Friday, August 26, 2005

Jolly Uncle Bill

We’ve been here now for nearly two solid weeks. It is the evening of August 18th and we are preparing for one of our final Thanksgiving dinners here in Lithuania. Things are beginning to wind down for us and the excitement of being here is slowly replaced with the anticipation of going home. Home means the kids, the dogs (one of them may be pregnant – we are still unsure at this point), back to school and back to work. We now start to think about the things that will need to be done to get ready and what will need to be done once we get home.

Generally by the end of a long trip you are eager for it to be over. You begin to, I want to say dread – but that is too strong of a word, not get as excited for visits as you did when you first arrived. Uncle Bill’s is no different, we approach the visit half-heartedly, just a little more than tired and definitely worn out. We prepare to get ready as we wait for Uncle Bill to arrive; he is taking the Microbus to meet us and travel back with us to his place on the other side of town. Uncle Bill does not own a car and neither does his daughter Diva who lives next door to him. His other daughter Greta does own a vehicle but she will not be there until later. Which leaves us riding the Microbus with Uncle Bill – not a bad thing mind you – it is actually a bit of an adventure as we have not done this yet. We have three large bags of gifts for the families; the majority of the gifts are for the daughters of Diva and Greta. I suppose this is a good time to announce the players for this evening’s event. Score cards ready?

Uncle Vilius (Bill) is the youngest of Grandma Mary Dapkus’ siblings. Born a few months before Lisa’s Uncle Joe (Grandma Mary’s elder son) Uncle Bill was an Uncle before he even emerged into this world. He is a very loving and happy man with a round smiling face illuminated by bright blue eyes. When I say illuminated – I mean that literally. Uncle Bill always looks happy to be alive and very happy to see you. When you meet him, be ready to be kissed multiple times! And bear hugged…he does love to give hugs. Uncle Bill is married to Genute, a woman not unlike him. She has battled cancer for many years – outliving all of the doctors’ best diagnosis. I believe she has done so because of all the positive feelings they have and live. If they have ever had a negative feeling or thing to say, I would be hard-pressed to believe it! They have two daughters:

Daiva, the elder daughter is married to Ramunas and they have a daughter: Rugile (8). Daiva is a Doctor who works for the health department of Lithuania. Reddish blond hair frames her fair complexion and bright blue eyes. Of the two girls, Daiva reminds me the most of her father, not only in resemblance, but in happy attitude and general loving care. Her daughter Rugile is a cute as a button 8 year old who loves to be in Lisa’s lap. Confident and brimming with personality, she reminds me of our own daughter, Nikki.

Grita, the younger daughter is married to Aurimas and they have two daughters: Gabriella (10) & Benedicta (6). Grita is a medical librarian, short brown hair frame her striking features. She is her mother’s child that much is true. When she speaks – she has what seems like a slight British accent – a common trait among those taught English in Lithuania. Her husband is very friendly and goes out of his way to try and speak English although it is a struggle for him. Their daughters Gabriella and Benedicta are adorable and loaded with personality as well. Benedicta, the youngest, has thick, long auburn hair that is obviously her pride! She tilts her head to Lisa to have her braid it and play with it. Gabriella is the oldest and ring leader of the group. Her freckled face is warm and smiling, she is a learner and listens closely to what we say – repeating the English and then beaming with pride when we praise her.

I digress! We have just welcomed Uncle Bill into our apartment and currently we are being suffocated with hugs and kisses! The sound of his voice and laughter fills the hallway. Never have I seen such genuine, almost childlike in its innocence, joy!!

Soon we are walking down the street headed to the corner to pick up the Microbus. Technically we can pick up the Microbus from any spot on the route that it travels. In this case, the route to Uncle Bills is about two or three blocks away. Lisa’s father and Uncle Bill chat away in a flurry of Lithuanian and laughter. We are behind them, smiling and chatting ourselves – the late afternoon is beautiful with the sky a perfect blue and the sun shining brightly. We arrive at the corner just in time for the Microbus to come screeching to a halt – literally.

The Microbus is even less than the name implies. It is basically a full size van with enough seats for 9 people. The bus itself limits out at twelve – nit an easy feat considering that an American of average height like me has to bend forward to walk down the aisle to our seats! With a burn of rubber we are headed along the route to Uncle Bill’s – bulging bags of cloths on our laps and no air to speak of surrounding us. All of the windows are closed and with no indication that they can opened. Suffice to say – it is more than a bit ripe inside.

As we haul through the route – weaving in and out of traffic and the bigger daddy buses – we pick up a few passengers here and there. Very quickly the bus is full and we realize that we still have a piece to travel. There are several younger folks on the Microbus with us – sitting closer to the front. An older woman with a child boards and not one of the younger kids even acknowledges them standing there. I motion to the mother and child and offer my seat. As they sit and I stand, the bus burns more rubber to pull from the curve sending my backside hurling towards Uncle Bill’s face! I quickly grab onto the headrest in front of me and pull forward against the ever increasing G-forces. Successful in sparing Uncle Bill a whiff of SWAS (you can look that up!) – I plant my feet and lean forward as my head is scraping the cloth tacked to the roof of the bus – cloth, I might add, that seems a yellowish brown and not by design!

Putting most rides at Great America to shame – for the next ten minutes I ride this mechanical bull of a Microbus to our next stop – along the way the mother and child get off, allowing me a 2 minute rest before the next Baba (grandmother) boards and I am surfing the smooth, steel runway that is the floor of the bus once again. Finally we step off of the rollercoaster, my arms throbbing, drenched in sweat, a few blocks from Uncle Bill’s apartment.

Uncle Bill lives on the 7th floor with an excellent view of the park that surrounds his complex. Luckily for us there is an elevator that we can use – it fits three people at best – but we squeeze in together none the less. Before I can enter, the doors begin to slam shut – not giving way as ours do in the US – instead they press against you until you forcibly pry them apart! We ride the slow elevator up the 7 stories, face to face to face to face – if it were to breakdown, surely we would die from carbon dioxide poisoning within minutes!

So, a stuffy elevator later and we are in the apartment that I remember from last trip that as Uncle Bills’. Only now it is Diva’s apartment as she has bought it from Uncle Bill and he has purchased the smaller apartment next door. Diva’s touch is apparent as the walls are freshly painted in a soft, pastel yellow. The floor is new as are the windows – in other words a more modern touch.

A little bigger than most of the apartments we have been used to – immediately to the left as you enter the front door is a hall that houses the bathroom/toilet and leads to the kitchen. Moving straight ahead through another short hall is the front room and to the right of the front room is the master bedroom, moving straight through the front room you come to Rugile’s room – which is a typical little girl’s room. Stuffed animals, books and toys are scattered throughout.

The front room is set up with a large table on which is a cornucopia of food. Meats, vegetables, fruits, breads and salads pepper the table. Each end of the table has a duplicate item from the other end so that no one is either without food or has to ask to pass anything! As in most cases here – we can never eat all of the food they have on the table – and this is just the cold servings. Fortunately we are able to convince our hosts that we do not need the hot dishes and we are able to not only save them the trouble – but the food as well.

Soon we are snapping pictures and playing with the kids – the room buzzing with conversation and playful laughter. Uncle Bill is busy trying to ply us all with drink coming up with any excuse for a toast: “Rugile said Fork!” The evening passes quickly and soon Uncle Bill has to retire for a rest – suffering from a heart issue, late nights are not his forte at this time.

Aurimas volunteers to give us a ride home and Benedicta asks to go with, opting to sit right next to Lisa as close as she can while still belted into her seat. After many kisses and hugs from Uncle Bill and then the rest of the family we are headed on the way home – not at all feeling like we performed a chore but feeling like we could have spent much more time there!

With the love we have been shown on this trip – you learn a true appreciation for family. I have learned many valuable lessons during this trip – not the least being to love and cherish your family!

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