Lithuania At Last

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September 26th 2018
Published: October 11th 2018
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Yesterday we left Belarus, crossing the border back into the more familiar European Union. We were told that this crossing could be lengthy and difficult, taking up to five hours or more, with again perhaps a border crossing guard asking to go through all our luggage. And this was heading into the EU! But, understandably, those crossing from the EU into Belarus are most carefully checked, and given that once inside the EU one can drive for thousands of miles without ever seeing another checked border point, we prepared to wait and try to gracefully accept whatever happened. The first stop, leaving Belarus, went very quickly and uneventfully. Happy with that part, we reboarded the bus and slowly processed to entering the EU station. What was surprising to see throughout this crossing was the very long line of trailer trucks, maybe a kilometer or more in length, all waiting to be permitted through. Our most excellent program director, Malcolm, told us it could take them days to go through! We did see the closest ones jockeying for better positions in this line of trucks; I guess this is a regular part of being a truck driver, but I can't imagine regularly waiting days and days to cross a border.

When I was a teenager I thought that being a long distance truck driver would be a wonderful job, always travelling, the romance of the road calling to my wanderlust. Luckily I am usually practical and outgrew that idea. But still today, when the opportunity presented itself, I looked down from our bus windows to see who was driving any nearby truck, and wondered what their lives were like, if they were happy spending their lives with long days on the road, if they missed their families, and why they chose that profession. I received no answers.

But today's crossing, for us at least, went very smoothly. The total time it took our bus to process through both checkpoints was just 1 1/4 hours, a very quick and easy crossing. The last time Malcolm went through he said it took him 5 1/2 hours! So I guess we were very lucky. And now I am in Lithuania!

Growing up Roman Catholic and attending a Lithuanian church, some of my early memories include sitting through long Masses with the Gospels spoken both in English and Lithuanian. I can't remember now which language came first, but especially on Palm Sunday Mass felt never-ending; it WAS never-ending. My mother taught us how to make crosses out of the palm fronds that were given out; this took some time and kept us busy and quiet for awhile. She also fed my younger brothers raisins to keep them content in our pew, but they didn't share any with me. My friend Roseann from Catechism class was sitting with her family across the main aisle; we kept looking and smiling at each other, but even though we didn't say anything, my parents yelled at me afterwards for not paying attention during Mass. I don't think Roseann's parents yelled at her. And while Father Missius continued droning on and on, I taught myself to read Latin from my Latin-English prayer book. Such were some of my childhood Lithuanian Mass experiences.

As children, my father would take my brothers and sister and me to Lithuanian Christmas parties, where it was hot and stuffy and incredibly boring. The boys were given gifts of toy vehicles, but we girls received beautiful Lithuanian dolls still in their new boxes. I never wanted to open the box because my doll was so perfect and beautiful inside; I did not want to disturb her. But my big sister quickly helped me get over that.

We also went to Lithuanian picnics in summer, but all I remember of those is running through the grass and playing with the other children, and my mother hitting a wiffle ball so hard she spun around and fell down laughing, embarrassing us all.

Both sets of our grandparents were Lithuanian. I did not like going to either of their houses as there was nothing for us children to do except sit and be "good." In retrospect we had a very strict upbringing, especially compared with today's free and unruly children. New Grandma's house was more interesting as New Grampa collected elephants of all sizes, displaying them proudly on their mantle, but we were not allowed to touch them. (Why not? Children did not question grownups back then; that came later.) Old Grandma's house was terrible. She and Old Grampa never learned to speak English, and their house smelled of old overboiled cabbage, and again there was nothing at all for us children to do. So again we had to sit there being "good" while my father spoke Lithuanian with his parents. Thankfully those were never long visits.

That's all I knew of Lithuania, but the important fact was that I knew I was Lithuanian. And here I am in lovely Vilnius (alternately spelled Vilnus on freeway signs). Except for my cousin Janice I think I am the only other one in our family to visit this country. Lithuania is, of course, a part of Europe, but it is still not on most people's radar in terms of bucket list places to travel. But, Lithuania being my heritage, I have wanted to come for many years. We have much too short a time to explore this country on this trip but I am in Lithuania at last, where my ancestors lived and died, what is left of their bones lying under the ground somewhere beneath my feet. I've reached my familial home.


11th October 2018

Laura, On our visit to Lithuania I met the cantor's wife at the main Jewish synagogue. If you have a spare moment would you stop & give her my regards. She impacted me so much & I cried in her arms. She could tell you the story of her husband's struggle to survive as a child. I, too, have family from the area, mainly Belarus. Barbara.

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