in when the Displaced Persons—my Parents and Mr. Irene's Dad—sailed over. The "third wave" arrived after 1991, when Lithuania secured its independence from the Soviet Union, and people again could come and go out of the country unfettered by restrictions.

Mr. Irene's maternal Grandparents are the type of folk about whom Upton Sinclair wrote in The Jungle. These were the Lithuanian immigrants who worked in the Chicago stockyards, who owned the butcher shops, who populated the South Side, and whose identity pivoted around the Roman Catholic parishes to which they belonged.

Mr. Irene and I had no idea that we had scheduled our wedding on the same calendar date as the anniversary of his maternal Grandparents. My wedding band therefore has one date—and two different years—inscribed in it.

St. George's Parish, Bridgeport, Chicago, June 1917. Mr. Irene's maternal Grandparents, Anna and Stanley, pose for an elaborate wedding portrait.

Check out the bridal bouquet!

A School Play

My Dad sometimes pulled this photograph out as evidence that he and my Mom were once children. I used to be amazed by it because I couldn't imagine that my Parents ever were that young.

I don't know what play the children were staging here. But it's a happy scene, and the teacher—on the right, in the 1920s-style head scarf—seems to have everyone under control.

Let the sun shine in!

Kaunas, Lithuania, about 1928. My Dad sits in the front row. He's the second boy, from the left, wearing the beak mask that covers his face. My Mom is in the penultimate row, in the center, with her hands forming the "M" over her head.

The bearded elves in the front row are saluting the photographer, and the fairies have their arms outstretched. Could this have been a reenactment of some Lithuanian pagan myth?


Faces light up when they absorb admiration.

Birštonas, Lithuania, 1933. The family walks across a bridge in the spa town. My Mom's maternal Aunt, Dora, stands to the far left, with two admirers behind her. My Mom, with bowed braids, balances a walking stick. My maternal Grandmother, Jadzė, is next to Mom, and my maternal Grandfather Jake, smokes on the right.

I have Dora's cheek dimple.

Holy Communion (Part 2)

My Dad's twin sister, Jonė, celebrated her First Communion in the spring:

Kaunas, Lithuania, about 1932. Jonė's family commemorated her First Communion not with a formal portrait, but rather with a photograph staged among the Irises.

November 28, 2011

Come on in!

Welcome, new readers. If you haven't visited here before today, then stay and poke around. This blog is about old photos and history. I talk about the experiences of family members in pre-war Lithuania, their times as Displaced Persons, and their lives as immigrants in the United States.

I also talk about myself.

Suburban Chicago, Spring 1963. The back steps down from the kitchen again serve as a ramp for the clever diva. I'm wearing an "evening gown" fashioned from a slip that belonged to my paternal Grandmother, Tatjana.

Returning Home from Work

If you're just returning home from work, then I hope you had a good Monday.

Suburban Chicago, Summer 1957. My Dad catches my Mom as she exits the car upon her arrival home from the office. How do I know that she's coming from, not going to, work? The sun is shining on her from the west.

Shades of Gray

The death of Svetlana Alliluyeva prompted me to think again about the Stalinist era and how it resonated through my family's layers.

My Mom's maternal Aunt, Dora, for example, stayed behind in Lithuania after my Mom and my maternal Grandfather, Jake, fled in 1944.

Although the bewitching Dora naturally aged during the years of Soviet occupation, later photos of her also reflect a profound sadness. She looked preoccupied even when she shared a happy moment.

Kaunas, Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, April 1956. This is Dora's passport photo. "Passport" is a misnomer: the Soviets restricted foreign travel. It's better called a "National ID" because one couldn't move about anywhere in the city or country—let alone ride a bus—without it.


Children play whether it's war time or not. A bombed backdrop doesn't lessen the joys of a game of soccer or a scooter ride.

Schweinfurt, Germany, 1945. This is the city in which my Dad spent most of his time as a DP.

Death of the "Little Princess"

Svetlana Alliluyeva has died.

UPDATE: There's more here about Alliluyeva's connections to Wisconsin.

November 27, 2011

A New Path

In 1980, I enrolled in a graduate program in the History Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I studied there for six years. It was during that interval that I also moved to Venice, Italy, to gather research at the archives for my dissertation.

When I arrived at Illinois, I feared that I would be overwhelmed by the demands and expectations. I'd never worked as hard as I did there.

I had a great time!

Wright Street, Urbana (on the left) and Champaign (on the right), Illinois, June 1983. I took this photo at about the time when I was studying for prelims.

Sunday Walk: Afternoon Edition

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan, July 1961. I head out with Mom for a Sunday stroll. Our vacation rental cottage stands in the background. Mom carries a saucepan in which I can place the treasures that I collect along the way.

End-of-Gun-Deer-Season Reunion

The gun-deer season ends today. We're happy that most of the deer in our neighborhood appear to have made it through another November. I know, they're pests, but I am always excited to see them.

Verona, Wisconsin, March, 2007. The White-Tail family reunites in the yard for a happy greeting.

UPDATE: Welcome Althouse readers. Ha Ha! I always wanted to say that.

Holy Communion (Part 1)

I'm very interested in how people process rituals.

Our photo collection includes a number of images of female relatives on the occasion of the First Communion. I'll post the photos, over time, as a short series. See what you think they say about how we commemorate passages.

Kaunas, Lithuania, about 1934. Mom strikes a pious pose on the occasion of her First Communion.

Let's walk around the campus and take pictures.

Erlangen, Germany, 1946. My Mom, on the left, and her medical-school roommate walk on the grounds of the University of Erlangen campus. Behind the women stand the buildings that housed the medical-school clinics.

November 26, 2011

Staging-the-Holiday-Card Reunion

Verona, Wisconsin, November 2011. Baci and Rex sit for the turkey bait while Poppy lies down and steals the scene.

When will you teach me to knit (1961)?

The 1961 Rec Room featured a coat of hospital-green paint and an avocado-green, tile floor. My Parents remodeled the room the following year. A carpenter covered the walls with cherry paneling; a gold, wool, wall-to-wall carpet went over the tile; and the back wall got built-in bookcases and a long, lower storage cabinet with a formica countertop.

I got into some trouble shortly after the room was newly decorated: I spilled Welch's Grape Juice on the carpeting. Back then, there was no such thing as "White" Grape Juice.

Suburban Chicago, October 1961. We sit in the pre-redecorating Rec Room. I work at my play table while Mom knits on the sofa. There's one unusual thing here: she's using straight needles. Usually, she knitted (and knits) on circulars.  I have a tea service ready to greet unexpected guests; the aluminum coffee pot is on standby, too. The "White" brand sewing machine that belonged to my paternal Grandmother, Tatjana, stands at the back of the room.

Photographing the Photographer

Someone captured my Dad taking a picture of the German Shepherd. You've seen this dog before.

Rockford, Illinois, Summer 1957. My Parents visit with their friends. My Dad is on the far left, focusing. My Mom sits on the steps, to the right of one of the homeowners. The friends must have just moved into the house because there is no sod yet on the lawn.

Life in America is good.

Here's another group that looks like it's primed for a Hampton-style, sportswear photo shoot.

These immigrants preserved their heritage while seamlessly assimilating into the updated culture of their new homeland.

All American? These folks are visiting Coney Island?!! This is my Dad's paternal aunt, Victoria, with her two adult daughters.

Victoria had an especially close relationship with her sister-in-law, my paternal Grandmother, Tatjana. I'll have more to say about that later.

Coney Island Beach, New York, 1952. Victoria—the sister of my paternal Grandfather, Vytautas—and her daughters enjoy a crisp visit to the beach.

Rainy, but Mild

That's today's forecast.

Suburban Chicago, October 1962. I show my babysitter the way home.

November 25, 2011

Kitten One

There are few photographs of me holding kittens or cats. As a child, I loved all animals, but I've always favored dogs.

This kitten was special because she belonged to friends of my Parents who lived in an outlying suburb of Chicago. Their home sat on a five-acre lot, and the property was quasi-rural. They had many kittens and cats. They also had a white German Shepherd dog. Best of all, they owned a horse.

I loved going to that place and playing with their daughter. Sometimes, when my Parents dropped me off for a day visit during the winter, I often hoped that it would snow so that I'd be "stranded" there and would have to do a sleep over.

Today, of course, that "outlying suburb" in which they lived is in the middle of an urban area.

Suburban Chicago, 1963. I absorb the greatness of spending an afternoon with a baby animal.

Today felt like a Sunday, even though it was Friday.

Brookfield Zoo, November 1961. Dad's lens captures an image of the back of my head as I enjoy the Dolphin Show.

Sunny Skies in Troubled Times

Kaunas, Lithuania, 1942 or 1943. Medical students at Vytautas Magnus University enjoy the weather. My Mom, in a striped cardigan, stands just left of center in the middle of the group.

UPDATE: Mr. Irene observed that this photo is quite similar to the one I posted earlier from the same era. He wondered whether the two photos weren't taken on the same day.

It's possible, but the fact that my Mom is wearing the same outfit is no clue. People owned fewer items of clothing then, and it's likely that Mom just wore the same thing on two different days. Besides, the weather looks colder in this photo. Here, people are wearing outer coats.

Not the Usual 1970s Protesters

Late in November 1970, a Lithuanian crewmember aboard a Soviet fishing vessel sought exile with the U.S. Coast Guard. The Soviet ship had anchored near Martha's Vineyard. Rear Admiral William B. Ellis ordered the Americans to return Simas Kudirka to the Soviets.

An international tangle flared, and Chicago Lithuanians—joined by other immigrants from countries absorbed by the Soviet Union—marched on (what is now) Daley Plaza to protest the State Department's mishandling of the incident.

My Dad attended and photographed the rally:

Chicago Loop, December, 1970. An older crowd gathers to protest the return of Kudirka.

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Chicago Loop, December 1970. "Only Dogs are Born Free in Russia." Playing at the movies: The Sand Pebbles, starring Steve McQueen.

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Chicago Loop, December 1970. Papier-mâché Russian Bear head.

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Chicago Loop, December 1970. Ha ha.

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Alan Arkin later starred in a made-for-TV-movie about Kudirka.

UPDATE: Stylish protesters, no?

Happy Birthday to Tatjana.

My paternal Grandmother, Tatjana, was born one hundred and fourteen years ago today. She died not long after her seventy-fifth birthday.

I have a special attachment to Tatjana because she and I shared a bedroom when I lived in Suburban Chicago. She also died from ovarian cancer. That's the disease that's been undulating through my world for the last three years.

This was Tatjana's favorite photo of herself. She hung it on our bedroom wall, above her bed, next to the photo of the twins.

Every portrait of Tatjana speaks to me about her experiences. But it was this one that first sparked the feeling that she was looking at me.

Kaunas, Lithuania, about 1939. Tatjana casts her melancholy eyes for a formal portrait.

November 24, 2011

Take-a-Nap Reunion

Monona, Wisconsin, November 2009. If you ate too many starchy foods today, then take a nap.

Unseasonably Warm

Today, on this Thanksgiving, it was mild enough to go outside with just a hand-knitted cardigan.

Suburban Chicago, 1961. I gingerly check out the neighborhood.

We remember family and friends on Thanksgiving.

Kaunas, Lithuania, about 1937. Here's my Dad, on the left, with his friend Casey, about whom I've written a few times. 
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Kaunas, Lithuania, about 1938. And here's my Dad's twin sister Jonė, also on the left, visiting on some steps with a friend.

The Dinosaur Stage

I've always enjoyed hobbies. A good hobby redirects me from my troubles and lets me concentrate on something engaging.

As a child, I had a short-lived hobby focused on learning about dinosaurs.

People who grew up in Suburban Chicago during the late 1950s and early 1960s may remember that the Jewel Food Store once offered a a dinosaur stamp promotion. Parents got a certain number of stamps for the dollars they spent at the grocery store. Children received a dinosaur album with spaces for pasting in the stamps; the idea was to collect all of the available stamps to fill up the entire album. That meant children encouraged parents to go to the Jewel often, and parents felt compelled to spend lots of money there.

I filled up my dinosaur album.

I still have the album, stashed in a basement box. I'll look for it later and snap a photo of it.

Today I knit. And I spend money at yarn stores.

Suburban Chicago, October, 1961. I sit in the Rec Room and admire my dinosaur album. Behind me, on the left, sits the doll from Poland that came out on special occasions. On the right is my plastic horse. My favorite toy—an aluminum coffee pot—balances on the armrest.

Giving Thanks

"Why is everyone so sad in this photo?" That's what I asked my Mom when I saw this tiny print.

This is the photo taken as my Mom and my maternal Grandfather, Jake, prepared to flee Lithuania. Surrounding them are more distant relatives; some of them got out, others did not.

Behind this group stands the train that transported refugees from Lithuania on a two-week trip to freedom. My Mom and Jake road in one of the cattle cars that is visible behind them. Food was scarce during the trip. The refugees jumped off the train during its periodic stops, and they searched fields adjacent to the tracks for potatoes and cabbage.

Like most people who left Lithuania, Mom and Jake thought they would return in a few weeks. No one believed the Soviet invasion would mushroom into a permanent occupation.

On Thanksgiving Day, I am grateful Mom and my Dad made it out. I am happy to have arrived at the happier stage of their "journey." After all, I would not have been a compliant citizen in the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic!

Tauragė, Lithuania, July 31, 1944. My Mom, in the print dress, stand with her father Jake—wearing the cap, in the back row—and Jake's cousins as they board the refugee train. My Mom wrote on the back of this snapshot, "The last hours in Lithuania."

UPDATE (1): This photo was taken a few weeks later, when Mom and Jake emerged from the train. Mom is walking with a few of the other Lithuanians who traveled with her. She's wearing the same dress as the one she had on when she departed.

UPDATE (2): My Mom just added a correction here. The city from which the train departed was Tauragė, not Kaunas. I've updated the location in the photo description and in the tags.

November 23, 2011

Letter Writing

My paternal Grandmother, Tatjana, was a wonderful letter writer. Here, she sits at the mahagony desk in my Parents' bedroom. On the far side of the desk sits my Dad's pipe rack. A wooden holder displays his fountain pens.

Suburban Chicago, December, 1963. That must be some letter she's writing! Perhaps she's penning a correspondence to one of her sisters, Elena or Natasha, who lives in the Soviet Union.

What's so funny?

Mom doesn't remember what she and her medical-school classmates found funny here. The students were exiting the clinics at Vytautas Magnus University.

After the Russians occupied Lithuania in 1944, my Mom and her Dad, Jake, fled the country. Mom resumed her studies after World War II at the University of Erlangen in the American-occupied zone of post-war Germany.

Stripes must have been the fashion for women that season:

Kaunas, Lithuania, 1942 or 1943. Here's another group of college kids that looks as good as every generation of young people. My Mom is the second from right.

Twins, with a Cousin

The older children have learned that it's not customary to look at the camera.

Kaunas, Lithuania, about 1934. The youngest cousin of my Dad and Jonė sits between the twins.

Learning More

If you want to learn more about the history of Displaced Persons, then read Mark Wyman's book, DPs: Europe's Displaced Persons, 1945-1951.

To get a picture of how people who fled the Baltic states coped, check out Agate Nesaule's remembrance, A Woman in Amber: Healing the Trauma of War and Exile, or her fictional work, In Love with Jerzy Kosinski: A Novel.

The exceptional documentary, Red Terror on the Amber Coast, chronicles the occupation of the Baltic States by the Soviet Union.

You also may find this personal account of exile moving.

November 22, 2011

Getting Ready for Thanksgiving

Baci and Poppy helped with the preparation of the Cranberry and Pear Chutney.

Verona, Wisconsin, November 2011. Baci and Poppy offer an action shot. Rex stays in a safe place.

College Tour!

Before my Mom decided to study medicine at the University of Erlangen, she traveled to other campuses to consider alternative programs.

One of the places Mom visited was Würzburg.

Würzburg, Germany, February 2, 1946. A friend and my Mom arrive to tour the medical-school campus.

Mom chose the University of Erlangen because of its reputation as a school that offered a rigorous and exceptional clinical program. Erlangen was also the institution to which the best faculty members migrated after World War II because its campus suffered less damage from bombing than other universities.

Würzburg, Germany, February 2, 1946. Würzburg was a lovely city to visit.

Remembering the Date for Another Reason

I made note today of the date because it is the birthday of my Dad and his twin Sister, Jonė.

Today also is the anniversary of the assassination of JFK.

JFK flew to Chicago in March, 1963 to speak at the dedication of O'Hare International Airport. My Dad took us to see JFK speak at that ceremony, and he snapped some photos.

Chicago, O'Hare International Airport, March 1963. JFK addresses the crowd. The other men—including Mayor Daley—have adopted JFK's hatless style. JFK is without an overcoat. The women flash some fur.

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Chicago, O'Hare International Airport, March 1963. I carry my souvenir flag as we walk back to the car in the parking lot.

It's becoming too cold to play outside.

Campus of the Lithuanian Army War College, Kaunas, Lithuania, 1931. My Mom—on the far left, wearing a beret—plays in a sandy area. My maternal Grandmother, Jadzė, stands on the far right, chatting with two friends.

The woman in the middle is the same friend who appeared in this photo.

Happy Birthday to the Twins.

Today is the birthday of my Dad and his twin sister, Jonė.

Dad taught me that animals help us understand people better. Jonė showed how an appreciation of childhood makes us richer adults.

They were tied to each other, and they are tied to me.

Schweinfurt, Germany, about 1948. This was the portrait Dad used for his immigration application.
Kaunas Lithuania, about 1939. This is Jonė's high-school graduation portrait. She's wearing a uniform similar to the one my Mom had.

November 21, 2011

Hang on!

For me, there were few things better than a pony ride.

Suburban Chicago, September 1962. It doesn't get better than this. I take a spin on a pony at Kiddieland. I wear one of the sweaters Mom knitted for me. It was a navy-blue cardigan.