March 31, 2012

Blueberry Picking

Lake Nipissing, Ontario, Canada, July 1965. My Mom and I pick blueberries along the shore of Lake Nipissing. We encountered no snakes there. It's likely that my Dad anchored our little rented boat so that Mom and I could search for the tasty treasures.

Easter Manners: Bring flowers for the hostess.

Suburban Chicago, April 1962. I carry marigolds. I likely am delivering them to my Godmother.

Dinner Party

Suburban Chicago, December 31, 1963. My Parents host a New Year's Eve dinner. Vytenis, the husband of my Mom's best friend Donna, sits in the front, to my Mom's right.

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Suburban Chicago, December 31, 1963. Mom makes sure the guests have everything they need.

Capture a sunny day.

Seligenstadt, Germany, Spring 1946. My Mom, on the right, and her friend, fellow Displaced Person Angele, enjoy a sunny walk.

March 30, 2012

Bluebird Reunion

I recently posted a 2009 photo of a bluebird to welcome the first day of Spring.

Today, a bluebird landed on the new Redbud:

Verona, Wisconsin, March 2012. This little fellow seems to watch me as I blog.

Easter Manners, Related by Marriage: Find the right hat.

Bridgeport, Chicago, Illinois, Easter Sunday, 1935. Mr. Irene's Mom, on the left, stands on the back porch of her childhood home with her maternal Aunt, the spinster Petra, and her Sister, Mr. Irene's maternal Aunt Martha.

What to do when it rains.

When we traveled to the Rocky Mountains, our family hiked almost every day. Our hiking plans pivoted on the weather forecast. Sometimes, a hike started out with lovely weather, but we'd get caught in rain or snow once we were in higher elevations. On other occasions, the weather started out badly, and we would find alternative ways to amuse ourselves.

During our Rocky Mountain National Park vacation, we did not stay at a place with a swank lodge nearby. So when the weather was bad, we took refuge in our simple cabin instead of in a lush lobby.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, July 1967. This is the central lodge of the ranch at which we stayed. This was a cozy, family-run place with a small common area for the guests.

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Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, July 1967. Here's Mom, sitting next to the gold Buick LeSabre, outside of our cabin.

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Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, July 1967. Mom and I are inside the cabin. It looks like we are writing letters. Ha ha. My Mom hates letter writing. I don't remember the name of the Teddy Bear on the window seat. But he is wearing Madras shorts.

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Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, July 1967. We're in the cabin again. I must be bored because I am blowing up the Elsie-the-Cow balloon that I got at the Green Lake Fourth of July Parade.

The Teddy Bear with the Madras shorts has lost his place of honor to a new member of the family, "Fuzzina." Fuzzina was the birthday gift my Parents bought for me in Colorado that summer. She is a Koala bear, and she was my favorite stuffed animal. Fuzzina had little rubber claws that periodically became detached. My paternal Grandmother used a furrier's needle to sew the claws back onto the paws. (Fuzzina still lives with me.)

Don't hold back that laugh.

Relatives from the Soviet Union sometimes sent photographs in which the subjects seemed naturally preoccupied or serious. This photo breaks from that somber tradition. I like this snapshot because there's a sense that the people want to look composed, but they just can't contain their happiness.

Kaunas, Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, about 1973. Kaunas Nina, sitting, holds dog Ači. Her father, my Dad's cousin Henry, craddles Kasia the cat. Standing are Henry's wife, Suzanne, and Kaunas Cousin.

Thanks to Kaunas Cousin for making this photo available to me.

"In My Beloved Garden"

Those are the only words Natasha, the younger sister of my paternal Grandmother, Tatjana, wrote on the back of this photo:

Penza, Russian Soviet Socialist Republic, Summer 1958. The composition here reminds me of this photo and this one.

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

March 29, 2012

Related by Marriage: Two Brothers

Post-War Germany, March 26, 1949. Mr. Irene's Dad, on the right, poses with his brother, Ignas. The two young men still were Displaced Persons. They sat for this photo three months before Mr. Irene's Dad emigrated to the United States.

This snapshot presents another example of how stylish the DPs were, despite the circumstances.

Redbud Reunion

Welcome back.

Verona, Wisconsin, May 2011. A Goldfinch lands on the new Redbud. This year, the tree is blooming about six weeks earlier than normal. And the birds are back.

Easter Manners: Be polite when you are assigned to the children's table.

Suburban Chicago, April 1962. I am happy because there are Lithuanian sausages and "50/50" on the table. Do you like my jewelry?

(I am eating Lithuanian sausage.)

A Key Friend

My Dad's twin sister, Jonė, emigrated to Canada in 1947. She, like many other DPs, first worked in Canada as a "domestic." Jonė took a job in Quebec.

Probably Quebec, Canada, around 1948. Here are three Eastern European DPs. All have arrived in Canada on the condition that they work as domestics. On the far right stands my Dad's twin sister, Jonė. In the middle is the good friend who introduced Jonė to her husband, Kadis.

An Occupied Army

The first Soviet occupation of Lithuania during World War II began in June 1940 with the arrival of Red Army troops and the establishment of Soviet military bases in the country. This was a tense time during which Lithuanian citizens understood that their freedom was evaporating, but the impression of autonomy remained. One of the concessions Lithuania received from the Soviet Union for its "cooperation" was the return of the historic capital, Vilnius, to Lithuanian territory. An expression from that time, "Vilnius mūsų, o mes Rūsų" ("Vilnius belongs to us, and we belong to the Russians"), clarified that people digested the reality of the situation.

The Soviets conducted staged elections that June to secure public approval for the terms of cooperation. There was only one way to vote on the ballot. If workers failed to vote, then they lost their jobs; if school children didn't show up at pro-Soviet rallies, carrying red carnations, then the schools expelled them. Authorities required each home to have a "Red Corner," or a pro-Soviet shrine. The corner was to feature a portrait of Josef Stalin, a copy of the Communist Manifesto, and some red items to honor the Soviet Union.

Lithuanians engaged in subtle resistance. They stopped wearing red clothing. My Mom recalls dumping a pair of favorite red shoes. Red flowers were out. New phrases slipped into the language. For example, if there was an area of a room that was unkempt, cluttered, chaotic, or otherwise disorderly, people referred to it as the "raudonas kampelis" ("little Red Corner"). The phrase lives on today in our household.

During the three months that followed, the Soviet Union initially absorbed the independent Lithuanian army into its own troops and permitted senior officers to serve under Russian colors. Both my maternal Grandfather, Jake, and my paternal Grandfather, Vytautas, changed uniforms. The epaulets of the Lithuanian uniform disappeared, and the collar insignias with the "Gedinimo Stulpai" vanished.

Kaunas, Lithuania, Summer 1941. My paternal Grandfather, Vytautas, poses in the Soviet uniform.
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Kaunas, Lithuania, Summer 1941. My maternal Grandfather, Jake, poses in the Soviet uniform.
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The façade of cooperation lasted until August 1940, when the Soviets occupied Lithuania. The other Baltic States fell within days.
Members of the former Lithuanian army now lost their jobs. Many officers—and ordinary citizens— were executed or deported to Siberia. Jake's and Vytautas's names were on the second of the "deportation lists." Both men and their families listened at night as trucks pulled up to houses and Soviet soldiers quietly knocked on doors. My Mom, who took a job tutoring two (mischievous) school girls while her father, Jake, was unemployed, did not know whether she would find Jake at home when she returned from work. Jake and Vytautas escaped Siberian deportation only because another occupying army, that of Nazi Germany, expelled the Soviets from Lithuania before the "deportation lists" had been fulfilled.

March 28, 2012

Related by Marriage: The Young Women, Back Home

Southwestern Lithuania, around 1912. These are the sisters and cousins of Mr. Irene's maternal Grandmother, Anna. Anna's sister Emily, sits on the right, and sister Marta stands on the far right.  The staging of this snapshot—and especially the positioning of woven tableclothes as backdrops—suggest it was taken the same day as this photo of the immediate family.


Schweinfurt, Germany, 1948. My Dad, standing on the far right, joins leaders from the other Lithuanian scouting branches in the DP camp. Dad had fond memories of his scouting days.

Easter Manners: Dress properly when you go to Easter Mass.

We *did* go to church on Easter Sunday:

Suburban Chicago, April 1962. My Dad and Mom are ready to go to church on Easter Sunday. Mom is wearing the mink stole with the dangling paws.

Reeds Reunion

My Dad was very fond of his older cousins, the brothers Vytas and Henry.

Kaunas, Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, about 1973. This is a later image of Vytas as he stands on the banks of the Nemunas River.

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

Union Pier

Union Pier, Michigan is a short drive from Chicago. Its sandy dunes attracted Chicagoans for many summers. The area underwent a slump in the late 1950s. Beginning in the 1960s, Lithuanian DPs played an important role in the area's revival.

Lithuanians living in Chicago found the Union Pier beaches resembled the white sands of Palanga. The dunes reminded the DPs of better times back in the homeland. Union Pier was to Lithuanian immigrants what the Catskills were to Jewish immigrants.

My Parents had friends who owned cottages—or multiple complexes of cottages—in Union Pier. These were small, unpretentious places; some did not have indoor plumbing. Nonetheless, it was a thrill to visit a cottage, change into a swimsuit, and be in the waters of Lake Michigan. Mr. Irene remembers staying at a Lithuanian resort at Union Pier. Guests at the resort ate family-style meals of Koldūnai, Cabbage Rolls, Kugelis, Cepelinai, and Zrazai. There was a bakery to which visitors could walk on weekend mornings to buy hot, fresh bacon buns. Mr. Irene also recalls that on Sundays, his Dad took him to a corner shop to buy a comic book.

My Parents favored Wisconsin over Union Pier. A couple of factors played into that preference. First, Dad did not like driving through Gary, Indiana. The pollution generated by the steel mills in northeastern Indiana was horrific, and in the pre-air-conditioned car days, the trip could be miserable. Dad wanted the drive to be as pleasant as the destination. Second, I suspect Dad rejected Union Pier for the same reasons he vetoed living in Marquette Park. He found Union Pier heavy with "DP camp culture." Dad was something of a loner, and he shunned situations in which group think prevailed.

Today, Union Pier, like many Lake Michigan shore towns, has been gentrified. It nonetheless retains strong Lithuanian ties. One of the best Midwestern Lithuanian food market is in Union Pier, and Lithuanian artists often exhibit their work in Union Pier. The town still has a number of lovely Lithuanian resorts.

I remember good times in Union Pier.

Union Pier, Michigan, August 1962. I am in the foreground, on the far left, with a friend. You get a sense from this shot of how close the cottages were to the dunes.

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Union Pier, Michigan, August 1962. I enjoyed Lake Michigan because it seemed like an ocean.

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Union Pier, Michigan, August 1962. My friend and I collect beach treasures.

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Union Pier, Michigan, August 1962. I've had enough of the water.

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Union Pier, Michigan, August 1964. It's time to enjoy the sand.

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Union Pier, Michigan, August 1962. My Mom keeps a close eye on everyone.

March 27, 2012

Kryžių Kalnas

The " Kryžių Kalnas," or "Hill of Crosses" is a Lithuanian pilgrimage destination. Although the site had historical importance for several centuries, it evolved as a symbol of resistance to the Soviet occupation beginning in the 1940s.

Author Daiva Markelis explains, "During the Soviet occupation, inhabitants of the nearby town would erect crosses at night, only to have them taken down during the day by the KGB. For every cross destroyed during the day, two would appear at night."

Šiauliai, Lithuania, June 2010. The Kryžių Kalnas remains a significant destination for native and tourist Lithuanians alike.

Thanks to Daiva Markelis for making this photo available to me.

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Šiauliai, Lithuania, August 2011. My Toronto Cousin, on the right, and her daughter approach the Kryžių Kalnas.
Thanks to my Toronto Cousin for making this photo available to me.


Lake Nipissing, Ontario, Canada, July 1965. I'm fishing with my beloved bamboo pole and a bobber. While I fish, I also read a comic book.

A Lot to Absorb

The photo of my Dad as a refugee reminded me of a shot of my Mom taken at about the same time.

In this photo, my Mom is a new refugee. She is dressed in the same coat that she wore in happier times in Lithuania. Mom also wears a black arm band because her Mother, Jadzė, had just died.  Jadzė passed away shortly before Mom fled Lithuania.

Mom believes that had Jadzė been alive in the summer of 1944, during the second Soviet occupation, then the family would never have left the country. Jadzė was very attached to the house that she and Jake built. Mom thinks Jadzė never would have left that home behind.

Unknown location, Germany, Autumn 1944. What lies ahead?

Shadow Play on a Birthday

Someone took this photograph of my Dad on his birthday, in November 1944. At this point, Dad would have been a refugee. Most DPs left Lithuania late in July 1944.

Unknown location, November 1944. It may have been my Dad's idea to capture this "shadow shot."

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

The Sporting Life

Sports were among the cultural activities that bonded Lithuanian nationals in the DP camps. The DPs often staged basketball games and volleyball matches with Lithuanians from other camps. The Lithuanian DPs also waged athletic rivalries with other nationals housed in nearby DP camps.

Schweinfurt, Germany, about 1946. I don't know the sport in which this group was about to engage. It is unusual, though, because it is a team made up of both genders. Maybe it was a race?

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

March 26, 2012

Photo Break, While Hiking

Glacier National Park, Montana, July 1972. My Parents and I rest during a hike. My Dad must have asked a passing hiker to take this photo of the three of us.

Related by Marriage: Cowboy Phase

Suburban Chicago, March 1963. Mr. Irene's Mom correctly decides that Mr. Irene will be more complacent during a visit with the relatives if he's allowed to wear his cowboy hat.

Shopping in Salzburg

My favorite stop during our 1971 European vacation was Salzburg. I fell in love with the city not only because of its immediate connection to The Sound of Music. I also found Salzburg enchanting because of its walkable size and its friendly atmosphere.

Salzburg, Austria, July 1971. Doesn't it seem like Mozart is just around the corner?

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Salzburg, Austria, July 1971. Ah, here are a couple of 1970s maxi dresses on the prowl. The women look like they are on their way to an event. Mom and I lean against a shop window. I very much wanted to buy an Austrian dirndl at one of the folksy boutiques, but my Parents correctly concluded that the getup would not translate well in Suburban Chicago. (The dress I wear in the photo is a home sewn, polyester imitation of a dirndl.)

Years later, when I lived in Venice, Italy, I partially satisfied this taste for Bavarian fashion when I purchased a unisex loden coat. (I love it and still wear it today.)

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Salzburg, Austria, July 1971. The view of the magnificent castle.


Many old photos that we have are passport pictures and identification snapshots. This image of Zigmas, the younger brother of my maternal Grandfather, Jake, likely was taken for his work at the "Spaudos Fondas," or Press Foundation.

Pre-war Lithuanians, like most Europeans, carried "national identity," or internal, passports. Zigmas alternatively may have had the photo taken for such an internal passport.

Kaunas, Lithuania, about 1930. Zigmas always looks happy.

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

Office Party

My Mom's first job in the United States was as a lab technician at Wyckoff Heights Hospital. Her diploma had not yet arrived from Erlangen, and hospital administrators did not believe that Mom was a medical-school graduate.

These were not especially happy times for Mom because some folks thought she was being pretentious when she said she was a physician. How, after all, could a woman be a doctor? Mom also had a bumpy road at this time because she was still learning the English language, and many slang phrases and nuances flew over her head.

Wyckoff Heights Hospital, Brooklyn, New York, 1950. My Mom, on the far left, tries to muster up a toast with her colleagues in the laboratory.

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Wyckoff Heights Hospital, Brooklyn, New York, 1950. I don't know what was the occasion for the party, but it certainly looks like the male is in charge of this coop.

March 25, 2012

Window Seat

Zarasai, Lithuania, 1939. My Dad's twin sister, Jonė, has found her spot. The family must have been vacationing in the resort town; there is a photo of my Dad also taken in Zarasai that summer.

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

Easter Manners: Appreciate the art of the egg.

Lithuania, like many Eastern European countries, has a deep tradition of decorating exquisite Easter Eggs. The eggs are called "Margučiai." Typically, a person first colors the eggs using natural dyes and bee's wax. Perhaps the most primal way to dye the eggs is to color them in a broth steeped from onion skins.

When I was growing up in Suburban Chicago, struggling to blend in with the American kids, I had no interest in learning how to produce these beautiful eggs. This was somewhat unusual because I generally found all crafts quite entertaining.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for Margučiai, my Dad tried to preserve the Easter custom. Dad wasn't very good at using bee's wax on the onion-skin dyed eggs, so he instead carved designs onto the colored shells with a pen knife.

Dad created one egg for me each Easter. He inscribed the egg with date, year, and the words "Linskmų Šv. Velykų" ("Happy Holy Easter"). By the time I was in my later twenties, I had a collection of over sixteen or so of these eggs.

Not long after my Dad died, burglars broke into my childhood home. While rummaging through my room, they found a couple of egg cartons containing the eggs that Dad had decorated. The burglars must have thought that the eggs were hiding places for jewelry or money. They threw the eggs, one by one, onto the wooden floor next to my bed.

They found nothing. But one egg did survive the break-in:

Verona, Wisconsin, March 2012. Here's the egg, from 1981, that made it through the burglary.

Sunday Tea for the DPs

Seligenstadt, Germany, about 1946. My Mom, on the left, shares tea with fellow Displaced Persons.

A Sunday Spring Visit to the Zoo, in Three Takes

Put on your spring coat and get out there!

Brookfield Zoo, April 1964. I stand near the fountain, a central landmark of the zoo.

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Brookfield Zoo, April 1964. When I am thirsty, I grab a 7-Up. I have a cat brooch on my collar.

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Brookfield Zoo, April 1964. When I get tired, my Dad indulges me with a ride on the zoo train.

Another View of the Cadet

Here is my paternal Grandfather, Vytautas, while he still was a cadet in the Russian Imperial Army:

Imperial Russia, about 1914 or 1915. The year of this identification photo falls somewhere between the dates of the two photos posted here.

This photo is new to me. Thanks to my Toronto Cousin for making it available to me.