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“Observations from Lithuania” Grandma, Smuggler by KR Slade

She looked as a grandma should look: old. She looked as if she must be in her nineties. However, she had looked that-old for the half of her life before she would reach her final 90th year. From since I was a child, everyone thought that she was my great-grandKen Slade mother. She had the perfect cover for her decades of smuggling. My memories of her were: thin, bony, stooped, rough and calloused fingers with very-short but broken fingernails, crooked fingers with oversized knuckles; a deeply-wrinkled face, yet the softest cheeks to kiss; white hair in a large bun, blue eyes; unusually short in stature for her Lithuanian ethnicity; belying frailty. Her only outstanding physical characteristic was skin so white that she made most other Caucasians appear positively putative. At home, she always wore only a nightgown and slippers; when she went out, she always wore a looselyfitting dress that was ankle-length and with a high neckline. She did not wear any jewellery, except a very small religious pin when she went to church. Although she would live in the USA for sevenplus decades, she never learned English. The only English I ever heard her speak was, “English no good.” And, she was not saying that her English ‘is no(t) good;’ she was saying that ‘the English-language is no good.’ Nevertheless, she worked from under cover of home and church; never travelled 100 kilometres from where she had landed in North America. No, she never made any money doing her ‘hobby.’ It cost her about one-third of her very-limited income to play the smuggling game -- a past-time that was her only entertainment. However, for her endeavours, the penalty in the Soviet Union, where her efforts materialized, was death. If she ever returned home to Lithuania, the Soviets surely would kill her. She was not at all like my short, fat, homely, and gregarious and warm Roman grandma, the huggable Latin one. No; my Baltic grandma had been one good-looking blond, and she had always known that. However, she had a rough time in life. Before the beginning of the First World War, she was separated 80 dialogue

AUTUMN 2016, VOL. 30, NO. 1

Ken Slade, Vilnius from her mother, father, and sister; and was sent from the village in the Old-Country to North America. There must have been some ominous feeling by her parents of the coming war for Lithuania, which was a part of the Russian Empire. Grandmother never discussed that subject, or about after the end of the Second World War when the Soviets came; they took her father outside of his house that was over his shop, so he could be shot in the street of Kaunas. Perhaps she did not discuss the subject because she really did not know the details. To ensure survival of some members of a family, worldwide and throughout history, there has been the practice for parents to exile one or more of their children. She emigrated in a small group of similar girls, and was placed in a Rhode Island (USA) Catholic convent until she was eighteen and could marry. She had no passport, no ID, no documents. Because she could not write, her only way to identify herself was verbally; her oral communications resulted in different spellings in all of the various official documents that would be created in the USA. The Lithuanian alphabet is not the same as the English alphabet; and, Lithuanian can be written also in the Russian Cyrillic alphabet. For hundreds of years before the first quarter of the 20th century, the Lithuanian language had been greatly ‘Polonised.’ English-speakers have difficulty with the multi-syllabic Lithuanian words, and which have sounds that do not exist in English; therefore, US officials wrote what they thought that they were hearing. Her first name, Dominyka (in Lithuanian), could also be spelled in English as Dominica or Domenica. Her family name could be spelled Juskevicius or Jezukiewicz, or other ways. She did know that her father’s name was Unufras, and that her mother’s name was Marite (but that also could be Maria). Her sister’s name was Elzbieta (with various spellings); her subsequent married-name was Bardaris or Bardariene. There was also the issue of dates, such as her birth date, because of the differences in the Russian and Western calendars. All of these facts of identification(s) in the US gave her many pseudonyms. Her future husband had recently arrived from the oldcountry where his family were forest-wardens and farmers, since the times of monarchy in the Grand …/

Dialogue Vol.30, No.1 digital edition  
Dialogue Vol.30, No.1 digital edition  

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