This blog ostensibly concerns my Father, Bernard, who passed away in 2006.  But I take many diversions along the way.  Today’s post is mostly about his 2nd wife, my Mom.  She is a spry 83 year old woman who brags about her ability to walk around the parking lot in front of her Assisted Living Residence “23 times” every day.  She is very specific about that number.

OK, so what do you do with your aging Mother when you bring her home for the weekend?  In my case, I take her for long walks.  Makes sense, right?

This past Sunday, I brought her and my cousin, Lise (visiting from Quebec City), for an excursion to the Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island.  It’s a stunning modern memorial to, in my opinion, the greatest President of our Republic.  Our very own Great Leader, the handicapped patrician who led our country through its darkest hour to supreme victory and ascendancy to superpower status, militarily, economically, and culturally.  FDR.  Now we have a Washington, DC-style monument in his honor, right here in the middle of the East River.


The past 5 posts describe the first of the 5 days staying at the Hotel Lithuania (not to be confused with the Hotel California).  In Vilnius, Soviet occupied Lithuania during May 1985.  Intermingled in the details were other anecdotes about my stay in Moscow the prior week.

View from my window at the Lietuva

My view out the window of the Hotel Lietuva.  The Neris River is in the foreground and the Old Town behind.

For the sake of repetition, my primary purpose in going to Lithuania was to meet my Father’s family, his uncle and cousins.  Our roots in this small, little-known country in Eastern Europe was something we shared.  Plain and simple.

Curly Hair

The author with Eugenija’s son (and my cousin) Vytas.  At least I figured out where my curly hair came from!

When I got there, I discovered insights into what exactly constitutes oppression.  Some of it boomeranged to hit me in strange ways.


Traveling throughout Lithuania, one cannot help but notice the graceful tendrils that inhabit many rural intersections, hilltops, byways, and of course church tops.  Whereas in my country, we had a mysterious person named Johnny Appleseed who planted apple trees everywhere, in Lithuania, teams of anonymous craftsmen traveled far and wide to plant ornamental crosses everywhere (like the one above).

You cannot help but notice them here and there, like ghostly roadside shrines in Mexico.  Every cross, called kryžius in Lithuanian, is different, just like a snowflake.

Adorned with these threadlike appendages, they seem to vibrate in the air or undulate under water like sea anemones. Like the statues that inhabit the fairy palace in George MacDonald’s Phantastes, you have the impression of faint movement when your back is turned.  But when you fix your gaze on them, they suddenly stiffen and still themselves.  They are as numerous as mushrooms on a damp forest floor.  So many, that they become ubiquitous in the landscape and render the Lithuanian paysage as a sort of fairyland.


It had been an eventful drive from Vilnius to Varena that sun-drenched spring morning in May 1985.

First was being pulled over by the USSR highway patrol.  It looks fearsome just to see it here in writing on the Bernard Olcott story.  But Boris the driver managed not to collect S&H green stamps from the patrolboy.

Second was a stop at a World War II massacre site to learn a lesson about oppression.  A moment of irony in the USSR.

Next up was our ostensible destination, the town of Varena, Dzūkija region, in Southeastern Lithuania.   My Dad’s cousin Eugenija lived there with her husband in the old part of town.  Their broom-swept house turned out to be at the top of a T intersection, a few feet away from an ominous looking empty small guard tower.  Asleep in the tall grass at the base was a disheveled drunk, who was quickly roused and sent away.