All posts by Edward Staskus

Edward Staskus is a freelance writer from Sudbury, Ontario, and lives in Lakewood, Ohio.

Never Look Back

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By Ed Staskus

The new lightning war starting in 1939 won the Third Reich most of Europe and substantial parts of Russia. But five years later the Red Army was poised to take revenge on its enemy. When the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front tried to weather the storm and fight out of encirclements, the Russians did what the Germans would have done, fed armor into the attack, maintaining mobility, forcing the issue deep into rear areas, faster than their enemy could regroup.

“The Russians came fast,” said Angele Jurgelaityte. “We listened to the radio every day. We could hear booms in the distance, cannons. The Germans were on all the roads. The Russians were to the north and the east of us. We knew they were coming.”

The angelface of her aunt’s family, the family Angele was staying with near Alvitas, Lithuania, didn’t know, but everyone in the Baltics knew the Communists were coming back and there was going to be hell to pay.

It was the summer of 1944 that Soviet forces went on the offensive. The Germans were steadily implacably pushed back on a shifting front. A Red Army Tank Corps advanced to Vilkaviskis, four miles from their farm. The Russian 33rd Army entered the town and a few days later secured the rail depot at Marijampole. The Third Panzer Army mounted a counterattack, but after grim tank battles was finally forced to retreat to Kybartai, rolling back to a last-ditch defensive line in the Baltics.

“It was one day in the afternoon that a lady, a teacher, who was a friend of mamyte’s, with two kids, a small boy and a small girl, came to our farm from Vilnius,” Angele said. The woman and Angele’s aunt, Ona Kreivenas, had studied and graduated together from teacher’s college. She was in a horse drawn wagon with her children and what chattels and valuables she could pack and carry. She had come from the capital in a rush. She told them there were Russian tanks hiding on the nearby farm tracks.

The next morning Ona, Angele, and the children, Mindaugas, Carmen, Ramute, and the toddler Gema, loaded their wagon with clothes, blankets, and food. They hitched two horses to the wagon and tied a cow to the back. “We took milk with us when we left, for Gema, and hoped we would find more when we were gone.” They took whatever they could shoulder. They left their buggy behind and let the riding horse, the rest of the cows, and all the pigs and chickens loose.

“We let everything go. What could you do? The Russians would have just stolen all the animals.”

Ona took her money and what jewelry she possessed with her in a handbag she could keep close. She packed a trunk with her sewing machine, china, vases, artifacts, and family heirlooms. They lugged it behind the barn, where the remains of months of potatoes thrown down to feed the pigs were scattered.

They cleared a space, dug a four-foot deep hole, and buried the trunk. They threw potato scraps back over the overturned ground. When they were done, they left the family farm, in two wagons, two women and seven children on the move, sudden displaced refugees in their own country.

“We moved back about fifteen miles.”

They went southwest towards East Prussia. “We went to a big farm. When we got there, there were already hundreds of people in the fields, with their wagons, and their families. The farmer slaughtered and cut up pigs for us. All the women made food. Everybody was talking about the war, about what to do.”

There was heavy fighting between German and Soviet troops in the Baltics. As the fighting raged, more than 130,000 Latvians escaped to Sweden and Germany. In total, the country lost almost 20% of its population during the war, either dead or gone. The Great Escape in Estonia started in the summer and continued through the fall. It is estimated 80,000 Estonians fled from the Red Army to the West. Almost a 100,000 Lithuanians joined them, clogging the roads to Poland, Prussia, and Germany.

Ona stole back to her farm during the week the Panzer divisions were holding their own. The countryside was nearly deserted. She found the trunk they had buried underneath the pile of potato scraps behind the barn dug up and gone.

“There was just a big hole. The Russians took it. They used metal sticks to poke into the ground. Her sewing machine was gone, all gone.”

They slept rough, out of doors, like everybody else. “We slept on blankets on the ground. When it rained, we slept under the wagon and stretched a tarp out, to keep the water away.” Every day it got darker. Over the course of September, the length of the day in Lithuania rapidly decreases. By the end of the month the daylight is two hours less than it was at the start of the month.

The encampment stretched out for six weeks. They dug latrines and filled barrels with water. They picked apples off trees and blueberries from bushes. They took especial care of their horses. They greased the axles of their wagons, making sure the grease bucket was always full of animal fat and tar, and making sure they had a spare axle. Without one a broken axle would be a disaster, bringing them to a standstill.

The children played games whenever they had idle time.

“We played the ring game,” Angele said. “We all sat in a circle and passed around a pretend ring, like a twig or a pebble. Sometimes we passed it, but other times we didn’t. We just pretended to give it to who was next to us. One of us was it, like in tag, who had to guess who had the ring. If they were right, they got a prize, like a pencil. If they were wrong, they had to sing a song or do a dance in the middle of the circle.”

When they finally left the farm, they left in the early evening. They heard over the radio that morning that the Russians had come closer. They spent the day packing and preparing. It was now or never.

“Most of us left, although others of them stayed. Some of the farmers wanted their land back. They didn’t want to leave.” It was all they had. It was all they had ever known. They were loath to give it up. “Mamyte had to go, leave. The farm didn’t matter. Her husband had already been taken by the Communists. She knew they would take her, too, send her away to Siberia, and her children would be left behind, orphans.”

It rained that day and the rest of the night.

“The road was crowded on both sides. There were thousands of wagons, wagon after wagon, all going one way. There wasn’t a single car or truck, just horses. We knew the Germans were somewhere ahead of us and the Russians somewhere behind us. But we didn’t see any soldiers anywhere, at all.”

Ona was at the reins of the two-horse team, her seven-year-old daughter Ramute beside her holding the three-year-old Gema, and Carmen, Mindaugas, and Angele walking. Most of the refugees were walking, their wagons jam-packed with possessions and provisions. Their friend from Vilnius with her two small children was in the wagon behind them.

Before the war, Lithuania’s population was almost 3 million. After the war it was closer to 2 million. Some Lithuanians ended up dead. Many were deported. Others ran for their lives, displaced. The displaced were forced to make new lives in different countries all around the world, whatever country they could get to, whatever country would take them, whatever country they could slip into.

When the Soviet re-invasion happened, some Lithuanians tried to flee across the Baltic Sea to the Nordic countries, but only a few were successful. Patrol boats apprehended them, and they ended up imprisoned in labor camps. Most fled west, while others went south to Hungary, Romania, and the Balkans.

“On the way we met my uncle on the road, my mother’s brother, Uncle Jankauskas and his family.” Her uncle’s wagon fell into line with them. The progression of wagons stretched as far as the eye could see, forward and back. They soon crossed into East Prussia. There were no guards. They had all fled. The border lay forsaken.

“I was so sad leaving Lithuania,” Angele said.

Russian warplanes strafed and bombed the column of evacuees several times. The Red Air Force was bombing and strafing at will, both German Army and refugee columns alike. Forest and brush on both sides of the road were set on fire. There was dark smoke in the sky day and night. Wagons and carts wended their way around rain-filled craters.

“It was all just wagons. They knew we were refugees They dropped bombs and shot their machine guns. I don’t know why they did that. Whenever we heard airplanes, we all ran and jumped into ditches beside the road. I was afraid, but somehow I knew I wouldn’t be hurt by them.”

What was called the Baltic Gap had grown so large and menacing to the Reich that Adolf Hitler moved his headquarters from Berchtesgaden to Rastenburg in East Prussia. The German situation on the Eastern Front was desperate. The fighting was hard and bitter. It was a fight to the finish.

The hinterland was torn up, wrecked forlorn abandoned.

“Most of the people on the farms had run away. We would go into their houses and find dried fruit, pickles, mushrooms, pork, and wine.” They ransacked barns, pantries, and root cellars. “We took all the food we could find, all of it. It rained all the time, it was cold, we walked and walked, and everybody was hungry.”

The rain and asphalt were hurtful to their cow. The animal was as careful as could be on the poor traction of the wet road, stepping timidly with its rear feet spread wide. But the cow was walking with an arched back. They finally had to do something. They knew the long miles and pavement weren’t good for it. They thought she might be going lame. Angele’s uncle looked at the cow’s hooves and saw lesions. An ulcer was forming on one hoof.

“Mindaugas and I found a family that hadn’t run away. We went to their farmhouse and sold the cow to them.” They gave the money to Ona and she hid it on her person. She had plans for it.

One cold night when they stopped to rest her uncle said, “Kids, jump up and down to warm yourselves up.” When Angele hopped instead of jumped, he grasped her under the armpits. “He grabbed me. We were jumping up and down and he dropped me by accident.”

She broke her wrist. “It hurt bad, but there were no doctors to help me.”

When they got to a town with a railroad station, there weren’t any doctors there, either. The skilled and the smart had already left. Everybody else was hoping against hope. Angele’s wrist had to take care of itself.

After the New Year the German population of East Prussia, most of whom had not cut and run, began to evacuate as the Red Army rapidly advanced. Within weeks it turned into helter-skelter flight as more than two million of the two-and-half million men women children of the enclave bolted into the Polish Corridor heading for Germany. The winter weather was biting, the roads were a mess, and the civil authorities were overwhelmed. There was panic and quagmire and many thousands died, some caught in combat, others swept away in the chaos.

But before that happened, Ona Kreivenas had already sold their wagon and horses and everything they couldn’t carry and managed against the odds to get tickets for a train going to Berlin. The Prussian Eastern Railway connected Danzig and Konigsberg to Berlin. A month later, the last week of January 1945, the last train to Berlin ran the rails. There was no traffic on the line after that.

“The train was completely full. The corridors were full, too.” They stood in a tight group in the corridor. The passenger cars were red and had ten large windows on both sides. They were pressed against one of the windows. Some of the windows were smashed and the passageway was as cold as the outside.

“We had a pillow for Gema, who slept on the floor, but we stood all night and all the next day.”

The twin locomotives pulling the long line of passenger sleeping baggage cars and a caboose had been given camouflage livery. On the front was painted the Hoheitsadler, an eagle, Germany’s traditional symbol of national sovereignty, holding a swastika in its talons. By the time they crossed Poland and entered Germany, the talons and swastika were covered in coal soot.

Lehrter Bahnhof was the Berlin terminus, adjacent to Hamburger Bahnhof, built in the late 19th century just outside of what was then Berlin’s boundary on the Spree River.  It was in the French neo-Renaissance style, the façade covered in glazed tiles. The station had long been known as a “palace among stations.” But it had been severely damaged by Allied strategic bombing and was near to shambles.

When they finally got off the train in Berlin, tired and stiff from standing, they were met on the platform by Bishop Brizgys.

The clergyman was Ona’s husband’s cousin. Vincentas Brizgys had been the assistant to Juozapas Skvireckas, the archbishop of Kaunas. During the summer of 1944, he and the archbishop and more than two hundred other Lithuanian priests fled the country with several retreating German divisions. Ona had somehow located him by telephone, and he arranged to meet them at the train station. He was wearing a dark suit and a homburg and carrying a basket of hot buns.

“He gave one to each of us. I was so happy,” said Angele

The Third Reich’s war economy was on the verge of collapse. The whole country was in the same sinking ship. There was a shortage of hot buns and everything else. When they looked around, the buns the bishop had brought were the only cheer they could see. There wasn’t going to be any traditional roast goose this holiday season.

Angele looked at the four children and her aunt. She glanced up and down the platform. Bishop Brizgys led them out of the station into the city. The Red Army numbering over four million men was massing on the Vistula River and along the East Prussian border. Their superiority was ten to one in infantry and twenty to one in artillery and planes. Berlin and its three million residents were already a wreck, the day and night Allied bombing taking a monstrous toll.

The late afternoon was a gray haze. There was smoke in the sky. She looked past the rubble in the street. When she looked ahead, she knew in her bones it was going to be a bare-bones winter on German land.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

When Hell Freezes Over

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By Ed Staskus

“The Hells Angels are so much aware of their mad-dog reputation that they take a perverse kind of pleasure in being friendly.”  Hunter S. Thompson

When Frank Glass pulled his Hyundai SUV into the back parking lot of Quiet Mind, on the border of Lakewood and the west side of Cleveland, Ohio, and got out with his rolled-up mat under his arm, he was brought up short by a fleet of Harley Davidson motorcycles parked outside the door of the yoga studio. Inside the lobby, he peeked into the practice space, where a mob of muscled-up bare-chested men was in awkward cross-legged poses on rental mats. The denim vests and jackets hanging on coat hooks bore the Hells Angels colors and moniker, red lettering displayed on a white background.

The bikers are sometimes called “The Red and White.” They are also known as “The Filthy Few.” Inside the club they are “The Club.” The Angels are the best known of what are known as the outlaw motorcycle gangs.

The name comes from the P-40 squadrons of Flying Tigers who flew in Burma and China during World War Two. The pilots were known as “Hells Angels” because the combat missions they went on were dangerous courageous literally death-defying.

Death head’s scowled from the middle of the back of the peacetime vests and jackets hung on hooks.

Frank took a seat, instead of taking the class, seeing he was late for it, anyway, and the room was full. He might as well, he thought, read the book he was halfway into, and go to lunch with Barron, as they had planned, when the class was over. The book he was reading on his iPhone was David Halberstam’s “The Fifties.” Even though the Hells Angels were formed at the turn of the decade, and ran riot in the 1950s, there wasn’t anything about them in the book.

Yoga in the United States got going in the same decade, although it didn’t run riot. It kept a low profile until the next decade, when hippies made the scene, and adopted yoga as one of their motifs. Even when, from then until now, when yoga has grown exponentially, it has never run riot.

The Hells Angels and yoga have diametrically opposing outlooks on duty focus liberty life in general. The bikers are noted for violence, brawling, and fighting with fists pipes guns. They are notorious for being ruthless. They will cut the legs out from under you at the slightest provocation. One of the legs yoga stands on is ahimsa, or non-violence. Yoga stands up for its own values, but doesn’t go out of its way to chop anyone else down to size.

When the class ended the Hells Angels filed out of the studio. It had only been them in Barron Cannon’s morning class. They slugged back bottled water, toweled off, and got back into their denims and Red Wings.

“I’ll be damned if that was a beginner’s class,” one of them said.

The biker standing next to him, his bald mottled head glistening, said, “That was a hell of a workout.”

“Workout?” another one exclaimed. “That was some kind of a torture.”

The Hells Angels are the biggest biker gang in the world. There are 444 chapters on six continents. They are banned in some countries, like the Netherlands, where they have been labeled as a “menace to public order.” The Angels don’t give a fig about the Dutch, so it’s a wash. There are only a few requirements for becoming a Hells Angel. First, you have to have a driver’s license and a seriously badass motorcycle, preferably a chopped Harley Davison. Second, you have to ride it a minimum of 12,000 miles a year. Third, if you were ever a policeman, or even ever thought of becoming a policeman, you cannot join the club. Fourth, you have to undergo a semi-secret initiation, resulting in being “patched.” Being patched is like achieving tenure at a university. Lastly, you have to be a man, and a renegade, to boot, no women allowed.

It’s best to be a white man when applying for membership.

In 2000, Sonny Barger, one of the sparkplugs of the gang, said, “if you’re a motorcycle rider and you’re white, you want to join the Hells Angels. If you’re black, you want to join the Dragons. That’s how it is whether anyone likes it or not. We don’t have no blacks and they don’t have no whites.” When asked if that might ever change, he answered, “Anything can change. I can’t predict the future.”

As many Hells Angels as there are, there are many more folks who practice yoga, about 300 million worldwide. It’s easy to do, too. You don’t need a  $20 thousand dollar two-wheeler, you don’t need to ride it all day and night, and there are no initiation rites, half-baked or otherwise. You can be whatever race creed color gender you want to be. You don’t have to be amoral bloodthirsty ungovernable, either, although yoga is good for resolving those problems.

“What did you say?” asked one of the Hells Angels.

“Who, me?” asked Frank

“Yes, you,” the biker said, looming over him.

“I didn’t say anything. I’m just sitting here reading, thinking.”

“Keep your thinking to yourself,” the Hells Angel said, stalking out of the Quiet Mind Yoga Studio. Some of the other bikers glared at him, but left without incident. One of them gave him a friendly wave and a wink. Frank breathed a sigh of relief.

There was a roar of 1690 and 1870 cc engines starting up in the parking lot. In a minute the troupe of bikers was swaggering down Clifton Boulevard towards downtown Cleveland. Frank had overheard one of them mention the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. He wondered whether there was an exhibit commemorating the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont, where the Hells Angels had been hired to provide security, and 4 people were killed during the show.

Barron Cannon stepped out of the studio space, wearing loose black shorts and a tight-fitting Pearl Izumi jersey. He looked cool as a cucumber. Frank jumped up.

“What in Sam Hill was that all about?” he blurted.

“Missionary work,” said Barron, unflappable and insufferable as a post-graduate in philosophy can be. Barron had a PhD, although he eschewed academics in favor of his own leanings, which were economic Marxism, idealistic anarchy, vegetarianism, and yoga. He had grown up on the other side of Lakewood, camped in a yurt in his parent’s backyard while he was in school, been briefly married, and lived in a small 80-year-old but modernized apartment close by Edgewater Park, a short bike ride away.

Barron owned a Chevy Volt, but often rode his bicycle, always to work, shopping for groceries, visiting nearby friends, and training aerobically on the multi-purpose path in the Rocky River Metropark.

“Missionary work? What do you mean?”

“Let’s go across the street to Starbucks, get some coffee, some wraps or egg and cheese protein boxes,” said Barron.

Sitting down inside the Starbucks, which had transformed a vacant Burger King the year before, their food and coffee in front of them, Frank again asked Barron, “What are you up to?”

“Off the mat into the world.”

“The last time that came up you derided the idea, saying yoga had to stay close to the individual, close to its roots, and not try to reform the world.”

“Times change, bud,” said Barron.

“Trying to teach yoga to Hells Angels isn’t a hop skip and jump.”

“No,” said Barron. “It’s a great leap forward, man.”

Barron Cannon took secret pleasure in conflating things like the moon landing and Chairman Mao, as though the past was play dough.

“How did it go?”

“Not bad, they got engaged in it. I think they might follow up on the class.”

“When hell freezes over,” thought Frank.

Barron Cannon laughed.

“That’s mostly true, but not entirely true,” he said. “No one is absolutely unsuited for yoga practice.”

“Are you reading my mind?”

“Sometimes.”

“Are you sure they weren’t just grandstanding?”

“If there’s one thing uncertain about yoga, it’s certainty,” said Barron

Many law enforcement agencies worldwide consider the Hells Angels the numero uno of the “Big Four” motorcycle gangs, the others being the Pagans, Outlaws, and Bandidos. They investigate and arrest the bikers for engaging in organized crime, including extortion, drug dealing, trafficking in stolen goods, and violent battery of all kinds. They raid their clubhouses and haul the Filthy Few off to jail.

The police never bust up yoga studios, which are generally spic and span.

Members of the Hells Angels say they are a group of enthusiasts who have bonded to ride motorcycles together, organizing events such as road trips, rallies, and fundraisers. They say any crimes are the responsibility of the men who committed them and not the club as a whole, despite many convictions for racketeering, and riots, mayhem, and shootings.

One of their slogans is, “When in doubt, knock ‘em out.”

“How did you get them into the studio in the first place?”

“I was at the Shell station up on the corner, filling up, when a Hells Angel pulled in behind me. He moved like a wooden Indian. He had to lean on the gas tank getting off his motorcycle.”

“And you suggested yoga?”

“You should try yoga,” Barron said to the biker. “It’s good for your back.”

“What the fuck?” said the biker, his arms tattooed from wrist to shoulder. “Who the hell are you?”

“I teach yoga just down the street. You should come in for a beginner’s class. You might be surprised what a big help it can be.”

“Fuck off,” said the biker.

“So what happened?” asked Frank.

“The next thing I knew, there they were when I got to work this morning. They took over the studio, one of them standing outside turning everyone else away, saying the class was full, until I got started.”

“How did it go?”

“They wouldn’t chant, and they didn’t want to hear much beforehand. They told me to get down to business, so what happened was that it turned into a plain and simple asana class.”

“How did they do?”

“They’re strong men, but most of them can’t touch their toes to save their lives. They tried hard. I’ll give them that. They were terrific doing the warrior poses, but things like triangle, anything cross-legged, and some of the twists were beyond them. Most of them were stiff as boards.”

Yoga plays an important role in reducing aggression and violence. It helps by becoming more thoughtful about your actions. It makes you more flexible in tight spots. The brain-addled in prisons have been specifically helped by the practice.

“Attention and impulsivity are very important for this population, which has problems dealing with aggressive impulses,” says Oxford University psychologist Miguel Farias.

Simple things like pranayama breathing techniques release tension and anger. Doing headstand is a good way to get it into your head that you can’t stay mad when you’re on your head. Mindfulnesss and awareness flip the misconceptions of anger.

“We can see anger in terms of a lack of awareness, as well as an active misconstruing of reality,” says the Dalai Lama.

Even the yoga concept of non-attachment can be a big help. No matter what patches you wear, you aren’t that patch. You are an individual who is free to make individual choices. The Hells Angel skull’s head is a reminder of the transitory nature of life. Make the most of it. Don’t be always punching your way out of a paper bag.

Frank and Barron finished their coffees and stepped outside. At the crosswalk they paused at the curb. The traffic was light on Clifton Boulevard, but a biker was approaching.

A trim young man on a yellow Vespa pulled up and stopped at the painted line of the crosswalk. He was wearing a turquoise football-style helmet. Both his arms up to the sleeveless of his black t-shirt were heavily tattooed. He waved at them to go. They went over the edge and into the street.

Stepping up to the curb on the other side, Barron said, “There you go, Frank, not all angels are bats out of hell.”

Ed Staskus posts a feature story monthly on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com, Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com, Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com, and State Route Two http://www.stateroutetwo.com.

Flesh and Blood

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By Ed Staskus

When Angele Jurgelaityte knocked on her aunt’s door in late September 1941, Ona Kreivenas lived on a farm near Alvitas, where she taught school, and had on her hands a growing family. There were three children and an infant. Mindaugas, Carmen, Ramute, and Gema, the new baby come into being a year earlier, were not any of them older than Angele. Even Mindaugas, the eldest, was three years younger than their thirteen-year-old cousin from Gizai.

Alvitas is a village on a lake of the same name. It is on the main road. There was a parish church built of stone, an elementary school, more than thirty houses, and almost four hundred inhabitants.

When Ona came to the front door, she was by herself. She had lost her husband a year earlier. She had since that day become a stern woman. “She was pretty, like a doll, but I was afraid of her. I broke a dish once and was scared to death of what she would say when she found out.” Her aunt bid hello to the teenaged girl, who she had been half-expecting, if not warmly, at least with a measure of relief.

Angele had spent the day walking to her aunt’s farmhouse from her family’s farm, where she decided she could no longer live with the stepmother her father had married the month before, six months after her mother’s death. She left three brothers and a sister behind.

“He was a police chief,” she about her uncle, Jonas Kreivenas. “The Russians deported him. He didn’t do anything bad. It didn’t matter, they just took him away.”

The Russians started planning mass arrests and deportations the year before, in 1940, after the Red Army occupied Lithuania and the adjacent Baltic nations. Jonas Kreivenas was one of the first arrested in 1940. They targeted government officials, nationalists, the well-to-do, Catholics, policemen, and anyone they decided was an “anti-Soviet element.”

If you were a party member, you were going to prosper, rather than get sent to Siberia.

“I had a friend not far from our farm whose father was a blacksmith, who didn’t read or write. When the Russians came, they threw out the mayor, in the town where they lived, and made him the mayor, because he was a Communist. Everyone high up, they threw out.”

The mass arrests began a year later the night of Friday June 13 as NKVD troops fanned out across the country, scooping up men and entire families, carrying them to Vilnius. Nearly twenty thousand Lithuanians were forcibly marched into the boxcars of seventeen trains on Thursday June 19 and railroaded to the far end of Russia. Three days later the German army invaded Lithuania, the Luftwaffe catching the Russian air force unaware on the ground and destroying it. By mid-week the new Wehrmacht had swept the old Soviet resistance aside.

The Russians were out. The Germans were in. “The Germans weren’t good, but life was better for us. At least they didn’t deport us. Most of us hated the Russians.”

An independent Lithuanian government was put in place, but it shortly became clear that the German military held all the power. Lithuanian Jews began to bear the brunt of the occupation. They were forced to wear yellow stars and their money and property was taken away.

That spring, before Jonas Kreivenas was taken away by the Russians, he had gotten everything he needed to build an upstairs indoor bathroom, lumber, tiles, fixtures, a sink, and a bathtub. It was going to be his summer project. When the war came back to Lithuania three summers later, in 1944, the second floor was still torn up, and the bathroom was still not a bathroom.

“The rooms were never finished upstairs.”

Jonas had started work on his bathroom, working in his spare time, walls and floors opened, but everything was still in boxes stacked up in corners. Every month Ona hoped against hope for her husband’s return. The house was brick, fitted with large front windows, four rooms on the ground floor, a kitchen and dining room, and two bedrooms. The second floor was a floor.

“They lived on a farm that wasn’t big, but a little bigger and much nicer than my father’s. It wasn’t primitive,” said Angele.

“Everyone had either a large farm or a small farm, although almost everyone had small farms. Mamyte had a larger farm. She sometimes had men come and do work, but I still ended up having to work much harder than I ever did at my family’s farm.”

There was a cellar where they kept canned food and apples for the winter. There were chickens, cows, two work horses, a horse for riding, and lots of pigs. “She had a herd of them. Mamyte had a pig killed when we needed one, and we ate them.”

She had to feed the pigs while they lived and fattened.

“We kept a big pot in the kitchen where I boiled potatoes for the pigs every day. I had to bring all the water in from the well, not just for the pigs, but for everything.”

Earlier in the summer, within days of the Red Army’s collapse, the Einsatzgruppen followed the German army into Lithuania, their mission to liquidate Jews. Synagogues were set on fire and thousands of Jews killed in the streets. The Germans claimed rioting was a menace to public order and rounded up the country’s Jews, isolating them in ghettos to “protect them.”

By the end of the next summer Angele was still working hard but tired of being a hired hand. “I was young, and I had a lot of energy. I didn’t get tired. I watched the kids. Carmen was my best friend. I loved Gema the most. Ramute cried too much. She bent her fingers backwards until they hurt, and then started crying, saying that her hand hurt. I had to work all the time.”

She worked from before sunup to sundown. “I was the cook and made soup every day. I made the beds and I had to work all around the farm.” She washed dishes and put them away. She washed clothes by hand and hung them on a line outside to dry. She washed the kids, keeping them clean.

“I was her sister’s daughter, but I was her house maid, too.”

She made the fire that had to be made for eating every day. Coal had to to be hauled inside and ice knocked off the stairs in wintertime. Mindaugas was a strong boy and helped as much as he could. Carmen helped, too. Ramute was too small to do much and Gema was too small for anything. Ona went to town to teach school every day. In the summer she worked in the fields. Everybody did what they could.

One day when she was on the second floor, Angele overheard through an open window her aunt talking to a man in the front yard about that spring’s seeding.

“I have a servant, but she’s still young, and only so good to me,” said Ona.

She realized her aunt was talking about her, about her being more a servant, less a niece. “I promised myself from that moment that when I grew up, I would never be anyone’s servant, that no one would ever say that about me again.”

She put feed and water out for the chickens. She gathered eggs early and often. She collected them twice a day, so they stayed clean. It kept the chickens from eating them, as well. She herded cows to their milking stalls. She wore knee-high boots when walking knee-deep in pig mire. She put pebbles in the manger with the oats so the horses wouldn’t eat too fast. She mended fences the best she could when the pigs and cows bumped into them.

Angele and her father were sitting together under a gathering summer dusk in Gizai one day. “My father always called me Aneluke.” He told her his plans for the future. “Aneluke, when I die, I am going to leave the farm to you.”

Her aunt talked to her about vocational classes at a nearby farm school, where she could learn animal husbandry, vegetable production, and seasonal planning.

But after working on her father’s farm, and then working on her aunt’s farm, she had made up her mind farming wasn’t in her blood. “I didn’t like animals, and I hated the ground, the earth. I was never going to grow up to be a farmer.”

She was fourteen years old. She didn’t say anything to her father, but she told her aunt no.

When Angele’s grandfather died, Ona and her children went to Gizai for the funeral, but Angele had to stay behind and watch both the baby and the farm. “I was so unhappy,” she said.

She thought about her future, even though she was on between the war going on all around them. She thought about meeting boys. She thought about changing her name.

“I never liked my name. That’s why my father called me Aneluke.”

Her youngest brother didn’t like his name, either. Even though he been christened Mindaugas, after the legendary king, he changed it. When he told everybody far and wide young and old his new name was Jozukas, everybody went along with him, and he became Jozukas from then on.

She made friends with a boy she met at a dinner at a neighboring farm. They sat next to each other and talked. “I liked him, but one day Mindaugas and I were going to Vilkaviskis in the buggy when I saw him on the road. He was on a bike and a girl was walking beside him, walking towards us. They were holding hands. After that, I didn’t like him at all.”

No matter that the farmhouse remained unfinished, her aunt decided to wire up the farm. Although electricity was available in the cities, voltage drops over distance often made rural electrification impossible, or simply too costly. When farmers had the chance to tap into a network, they often jumped at the chance.

Their fertile croplands paved the way out of the dark for the Kreivenas family.

Ona arranged for the work to be done, making plans through her relations. They found an electrician for her. “Mamyte sent me to Vilkaviskis, to pick him up, the electrician from Kaunas, who was coming on the train.”

Vilkaviskis, on the banks of the Seimina River, is almost fifty miles northwest of Alytus. After she hitched up one of the horses to their wagon, it took her and Mindaugas all day to get there. They skirted the ruins of the Jewish quarter. That night they slept in the wagon, and the next morning set off for home, taking the electrician with them.

“He was hard to understand,” she said about him. Lithuanians from different regions of the country have accents and often have their own way of saying things. “There was a man from Zemaitija once, we could hardly understand what he was saying. They drop the endings of their words.”

Until 1941 Vilkaviskis had a large Jewish community. That summer SS death squads, helped by Lithuanian collaborators, killed more than three thousand Jews. It was virtually every single one of them in the town. The SS tore down and destroyed their homes afterwards. In 1943 more Jewish ghettos were demolished, and the living transferred to concentration camps. When the war ended almost all of them weren’t alive anymore.

The genocide rate in Lithuania, where anti-Semitism had been endemic for generations, was more than 90%, one of the highest in Europe.

There was a severe shortage of sugar throughout Europe, disrupted by worldwide conflict and blockade. The German military needed it to support its armed forces and its war effort at home. Sugar beet planting in Poland and the Baltics was ramped up. In 1942 more than 20% of Lithuanian farmers, the most ever, cultivated sugar beets. Production was expected to increase by 25% in 1943. Potatoes were in high demand. Grain was in high demand. The Axis paid in Reichsmarks, better money in Europe than anybody else’s.

Ona Kreivenas invested her bounty in electrification.

“The electrician put in wires and lights. The black box was in the kitchen.” They were warned to never touch it. “We didn’t have to use oil lamps anymore. We were so happy.”

Carmen, Ramute, and Angele slept in the dining room, an improvised bedroom in the four-room house. To the left of the foyer was the kitchen and to the right was the dining room. Ona had the large bedroom and Mindaugas the small one. At the back of the house stairs led to a root cellar.

“We read books at night until mamyte told us lights out. She was a strict mother. We would always turn the light off right away. She knew when we did because she had a blinking light in her room which told her when the lights had been turned off. We pretended being quiet until we knew she was asleep, and then turned the light back on so we could read some more. After we got tired of reading, we turned the light off and talked until we finally fell asleep.”

In March 1943 the German authorities closed the Academy of Education and all Lithuanian schools of higher education. Ona taught grade school and wasn’t affected. She continued going to work. Everybody was uneasy. The war on the Eastern Front wasn’t going well for the Germans. The Wehrmachct was losing the ability to mount offensive operations.

“I couldn’t go to school because I had to work so much. I finished six grades, and I wanted to learn, so mamyte found a tutor for me. I went to her house for two years, studying high school.”

She wanted to be somebody other than a maid or farmhand.

Two months later in May the Gestapo outdated Lithuania’s local electorates. In September the last Jews in the ghetto of Vilnius were dragged out to the streets. Those who could work were sent to labor camps. The rest were shot.

When the New Year 1944 came, news was broadcast that Antanas Smetona, the first and last president of independent Lithuania, who fled his home and country in 1940, had died in a house fire in Cleveland, Ohio. His death closed the chapter on the interwar years, when Lithuania had been free and clear.

“We had a radio and listened to the news every day. We knew it was bad for the Germans. We knew the Russians were coming back.” Everybody was worried and scared about the return of the USSR. “We all knew something bad was going to happen.”

In early August 1944, the German army was driven out of most of Lithuania by Soviet forces and Russian hegemony was re-established. They were the same days of the war that marked the Battle of Normandy in the west, which soon led to French liberation and independence.

“When the Russians came, it all happened in one day. We got our wagon, the horses, the four children, and a cow. We needed the cow and left as fast as we could.”

They and hundreds of other families camped at a large farm only a few miles from the East Prussian border, biding their time. When the Red Army again pushed west in September, and what was left of the German army fled before them, the refugees crossed the frontier.

“We got across the border into East Prussia at night. It was a wet cold night. There wasn’t a single border guard. Nobody else in my family, none of my brothers and my sister, nobody, made it out before the border was closed by the Russians.”

She was free for the moment in German land, but her family kinsmen friends and the rest of the country were under the callused thumb of Moscow, now and for the next nearly fifty years.

Photograph by Antanas Sutkus

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Down on Dirva

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By Ed Staskus

I was surprised and dismayed the day my father told me that, other than Ausra, the two-week sun and sand Lithuanian camp in Wasaga Beach, and our one-week boy scout camp, I would be working at Dirva the rest of the summer. I shouldn’t have been surprised, since my father believed in the work ethic and worked like a dog himself, but I was. He gave me a grave stern annoyed look when I blurted out it would disturb my time off from school.

I kept most of my dismay to myself.

It wouldn’t have helped, anyway. I knew once he told me, I would be working at Dirva from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Thank God it was only part-time. I would be home by three o’clock and didn’t have to work on Fridays. I was going to be getting three-day weekends before I even knew what three-day weekends were.

Before the newspaper Dirva, which means field, was Dirva, it was Santaika, which means peace. Kazys Karpius was the editor, and stayed on the job for thirty years, from the end of World War One through the Great Depression to the end of World War Two, getting the weekly editions out without fail. The paper was anti-communist, pro-democracy, and true-blue the homeland.

Kazys Karpius wrote poems, plays, and histories about Lithuania, especially about beating off the Vikings and Teutonic Knights back in the day. The Teutonic Knights were always tramping into the Baltics for plunder and conversion, not their own conversion, but that of the natives they regarded as pagans. The Lithuanians didn’t see eye to eye with the Germans about it, insisting it was none of their business. They fought with longswords, battles axes, crossbows, maces, picks and war hammers, knives, clubs, slings, and hand-to-hand.

The first day I slouched into work was a brisk early summer morning. I was down on Dirva but resigned. I rode the CTS bus from St. Clair to East 105th Street over Liberty Boulevard down Superior Avenue. It was the same bus and same route I took going to school, to St. George’s, on East 67th and Superior.

Lithuanian immigrants came to Cleveland, Ohio, on the south shore of Lake Erie, in two waves, the first one in the late 19th century. They were cheap labor for emerging industries. They needed their own newspaper and church. At the turn of the century Father Joe Jankus threw up a small wooden church near downtown. The next pastor bought the land St. George’s was going to stand on and after it was built Father Vincent Vilkutaitis ran the parish for forty years. His last year was my first year of five years there.

The church was on the top floor of the 2½ story brick building, the grade school on the middle floor, and the community hall on the ground floor, which was partially below ground.  Since it was the Atomic Age, and the Cold War was in full swing, the hall doubled as a Nuclear Fallout Shelter. Every few months we had a Civil Defense drill and had to file out of our classes and down to the hall, where we shuffled around until the drill was over.

If we had somehow survived the blast, even though we all brought our own sandwiches in Flintstone Dudley-Do-right Jetson lunch boxes, we would have all died trying to live on the crumbs.

Jonas Ciuberkis was our neighbor two houses down from where we lived at the corner of Bartfield and Coronado, in a Polish double my mom and dad had bought with my dad’s sister and her family, all of us getting started in the United States. He was the editor of Dirva, in a small office at the front. A quiet man, balding, careful in manner, he was married to a woman fifteen-some years his junior, a woman who had given him three children, and who was fleshy vivacious gregarious.

Regina Ciuberkiene had an opinion about everything and could talk your ear off. It didn’t matter that we were just kids. We avoided her. My mother never called her Regina. She called her Ciuberkiene, even to her face. Many of his friends called Jonas Janis, which is Latvian for Jonas. He studied law in Lithuania and worked in Latvia before the war. Their two daughters were either too old or too young, but their son, Arunas, was just right, and we played together.

Dirva was in a one-story brick building on Superior, next to the haunted house that was next to St. George’s. The Lithuanian Hall Society was next door. It was where all the civic and cultural business was done. It was also where there were dances and heavy drinking. Jonas Ciuberkis wasn’t sure what to do with me, so the first few days I didn’t do anything. After that I started cleaning up the mess, starting with the bathroom. After that I helped with the press and folding and mailing.

My job was to do this do that, whatever I was told to do.

The printing press looked like it belonged in a museum. It worked, sort of, but it was my archenemy, always threatening my mitts. It was a hand-fed flat-bed cylinder press. There was metal type for headings and an intertype machine for news and features. When the paper was ready for print, I got the machine rolling, crossing my fingers, and hoping for the best. As the copies came off the belt, I changed hats, becoming the press-boy who checked for defects. If and when the press got everything done, I became the mail-boy, wrapping the papers in bundles. Then I became the push-boy, carting them to beside the back door for pick-up.

By World War One there were almost ten thousand Lithuanians in Cleveland. St. George’s was their church. Dirva was their newspaper. It was put out by the Ohio Lithuanian Publishing Company, which was run by Apdonas Bartusevicius. In 1925 Kazys Karpius gained a controlling interest.

He was involved in Lithuanian projects all his life, including the Unification of Lithuanians in America and the Lithuanian National League of America. He helped found the American Lithuanian Cultural Center. After World War Two boatloads of displaced Lithuanians made it to Cleveland. Dirva published local, national and international news, as well as keeping everybody informed about what was going on back in the land. We sent the paper to Detroit and Pittsburgh and other places wherever there was a church or a bendruomene.

Our editor went out most days for lunch and sometimes came back smelling like whiskey. One day he was walking out the door, I was sitting on a crate doing nothing, when he waved at me and said, “Ateik.” I must have been daydreaming, because he had to say it again before I realized he wanted me to go with him.

He usually wore a white shirt and brown pleated pants. His thin hair was gray brownish. He drove a brown car. The interior was tan, clean and anonymous. No one would ever have suspected he had a wife and three kids. He turned right on Norwood Road, six blocks later turned right on St. Clair, past the Slovenian National Home, to the Maple Lanes Bowling Alley and Tavern. It took five minutes. He parked on the street and we went in.

Nothing was going on in the bowling alley, but he wasn’t going to the bowling alley, anyway. He walked into the bar, checking to see that I was trailing him, and took a stool at the bar.

“Atsisesk,” he said, adding, “Don’t tell your mother.”

I sat down next to him. The bartender stepped up. He was wearing a bow tie and looked like a new mattress wearing a bow tie. I couldn’t see around him.

Jonas Ciuberkis ordered a shot and a water back and asked me what I wanted. I wanted an ice-cold Coca-Cola. It was in the 90s and humid. There was a big glass jar of pickled eggs at his elbow. He took one out for himself and nodded at the jar, looking at me. I said aciu, but no thanks.

Pickled eggs are eggs hard boiled, the shell removed, and submerged in a solution of vinegar, salt, spices, and seasonings. The eggs are left in the brine anywhere from one day to several months. They get rubbery the longer they are in the pickling solution.

“They’re Pennsylvania Dutch,” my boss said. “Try a bite.”

Pennsylvania Dutch style means whole beets, onions, vinegar, sugar, salt, cloves and a cinnamon stick are used as the brine. The eggs look either pink purple from the beets and have a sweet and sour taste.

I took a bite, gingerly. It wasn’t bad, it was actually good, far better than the koseliena, chopped meat in cold aspic, like headcheese, my mother was always trying to get us to eat. Some food from the old country should have been left in the old country, dead and buried.

When the bartender moved to the side, I saw the painting. It was on the wall above the paneling and top shelf of liquor bottles. It was of a half-naked woman reclining on her side on a chaise, her head up, looking down on the drinkers, her long golden hair hanging loose. Her eyes were wide set and her lips pouty luscious red.

It was Lili St. Cyr, a burlesque dancer forty-some years ago. She was a pioneer in the striptease trade, known for her cutting-edge performances. One of her most famous tricks was ‘the Flying G.’ While she was doing her burlesque striptease, the lights slowly going down, just at the instant when everything went completely dark, a man in the wings with a fishing pole would snag her g-string and pull it off. Even if you didn’t blink it looked like it had disappeared just like that.

A man who had seen her perform many times painted the mural in 1954. Maple Lanes paid him off in beer. Above the burlesque queen’s legs in the painting was an English proverb, “A woman is an angel at ten, a saint at fifteen, a devil at forty, and a witch at fourscore.”

Jonas Ciuberkis flicked his eyes at the painting ten twenty times, while I kept my eyes away from it. I was an altar boy at St. George’s on the side. He had another shot, this time with a beer chaser. My mother always told us an apple a day, not a bottle of pop, kept the doctor away, so, I turned down more Coca-Cola.

My boss talked about the “Great Books,” one of his favorite subjects, so I didn’t tell him about my reading habits, and about Lithuania, his other favorite subject, its history, the commies, and how to restore its freedom. I didn’t tell him it was going in one ear and out the other. He talked in a gloomy milk and water way. It was hard to pay attention, so I gave up, and set my sights back on Lili St. Cyr.

She started looking familiar. I finally realized, if she were wearing clothes, she looked just like Regina Ciuberkiene, wide set eyes and full mouth, buxom, calves of salami.  She wasn’t a spitting image but as close as spit got.

My boss never invited me to Maple Lanes again, and Mondays through Thursdays the summer crawled by, while Fridays through Sundays flew by. I messed around with my friends, rode my bike, and played a boatload of pick-up sandlot baseball.

By the time my employment was coming to an end, Labor Day fast approaching, I had come to an accommodation with my job. The printing press and I were on speaking terms. I was no longer down on Dirva. I almost enjoyed it. I asked about my paychecks. I hadn’t seen a single one.

“I gave them to your father every two weeks,” Jonas Ciuberkis said.

“Oh,” I said.

I didn’t ask my father about the paychecks. My mother and he were fanatical savers, putting every spare penny in the bank. I knew what he was going to be doing with the money, clothes and tuition for school.

By the next year we had moved past Five Points to the Lithuanian neighborhood on the farther east side. Everybody was moving there because, with urban renewal in full swing, black people were slowly steadily shifting east, moving into our neighborhood. “We like them less than the Americans,” my mother told me. “They’re lazy.” If you weren’t a workaholic my parents thought you were lazy.

The first Lithuanians in Cleveland lived near downtown, but fifty years later were relocating to the Superior-St. Clair area around St. George’s. The new community emerged in the Collinwood-Nottingham neighborhood, near the church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help on Neff Road off East 185th Street. Most Lithuanians are Roman Catholic, although some are Jews, and a few are Lutherans. A small group of Cleveland’s Lithuanians broke off to live among working-class Poles on the south side, even though there is no love lost between Poles and Lithuanians.

I enrolled in St. Joseph’s High School where the main road, a couple of miles of every kind of shop and store, intersected Lakeshore Boulevard. It was an all-boy’s school. It was still summer, the next summer, but fall was coming up. I looked at Dirva now and then, but when classes started all I read were my schoolbooks and Doc Savage adventure books from the library. I read them on weekends. There were twenty-four of them in all. I read them all. My favorite was “The Secret of Satan’s Spine.”

Jonas Ciuberkis was fired from his job and Vytautas Gedgaudas took over. I didn’t know him and nobody I knew ever told me anything about him. He expanded the publication schedule to three times a week, but it went back to its original weekly frequency soon enough. Working that much must have driven the printing press crazy, and driven whoever was operating it crazy, too.

Maple Lanes Bowling Alley and Tavern was sold that same summer of 1964. Ann Abranovich and Josephine Reeves, sisters and working mothers, bought it so they could make more money and spend more time with their sprouting growing families. Josephine lived a few blocks from the bowling alley and walked to work. Ann moved her family into the apartment upstairs. The noise downstairs was money in the bank.

When I heard the St. Joseph’s bowling team was going there for a tournament, I told them I knew all about the bowling alley and they let me tag along. Everybody asked me about the painting, which the new owners hadn’t messed with. I told them I knew everything about it.  I didn’t know bowling from polo, although I knew you rolled the ball trying to knock all the pins down, so I sat in the back and watched. The St. Joe’s and Padua and Ignatius teams rolled the worst scores of their lives.

The kingpin kids from upstairs were the pinsetters. You had to be careful not to roll while they were still setting up. They screamed and sent pins flying at you if you did. The alleys weren’t even and smooth. They were wood, not laminate, old wood, and there were warps bumps gouges divots waves from one end to the other. It was hard if not impossible to tell what your ball was going to do. The talk was that no one had ever rolled a three hundred score perfect game at Maple Lanes, and that no ever would, unless they made a deal with the devil.

That was unlikely to happen, because everybody in that old neighborhood neck of the woods went to church on Sundays. There weren’t as many churches as bars, but it was close enough. There would have been talk, the news would have spread like wildfire, and there would have been hell to pay if you did roll a perfect game.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Bang a Gong

By Ed Staskus

The first day of spring will officially arrive in the West Park neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio, in about six weeks, on Friday March 20th, shortly after noontime. The sun may or may not make an appearance. Whether Dawn Schroeder will be in her backyard practicing yoga depends more on its unofficial than official arrival. It can and will be cold cloudy wet in March April and into May.

High temperatures slowly go up to 51°F by the end of the month. How often the sky is mostly cloudy or completely overcast actually goes down from 62% to 56%. The chance of a rainy day over the course of March, however, goes up, starting the month at 23% and ending it at 30%.

It’s not that Dawn is a fair-weather yogi practitioner sadhak. She cleaves to it all year round, especially since she teaches the practice, too. But living in C-land is living four seasons, and some of those seasons are lived indoors, for the most part, for good reason.

Snowstorms in March and April are not uncommon in northern Ohio. The snowfall in April 2005 set a record at 19 inches. Two years later more than 13 inches fell in April. All the green and budding growing things had to take a break and wait it out, waiting for life.

“Yoga and meditation have served me well as I navigate and embrace my life,” says Dawn.

She describes herself as “an experienced vinyasa and Kundalini Yoga teacher, with over two decades of active teaching, a wife, mother, sister, friend, gardener, nature lover, curious seeker, and a gong and sound enthusiast.”

The gong is a metal disk with a turned rim, a large percussion instrument played by hitting it with a mallet. It makes a complex resonant echoing sound.

“The gong is the first and last instrument for the human mind,” said Yogi Bhajan, the man who brought Kundalini Yoga to America in the 1960s. “Vibrate the cosmos and the cosmos shall clear the path.”

Banging a gong is a kind of sound practice that involves using specific tones and vibrations to facilitate healing. It is sometimes called a gong bath, like being bathed in meditative sound waves. The goals of gong meditation are therapeutic, healing the mind and body, and expanding one’s awareness of the present.

“Becoming a certified and registered yoga teacher saved me when I was a stressed-out bond futures broker at the Chicago Board of Trading in the mid-’80s,” said Dawn. “It healed my body, soothed my soul and ignited my spiritual path. It is my faithful companion.”

Bond trading isn’t for everyone. It’s demanding and stressful, personally emotionally intellectually. There are times when you are on top of the world and other times when you’re the worst trader in the history of capital markets. It’s tough being a Bond Girl, especially when the action goes against you. It can be a lucrative job, but it can also be a job that drives you unglued out of your mind.

“There is only one thing that can supersede and command the human mind, the sound of the gong,” said Yogi Bhajan. “It is the first sound in the universe, the sound that created this universe. It is the basic creative sound. The sound of the gong is like a mother and father. The mind has no power to resist a gong that is well played.”

Dawn received her first yoga certification in 1986. “I have been learning ever since,” she says. Learning every day is living like what you did yesterday isn’t going to be enough for tomorrow.

“I completed my first Yoga Teacher Training in 1985 and being a life-long student, I continue to train today. I have been a Level One Kundalini Yoga and Meditation teacher since 2011, and I train with prominent teachers, attend immersions, retreats, and have begun my Level Two Training.”

Ten years later, she left Chicago, moved to Cleveland, able to spend more time with her family. and stepped into teaching yoga professionally.

“I actively study many styles of yoga by attending teacher trainings and workshops,” she said. “I am a Registered Yoga Teacher with the Yoga Alliance at the E-RYT 500 level, a KRI Certified Kundalini Yoga teacher, and I am trained in YogaEd. As Adjunct Faculty, I teach Yoga for Educators courses and Yoga courses at Baldwin-Wallace University.”

She is also an avid gongster.

I am a Gong Meditation Enthusiast.”

She and her husband Mark host Triple Gong and Mantra Meditations on weekends at the Unity Spiritual Center in Westlake, not far from their home. Get it on, bang a gong, or more.

A Roman gong from the 2nd century was excavated in Wiltshire in England and they were known in China since the 6th century. The word gong is Javanese, where they were used from the 9th century onwards. Flat gongs are found throughout Asia and knobbed gongs dominate in Southeast Asia.

On Thursday nights the Schroeder’s host yoga, pranayama, kriya, meditation, and gong savasana at the Schroasis. The Schroasis is at their house. In the winter the oasis is indoors, while in summer the oasis is outdoors.

“We absolutely love how the Kundalini Yoga and Meditation Immersions have grown and connected us,” she says. “It’s a way to practice consistently with a fun, welcoming group of yogis. The immersions and offerings are always open to students of all levels, true beginners to seasoned yogis,” she said.

“Filling ourselves up from the inside grows our gratitude. Choose to fill yourself up intentionally with meaningful experiences that create sustaining fullness, curiosity, growth, and contentment, while relying on both established experiences like on-going yoga classes and new experiences to fuel your inner glow.”

The gong is used in Kundalini Yoga as an instrument of healing, rejuvenation, and transformation. The sound waves ostensibly stimulate our cells. The idea is to increase prana, the vital life force, release tension and blocks in the body, encourage the glandular and nervous system, and improve circulation. It is also thought to work on the mental, emotional, and spiritual bodies, quieting the mind in the long run.The idea is to take the listener to their non-judgmental neural mind, to a state of quiet, of stillness.

“I see my dharma as sharing what I know, and supporting growth, expansion, connection, truth, and unity in this world,” said Dawn. “This clarity in my purpose led to the creation of our PranaVerdana, hosting, co-creating, and facilitating events that are joyful, uplifting and inspiring, creating vibrant life force energy, prana. Moving our prana toward a green, lush heart-centered world is what I generously offer.”

In Sanskrit, prana means primary energy. It is sometimes translated as breath or vital force. Although prana is the basic life-force, it can be considered the original creative power. It is the master form of all energy at every level. It has also been translated as bio-energetic motility, alive and moving, associated with maintaining the functioning of the mind and body. Kundalini, in its form as prana-kundalini, is identical to prana.

“The gong is very simple,” said Yogi Bhajan. “It is an inter-vibratory system. It is the sound of creativity itself. The gong is nothing more, nothing less. One who plays the gong plays the universe. The gong is not an ordinary thing to play. Out of it came all music, all sounds, and all words. The sound of the gong is the nucleus of the Word. “

In the beginning was the word, a sound, a vibration.

“The way I play it is my pleasure,” he added. “The gong is not a musical instrument, nor a drum. The gong is God, so it is said and so it is. The gong is a beautiful reinforced vibration. It is like a multitude of strings, as if you played with a million strings. The gong is the only tool with which you can produce this combination of space vibrations.”

Dawn teaches yoga at the Inner Bliss studios in both Rocky River and Westlake and freelances around town. She has completed Advanced Chakra Yoga Teacher Training and Lotus Palm Thai Yoga Massage trainings. “I am a polarity practitioner, and bring my exploration of Ayurveda, Reflexology, energy work, and essential oils to my client wellness services.”

She facilitates a variety of workshops, events, retreats, and trainings. “I have a playful, mature, empowering, eclectic style of teaching influenced by my trainings, personal experiences, and practice,” said Dawn. She inspires energizes networks collaborates. She fires it up.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” says Cher Lukacs, founder and director of Sat Nam Studio. “Dawn Schroeder, my teacher, had been working tirelessly to bring the first Kundalini Yoga teacher training to Cleveland. After her Saturday morning classes, she would regularly report her steady progress toward making this dream a reality.

“A year earlier I had rented the space next to my law practice, planning to sublet to like-minded professionals. Despite some interest, it was not jelling. It was as if the space was quietly waiting.  One day when Dawn announced that a new space was needed for the training, I suddenly heard myself telling her, I have a space.”

“The studio was bornas a school of Kundalini Yoga.”

“Gong is the only instrument that can create the vibration of affirming,” said Yogi Bhajan. “Life becomes yes to you and the word no is eliminated from your dictionary.”

Gongs are an integral traditional aspect of Kundalini Yoga. Every Kundalini ashram and yoga center and ashram is supposed to have a gong and use it faithfully., since it is felt to be more than a musical instrument, more in the realm of a healing tool. There are several mantras practitioners often chant out loud as a class before the playing of the gong. One of them is the Bhakti mantra and the other one is the Mangalacharan mantra. The one shows an appreciation for the moment and the gong while the other signals peace and centeredness.

“A gong bath truly is a transformative experience,” says Bridget Toomey, who teaches Kundalini Yoga at Heartland Yoga in Iowa City.

“To get a taste, start by imagining yourself lying in a dark room, on top of a yoga mat, covered in a blanket. The teacher directs you to relax each part of your body one muscle at a time, from your toes to your tongue. The sound begins quietly at first and then slowly becomes louder and more rhythmic and trance-inducing. The vibrations wash over your body. Time seems to slip away and what feels like five minutes can really be 30. That is the power of a gong bath.”

At about the same time Dawn Schroeder was transitioning out of bond trading in Chicago, the Philadelphia rock ‘n’ roll star Todd Rundgren was headlining the charts with his hit single ‘Bang the Drum All Day.’

“I don’t want to work, I want to bang on the drum all day, I don’t want to play, I just want to bang on the drum all day, I can do this all day.”

“You have no resistance against this sound, the gong,” said Yogi Bhajan “It is the master sound. Everything you think becomes zero. The gong prevails.”

“I am so grateful I found yoga and I love sharing it and watching students grow,” says Dawn. “I came to the mat seeking ease in my body and had no idea it would change my life. Yoga is the perfect complement to our hectic, stressful lifestyles.”

Dawn Schroeder isn’t a headbanger, but when she bangs her gong, she’s got her head in the right place.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

My Two Best Friends

By Ed Staskus

   When Nick Goga met Wayne Biddell, the burly man had two bum knees, although they were the least of his problems. He had been a Cleveland Police Department detective for fifteen years and a uniformed officer before that. He told Nick in all that time he only drew his service handgun three times and never once fired it. He lived with the same bullets on his belt all his life.

   He had bad knees from playing handball at the downtown YMCA.

   “I probably never should have played that game, but I loved it, although it and my job cost me my legs and my marriage,” he said.

   Nick met Wayne after his marriage fell apart and he lost his house, which was a lot like what happened to Wayne. They met on the grassy courtyard of the apartment complex on East 222nd Street in Euclid, where they both lived, when Nick saw him messing around with his golf clubs on a warm dry spring day. The ex-cop was retired and living alone.

  Nick wasn’t retired, not exactly, but he lived alone, too.

  They played golf together for the next three years. He was the best friend Nick ever had, even more than Mattie Haylor, even though Mattie ended up doing more for him later on. Wayne was affable and did many things for him that he never even asked him to do. After Nick moved to Lakewood, Wayne got him a car, convincing his lady friend to give him the old Ford she was planning on trading in when she got her new car. He later mailed him a check for five hundred dollars, to live on, knowing Nick was strapped, knowing his ex-wife had taken him to the cleaners.

   It wasn’t his fault the Ford’s transmission blew out, stranding him in Tremont, and his son-in-law wouldn’t lend him the money to get it repaired.

   “Fixing it will cost more than the car is worth,” he said. “You’re better off sending it to the scrap yard.”

   He knew Jack was right but knew he didn’t want to lend him even one dollar, at the same time. He could tell Jack didn’t trust him, even though he had always been an honest man. All his friends said so. He wasn’t sure what his daughter Agnes thought, whether she was just backing her husband up, or not.

   He junked the heap and got a hundred bucks for it.

   After that he had to walk to the Lakewood Library and McDonald’s, the grocery and the bus stop all that winter, the winter Wayne blew his head off, and all the next spring until Mattie died and left him a hundred thousand dollars, after all was said and done. The trust sold Mattie’s house and old furniture and threw everything else out. He was able to buy a new car, a two-door Suzuki that never ran out of gas.

   When his wife Eva Giedraityte walked out on him, and took all the money out of their joint accounts, swooping up the kids and talking him into taking a second mortgage out on their house so she and her new boyfriend from Rochester could open a restaurant, and Palmer Bearings went bankrupt, putting him out of the only work he had ever done since getting shipped home from the Korean War with a Purple Heart, it was then he played more golf than he ever played in his life, and waited to be thrown out of his house.

   When he finally got the boot and moved out of Indian Hills, down the hill to Euclid, he was in his late 50s.

   “I was hanging on, waiting to get to 62, so I could get my Social Security early. I needed the money bad. When I worked for Palmer Bearings, they gave me a new car every year, with an expense account no one ever questioned, and I was in line to be made a vice-president, up to the day the Shylocks closed the doors without a word of warning to me.”

   Nick had a chip on his shoulder about it. He was aggrieved and bitter. Sometimes he went for a walk to cool down.

   “There were years when I almost always had a thousand dollars, or more, in cash in my pockets every day. Those days were gone. I had made the day for the Jews who ran the business. In the end they took it all away from me, just like my wife did. Eva broke me down inside.”

   When he moved to Euclid he moved into a no-rent apartment, an apartment that Angelo, the maintenance man at the apartment complex, who he met through Stan, a Pole he often had breakfast with at the railroad car diner on Green Road, not far from the giant Fisher Body and TRW plants, got for him when he was hired to be his helper.

   “Stan and I talked all the time over cups of coffee. We got to be good friends, even though he was a thick Polack. He was a hell of a bowler. He was good enough to bowl in tournaments, and I went to a couple of them to watch him. It was hop, skip, and glide to the line. He was always pounding out strikes. It got old, though, and I stopped going, except when the beer and pretzels were free.”

   Angelo was from Texas and was a Korean War veteran, like Nick. He talked the man who was the boss, who owned the apartment complex, into hiring him. Nick didn’t like the man, didn’t like his shrewd face, but he kept his mouth shut.

   “He was Hebrew, and that’s who runs the country. They run the money, which means they run everything else, too. They own most of the gold in the world. They marry inside the family, keeping it all together for themselves.”

   He shoveled snow, did some of the gardening, and vacuumed the hallways. He cleaned apartments when they went vacant and got paid extra whenever he had to clean kitchens, scrubbing the stove and emptying out the fridge, throwing away spoiled food. He made a few bucks here and there, one way or another. He stayed quick on the uptake. He kept his head above water.

   The apartment complex had been built during the Second World War for government workers. It was built like a tank, sturdy as a fort. The brown brick buildings were three stories with garages in the back. Fox Avenue intersected the complex and ran all the way to Babbitt Avenue, where there was a golf course. Wayne and he shuttled to it on good days, getting in eighteen holes.

   “He wasn’t any good, and complained about the walking, but we got along. I always went looking for the balls he shanked.”

   Wayne worked part-time at night, in a booth selling betting slips at the Thistledown horse track in North Randall. He was on his own during the day, which was how he and Nick were able to go golfing together whenever Nick was free to go. They went to tournaments in Akron, to watch the professionals. Stan went with them once, but he wasn’t used to hiking more than a bowling lane and got worn out.

   After Nick lost his car Wayne always drove. He had gotten a new dark blue Mercury four-door sedan. “He loved that car and talked his lady friend into getting one, too. That was how I got her old Ford.”

   When he moved to Lakewood, on the west side, to a no-frills apartment across the street from St. Ed’s High School, Wayne visited him a few times, even though he didn’t like the small apartment or the building.

   “It’s a dump,” he said.

    Nick took him to Joe’s Diner for breakfast. “I could tell he was suffering. It wasn’t just his knees. He had prostate cancer and was hurting. It was just a matter of time. I called him on Christmas Eve and wished him happy holidays. He didn’t sound good, but he didn’t sound bad, either. At least, that’s what I thought. I was dead wrong.”

   Wayne’s son was a pre-law student at Miami University. He had tried out for the football team as a walk-on and made the cut. That fall he saw playing time as the team’s back-up quarterback when the starter was injured. “He was a hell of an athlete,” Nick said. He drove up to Euclid from Oxford to see his dad the Christmas weekend. Wayne told him all about his new Mercury.

   “Take my car and give it a little ride,” he said. “I haven’t driven it for a while. It needs to be out on the road.”

   His son got the car and drove it up and down Lakeshore Boulevard. It had snowed overnight, but not much, and what snow there was had been plowed to the side. When he got back, he found his father in bed. Wayne had put a pillow over his head and a gun in his mouth. When he pulled the trigger, it was the first and last time he ever shot a gun at a human being.

   After the funeral Nick hoofed it around Lakewood until summer, when Mattie, his golfing buddy for many years, who was in his 80s, got sick. He was taken to Fairview Hospital, and when there wasn’t anything else the doctors could do, they moved him to the Welsh Home in Rocky River.

   “Mattie was a great guy and great friend of mine, my other best friend for a long time. He was on our golf team in the Cleveland Metropolitan Golf Association. We had about ninety members and most of us were friends. We played golf until it was too cold to walk the courses. After that, any of us who could afford it went south to play. I went to sunny parts of the country to play golf many times, when I was married, in the clover, and even afterwards, until I couldn’t afford to go anymore.”

   Mattie passed away in his sleep and a month after his funeral Nick got a registered letter from a lawyer saying he had been included in the will. “He left me his house. It surprised me but didn’t surprise me. I was the only person who ever listened to what he had to say, who stuck around when he lost track of his thoughts, who waited for him to reminisce about something else he was bound to remember sooner or later, even though it was a lot of nothing. After the house was sold, I got a check for a bundle.”

   He bought his new car, paying cash for it. He paid off his credit card debt, the plastic he had been living on, and bought a new laptop computer, so he didn’t have to always go to the library to work on his get-rich schemes. He stopped sending e-mails to his son-in-law when Jack exploded about them one day, saying he was sick of the schemes. He told his father-in-law he was never going to buy in to any of them.

   “I always was a good friend with different people, including Wayne and Mattie, who were my two best friends. It’s good to be best friends with your friends. Otherwise, you end up with duck eggs. My ship is coming in one day. When it does, I’ll dump the Suzuki in the blink of an eye and get an Audi convertible.  I’ll go to Florida every winter. I’ll play golf in the sunshine again.”

   He bought new shirts and shoes and ate better. After squirreling the rest of Mattie’s money away he was in good shape. He stayed in his dog-eared apartment to keep costs down. He thought about buying birthday presents for his grandson and granddaughter, even though he hardly ever saw them, and when he did, hardly paid any attention to them.  He didn’t work at much of anything and played golf all the next summer at new nicer courses. He went to both Wayne and Mattie’s graves and paid his respects. He only went once, but it was enough.

   He made some new best friends.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Farm Girl

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By Ed Staskus

When Angele Jurgelaityte was born in January 1928, it snowed until it got too cold to snow anymore. By the end of the month the thermometer rose to ten degrees below zero. When it warmed up the first week of February and the snow melted, a half-foot of slush was left behind. The next week there was heavy rain and her father’s fields were left under water. If it froze there would be acres of ice rink.

“I was born in an area we called the New Farm, in Suvalkija,” said Angele.

Suvalkija is the smallest of the five regions of Lithuania. It is girdled by the Nemunas River to the north. The region‘s identity was molded in the 19th century when it was a part of Congress Poland. Suvalkija was an agricultural area, generating substantial sugar beet harvests. Sugar beet yield in Lithuania was almost half that in the United States, even though the country is 151 times smaller than the United States.

“My father’s name was Jonas Jurgelaitis. My mother’s name was Julija. We lived on a small farm. It was three miles from Marijampole.”

Marijampole is in the far south of Lithuania, bordering Poland and Kaliningrad. Lake Vistytis is nearby. The town was a center of book spreaders and freedom fighters in the long struggle leading to the country’s independence in 1918.

Their farm was thirty-seven acres. The nearest neighbors were out of sight, even though they were hard by. Woodlands of Scots Pine and Norway Spruce and copses of Birch were scattered along the periphery of their land. Her father kept a pair of horses, three to four cows, chickens, and a sounder of swine. Every week he loaded 10-gallon 90-pound milk cans into his wagon and took them to a local dairy. Their croplands were mainly devoted to sugar beets, a cash crop, harvested in early autumn.

Suvalkija has less forest than any other part of Lithuania. It has been brought to bear for tillage. Kazlu Ruda, a large forest, nearly 230 square miles of it, is in Suvalkija, but it is on sandy soil that doesn’t work for farming.

Rye, wheat, and barley have been cultivated in Lithuania for two thousand years. Potatoes got rolling three hundred years ago. The country has always been able to sustain itself with foodstuffs. After gaining home rule from the Russians, land reforms in 1922 turned over ground suitable for the plow to tens of thousands of new landowners. Two years later the Academy of Agriculture was established to oversee land exploitation and management.

“My mother was tall and thin and pretty. She looked like a Romanian, even though she was born near where we lived. I didn’t look like her, at all. I looked like my father.”

Her mother gave birth to eleven children in less than twenty years. Six of them survived infancy. Those that did survived World War Two, the forty-six year subsequent Soviet occupation, and lived to see Lithuania regain its freedom.

Justinas was the oldest boy, born in 1919. “Justinas would invite his friends, and girls, to our house in the summer for dancing, before he joined the army.” Irena and the boys Sigitas and Jozukas were the youngest. Jozukas, the tenderfoot of the family, was two years old in 1938.

Julija started suffering chest pains that year, losing her appetite and losing weight. She was diagnosed with tuberculosis, a major killer in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Almost ninety years later tuberculosis is still prominent in Lithuania, one of the most highly TB-burdened countries in the world, falling behind most nearby countries in the prevalence of the disease.

“She went to the sanitorium in Kaunas the next year and got better.”

When family responsibilities and the family’s finances called her back, she got worse. Angele helped with the housework and cooking. She kept up her schoolwork, kept up her chores, and with her two older brothers nursed their mother.

“Irena and I went to school in Gizai, which was less than a mile from our house. In the winter, when it was snowy, my father hitched one of the horses to a sled and took us there. I went for six years.”

The family farm was five miles from Marijampole. It was forty miles southwest from Kaunas, the country’s second largest city. Vilnius, the capital, home to nearly a half million, was eighty miles away. It might as well have been a million miles away.

“We all had to work on the farm, but my father did everything. We had to work, since we were poor.” There were no hired men or seasonal laborers. “I mixed feed for the pigs and fed them. We earned our money by growing sugar beets. Irena and I helped, but Sigitas and Jozukas were too small. We pulled them out of the ground in the fall and used a big knife to cut the leaves away. We threw them in a cart and when we had enough to fill our wagon, my father hitched the two horses and took the beets to Marijampole.”

The family home was a frame house, clapboard siding painted green, two stories, although the second story was only an attic for storage and for smoking pork.

“We had another small house, a small barn where we kept wood for the fireplace.” They sawed their own cordwood. “On the second floor, up a ladder, there was hay for the animals and rye and barley for bread. Justinas and Bronius slept in a room beneath the loft.”

A brick-lined jumper duct fed heat from the farmhouse fireplace to the barn. Still and all, in the winter the young men gathered their blankets up and warmed them before going to bed. In deep winter the nights are 17 hours long.

Lithuania is a flat fertile country overlooking the Baltic Sea. The summers are mild, and the days are long, but the winters are cold and dark. Temperatures often drop well below freezing. The ground is ice and snow-covered from December to mid-March.

“We had a dog, in a house next to the barn, whose name was Sargis.” Saugotis means beware, watch out. “He was our guard dog, always tied up, who barked whenever a stranger came near. We had cats, too, who killed the mice and rats who ate our grain. We never let them into the house, though, they were only for outside.”

Barn cats lead a rough life, hunting vermin in outbuildings and fields. They sleep where they can, stay warm if they can. Living feral, they don’t live long.

The family knew everyone in their neck of the woods. Everyone was wary of strangers. Although they had no immediate neighbors, her mother’s father, a tailor, lived nearby, and her father’s mother also lived within walking distance.

”When my mother made potato pancakes, she would sometimes give me a platter of them, and I took them to grandma’s house.” Her grandmother lived on the other side of the woods, with one of her father’s older sisters.

The family fed itself.

“We made our own bread and butter, made cheese, gathered eggs, and collected berries.” There were patches of wild blueberries at the edges of their fields. Although they didn’t have a cellar, they still canned pickles and beets. “We grew our own pigs and my father killed them.”

When the time came, Jonas selected a pig for slaughter, marched it to a clearing beside the barn, hit the animal between the eyes hard with a club hammer, and cut its throat. With the help of his two eldest sons he cleaned and skinned the pig with a sharp knife, keeping a knife sharpener at hand.

“We never sold our pigs to anyone. We ate all of them.”

Once the skin was separated from the muscle and fat, they cleaned out the guts and sawed the pig’s head off. After quartering the animal, Jonas found the hip joints and slid his knife into them, cutting off the two hams. He did the same thing when cutting the shoulders of the pig off. At the center, where the ribs are, he took whatever meat he could find.

They made sausages, bacon, and cured slabs of pork with salt and pepper. Jonas had built a closet around the chimney on the second floor of the house, which could be gotten to by ladder. There were no stairs. He smoked the pork in the closet, laying the meat on grates, opening a damper to vent smoke into the closet.

“I was scared of the upstairs, although the meat was delicious. When we ran out, we killed another pig.”

Whenever her mother got sick, from the time she was ten years old, Angele cooked for the family. “My oldest brother Justinas helped me until he went into the army, and then Bronius helped.” She cooked up pork logs, made soup, and served bread and butter every day.

After Justinas apprenticed to a tailor, and learned the trade, he joined the army. Everyone knew a war was coming. “He became a cavalryman and was stationed near Marijampole. He rode home a few times, on his horse, in his uniform. He was so handsome.” He had just turned twenty-one.

When the Red Army invaded the Baltic states in June 1940, their troops numbering some fifty divisions, supported by tanks, they swept the Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian forces aside in a matter of days. Justinas spent the rest of the war sewing and mending, first under the thumb of the Russians, then the Germans, and then the Russians again.

A woman whose husband had died, who had no children and who lived on a nearby farm, helped Angele learn to bake bread in their brick-lined oven. They made five and six loaves at a time, working up to ten pounds of dough at a time, baking the free-standing loaves loosely arranged in front of a smoldering pile of coals that had been burning for several hours, pushed to the back of the oven. They added wood as they needed it, shifting the fire from side to side.

“We always had bread. We never had tea or coffee, just water. When we could, we collected herbs, and had herbal tea.”

The house did not have electricity or running water or indoor plumbing. They had oil lamps and an outhouse and a well. There was a sink in the kitchen. “The well had a pulley and a bucket until we finally got a hand crank.”

In January 1940 a bitter cold wave enveloped Lithuania, driving temperatures down to 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. The next month it dove to 54 degrees below zero, the coldest in 160 years. The Baltic Sea iced over. Some people froze to death and more than 10,000 in the Baltics were severely frostbitten.

When Julija had a relapse, she went back to the sanitorium, but returned home soon after in the fall. “A taxi brought her back. My mother said she had to be with her children.” She was not fully recovered. When winter bore down again, she ran down and became bedridden.

Jonas laid down rough wide planks over the packed dirt floor in one of the three rooms. He moved a metal stove into the room. His wife died in her bed, the head of the bed at the window, early the next spring. She was forty-three years old.

Her father re-married four months later. “He needed a woman to take care of Sigitas and Jozukas.” Jonas had decided to ask the nearby widow with the farm, the woman who had helped Angele bake bread, but by then she was spoken for by another man. He found a single woman in Gizai.

“It was where we always went. My school was there, and there was a church, a police station with a policeman, and a hardware store that had everything. Whenever we had a coin we bought candy there.”

Jonas’s new wife was younger than Julija had been and healthy. She had a daughter a year older than Angele, even though she had never been married. The wedding was in early September. It wasn’t long after the move-in before Angele realized she couldn’t stay.

“My new mother and my father started arguing. She loved the younger ones, and she loved her own daughter, but they started arguing about me. My father stood up for me, but he needed a wife. I don’t know what I was thinking, but one day I left.”

It was late September. She packed a loaf of bread, some cold pork, what clothes she could carry, and set off in the morning at first light for Alvitas, for her aunt’s house. Ona Kreivenas was her mother’s sister. Her aunt’s husband, a police captain, had been deported to Siberia by the Russians that summer, leaving her with three children and giving birth to a fourth.

Even though two German army groups had smashed into the country in late June that summer, ousting the Russians, by then it was too late for Jonas Kreivenas, who didn’t come back from Siberia for fifteen years, and when he did, found out his wife was living in Philadelphia, in the United States.

“I knew life wasn’t going to be any easier in Alvitas, but I had to go.”

Alvitas is about fifteen miles from Gizai. It took her most of the day to walk there. She passed a small prisoner of war camp crowded with Soviet soldiers captured by the Wehrmacht. When she got to her aunt’s farm the sun was near to setting.

“I lived with my aunt for the next three years, until the Russians came again, and we had to run to Germany. I never went back home, except to visit, as a guest. I loved my father, and my brothers and sister, but I couldn’t go back.”

When Angele woke up early the next morning, she had a new home and a new mother. “She was my mamyte now. They were my family.” She helped her aunt make breakfast. There was strong black tea at the table. The first frost wasn’t far away, but that morning was an Indian summer.

A version of this story appeared in Draugas News.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Paint It Black

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By Ed Staskus

“Everybody needs a helping out, if that ain’t what it’s all about, tell me what.” Amy Grant

Going 9000 miles anywhere is a taxing no picnic undertaking. All roads may lead to the same end, but if you are an Iowa farmgirl since transplanted to Cleveland, Ohio, going to India is not the same as going to Seattle or Boston or someplace in between. It’s going halfway around the world to another continent culture world view.

Despite economic progress, India remains a poor country. Someone is always begging you for a hand-out. Pushing and shoving is a way of life. Personal space isn’t personal, it’s public. There are a billion Indians. Pick pocketing is common. Grab and go is even more common. Getting anything back after the fact is uncommon. Sanitation and hygiene are lacking. Among other things, Delhi Belly is a pain in the butt.

If you are a Western woman, staring and unwanted attention are par for the course anyplace anytime day or night.

When Deanna Black went to India last month, she made the trip look easy. She didn’t stand still for anything. She kept her eye on the prize.

“I’m not surprised,” said Frank Glass.

“The first class I ever took taught by Deanna was by accident, it was the hardest yoga class I ever took, and I had to sit out going to Inner Bliss the rest of the week.”

This from a man who three times a week for three years went to Bikram Yoga classes until he had no more sweat to give.

Deanna Black is a yoga teacher and holistic fitness trainer. Her point of view is far and wide. She studies engages practices aerobics, Prana Flow, Ashtanga, strength training, TRX, kettle ball, Insanity, Zumba, spinning, West African Dance, hoop dance, slacklining, stand up paddle board yoga, and “any other movement and activity that connects you with your body, your mind, your soul, and the nature around you.” She also assays positive psychology, which comes in handy when you are at the front of the room.

“Deanna was subbing that class. No one expected what we got,” said Frank. “She wasn’t bossy or demanding. She was actually encouraging, but she kept at it. She’s nothing if not relentless. I remember wondering if I was going to make it.”

She has studied with Shiva Rea and her Prana Vinyasa teacher training program since 2004. “The classes I create are designed to empower you to do more than you thought possible,” she says. “The benefits are more than meet the eye.”

She is an old-fashioned modern kind of gal, “balancing and aiming for what I want while leaning on the history of what worked and did not work from the past.”

The class was a mix of sheer effort vinyasa, endurance strength work, and baling hay, even though Deanna Black has done undergrad and grad coursework in advanced exercise physiology and psychology at Iowa State University. Making your way in the class, however, wasn’t about classwork and observation reading study reflection.

“It was about peeing on the electric fence for yourself,” said Frank Glass.

She can back off the pedal to the metal if she has to, as when she volunteers for teaching dance fitness to seniors at the Westside Community House.

Born and bred in a small town in Iowa, living in the big city of Cleveland since 1995, Deanna describes herself as a “farm girl whose DNA is filled with farmers, teachers, trailblazers, and travelers, and an adventure yogini, thrive activist and bucket list catalyst.”

It’s a lot to be. It’s a lot like mixed farming.

Mixed farming is a blend of multiple crops and livestock, maximizing light, moisture, and nutrients, complementing land and labor demands across the year. Erosion is minimized, biodiversity is maintained, water is conserved, and habitats preserved. Monocultural farming may better increase production levels, but capitalism isn’t always the bottom line.

She goes back to Iowa often, especially during harvest time. Although she isn’t Old McDonald Had a Farm, she helps out in her own way.

“I can’t even call it a job, it’s so much fun,” she said. “I am taking care of the farm animals, which includes emceeing pig races and goat yoga. I am recess patrolling jumping pillows pedal karts apple slingshots and mazes. I am lifeguarding the corn pool, which includes acro yoga sessions. I am making delicious apple cider donuts and taste testing from our scratch bakery. And I have a team of farmtastic people to help.”

When she went to the subcontinent she went on behalf of the 88Bikes Foundation.

“They continue to be instrumental in my trips to India,” said Deanna. “For all the work they do with girls who are survivors or at risk for human trafficking. It is the timing of me doing this work with them on International Women’s Day, to empower, to educate, to let the world know that the female spirit is not to be suppressed. It is to be respected and honored.”

She arrived in Allahabad in early March. It was the day after the Kumbh Mela wrapped up. It had been going on since January 15th, although it’s been going on for centuries. The Kumbh Mela is a mass pilgrimage. In 2013, the last time it was staged in Allahabad, an estimated 120 million people came to it over a 2-month period.

“Flags were still flying from each country represented,” she said. “Even with many tents and porta potties still up, the area felt abandoned. Still, a feeling of peace washed over me, particularly after I stepped into the Ganga with prayers and gratitude. Afterwards, I visited the birthplace of Indira Gandhi and learned not only how remarkable she was, but how the women of India stood strong all together and made a significant difference. It was an inspiration for leading into International Women’s Day.”

Indira Gandhi was the first and only female Prime Minister of India. Even though a politician, she had once been a child revolutionary, leading the Monkey Brigade at the age of 12 as part of India’s struggle against the British Empire for self-determination. Despite often criticized as a “goongi goodiya” – dumb doll – she was twice prime minister and was named “Woman of the Millennium” by the BBC.

She was assassinated by her bodyguards in 1984.

The brainchild of Dan Austin, a writer, filmmaker, and one-time bicycle deliveryman, the non-profit 88Bikes was born in 2007. In return for a sponsorship of $88.00, a bike is delivered to someone somewhere in the developing world. The child gets a photo of the person who donated the bike, and the donor gets a photo of the child who received it.

“We feel strongly that you can connect people across the world like this,” he has said. “I think that’s the root of what 88Bikes is about, this one-to-one connection.”

It’s many thousands of bikes going to Peru, Cambodia, Mongolia, Ghana, India, two wheels at a time.

Deanna is aware of how much awareness it takes to get a bicycle into the hands of a kid with little chance of scoring one for him or herself. That’s why she goes halfway around the world. “It’s joy-based philanthropy,” she said. “What brings us joy? Connection!”

“The happiness they deserve is now within reach,” says Dan Austin.

Before she could get 88Bikes on the road, however, she found herself speaking in front of a large group in Allahabad gathered for the Run4Niine.

“The race is in recognition that thoughts and views on menstruation in India need to change,” said Deanna. “To say that this conversation is taboo is to say a conversation about women is taboo. To say menstruation is dirty is to say a girl or woman is dirty. It is beyond time to change this thinking.”

Even though menstruation is a natural phenomenon, like blinking heartbeats hairiness and breasts filled with milk, it is problematic in many parts of India. “Close to 70% of Indian women risk getting severe infection, at times causing death, due to poverty, ignorance, and shame attached to their menstruation cycle,” said Swapna Majumdar, a New Delhi journalist who writes on gender and development.

When they are menstruating, Indian women are not supposed to touch a holy book, handle kitchen utensils, or look at pickles. Demystifying what is supposedly taboo about periods and creating awareness about hygiene has been an uphill struggle in the country. More than 30% of girls in northern India drop out of school after they start menstruating.

“It is connection with birth and the cycle of life,” said Deanna. “It’s not something to be left unsaid. It’s part of the sacred flow of womanhood.”

The next day was the day to get into the flow of pedal power.

“I’m super excited,” she said. “Tomorrow one hundred girls are getting their own bicycle.” She and her companions, Ruby and Ramon of the Blossomy Project, were outside Kolkotta. About 500 miles east of Allahabad, on the Bay of Bengal, it used to be Calcutta, once an East India trading post, now the capital of West Bengal state, India’s third-largest city with nearly 5 million inhabitants.  It is regarded as the artistic, cultural, and intellectual center of the country.

It’s also the home of Mother House, headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa, who is buried there.

The Blossomy Project is a non-profit organization that works to empower survivors of human trafficking through art-based programs. Since riding a bike is as much an art as a skill, they were partnering with 88Bikes.

Deanna had a big envelope full of donor cards.

“Each card is one of who donated to 88Bikes. I am taking a road trip to meet these girls and give them their cards with their bikes.”

It was bright day in the 90s. March is the sunniest month of the year on the northern east coast of India, although it is also one of the wettest. A heavy rain and hailstorm had passed by a few days earlier.

“Watch out boys,” said Deanna, giving a donor card and bike to the first young girl. “This girl has got a bike with things to do and places to go.”

The first girl hopped on her bike and raced away.

“She took off immediately to school to take a Sanskrit exam. With her bike she can get to school much more easily. These girls also use their bikes to patrol the neighborhood and visit communities and bring awareness about how to stay safe.”

Ruby and Ramon and Deanna exchanged high fives.

“Each time I come to Kolkotta, these two have been instrumental in getting me and the bikes connected with girls,” said Deanna. “So happy to have the Blossomy Project. Shout out to Ruby acting as translator and all-out rock star making things happen.”

“I can go anywhere,” said another girl, getting on her bike.

Deanna showed her the back of the donor card that came with the bike.

“You can go anywhere,” it said.

“I love moments like this,” said Deanna.

Sunday night was Funday night in Kolkotta. Everyone went out to a show by Tanmoy Bose, a percussionist and tabla player. A native of the city, he was one of the first Indian musicians to meld folk songs and tribal drumming into a large band setting. His own band, the Taal Tantra Experience, signifies worship through rhythm. The music is nothing if not spilling over with life.

“I’m still amazed with that violin,” said Deanna. “If anyone in Cleveland knows of concerts like this, let me know, I wanna go.”

After the bikes were distributed, it was time to go home. The return flight to the United States from India doesn’t take two three days, but it might as well, when you’re on the way back to your own digs. Once on native ground, she exclaimed, checking out the run-up to the NCAA tournament, “Yeeeaaasss!!! Nothing like coming back to the States during March Madness!”

A few days later she got a Facebook message from Amita Gour, one of the girls who had gotten a bike.

“Thanks for your visit to Allahabad, Deanna,” she wrote.

“So happy to spend time with you and your family,” Deanna wrote back. “Thank you so very much for all the time you spent with me showing me around. And thrilled about your new bike.”

The thrill is in lending a helping hand.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Bad Man on Vinegar Hill

By Ed Staskus

Egidijus and Rokas watched the ensigns, young men strutting between lieutenant and chief warrant officer, step into Connor’s Public House. The navy stood framed in the doorway, the long evening going slowly dark over their shoulders. They both wore white pants, a white shirt over a white t-shirt, a white belt, and a white cap with a black bill. They wore black shoes. There was a single gold bar on their shoulder boards.

“Hey, shut that door, you live in a barn,” someone yelled out.

In the next minute, their eyes spotting primetime, they took stools on both sides of a curvy redhead at the bar. They each gave her a smile. She looked them over sparingly scornfully.

“Drift,” she said to the one on her left.

“We just want to buy you a drink,” the one on the other side of her said.

“You, too,” she said.

“Butterbar boys,” said Egidijus. “Nieku nezino.”

“Yeah, they probably do the dishes in the guardhouse,” said Rokas.

“As close to water as they’re going to get,” Giles said.

Egidijus became Giles the minute he landed on Ellis Island.

Sam Ellis never meant his island to be a welcoming place, unless it was the last welcome. Before the first immigrant ever landed there, it was where criminals and pirates were hung. New Yorkers called it Gibbet island, for the wooden hanging post where the dead were left on display as a warning to others.

“She’s got a classy chassis, though,” said Rocky, eyeing the redhead. “Our man is not going to like us snatching him, ruining his night in more ways than one.”

Rokas had been in line behind Egidijus and became Rocky on the spot.

A longshoreman walked in, glanced at the sailors, and parked himself midway down the bar. The bartender poured a draft without asking. The longshoreman took a swig.

“Did you say something to that guy I just saw outside?” he asked the bartender.

“The guy with the feather in his hat?”

“Yeah, that one, who said this joint stinks.”

“That one comes in, wants a glass of water, and asks me what the quickest way is to Mount Kisco,” said the bartender. “I ask him if he’s walking, or does he have a car? He says, of course I have a car. So, I tell him, that would be the quickest way.”

“He was chunky about it, that’s sure. Hey, isn’t that Ratso’s girl?”

“Yeah.”

“Didn’t she tell them the gate is closed?”

“Yeah, but they didn’t give it any mind.”

“Oh boy, they don’t know from nothing.”

“Keep your head chicky,” said the bartender, tapping his temple with two fingers.

“You said it, brother.”

The Public House was on the corner of Pearl Street and Plymouth Street. The Manhattan Bridge over the East River was a stone’s throw away. The Brooklyn Navy Yard was a cannon shot away. The new Con Edison Hudson Avenue substation, north of John Street facing the river between Jay Street and the Navy Yard, was a light switch away.

“Did you see the game on TV Friday?” asked Giles.

“The TV’s were working, and I saw the problem in black and white,” said Rocky. “No matter that Mickey is going to win the Triple Crown, no matter how many runs they score, if they keep giving up a dozen, they is not going anywhere in October, no matter who they play.”

The Yankees had been in Boston for the weekend, for their last season series at Fenway Park. On Friday night Mickey Mantle hit a home run that tape measured more than five hundred feet. The Bronx Bombers, though, set a dubious club record by stranding twenty runners on base.

The Mick had three hits. Bill Skowron had five hits. The only time the Moose failed to reach base was when Ted Williams made an all-out running diving catch of a screaming line drive in left field.

“He was running like a bunny with his tail on fire,” said Red Barber, after the outfielder got up, checking all his parts.

Yogi Berra threw a man out at the plate. Mickey Mantle threw a man out at the plate. The Yankees crossed the plate plenty enough themselves. But the Red Sox still beat the Yankees, sending almost twice as many runners safely across the plate, 13-7 at the final count.

Mel Allen and Red Barber called the night game on WPIX, the station’s transmitter on top of the Empire State Building spreading the play-by-play out to the five boroughs. The next morning it would be Officer Joe’s turn. The year before weather forecaster Joe Bolton had put on a policeman’s uniform and started hosting shows based around the Little Rascals and Three Stooges. The kids loved Officer Joe’s taste in comedy.

“That ball is go-ing, go-ing, gonnne!” Mel Allen blared when Mickey Mantle hit his soaring blast. “It’s got to be one of the longest home runs I’ve ever seen! How about that!”

Rocky watched the game at the Public House, on Friday night two nights earlier, at the far end of the bar, where one of the bar’s two RCA Victor portable TV’s squinted down on him from high up on the wall.

“Did you say something?” one of the sailors said, turning to Giles and Rocky in the booth opposite them.

“Hello there everybody,” Mel Allen said to start the televised live baseball game broadcast.

“This is Red Barber speaking,” said Red Barber. “Let me say hello to you all. Mel and I are here in the catbird seats.”

“Three and two. What’ll he do?” Mel asked as the game neared its end and the last Yankee hitter squared up in the batter’s box.

“He took a good cut!” he exclaimed when the pinstriped slugger struck out to finish the game. “Tonight’s game was yet another reminder that baseball is dull only to dull minds,” said Red. “Signing off for WPIX, this is Red Barber and Mel Allen.”

“Hey, you, did you say something about washing dishes?” the sailor said again, standing up, his friend standing up, too, and Ratso Moretti in the meantime walking down the length of the bar from the men’s room towards them, having spotted the sailors buzzing his queen bee.

The redhead swung her stool around to the bar, crossed her legs, and played with the swivel stick lolling in her gin martini glass.

“Who the fuck are you two rags?” Ratso barked at the sailors, glaring up at them from under the brim of his black felt pork pie hat, baring his sharp front teeth. “Why are you sitting with my lady?”

Giles and Rocky leaned back on their seat cushions, their backs against the wall. Rocky stretched his legs out. Giles popped a toothpick into his mouth.

“What do you plan on doing about it, little man?” asked the bigger of the two sailors. Ratso was short. The sailors were both tall.

Ratso took one step back, reached down for his fly, unzipped it, and flashed the handle of a Smith & Wesson .38 Chiefs Special revolver. It was the kind of gun carried by plainclothes and off-duty policemen. He kept his hand on the gun while looking straight at the two sailors.

“Hit the road, Clyde,” he said. “You, too, whatever your name is.”

The sailors backed down and backed out of the bar.  Nobody paid any attention, everybody focused on the back-out out of the corner of their eyes. When the white uniforms were gone, and he had zipped back up, Ratso sat down next to his squeeze and wrapped his arm around her waist.

“Meanwhile, back at the ranch,” said Rocky.

“At least now we know where he hides it,” said Giles.

Bartek and Karol were at the far end of the bar. They didn’t want anything to happen just right now. They wanted Ratso Moretti to stay snug with his girl, drinking on an empty stomach, stretching the night out. There were four of them and only one of him, but he was a psycho crazy man. Karol knew it for sure, and told the others, and it was the number one thing, he said, they had to remember. There was no sense in letting it go down the drain.

“Did you find a plumber this morning?” Rocky asked Giles.

“No, because not only does God rest on Sundays, so do all the plumbers in Brooklyn.”

“What did you do?

“I fixed it myself.”

One of the toilets in the women’s bathroom in the parish hall next door to St. George’s Church on York Street sprang a leak after mass. The Lithuanian Roman Catholic congregation was around the corner from the Irish Roman Catholic St. Ann’s Church on the corner of Front and Gold Streets. Lithuanians made up more than half of everybody who now lived in Vinegar Hill, but they had never been embraced by the Irish and their church, so they built their own.

St. George’s had three arched doorways, three arched second-story window assemblages, and a stepped façade with a cross on top. It looked first-class when the sun was shining on it. It looked first-class at midnight in a thunderstorm.

“What was the problem?”

The parish priest dragooned Giles on his way out of the parish hall.

“Prasome, galite padeti?” asked the priest.

“The wax ring, that’s all it was.”

“Where did you find a wax ring on a Sunday?”

“My old man. He’s always loaded for bear.”

“Did you miss breakfast?”

“No, mom warmed it back up for me, fried some more eggs, fresh coffee, and a torte.”

When Ratso Moretti hopped off his bar stool, and his girl slid off hers, and they walked out the front door, Karol and Bartek went out the back door, Giles and Rocky following Ratso out the front.

“Goddamn it!” Ratso cursed turning the corner into the quiet side street next to the Public House where he had parked his new car. He looked down at the driver’s side front tire Karol had flattened with his switchblade before going inside.

“Motherfucker!”

“What’s the matter mister?” asked Giles.

“Flat tire,” said Ratso.

He recognized the young man and the other one from the bar.

“Need a hand?”

“I’ve got all the hands I need,” said Ratso.

“Suit yourself.”

Giles fired up a cigarette, watching and waiting. Rocky leaned against a lamp pole. Ratso opened the trunk of the car, looking over his shoulder at them, and hunched at the tire to loosen the lug nuts.

“This ain’t a show,” he said.

“It is to us.”

“Suit yourself.”

When Ratso struggled with the last stubborn lug nut, Giles flicked his still lit cigarette butt at the redhead, who was standing in space, bouncing it off her midriff. She squealed in outrage, Ratso twisted toward her, and Giles, Rocky, Karol, and Bartek rushed him, two from the front and two from the back.

As Ratso started to stand up, Karol kicked him as hard as he could in the groin, the holstered gun Ratso trying to reach adding insult to injury. He doubled over, grabbed his stomach, fell over, and lay on the ground in a fetal position. His eyes ran rainwater and he threw up.

Bartek threw a muslin cloth bag over Ratso’s head and tightened the drawstring. Karol tied his hands behind his back with clothesline. Bartek reached into Ratso’s pants and pulled out the holster with the small revolver. He went to the passenger side front door and tossed the holster and gun into the glove box of the Chevy.

While Giles and Rocky hauled Ratso to Karol’s hunk of junk behind the Public House, Bartek turned to the redhead.

“Vamoose,” he said sharply. “And keep your mouth shut, or we’ll take you next.”

She backed away, smoothed her skirt, gave him a smile, cute cunning snaky light on her feet, and walked back into the Public House.

“Durna mergaite,” Giles said.

“Yeah, but steamy,” Rocky said.

“Going to be a hell-wife.”

At the mouth of the intersection they heard a bullhorn, “Get your hot knishes, I got to send my wife to the Catskills, get your knishes.”

The truck was light blue dented and dirty. It was three-wheeled, a cab pulling a cart, with a Saint Bernard-sized pretzel on top. A sign on the side said, “Hot knishes & pretzels, 10 cents, 3 for $.25.”

“Hey, what kind of knishes do you have?

“I have kasha or potato.”

“I’ll take three potato.”

“Sorry, all I have is kasha.”

There was a tin saltshaker tied by a string to the cart. The pastry was hot with buckwheat groats inside. The brown bag the street vendor put them into instantly became saturated with enough oil to deep fry three more knishes. He poured in a handful of salt.

“You’re out of your neighborhood, working late,” Giles said.

“It’s my wife,” the Jew said.

Giles and Rocky both got bottles of cold Orange Crush.

“Thanks, boys, we’ll settle up tomorrow,” said Karol when Ratso was safe and sound in the trunk, his feet tied together and hogged to his bound wrists so that he lay like a sad sack of potatoes on his side, still groaning.

Giles touched his forefinger to his thumb and pointed the remaining three fingers of his right hand straight up.

Karol and Bartek drove to Sunset Park, turned onto 53rd Street at 3rd Avenue, and finally pulled into and parked behind a three-story abandoned brick building. On the side of the building a painted billboard advertising “R. Moses & Son, Men’s Clothes” was fading away. The storefront’s windows were boarded up and the other windows on every floor were dark.

They manhandled Ratso through a back door and into a small featureless room. A table lamp on the floor tried to make sense of the dark with a 40-watt bulb. Stan was standing in a corner in the shadows smoking a cigarette. They dropped Ratso on the floor. Bartek stood sentry at the door.

“Let him loose, except for his hands,” said Stan.

Karol untied Ratso’s feet, yanked the bag off his head, and moved back to stand next to Bartek. Stan stayed where he was, in the gloom. Ratso stayed where he was, too. He felt better, but he still felt horrible. He had a weird stomachache.

“Tell me about Jackson Pollack,” said Stan.

“I don’t know no Polacks,” said Ratso.

“You know us now,” Karol said under his breath.

“Not Polacks. I said Pollack, as in Jackson Pollack, the painter.”

“I don’t know no painters.”

“Why did you jump my associate the other night?”

“I don’t know no associates. Who the fuck are you, anyway?”

“I don’t know how your sack is feeling, but if it was me, I wouldn’t want it to happen again, especially not now, not so soon,” said Stan.

“What do you want?”

“What were you doing in the middle of the night outside the shrink’s office? Why did you jump my man? What does Jackson Pollack have to do with Big Paulie?”

“You’re a dead man when Luca finds out about this,” Ratso said, terse vehement.

Stan stepped forward, bent down, and framed an inch with his fingers in Ratso’s red face.

“You’re this close to being a dead man,” he said.

He aimed a kick at Ratso’s nuts. The little man rolled over in a flash. Stan kicked him in the side, aiming for his kidney. Ratso gasped in pain and rage. Stan stepped over him, bent down again, nose to nose with the convulsing thug.

“You’re going to tell me what I want to know,” he said.

It didn’t take long. After Ratso Moretti ratted out Big Paulie and Park Avenue and they had hog-tied him again, Stan Rittman stopped at a phone booth on his way home, the cab driver waiting at the curb, and called the desk sergeant at the 17th Precinct. He told him where to find Ratso, told him he wanted to confess to assaulting Ezra Aronson four nights earlier, and wanted to be held in custody for his own protection.

“Does he need medical attention?” asked the sergeant.

“No, he’ll be fine, just a few bumps and bruises.”

“What do I tell the captain? Is anybody going to be looking for Morelli, trying to spring him?”

“Nobody except his bad girl knows anything, but she was a good girl the last we saw her and promised to stay quiet. Ratso’s car is just outside the Public House in Vinegar Hill. His gun is in the glove box. It’s a Chiefs Special.”

“You don’t say.”

“You might want to have that gun run up, ballistics might find it matches something.”

“OK, we’ll have a car there in five minutes-or-so.”

Ten minutes later three policemen and a plainclothes officer spilling out of two cars flash-lighted their way into the back of the building, hauled the left in the lurch Ratso Moretti out the door, untied him then handcuffed him, tossed him face first into the back of one of the radio cars, and drove him to the 17th Precinct, forcing him into a basement cell at the end of a hallway, and forgetting about him for the rest of the next week.

Thirty minutes later Stan Rittman was home in Hell’s Kitchen, in one of his two orange wingback armchairs, a bottle of Blatz on the coffee table, while Mr. Moto licked his chops on the sofa on the other side of the table. Stan took a pull on his bottle of beer and watched the cat. He thought about getting another one to keep him company, but Mr. Moto didn’t seem to mind his solitary life.

He slept and ate and slept some more. He went out on the prowl. Sometimes he sat on the fire escape, seeming to be thinking.

Mr. Moto liked Puss ’N Boots best, fish followed by chicken followed by beef followed by any other meat. He wasn’t picky. He didn’t think it did any harm to ask Stan for what he wanted, since the story of cats was the story of freeloaders. Stan kept Mr. Moto carnivorous with his poker winnings.

“Puss ‘N Boots adds the Plus!”

He wasn’t a mixed-up cat. He lived day-to-day, every day a new day, taking what came his way. He liked fresh water and food in the morning, a long nap from late morning into the late afternoon, and a clean supply of Kitty Litter when he couldn’t get down to the flowerbeds.

“Ask Kitty. She Knows. It absorbs and deodorizes. Takes the place of sand.”

Stan had stopped at Manganaro’s Grosseria Italiana, on his way home, a sandwich shop, restaurant, and grocery on 9th Avenue, for a slice of Hero-Boy. The entire six-foot hero, if you wanted it, was 22-pounds and cost $16.50. The wait staff was surly, but the sandwiches were worth the wait. He took a bite, chewed, and washed it down with his beer.

Ezra was out of the hospital. He would stop and see him tomorrow morning, tell him they had snatched Ratso, who had spilled his guts, but it still wasn’t clear what was going on. It looked like Dr. Baird had engineered Jackson Pollack’s death somehow, but why? Where was the pay-off in it? Vicki said that since Jackson Pollack had died unexpectedly, had died young, and had simply died, there weren’t going to be any more paintings by him. Since he was well known, by collectors and museums, prices for his art were going to go up.

“He was in demand, now he’s in big demand, especially the drip paintings,” she said. “But nobody kills a painter to make a profit on his art, not even in New York. It’s a long-term investment, not like kidnapping somebody for the ransom.”

He would sort it out next week. Stan finished his sandwich, finished his bottle of beer, and went to bed. Mr. Moto followed him, curling up just inches from Stan’s face, and was asleep fast faster fastest. He had never been bothered by insomnia. In the middle of the night, in the middle of a dream, he pricked up his ears.

Mr. Moto could smell a rat when he had to. When he went to the bedroom window, though, it was just a ladybug on the sill. It was red with black spots. He stretched up on his hind legs and sniffed the bug, which opened its wings, flew in circles, and landed on his nose.

“Ladybug! Ladybug! Fly away home. Your house is on fire. Your children shall burn!”

Mr. Moto believed ladybugs were lucky. He believed when a ladybug landed on you your wishes would be granted. He also believed it was unlucky to harm them. He licked the bug off his nose and spat it out through the open window. He jumped on the ledge, crouched, and watched the bug fly out into the big city.

In his jail cell at the bottom of nowhere, Ratso Morelli tried to stare down the big brown rat staring at him. The rat wasn’t having any of it. Nobody was going to stare him down in the rat homeland.

Four hours later, near the end of the night, near the onset of dawn, while a dead on his feet policeman watched, now that it was all over and the car had been searched and dusted for fingerprints, a tow truck hooked the new Chevrolet with a flat tire and dragged it off Vinegar Hill to the NYPD Tow Pound..

Excerpted from “Stickball” at http://www.stanriddman.com.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com, Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com, Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com, and State Route Two http://www.stateroutetwo.com. Click “Follow” on a site to get its monthly feature in your in-box.

Running on Empty

By Ed Staskus

   Nicolae Goga was always excited by Catholic girls. His mother was a Lutheran, and she raised his brother Tomas and him as Lutherans, but Catholic girls were for him. That’s why he married one. But they had to be a nine or ten in the good-looking roll call at the same time they were Catholic. If they weren’t, they didn’t count, not in his eyes.

   All the guys rated girls, one way or another.

   He went to Florida every winter after he got back to Cleveland, before he got married. He came back from the Korean War with a Purple Heart, and after he got back on his feet, went right to work for Palmer Bearings. They put him in sales the minute they saw him. He was 22 years old, clean-cut, proportioned, and full of pep.

   His city pals, the young men he knew who had the dough to go south for a couple weeks when it got dark and cold on the south coast of Lake Erie, got peeved about him being picky.

   “All you do is keep looking for a number ten girl, and half the time you don’t got any girl on your arm,” Elmer said one day while putting back a Blatz. “Me, I get a number three or four, so I’ve always got a gal, and by the end of the week they all add up to more than a zero.”

   Another of his pals, a wise guy on the camel train, said, “Nicky, if you ever land a ten, she’ll be out of your league, anyway.”

   Eva Giedraityte was Catholic, between a nine and a ten, and 15 years old when Nicolae met her. He was 25 years old. She lied about her age, not that she had to. But after he found out he made sure she was eighteen before they got married. “We missed out on the cash envelopes and presents, since her family was dead set on me staying single and Eva marrying somebody else.” He didn’t care. He wanted Eva. He wanted getting ahead fast.

   They met at the Karamu Theater. Nick lived at the Delrey Hotel on East 55th Street, not far away, and Eva took a bus from Collinwood, from the Five Points. He loved acting and trying out for parts. Nick looked like Paul Newman, which didn’t hurt his chances. He was always trying out for shows at the Chagrin Little Theater, too.

   “I met a boatload of lookers that way.”

   Eva was in one or two high school shows and danced ballet. She had taken dance classes ever since she was a little girl. She could straighten a leg, keep her foot flat on the ground, and raise the other one to the ceiling.

   “I don’t know how the hell she did it. I always liked ballet dancers. I fell in love with one when I was in high school. Her name was Margo. She was a beautiful girl with a beautiful body, the same age as me, but an inch taller. She was one of the gym leaders and danced ballet on stage at our school. Another guy liked her, a lousy Serb who played a hillbilly guitar, and he was always angling to get into shows with her.”

   Nick started trying out, trying to get close to Margo, trying to elbow the Serbian boy out.

   Eva and he met auditioning for the same show at Karamu. He kept his eyes on her from the minute he set eyes on her. “She came on to me and would do stuff like, ‘Can you give me a ride home?’ I had a car, she had stars in her eyes, and on starry nights it was a nice ride. She sat close to me on the bench seat.”

   She would sometimes leave something in his car, like her wallet or watch. “She would call me, and I would drive to her house, returning it, seeing her again. It was those little tricks women do.”

   Her parents were set in stone about her wedding bell plans. “It won’t work,” they both insisted. He was Lutheran, ten years older, born in the United States but Romanian. They were Catholic and Lithuanian, from the old country. He had a better job than either of her parents, making more money than them put together, but it didn’t matter. Eva and Nick had to elope, driving across the Ohio state line to Indiana, where they found a justice-of-the-peace on the side of the road, and got married.

   They went to Florida for their honeymoon. “We drove straight there in a new Mercedes sports car I had just gotten. We stayed in the same motel my buddies and I used to go to. Our suite had a small kitchen and there was a big pool we went swimming in.” They sat out in the sun. They discovered each other in the dark.

   When they got back to Cleveland Eva’s parents disowned her, and she didn’t see them for years. They moved in with Nicolae’s mother, in the meantime, in the old neighborhood, East 65th Street and St. Clair. Most of their countrymen worked in factories, ore docks, and knitting mills. His father had operated a corner store until he was murdered by two young thieves.

   “I worked hard, saving my salary and commissions, and the next year we bought a two-story house in Indian Hills, up from Euclid Avenue, near the Chagrin city park.”

   The house fronted a big sloping wooded lot. Their daughter Agnes was born the next year and their son Sammy two years after that. Their problems started three years later. They never stopped getting worse.

   “We started out great, got the year of living with my mother out of our systems, moved into a big house, three bedrooms, newer than not new, got the kids grown up enough to walk, and my job got booming the more I worked. I took clients out for golf and dinner three and four times a week. I kept my waistline under control by walking the courses. My handicap took a nosedive.”

   He was making money hand over fist. “I made a lot of money for Palmer Bearings. Those heebs loved me, as long as the pipeline was full and flowing.”

   His bosses said, “Keep up the good work.” His neighbors envied his new cars. Eva complained about Nick never being home.

   “I do a lot of business on golf courses,” he said. “It’s work, don’t think it’s all just fun and games, it’s not.”

   When he did come home right after work, Eva came running out the front door, grabbing him, giving him a hug and a kiss. He thought, this is embarrassing, the neighbors are watching, even though he barely knew any of the neighbors

   “Cut it out,” he said. She gave him a queer look. He kissed the kids and read a book while Eva set the table and prepared dinner.

   “I took her to dinner and shows, but it was never enough. I always let Eva do whatever she wanted. I let her teach cooking at the high school. I let her get a job at a restaurant. I let her go to Cleveland State University. It got to be a problem, because no matter what I did, it was never enough.

   Eva was a good-looking young woman, blonde and shapely, and men eating at the restaurant were always hitting on her, but Nick’s biggest problem was the young men she met at college. “One time I found a note in a drawer from some guy named Dave, thanking her for the great time they had. When I asked her about it, she said it was just a bunch of them from one of her theater classes going out for a drink.”

   “That’s all it was, Nick,” Eva said.

   “You’re not getting together with him?”   

   “No,” she said, “of course not.”

   He didn’t believe her, not for a second.

   Nick found out more, small things that looked like big things, about other men she was cheating on him with. He was sure of it. One night he answered a call from a man who sounded like he was from India, asking for her. He hung up. She was coming home later and later at night, 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock, midnight. It started to look like the babysitter was going to have to live in.

   “Where the hell were you?” he asked one night when she got home close to two in the morning.

   “Oh, my keys got locked in somebody’s trunk.”

   “It was always some bullshit story like that. We got into an argument. We got into a lot of arguments.”

   “Not so loud,” she hissed. “You’ll wake up the kids.”

   “It was her idea to get separated. Later it was her idea to get divorced. I loved her. I loved my kids. I didn’t want a bust-up. We could have settled the split between ourselves, but she had to get a lawyer, which meant I had to get a lawyer, too. Her mouthpiece must have put something in her ear.”

   He stopped at the Cleveland Trust Bank downtown on East 9th Street one day, after lunch with clients on Short Vincent, to withdraw some money, but the teller said, “There’s no money in your account, sir.”

   “What?”

   “The account is at zero,” the man said

   “Eva had taken it all. She raided our joint bank account and took all the money in it. All I had left was what I had been keeping in a personal account she didn’t know about, the scratch I kept separate, and our insurance policies. She charged all kinds of stuff on our credit cards before I wised up and cancelled them all.”

   He paid his lawyer five thousand dollars, in cash, since he had a separate business going, apart from Palmer Bearings. The lawyer was a golfing buddy of his, but he still had to pay it all up front. “The son-of-a-bitch, right away he joined the Shaker Country Club with it, and never invited me to play golf there, not even once, not even before I almost punched him in the face.”

   When they went to court, Nick picked a fight there and then. Not with Eva, but with their two lawyers, his and hers. “The Saul Goodman’s get together with their crap, take all your money, and leave you with nothing. They are like morticians, just waiting for you to come back to life.”

   Between Eva and them, he complained loud and long afterwards, they left him with only table scraps.

   Nick knew how to handle himself. He boxed Golden Gloves before going to Korea. He got to the finals in his weight class, and even though the other fighter was dazed purple bloody, the judges gave the first prize to him. He was a Marine and Nick was an Army draftee, so the Marine staggered away with the trophy.

   “I could have levelled both of the shysters in a minute flat. The bailiff, and a policeman, and the judge, had to restrain me. The judge gave me a hell of a talking to after everybody was back in their seats.”

   It was a hell of a commotion on the third floor of the Lakeside Courthouse, under a high ceiling of ornate plasterwork, paneled walls, and leather-covered doors.

   “They’re all the same, talking through their hats.”

   Eva moved into the new Park Centre on Superior Avenue, the same building her new boyfriend lived in, and the same building where some of Richard Hongisto’s right-hand men lived. He was Cleveland’s new top lawman, although inside a couple of years Dennis Kucinich, the kid mayor of the city, fired him on live TV. It sparked a recall drive to remove the mayor from office, which was the least of his problems, since the city was going bankrupt fast. The bankers hated the mayor and withdrew the helping hand of ready cash.

   “I say a plague on all of them, except that whoever did the car caper with her got me the last laugh on Eva, for what it was worth.”

   Nick bought Eva a brand new four-door Mercedes sedan, hoping it would make her happy. She loved the car, although it didn’t make her any happier about him any more than she wasn’t already. When they separated, she reported the car stolen. She called Nick about the insurance money. He told her he would let her know. He didn’t tell her the car was in his name.

   “A month later I got a letter from a parking garage in Buffalo, saying we’ve got your car here, you owe so much for parking, come and get it. I was sure one of Eva’s cop neighbors cooked it up with her, driving the car away, and leaving it in the garage. When I got the insurance check for the car, I cashed it and tore the letter up.”

   Eva was a ten in her time, or close to it, always worth a second look. Nick wasn’t sure how she looked when she got older, since after their last fight he didn’t see her again, after her looks might have gone south. “I’m sure she wasn’t the beauty she had been. I’m sure she looked like hell. That’s something I would bet money on.”

   She had beautiful handwriting and wrote Nick hate letters after their divorce.

   “Your kids don’t want to see you, you haven’t sent me enough money, all that kind of crap. I had to pay child support, even though I was used to a certain style of living for myself.”

   Nick rubbed his face.

   “I had to go on dates, too, looking for another woman, but it wasn’t easy. I couldn’t operate. I didn’t have much money. You’ve got to have money to do things. I was nearly broke. I had to take care of my kids. I didn’t want to be a deadbeat father.”

   She took up with a new boyfriend, a handsome Italian from Rochester, a Vietnam veteran. They moved in together, with Agnes and Sammy. They didn’t pretend to be married, even though they lived like man and wife. Nick wouldn’t give Eva a divorce, no matter how many times she asked.

   “They got it into their heads to go into the restaurant business. Eva asked me to take a second mortgage on the house. I said no, restaurants are the worst thing you can get into. But in spite of myself I took a second mortgage on the house and gave her the money. It put me in a spot.”

   Eva’s restaurant became two restaurants. The new family moved up to the eighteenth floor of Park Centre, to a three-bedroom end suite facing Lake Erie. They opened a bar on the new Eat Street in the apartment complex.

   “The guy from Rochester, he was always telling me, take it easy, like he was trying to be my friend. I wanted to tell him how mad I was about not being able to get Eva back, about never seeing my kids. I never said one bad thing about her, but the divorce hurt me bad.

   “After the mess in court, after we split up, I thought, if that’s the way it’s going to be, I don’t want anything to do with her anymore. I don’t want to talk to her, and I don’t want to see her. And I never did, except once.”

   Eva and Sammy came to the family house in Indian Hills on a quiet autumn afternoon. She asked Nick to mortgage the house again, a third time, so they could expand some more, but he told her a second mortgage was all the bank would go for. She said she needed more investment money and that he could sell the house, splitting whatever he might get for it with her.

   “If I do that, where am I going to live?”

   “That’s up to you.”

   “She was living downtown, in her fancy high-rise. What did she care where I lay my head? It could be some crummy cardboard under a bridge, as far as she was concerned. We got into an argument about it. Sammy stuck up for his mom. I didn’t blame him, though. I liked that about him.”

   Eva slapped him hard in the face when Nick finally had enough, nose to nose, shouting that he wasn’t going to sell the house, that they were through once and for all, and that was that.

   “She scratched me with her fingernails when she slapped me, cutting me, and drawing blood. I pushed her away.”

   They glared at each other.

   “Quit it.” 

   Eva’s mouth went cold thin-lipped, she twisted around, reached for Sammy’s hand, and stamped out with him. She didn’t look back. The front door slammed shut. It was the last time Nick saw her. He never saw the money he had lent her, either. He knew the TKO was on its way and there was nothing he could do about it.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”