Monday, August 22, 2005

Green Acres is the place to be!!

Soon we are kissing and hugging good-byes with Rasa and Vaidas as Jurante (Your Ront A), Mindaugas, their baby Mykolas, Jurante’s mother: Rima and their German Shepard: Grantas pull up in their van to take us to the country. We pile comfortably into the van and begin to head out for the nearly two hour trip to a small country town that we can not recall the name of. Lisa is tickled by the German Shepard who quickly becomes her friend as does Mykolas – soon both are taking turns in her lap!

Jurante and her husband Mindaugas are close to our age. Jurante has a very good grasp of the English language and we are able to communicate with everyone on the trip there. Jurante is very attractive, blond hair, blue eyes and trim, she is nearly the same size and shape of Lisa. If you know the actress Tea Leoni, then you can picture the face of Jurante – Google her and see.

The trip to the country goes by quickly with the conversation flowing. Having people who speak English with you is a wonderful thing. It takes the pressure off of Lisa’s father to translate and it allows us to speak freely and learn a little of the Lithuanian language.

The differences between the city/suburbs and the country are pretty stark. First off – the housing; no apartments here – just little homes – or shacks that are as old as the people who have lived within them all of their lives. Wood weathered grey by constant exposure to the elements and lack of paint often times held up by braces protruding up from the ground at 80 degrees. The land is abundantly green – rows of fruit trees, from pear to apple to berry dot the landscape. Fields of hay, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber and grass separate each home – closer to the villages the fields become thick gardens. Narrow roads are boarded by a short gravel grade. At times we have to slow and turn wide of a horse drawn cart carrying anything from produce to furniture.

This is where we will see the most family as they gather to visit. First we arrive at Alfune’s (Al Foon Na) home. You may recall that Alfune is the sister of Grandma Mary Dapkus and passed away some time ago. The home is now kept up and visited during the summers by her son Algis and her daughter Rima. Algis has been here for a month on holiday. Before I get to the family tree let me tell you about the home.

Roughly the size of a three car garage – you walk into the kitchen from the outside. To the right is a living room/spare bedroom and directly in front of you – across from the kitchen is a bedroom. Tonight 9 people and two dogs will sleep here!

No running water or bathroom here. A well outside with a bucket suspended by a winch and chain provides all the water they need. The water from the well is delicious and cold. An outhouse around back of the barn is the only thing they have for a bathroom. Take a deep breath before entering! The barn is old and run down – loaded with enough wood to last two winters – the rest is used for storage. The only modern amenity is the sauna located in the back of the barn. The fields in the back are now used by the neighbors as the family only comes during the spring and summer months for quick week-end getaways or month long holidays. We cram everyone into the small kitchen to have a quick bite to eat and catch up. While small and crammed – we are not uncomfortable as the conversation, laughter and general warmth take the place of size. I really can’t remember what we ate – suffice to say it was very good and I know we walked out to the back yard full! Next to the house Algis has a canopy set up for with two picnic tables for us to sit at. The whole family gathers here: (get a pen out!)

Algis (the oldest of Alfune’s children) and his wife Rima & their oldest daughter Jorinta and her boyfriend Mindaugas..

Rima (Algis’ sister) her son Julius, his wife Eve and their Dalmatian Lourdes…

Jurate (Rima’s Daughter), her husband Mindaugas, their son Mykolas and their German Shepard Grantas…

Zina (Algis’ baby sister), her husband Alvydas and their youngest son Paul…

All were gathered under the canopy around the two tables. Glasses, vegetables, cheeses, fruits and breads are there to nibble on. There are also several bottles of vodka and a milk crate of cold, bottled beer.

Algis starts things off by proclaiming it was time to “Okie Dokie”, which translated means take a shot! This is the only English that Algis knows – so we “Okie Dokie” quite a bit! We “Okie Dokie” to Lisa. We “Okie Dokie” to Alberti. We “Okie Dokie” to me. We “Okie Dokie” when I learn how to say fork in Lithuanian. We “Okie Dokie” to the dog barking! My face begins to hurt from the constant laughter and smiles. The air is filled with a sea of Lithuanian and English as everyone is laughing and talking. This is by far and away my favorite time here. The people are filled with such love and warmth – and not just because we are American – but because we are family. I am accepted as one of the family with no doubt or issue. I am as Lithuanian as Lisa next to me or Jurate across from me. Julius is having me try the different Lithuanian beers – asking my opinion as if it were a critical review. As far as I am concerned they are all very good – most have more flavor than the watered down beer we are used to in the States that much is for sure!

The afternoon is beginning to grow long and we still have Aunt Fele’s to get to and then on to Aunt Connie’s. Not wanting to really leave – we pile into Algis’s car to head over to Aunt Fele’s for a quick visit.

Aunt Fele is 86 and lives in a small one bedroom shack with a barn and some land in the small town of Troskunai. With bare wood and dirt floors – a well and outhouse out back we are all amazed that she lives this way. We imagine they winters get lonely as the roads are nearly impossible to travel on (Fele does not drive or even own a car – she walks if she need to get anywhere). Fele is a small woman with bright blue eyes that give no hint of the frailty of her body. Her white hair is hidden under a colorful babushka and she is wearing several sweaters for warmth. Her yard is a tangle of Gooseberry bushes, apple trees, hemp (out front – we think it is wild), strawberries, currant and a couple of pear trees. She also had radish, potatoes, cucumbers and tomatoes. A chicken pen is off to the side of the barn and piglets whine form inside of the barn. A small mixed breed dog is chained to the front – she (or him) wags her long black tail as we approach. Fele greets us as we pull in – not knowing when we were going to visit; we find her digging up potatoes and washing them in a small pot next to her laundry (which is hanging from a variety of trees to dry). She looks up to see us pull into the yard and her face brightens with happiness. She grabs onto us – crying and smiling all at the same time. After much hugging – she takes us on a tour of the yard – filling our hands with berries, apples and other assorted fruits directly from the ground. Her daughter, Bernice is there and disappears into the house to set the table – no matter where we are at or when we last ate – we are always required to eat again.

Fele leads us into the small living room where a table has been set up – the table is a cornucopia of fruits, vegetables, meats, breads and sweets. We nibble lightly as we are well aware that this is food that Fele will probably use for most of the month! The sisters of Grandma Mary that are still alive today are the worst off as far as money is concerned. They live off of the land the own, their pension from Lithuania and the money they get from their kids. While we nibble Fele does not join us – she is simply content to sit and stare at us – her brilliant blue eyes sparkle with love and pride. Soon, all too soon I think for Fele, it is time to once again leave. She hugs Lisa, they are both crying as the do. I give her a hug as well and she says something in Lithuania while kissing me on the face – her hug is tight – tighter than I would have imagined from her.

We leave, as we did last time, wondering if we will see her again. It is truly amazing to me that she can live through the winters like that. No forced air furnace in the country, a simple wooden stove burner provides the heat hat she will use. But I will say something – she never complains and is so full of life – we all could learn a great deal from Fele!

From Fele we travel to Aunt Connie’s to stop in very quickly to say hello and make sure we are arranged for a place to sleep later that evening. Connie reminds us that we need to come back for dinner as they are preparing Sislykai (Sish Link A).

Arriving back at Alfune’s we are greeting as we were the first time! It was like were we gone for another year and just returned for the first time. This time we go the kitchen to sit around and have some tea, water and cookies and look at old photo albums. While most would find that boring – it was fun and interesting. You see, you don’t just look at the photos; you get the complete background on them and the stories behind each one. Once again, my cheeks are sore from smiling and laughing. And once again, all too soon, it is time to leave and head over to Connie’s. We head out to the car, arm in arm, hugging, kissing and saying good-bye. Lisa is crying as are most of the folks we are leaving. After several group shots and a couple of attempts to actually leave (we start down the drive and we have to go back for one more hug or one more picture) we are off and headed for Connie’s.

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