THE FINEST ESCAPE, PART 1

Yup, this is a repeat. But it sets the stage for my new story THE FINEST ESCAPE, PART 2 due next week.

The Bernard Olcott Story started off 2016 with a rewrite of my post “THE LOST WEEKEND” focusing on the Academy Award (and Cannes!) winning movie of the same name from 1946.  That post promised the following stories to come:

• the biggest movie of 1946 (THE LOST WEEKEND),
• the 3rd Avenue El (including an art house film),
• old style New Yorkers interacting in flavorful accents,
• a valuable lesson at Cooper Union
• a mysterious death in 1943 with what little facts are available, and
• a color-filled present with a shared activity across time.

All have been delivered, except for the last topic.  I did leave the 1940s to take you, the dear reader, on a color-filled ride 40 years later to Lithuania in 1985.  I framed my trip in terms of a Boomerang where I realized that my journey, as an effort to strengthen family ties, may have inadvertently reminded my Dad of his disadvantaged youth.  Both in terms of society – his immigrant household subject to prejudice – and family – where his brother was favored in the household.

But wait!  There’s more to that technicolor present!  Today’s post will wrap up both the Boomerang and 1940s themes with the following conclusion: my Dad escaped his unhappy situation 4 ways:

1. Becoming a sailor on the Merchant Marines and shipping off to Europe
2. Flying the coop to Cooper Union
3. Becoming a Technology Consultant
4. By engaging in a mystery activity (identified below), one that he and I both share.

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THE FINEST ESCAPE!

The Bernard Olcott Story started off 2016 with a rewrite of my post “THE LOST WEEKEND” focusing on the Academy Award (and Cannes!) winning movie of the same name from 1946.  That post promised the following stories to come:

• the biggest movie of 1946 (THE LOST WEEKEND),
• the 3rd Avenue El (including an art house film),
• old style New Yorkers interacting in flavorful accents,
• a valuable lesson at Cooper Union
• a mysterious death in 1943 with what little facts are available, and
• a color-filled present with a shared activity across time.

All have been delivered, except for the last topic.  I did leave the 1940s to take you, the dear reader, on a color-filled ride 40 years later to Lithuania in 1985.  I framed my trip in terms of a Boomerang where I realized that my journey, as an effort to strengthen family ties, may have inadvertently reminded my Dad of his disadvantaged youth.  Both in terms of society – his immigrant household subject to prejudice – and family – where his brother was favored in the household.

But wait!  There’s more to that technicolor present!  Today’s post will wrap up both the Boomerang and 1940s themes with the following conclusion: my Dad escaped his unhappy situation 4 ways:

1. Becoming a sailor on the Merchant Marines and shipping off to Europe
2. Flying the coop to Cooper Union
3. Becoming a Technology Consultant
4. By engaging in a mystery activity (identified below), one that he and I both share.

BOOMERANG RETURNS!

Today the Bernard Olcott story returns to Vilnius, May 1985.  From my post “BOOMERANG THROWN,” you learned that I was in Lithuania for 5 days that year, hunting down my family roots.  The first day was remarkable.

My second day in Lithuania featured an old fashioned get-on-the-bus touristic outing with my Intourist group.  The destination was the town and castle at Trakai, about 30 km to the west of Vilnius.  Built in the 15th century as the home to the Lithuanian Grand Duke, it was considered as the unofficial capital of Lithuania, which, as part of the united Polish-Lithuanian kingdom, stretched from the Baltic to the Black Seas in its prime.  Today the ancient castle is in good condition – for a structure that is 600+ years old – and is scenically located on an island in a pristine clear water lake.

BOOMERANG IN THE AIR FROZEN

 

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.

BOOMERANG THROWN

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.

THE FACES OF THE CROSS

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.

SOVIET MINDERS AND TOILETS

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.