Christmas Letter 2018

Posted December 5th, 2018

We flew off to Montreal in October for some poutine, some art museum and a ride on the Grande Roue Ferris wheel, and came back to strange goings-on in the climate controls of the car. The Scion’s fan hadn’t been working well, clacking on low, squawking on high. Then there was that suspicious odor. The service tech discovered I had a whole family of mice, not all of them alive, nesting in the heating system. He cleaned everything out and recommended I tuck some peppermint and ginger wrapped in old pantyhose up under the hood to discourage another infestation.

Lanterns afloat in the Chinese Garden

The poutine was worth it, though: French fried potatoes and cheese curds swimming in really good, really hot brown gravy.

My Dear One and I walked everywhere in Copenhagen, our destination in May, on footbridges, over canals and through the hippie enclave of Freetown Christiania. Breakfast was spandauer (the real Danish pastry) and lunch was smørre­brød and good beer. Happy families filled Tivoli Gardens, the view from the tower of the Christiansborg Palace was glorious and we paid homage to the Little Mermaid. The city was entirely hyggelig, which is to say, “living cozy.”  I hadn’t been there since 1970—and that was also the last time I saw my childhood friend Ted K.

Tivoli Gardens skyline

Ted joined us for dinner, still the boyish spirit who, in the fifth grade, had been the only one willing to dance with me at ballroom lessons. In 1964 the K’s moved from Cleveland Heights OH to Copenhagen and my gang were off to Massachusetts, but our paths crossed again in 1970 when I visited his family while at school in England. Time does go by.

The signal accomplishment of 2018 was the luxuriation of My Dear One’s ancestral shrub into a stately and fully foliated tree. Twenty years ago all his forebears fit on a single sheet of paper, with space to spare. Over time we leafed out first his mother’s branch and then his paternal grandmother’s. The Tamkiai (the Tamkus line) remained pretty well blank. Grandfather Kazimieras and his younger brother Petras died in the Diamond Mine Disaster in Scranton PA in 1914, taking with them whatever they might have shared. Another brother, Joseph, also an immigrant to Scranton, left no documents, no anecdotes. We kept up the weeding, watering and fertilizing, though, and finally the Spirit of Good Genealogical Fortune, known to us as Saint Begatz, blessed us.

main branches of the family tree

Dan found Kazimieras’ application for naturalization, which had not surfaced in countless earlier searches, and it included the misspelled name of his home village. I discovered the data-rich ship manifest that listed Petras as a passenger. Our researcher in Lithuania, Vilius Vaseikis, took over at that point and soon the stunted plant put out new, vibrant growth. The Tamkiai hail from Miežonys village near Kaisiadorys, in what is now Kaunas County. Motiejus, born in 1789, was clan patriarch to serfs attached to the Žiežmariai Manor. The Tamkiai had lots of children, many of whom did not survive infancy. By 1847, the census says, the family owned a small farm that included 1 dessiatine (about 2.7 acres) of land adjacent to their dwelling, 10 dessiatines of arable land, 9 dessiatines of haymaking meadows, 3 horses, 5 oxen, 4 cows, 4 sheep and 5 pigs. They were also paying yearly taxes in the amount of four and a half silver rubles. Despite this apparent prosperity, by the turn of the century, first Kazimieras and then two of his brothers were bound for the coal mines of Scranton PA. I still can’t get my head wrapped around this saga.

A July trek carried us through most of New England. One of my dearest friends, whom I still call Liesl-Klingen, had reunited with her first beau. One date led to another, an engagement and ultimately a wedding at his alma mater, Amherst College. Well heck, we thought, Aberdeen to Amherst isn’t far. Then we could swing through New Hampshire and head to Damariscotta ME to see my aunt Doffy. After that it’d be just an amble down I-95 to Boston and more folks I rarely get to see.

Noguchi’s “Momo Taru”

My Dear One suggested we stop at the Storm King Art Center on the way up and so we did. The Amherst nuptials were great fun and three days allocated to the Pioneer Valley also gave me time for catch-up with O and Sid (O and I met at UMass in the 1970s). Then My Dear One and I motored up the mountain for a gab with my brother Jim at his aerie in Ashfield.  Next day, a soggy Sunday, we surprised Jim’s firstborn Chris, his wife Danielle and their children Olivia and Calvin in Spofford NH, then continued on to Holderness and the camp on Squam Lake that had once been ours. (The new owners have made every improvement I ever fantasized about and then some.) After a quick beer with buddies Sue and Marc in nearby South Tamworth, and a night in North Conway, we were off to Maine.

Time spent with Doffy has always been indescribable pleasure. Her balance was a tad unsteady but her effervescence as bright as always as we slurped oysters and a nice Merlot at her favorite restaurant. I had emailed her sons just to say we’d be in the neighborhood. Dick and Michelle and Doug and Christine all happened to be in residence in nearby Round Pond and good times ensued. Our only disappointment was missing David and Janet who live just a little further away in China Village.

The Kennedy Library

The highway south took us past Kittery ME where my Jim’s third-born James and his wife Katie had welcomed Elwyn Curtis, all heft, smiles and sweetness, into the world in March. While we had hoped to hang with my Brother the Lawyer, he and Jane were off in Ohio, delivering one of her daughters to the Cincinnati Ballet. Instead we toured the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and spent a chatty evening with old teaching buddy Naomi Kline and her husband Bob in Cambridge, drinking their wine and emptying their refrigerator of leftovers. Finally, Cousin Ellen in Gloucester treated us to an insider’s view of that historic village. Then it was back home.

Family members move in various orbits spiraling higher and wider. My Tattooed Boy finally took a vacation from work as a server at the B&O American Brasserie in Baltimore and winged away to Las Vegas for a three-day music festival. His blog, Just A Rock N Roll Junkie is full of interviews with rockers and reviews of their recordings. Two grandchildren are well-established at the family firm; the third has moved to San Francisco and a job at IDEO.

And I come back to Doffy. In early October, Dick let me know that she had suffered a stroke. Then on October 29 came the not unexpected news that she had passed away. Doffy was my favorite aunt, maybe my favorite person. She was an artist and art historian, someone who enjoyed her vodka and made a divine pesto. Her squealing laughter was inimitable and her love for the world inexhaustible.

As Doffy moved from this world to the next, her sons were with her. That story is theirs to tell, but I know they embraced her, read to her, sang to her. One of those songs, one of her favorites, was “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music, and I write the lyrics here for her.

Edelweiss, edelweiss
Every morning you greet me
Small and white
Clean and bright
You look happy to meet me

Blossom of snow
May you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever
Edelweiss, edelweiss
Bless my homeland forever

“Oh lovey,” Doffy would exclaim as we talked about this or that. The thing that I will miss so much is that warmth, the certainty that she was always “happy to meet me.”

Highest hopes for a hyggelig 2019 for you one and all.



Leave a Comment