Like my nephews and niece, I had lost four of my five grandparents by the time I was 19. At the time, I was too young and distracted to appreciate their experiences and knowledge. Too young to take the time to sit and listen to their stories.
I wish I knew then what I know now – so much knowledge was lost with them. So many stories, so much truth. Those truths, by default, have influenced who I am as a person.
When we are young, we think the people we love will live forever. As we age, we realize that isn’t the case. In many situations – like mine – we wait too long and miss our chance to get to know our elders as individuals.
Tessie, George and Polly
I do not remember my maternal grandmother. Tessie (Norkus) Taruska, Nanny to me, died when I was two and my sister was just a month old. I know she was a good cook, played tricks on my Mom when she came home from school and was not a fan of her daughter’s husband.
My maternal grandfather, George Taruska, passed of a heart attack when I was 17. I remember him as very serious, a man of few words. He had wonderful white, wavy hair. He ate horseradish so hot it made him cry and drank lemon water after his meals. He made his own pickled herring.
Palmira (Tunaite) Treciokas, Polly to her friends and family, was my Mom’s stepmother. She was the Grammy any kid wishes they had. Marrying Granddad later in life, she was grateful for her instant family. She had been single for many years, and had lost a toddler son, Albert and outlived her first husband Chris.
When she married Granddad in 1974 she gained a daughter, her “favourite” son in law, and two grand daughters. We all adored her. She rolled her own cigarettes, drank rye and ginger ale and loved a good game of cards. She loved watching WWF wrestling on TV. She let us jump on the bed, only after reminding us not to hurt ourselves. She had a makeup table in her bedroom that was a magical place. Her collection of wigs and bright red lipsticks were carefully arranged there. My sister and I loved to put on her wigs, colour our lips and parade around the apartment. It all felt so fancy! Gram played right along with us.
Snippets of Stories
All three of my maternal grandparents immigrated from Lithuania in the late 1920s. It is only through personal records that I know the logistics of their journeys. As is the case for many immigrants, they spoke very little about home – the lives and the loved ones left behind.
I remember only one story Grammy shared with us about her youth. Born in 1912, she was a toddler when World War I broke out. She distinctly remembered the air raid siren sounding and a family member picking her up and throwing her through the small door, into the bomb shelter to safety.
Nanny was one of 10 children – five boys and five girls. The girls emigrated from Lithuania and the boys stayed.
My mother remembered Granddad receiving news that his mother had been taken to a labour camp in Siberia during World War II. He quit smoking on the spot.
These are all anecdotal stories of lives that have ended. A snippet of their stories, of who they were and of what they experienced. How I want to sit down with them – maybe at the small table in the kitchen with Gram over coffee or lounging in a lawn chair beside Granddad at his “summer home” after a day in the garden – and talk to them. To ask the questions. How did it happen? How did you feel? Why did you do what you did? Then what?
I want to learn their stories but also have them share their practical knowledge. To have the chance to go into the woods with them to pick mushrooms, to learn how to identify safe from poisonous. I want to learn their ways of gardening and hear them describe the plants they remember in their mothers’ gardens. I’d love to spend time together in the kitchen cooking Lithuanian food and seeing what “a pinch” really looks like.
Still with Us
My grand parents’ lives continue to shape who I am, what I do and to some extent, how I do it. I was raised by the woman they raised. I spent time with them during my youth when I was learning right from wrong, polite from rude, what foods I enjoyed.
The people we love typically go about the business of living their lives without influencing the world at large but the impact they have on those who know and love them is immeasurable.