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Published: June 22nd 2017
Geo: 54.8969, 23.8924
This morning, our guide and driver showed up in an 18 person mini bus for the four of us. She and the driver had no idea about what was in store, expecting they would be taking us on a normal tour of Kaunas, Lithuania. Later, we were glad it was a bus... more on that soon.
First, we had to explain to the guide that we had an appointment to meet Barb's relatives and that we needed her to be an interpreter. She said, "This is your day, I will be your interpreter." And that she was. She explained the situation to the bus driver and made a few phone calls, and about an hour later, we found ourselves at the home of Barb's second cousin, Irena. She gave us a tour of the house, grounds, and gardens, which overlooked Kaunas from above the Neris River. Introductions were made and we enjoyed a feast with the rest of her family. The spread included quite a bit, including homemade Cepelins, honey, and cheese. There were exchanges of gifts representing each country and everyone took the time to look through each others' photographs. In front of the house was a wooden
sculpture representing the family's history through the century. It had been made by a neighbor.
Next, we, and Irena, and her husband, and her daughter Diana, boarded the bus and headed to the rural home of another relative--Nijole. After our bus overshot the lane, we were redirected by Zdriune, Nijole's granddaughter, who chased after us on a bicycle. When we arrived at the house, we found that Nijole, too, had prepared a spread in anticipation of visitors from the U.S. We were all astounded. There was so much food that it couldn't all fit on the table (set for at least 10) at the same time. Toasts were made over a medicinal beverage known as 999 (9x3=27 herbs) and Nijole kept the drinks flowing. She reminded Barb a lot of her grandmother, who came to the U.S. from this area in 1913. Barbara was given rue, the symbol of Lithuania, an aromatic shrub that is a major aspect of life events in Lithuanian culture. A special cake was prepared known as sakotis and it was very tasty. Then, in came Nijole's daughter, with bags full of everything Lithuanian. Also named Nijole, and a member of 12 different cultural organizations, she filled
the room with stories, pictures, and joy. Everyone traded email addresses, and after some more photo opportunities, it was back on the bus, plus Nijole, to find "her cousin that knows everything."
Down a gravel road went the bus to the home of Lione, who seemed rather surprised, but in a heartbeat ran inside to bring out a scrapbook of old photographs. After some discussion, the bus picked up Lione, too, and we were on our way to visit the farm where Barb's grandmother was born. The relatives ventured out into the field to collect some plant life and actual ground, and were soon accompanied in Lithuanian song about the clover and daisy falling in love. As if this was not enough reconnecting with roots, the next stop exceeded expectations. Lione led us to the cemetery and churchyard, which had been maintained through the years by the family. Here, we found the grave of Barb's great grandparents, that had been paid for by Barb's grandmother after she came to the U.S. It was a good thing we picked up Lione, who knew this information.
We weren't able to read the tombstone at first, but after rubbing with some leaves, names started
to emerge. This was a trick we picked up on during an earlier graveyard excursion in Castlebar, Ireland. Barb is excited to be able to bring back these memories to her family in the States. By this time, our guide, Jolyta had transformed from "tour guide" to "cultural ambassador" and seemed to glow as she was part of an amazing exchange. Because of this visit, a family is reunited within Lithuania, as well as across the ocean.
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