Above: A beautiful view of Cuidad Juárez from El Paso earlier this week.  Photo by DLynne Morin.

By mid-1982, Dad’s marriage with Gloria had devolved into crass posturing for litigation in a divorce action.  After all, he had plenty of experience as he had been through this experience three times already.

The first had been 32 years earlier, in 1950.  His newly wed wife, Pat, returned home one evening to their Beekman Place neighborhood apartment.  As soon as she walked in, Bern hung up the phone.  “Who are you on the phone with, Dear?” she asked.  Oddly, Dad declined to say.  It took her a while to find out and it turned out to be her former best friend Connie Richards.   Pat had the marriage annulled within a few weeks via an expedited petition direct to the Vatican.

Dad never told me anything about his marriage with Pat.  Or Connie Richards, for that matter.  I had to find Pat 60 years later to ask her personally.  Remember, she was wife number one and my Mom was only the second.  Does that make Pat a stepmother?  The English language does not have a term to describe our relationship.

In any event, Pat was very annoyed with Bern (and went on to marry four more times herself).


As recounted in my last post ‘THE INTERSECTION,” Dad went back to the patent drawing board in 1998 (at the young age of 80).  He was intrigued by various developments in the America’s Cup race, and as a new member of the New York Yacht Club, he set out to prove his bona fides both as a sailor and as an inventor.  Accompanied by his usual gusto for going with what he knew.  Natch.

By 1998, there had already been four America’s Cup races since the New York Yacht Club lost it in 1983.  A new challenge was pending in 2000 and Dad wanted in.

The race in 1983 had been won by the yacht Australia II due to its specialized keel design.  In fact, when the boat was first brought over from down under, the keel was physically shrouded so that no one could see it!

What was the big secret?


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.


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.


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.


Ponary Death Pit (photo courtesy of Juliux from Wikipedia – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Courtesy of my driver Boris and his lead foot, fueled by my Al Green cassette tape, our Russian Volga sedan resumed its cruise down the A4 highway towards my lunch appointment with my father’s family in Varena, Lithuania.  We had just survived a traffic stop a few moments earlier where Boris effectively told the zit-faced highway patroller to go fuck himself.  The USSR seemed to have a great surfeit of immature officers populating the police, immigration, customs, animal control, and doubtlessly numerous other constabularies.

My very first experience of the Soviet Union the previous week was instructive of this very point.  It was upon my arrival into the USSR on an Air France nonstop flight from Charles de Gaulle to Sheremetyevo airports.

It was May 1985, and, as a student of history and world politics, I was excited to be flying into a very different kind of country.  I had had some extensive experiences in Europe already, but this, the USSR was to be verily alien.  As a kicker, I would be meeting my Father’s family in Lithuania after a week in Moscow.

In preparation for my trip, I read everything I could about Russians (inhabitants of the world’s largest country), Lithuanians (great basketball players), and the Baltics (I would also be passing through Riga, Latvia).  Hedrick Smith’s “The Russians” had earned a prized place in my personal library, with dog-ears on the dog-ears.



Back home in America, the highway traffic stop is probably the greatest display of power a state like New York, New Jersey, Hawai’i (or any of the 47 others and 1 district) can exert over an unfortunate traveler.  There is an additional risk of nastiness if you happen to be driving while intoxicated, black, or as an American in the backroads of the USSR.  I fell solidly in the last two categories.

Back home, the cop car that pulls you over on I-95 (or H-1) is typically a blazing high performance Ford Crown Victoria festooned with the great seal of the state under whose laws, you, the hapless driver have apparently transgressed.  You get the whole show, complete with stylized hat, jack boots, ribboned trousers, shoulder brushes, leather pistol holster, handcuffs, the works.  Every state has its own variant of this uniform.  Be a very wary bear.

Dancing Bears cropped

Russian bears do dance, but these ain’t Russian!

Wrapped in the aforementioned trappings of authority, US States perform traffic stops with overdone celebratory unctuousness.  But everyone considers Connecticut or Alaska or the District to be relatively toothless.  We know, for example, that Connecticut is not going to build a wall around itself or deport everyone of Rhode Island descent. Not that there aren’t criminals from Providence stealing algae from the Connecticut River.  But I digress.  The states flash a lot of power by way of shiny patrol cars and uniform embellishments (big bark), but rank low on the holocaust scale (little dick).


Before I cover the apparently sudden demise of my father’s mother Patricia in Queens, NY, on August 22, 1943, let me backtrack a bit and take a look at her origins.  At least the little that is known.  So I go in search of…  my paternal grandparents!

For that, my story today starts off on one beautiful bright Saturday morning in May 1985.  I was in a rental car rolling through verdant countryside.  The birds were chirping, the sun was streaming, and my Al Green cassette tape was cranking through the sound system; Al crooning “Love and Happiness.”  It was a happenin’ morning!

Yet this was not your normal stretch of New Jersey Turnpike, say between Elizabeth and Rahway.  Nor was I in a 1984 Buick LeSabre.  This road trip was distinctive for many reasons!

Well for one thing, the player’s fast forward was broken so when I got to the end of the last song on side 1, I had to eject the tape, stick my finger into one sprocket, and twirl the tape around my finger until I got to the end of side 1 (which was the beginning of side 2).

But that was just a nit.  Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was rockin’ a recent vintage Volga sedan like the one pictured below.


Switch out I-95, and sub-in the fact that I was rolling southbound on the A4, a rural two lane highway in Soviet occupied Lithuania.