January 31, 2012

Related by Marriage: Lab Rat

New Haven, Connecticut, Spring 1984. Mr. Irene works in his graduate-school laboratory.

Happy Feet

Mr. Irene and I used to ballroom dance, way back when:

Madison, Wisconsin, December 12, 1992. Imagine that.

It looks like I've already fallen at least once.

Learning to fall properly is an imporant life lesson.

Downers Grove, Illinois, February 1962. Mom watches me as I learn to cross-country ski.

Cleaning Up

It looks like cabbage buns were on the menu:

Suburban Chicago, December 1961. My paternal Grandmother, Tatjana, and her daughter, my Dad's twin sister Jonė, wash dishes after cooking. Tatjana is holding a milk bottle, freshly rinsed out, that she'll put on the back steps so that the milkman can pick it up in the morning.


Erlangen, Germany, Summer 1947. My Mom stands next to the building in which she and a medical-school classmate rented a room. Her print, wrap dress would pass as fashionable in the 1970s or even today.

January 30, 2012

Related by Marriage: Wisconsin Roadside Tavern

The Godparents of Mr. Irene's Mom owned a Wisconsin tavern.

"Re-elect Dilweg for Congress."

Need a room?

Carter, Wisconsin, Summer 1944. Mr. Irene's Mom, center, stands with her Godparents.

We made it.

Glacier National Park, Montana, July 1972. We've reached our destination, Cracker Lake.

Same-Tam-Same-Year Reunion

Verona, Wisconsin, January 2012. Another tam has landed safely at its new home. This fair-isle tam features the same design as one I recently finished, but I again reworked the colors.

The Culture of Recording Convalescence

In the first half of the twentieth century, children often died. Mr. Irene's maternal Grandparents, Anna and Stanley, lost one child, Baby Jean, when she was an infant, and another child, Benny, when Benny was a young boy.

Death came into people's lives with little warning. A dog bite—like the one Benny suffered—could lead to a fatal infection. Pneumonia was life threatening. My Mom's maternal uncle, Edvardas, died of a ruptured appendix, and so did her paternal Grandfather, Cody Sr.

The expectation of likely death probably prompted people to photograph ill family members. Our albums have many snapshots of relatives in different stages of convalescence—from people resting with the flu to those enduring the last gasps through cancer. It's a genre of snapshots, and it resembles the series of funeral photos that I wrote about earlier.

My Mom fell gravely ill as a young girl. Initially, the doctors were unable to diagnose the ailment. They recommended that she drink large quantities of heavy cream and the nectar squeezed from an aloe vera plant. Later, the same physicians realized that they had misdiagnosed Mom's condition, and they put her on a restricted, no-fat diet.

Kaunas, Lithuania, about 1935. Mom rests. The medications stand on the bedside chair. You've seen a photo of my Mom's childhood bedroom earlier.

What's different here? Not only do Raphael's adorable angels still hang on the screen; now, someone has clipped holy cards featuring the Madonna and Jesus Christ to the screen so that they can watch over the sick child.

Why so Glum?

Forest, Lithuania, about 1938 or 1939. My Dad, on the right with the eye glasses, cooks some food over a campfire. Dad's friend Casey sits in the back, with the curly shock of dark hair.

January 29, 2012

Picnic Dad

This photo may have been my Dad's favorite shot of himself, but this is how many family members remember him, in happier times:

Geneva area, Illinois, June 1967. Dad enjoys a smoke at one of the Lithuanian picnics along the Fox River. This is the photo that has stood, framed, on Mom's bookcase for years. I was delighted to learn recently that this is a favorite snapshot of my Toronto Cousin's eldest son.

Little Monkey

Suburban Chicago, December 1961. I remember that monkey top. Check out the pants: they look like woven, Lithuanian fabric.

Cheek-to-Cheek Reunion

Rockford, Illinois, Autumn 1965. My Mom and her friend enjoy a dance at another basement party.

Amateur Cultural Activities, on a Local Scale

When I reached the seventh grade, I transitioned from the short, girl's Lithuanian folkdress and grew into a pre-teen model. The pre-teen folkdresses were mass produced, and many girls had similar ones, but in different colors. My new folkdress was green and gold; another common color was turquoise.

Suburban Chicago, June 1970. What distinguished the pre-teen folkdress from the adult model was: (1) the lack of variation in the colors; and (2) the cheap quality of the fabrics. The crown of the pre-teen folkdress was nice, and I wore it into adulthood.

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I nonetheless was very excited to have moved to wearing a full-length skirt. When the Lithuanians in our small, suburban enclave reached back into the tradition of staging amateur cultural exhibits, I took the opportunity to wear the new folkdress.

The "Lithuania" exhibit at which I debuted the new folkdress took place at Winston Plaza, the shopping center that was the heart of our suburban community. We bought our groceries at the Jewel, selected 45s at Lorraine's Record Shop, walked across the wood floors of Newberry's, and bought finer clothing at Madigan's. There was also a small JC Penney, A Dutch Mill chocolate shop, and a place that made a mean bucket of Broasted Chicken.

Melrose Park, June 1970. Like most cultural exhibits, this one included a table that displayed traditional weaving, sashes, and woodwork. Winston Plaza organizers tucked the table into the corner of the shopping center—where the doctors' offices were—and under a roof, in case it rained. All of the children from our little Lithuanian School stood behind the table.

After people had had a chance to absorb the lovely folk art, my Lithuanian classmates and I danced some traditional numbers to delight the audience:

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Amateur hour was over. For the second half of the program, the organizers brought in the big guns from Marquette Park—the famous folkdance group, Grandis.

Grandis belted out a spectacular, fast "Suktinis."  Notice that the woman of Grandis wear the adult folkdresses. No two costumes are alike, and within each costume, there are many variations of texture, color, and pattern.

All photos from "Lithuania Day" at Winston Plaza, Melrose Park, Illinois. June 1970.

January 28, 2012

Related by Marriage: Skippy

Mr. Irene grew up with one type of pet: parakeets. There was a succession of parakeets; he named all of them "Skippy." Only one Skippy, however, learned to talk. That was the *blue* Skippy.

Suburban Chicago, January 1971. Mr. Irene, fresh home from classes, is still wearing his grade-school uniform as he greets Skippy. He's standing in the corner of the living room, near the coat closet. Mr. Irene's Mom wrote on this photo, "'Skippy,' your best friend."

Reach Out

When you're feeling blue, reach out to someone who appreciates you.

Brookfield Zoo, February 1970. I connect with a camel. I am wearing my fashionable, faux-fur hat, and I carry my first camera.


Near Havre, Montana, July 1970. Two cowboys wait to cross the road. We were driving home from our vacation in Glacier National Park. Remember "Enco" gas stations?


Schweinfurt, Germany, May 1948. Here are my Parents, on their honeymoon.

A Day to Knit

Saturday afternoon is another good time for knitting. Invite a friend and pull out the needles.

That is what is on my agenda today.

Suburban Chicago, June 1968. My Mom, wearing her beloved moccasins, sits in the corner of the living room with her best friend, Donna. Mom's knitting bag is at her feet. The furniture and wall-to-wall carpet are "protected" with the throw rug and slipcovers.

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Suburban Chicago, June 1968. Both women relax in their "stay-at-home" clothes. My Mom wears a simple gray-and-white cotton shift. Donna is more fashion forward in her knit pedal pushers and her polka-dot shell. Notice that both women work on circular needles.

January 27, 2012

"Kiss My / Grits"

Charleston, South Carolina, November 1989. A sign encourages shoppers to visit the shopping district in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo.

Book Club

What book could this group have been reading?


Door County, Wisconsin, August 1984. My Dad takes in the shoreline near Sand Bay.

Opening Ceremonies

Isarhorn, Germany, August 2, 1948. My Dad—in the foreground, on the left, wearing dark shorts—marches with the Lithuanian scouts in the parade marking the opening of the Scouting Jamboree.

End of the Work Week

Erlangen, Germany, Spring 1947. My Mom, in the center, leaves the Erlangen clinics with two of her medical-school classmates.

General Manners: Never beg.

"Please?!" and other forms of whining rarely work.

Suburban Chicago, Spring 1961. We're in the backyard, on the patio, near the steps leading to the kitchen door. Mom has her pocketbook and sunglasses; I suspect she's on her way to work. I am out to get something, and Mom is completely on to my tactics.

January 26, 2012

Take a dip.

Palanga, Lithuania, August 5, 1939. My Mom, on the right, and her friend walk in the waves of the Baltic Sea.

An Introduction to Žulė

When I moved from Urbana, Illinois, to Columbus, Ohio, to start working at my first job, I bought a dog almost as soon as I had finished settling into my new apartment. That dog was named Žulė, and she was an apricot Miniature Poodle. Eventually, her fur turned almost white.

Žulė defied every Poodle stereotype. She rarely barked, she was extraordinarily confident and independent, and she exhibited no nervous or unnerving habits. I trained her to ride calmly in the car, and by the young age of four months, she could sit quietly throughout a seven-hour trip to Chicago. During our many drives to Chicago, Žulė and I often pulled into an Amoco station in West Layfayette, Indiana. While I freshened up, the gas station attendant who had gotten to know us walked Žulė around the property.

After Mr. Irene and I married ("love me, love my dog"), Žulė brought us much joy. She died just short of her eighteenth birthday.

Columbus, Ohio, November 13, 1986. Žulė, at the age of four months, rests after being groomed for the first time.


Kaunas, Lithuania, between 1941 and 1943. What's on my Mom's mind here? I asked Mom whether this photo dated from the Displaced Persons time or from Lithuania. She immediately recognized the coat and said, "I did not have that coat in Germany."

The Cultural Exhibit

I wrote earlier about the Displaced Persons' measures to preserve their culture here and here. In both posts, I mentioned that my paternal Grandmother, Tatjana, was involved in creating an exhibit (a "paroda") about Lithuanian traditions for the Schweinfurt DP camp.

Here are photographs of that exhibit:

Schweinfurt, Germany, December 1946. The sign at the entry to the exhibit states, "Lithuania, Our Homeland." The area features the "Vytis," the Lithuanian coat of arms, and wooden crosses.

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Schweinfurt, Germany, December 1946. Another area showcased Lithuanian folkdress, weaving, and tablecloths.

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Schweinfurt, Germany, December 1946. The exhibit included some examples of hand sewn garments that blended traditional designs with modern silhouettes.

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Schweinfurt, Germany, December 1946. The organizers devoted an area to "darbai," or "works" of small embroidered objects, like pillows, hankies, and table runners.

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Schweinfurt, Germany, December 1946. Look! There was a display devoted to knitting (and other needle arts). Here, Tatjana stands on the far right with a fellow organizer.

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Schweinfurt, Germany, December 1946. This is part of the display of dolls dressed in national folkdress . Lithuania, a country of about three million people, had different geographic regions. The folkdress of each region was distinct and recognizable.

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Schweinfurt, Germany, December 1946.  Tatjana sits with some of the dolls for which she sewed folkdress costumes.

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Schweinfurt, Germany, December 1946. The exhibit even had an area alerting visitors to the importance of scouting in Lithuanian culture. Here's a miniature scouting camp!

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Schweinfurt, Germany, December 1946. Tatjana and other organizers of the exhibit reflect on their accomplishment. The bespeckled woman holding the doll is almost certainly an UNRRA official; I reach this conclusion because she corresponded with Tatjana in French. The gent in the ascot also looks like a UNRRA appointee. He has medals. Maybe he is a Brit? I don't know the identity of the young woman in folkdress.

January 25, 2012

Why do you post so many photos of yourself when you were dancing?

Because those snapshots make me happy. They bring carefree days back to mind. And I could use a "tira mi sù" now (the real kind; not the dessert).


Tinley Park, Illinois, 1962. I spin out during a picnic in my Godfather's backyard. That's him, shirtless and in shorts, sitting behind me.

Archivio di Stato di Venezia

Venice, Italy, April 1984. My Mom and I—the two figures on the left in raincoats— stand outside the entrance to the Archivio di Stato, where I did research while I lived in Venice. This is what Venice looks like when there are few tourists around. Even the gondolier has time on his hands.

Holy Communion (Part 8)

Ha ha! I bet you didn't think I had any more Holy Communion shots to post.

Toronto, Ontario, May 7, 1961. This is the First Holy Communion of my Toronto Cousin. Her dress looks as plain as mine.

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Thanks to my Toronto Cousin for making this photo available to me.

Revisiting, with Translation

I earlier posted a photo of Elena, the younger sister of my paternal Grandmother, Tatjana. Elena, like Tatjana, was born an aristocrat in Tsarist Russia. After the Russian Revolution, she came to know hardship. Eventually, Elena became an actress; she was typecast to portray an aristocrat.

Recently, my friend, D, translated what Elena had written on the photos she sent to Tatjana.

Here is what Elena wrote about the snapshot in which she is costumed as a lady in Catherine I's court:
 November 6, 1967

To my dear, my own, my sister Tatjana as a keepsake.

Tatjana, I remember our whole childhood. I clearly remember our papa and mama, you, our brothers.
I love you just as I loved you in childhood and youth. 

This photo was taken in the summer of 1967 at a play set in the time of Peter I. I was playing a court lady in the suite of Catherine I.

One of my shoulders is now somewhat higher than the other. This happened after my second rib was broken. My hands are the hands of a woman laborer. These are not the hands of an aristocratic lady. My hands have done a lot of washing, done housework, carried heavy things. It’s a pity that I wasn’t wearing gloves.

Yours with all my heart,
Your Elena

From Russia: imagine triumphing over life's adversities.

I saw this photo of Elena well before I knew what she had written on the back. The image lingered in my memory because Elena's posture here is similar to a pose her sister—my paternal Grandmother, Tatjana—often struck. It's an aristocratic, proud body language that concurrently seems soft and inviting.

Here is what Elena wrote about the photograph: 
To Tatjana, my beloved one, very dear to me, my little older sister. I am always with you in thought.

My son said to me, "Mama, you are always sad."

I replied, "That's how I became after Papa died."

He said, "But you should laugh, smile. I will take your photograph."

So I imagined myself as someone who has triumphed over life's adversities. I straightened up and smiled. My son took the picture.

Russian Soviet Socialist Republic, August 1963. We don't know on which beach Elena stands.

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Thanks again to my dear friend, D, for translating the text from Russian to English.