MY SON By Leokadija Maciunas
My son was a quiet child from birth. He neither screamed nor cried at all, but since the nanny who was also my daughter’s wet nurse, didn’t want him in the nursery fearing that lad would disturb the girl, he slept next to me in the bed. Later when he had beautifully proved h1mself and when the household had become accustcmed to him, the nanny deignied to accept him in the nursery. There was something attractive in the child and I feared that he would be offended and neglected in the nursery. Though he didn’t demand special attention, I was often with him. As the nanny took the little girl out in the pram for fresh air, I had to carry the little boy in my arms and I sat in a nearby park with the sleeping child.
From childhood the children were often sick–a cough, an inflamed throat, and my little son had an inflamation of the ears. He was quiet and patient when he was sick, and when the doctor said that inflamatlon of the ears was very painful I could barely believe that the child was suffering. Sometimes he would turn his head and moan quietly. I was assigned to pour drops in his ears hourly day and night. I carried this out accurately though he didn’t wake me wi th moaning. When the medicine didn’t help, we had to lance the abcess. The doctor ordered my husband to hold tightly onto the boy while he pricked his ears. The boy screamed in a voice unlike his own. They send me out of the room, but I was not able to hear the heart breaking cry of a poor little one year old child. But he was silent Immediately after the lancing. I walked into the room with tear stained eyes and he asked me right away why my eyes were red. I answered that I was terribly sorry for him and had been crying. The doctor had warned us that this operation was very painful and that even adults screamed from the pain. He then assured me that he wasn’t in pain and stretched out his hands to me, pressing his whole body to my breast. The children caught cold time and time again: mustard plasters, cupping glasses, medicines, and more ear drops. The abcesses in his ears even had to be lanced a second time, but this took place in the hospital and the nanny was with him for two days there.
After a series of colds my daughter continued to have a fever which indicated tuberculosis. We decided to take her to Switzerland for the winter and since I couldn’t leave one small daughter with strangers, and since I also couldn’t leave my son without a mother, I went with them both and my husband accompanied us.
In the mountains of Leizen they stayed in a children’s sanitorium where I lived as well. In the spring both had gland and polypus operations. Once again the poor little kids suffered. The regime didn’t allow them to leave their beds, and so they lay in their beds all day on a large open balcony or in a room in front of open windows. I had to amuse and entertain them. There were about ten children, however, who seeing how much attention I gave to my own children, called me to give them something, to show or draw something. My children then got jealous and called me to them. In order to quiet them all down, to occupy them with something and comfort them. I ordered a record player and I danced. Everyone was delighted; no one felt left out. After three months of such a regimen they were allowed to get dressed and go outside. We strolled along the streets and I pulled them on a toboggan. The boy was playful and disobedient. All the passers by paid attention to him so alive and gay, and I noticed that he wanted this.
Towards spring my husband arrived and we transferred the children from the sanitorium to a rest house. It was a wonderful place where children already of school age made up the greatest part. At the beginning they didn’t want to accept my children so very small and knowing very little French. The mistress of the house was an elderly woman whom all called Tantite and Uncle Ernest was her husband had lost their only son long ago. They adored children and had devoted their lives to others’ children. Both were enchanted by my young son and accepted both children as an exception to the rule and later Yurgis became a favorite of Tantite and the other children. He some how impressed them by his behavior. Not speaking a word of French he was able to show what he wanted and how things should be, commandingly and seriously inspiring all to be especially attentive to him, and this forced them to submit to him willy nilly.
The owners were highly cultured people who gave love and attention to other people’s children. They had several assistants and their own doctor. There were separate rooms for the children, a general cafeteria, a gymnastics hall, a large, wide, open veranda where the children lay in the fresh air every day. This was called “Silence.” There were no children older than eight to ten. People from all over the world came here; they came from every country in Europe and even from America. In the winter there was skating and tobaggoning, in just shorts and shoes, and in the summer there were outings in the phaetons, and mayovka performances (mayovka–a pre-revolutionary May Day Meeting trs.) The situation was in genera1, half family oriented, half sanitorium. One couldn’t imagine better conditions, so my husband returned to Lithuania. They wrote about the children regularly and sent photographs. The connection was maintained. The children both improved their health and matured.
Four months later I went to visit them. I found them stronger. My daughter talked French easily, but Yurgis spoke little as before, although his short lexicon was precise and understandable to all.
This time I left them with a lighter heart. They were well loved there; it was good for them. They spent a year and a half in Switzerland. Towards summer they returned home, and after getting through the autumn well, Yurgis began to have a fever in the autumn. He had a light case of tuberculosis. We had to send him back again to Switzerland, to the same place. They had missed him there, and were glad to welcnme him back in their family. He spent half a year in Switzerland when it was the greyest and darkest time of year in Lithuania. There there was snow; he could spend more time in the air and bright sunlight, and be almost naked.
When he came home we hired a dear young Polish girl who had studied in a monstary in French and who spoke French. Stashka was pleasent and cheerful; she liked children and they quickly made friends and spent time amicably. Blocks of different forms and sizes were ordered for Yurgis and he played with them for hours seriously building various castles. There were no limits to his imagination; sometimes his constructions were surprisingly beautiful and since it was sometimes a pity to destroy these castles when we picked up the toys in the evening, we would leave them for the night so we could admire them once again in the morning. I had then decided that he should be an architect.
Little Yurgis was not an especially affectionate child, but there were several instances where he showed himself to be sensitive and attentive, altogether unchildlike. The unusualness of this impressed and worried me.
On his return from Switzerland he wasn’t able to play with the other children since he spoke only French; he was, therefore, always near me. We spent the summer on the beach in Polangen. Once a group of children involved Yurgis in a general game. I was happy for him and all the more so that I was able to read even a half hour in peace. Suddenly he came running up to me nearly in tears and pulled me by the hand to the children excitedly repeating that he couldn’t leave me completely alone when he was having so much fun playing. I was barely able to persuade him that I was reading and that I enjoyed sit ting with a book.
Either in that same period or near the end of the summer season the children and I spent the rest of the vacation in the forest at a pension. There was another family staying there with an only daughter. The father worked in the Lithuanian Consulate 1n Paris and his daughter spoke French beautifully. Our children quickly made friends and when their daughter’s birthday came, they invited my children to the celebration. When everyone had sat down to the table, my Yurgis suddenly tore away and catching his breath ran up to me on the second floor. He quickly grabbed me by the hand and started to pull me below to the dlning room where they awaited him. Although I was delighting in my rest, I had to go to the table, excuse myself and explain the matter. On the trip downstairs be repeated that there were some tasty things on the table and that I simply had to share their joy. The little girl’s parents were completely taken aback by such behavior in a four year old child since children at that age are usually egoists thinking only about themselves.
There is yet one more incident that I will always remember. The boy was more than five years old. He lived in our dacha in a pine forest. Our friends who also had two children the same age as ours lived a block away. The children often played together and it came about that one day my Yurgis was barefoot. Lunch time had come, but since the children still hadn’t returned home I went by the nearest forest to lead the children home. The warm dry twigs and needles painfully pricked the boy’s feet and I suggested that I carry him home on my shoulders.
On the way home he tirelessly told me that when he grew up he would repay me; he would fly to the moon and brig me a lot of gold, he would hire a servant for me who would dress feed and groom me. He had witnessed this since a mother of his friend’s was confined to her armchair with arthritis and couldn’t move either her arms or legs, feed wash or groom herself. This feeling of gratitude and the desire to show it moved and touched me to the depths of my soul. It seemed to me then that this boy would be close to me for ages and that there was a certain unusually delicate connection between us.
My daughter had already begun to school and it seems that Yurgis also began studying in a Lithuanian school. Once in the winter our daughter was invited to a friend’s birthday party. The simple people didn’t know how to entertain children; they had invited them for the dinner hour, we hadn’t fed them at home, and they were treated to sweets there and a certain sweet liqueur. And, according to the custom of these hospitable people, they admonished them to drink and drink even small little glasses, but it was evident that the drink was a strong one. The poor boy came home entirely drunk. Our daughter worried by her brother’s unusually cheerful behavior hurried to bring him home. His head whirled madly, he was pale and looked altogether ill. After this Yurgis never drank, avoided strong drinks especially and similarly didn’t like beer. Sometimes he could drink a couple glasses of wine.
The children began to study music and Yurgis showed success. Once when he was all of six years old he performed on the radio, playing a piece from memory without a mistake. In a. children’s Christmas program at school he played four handed with his sister. The music teacher gave special praise to Yurgis’ success, but two years later he protested saying that music was for women and not for men even though their teacher was a young talented musician. Perhaps the teacher taught them incorrectly, playing more himself than demanding that the children play. Seeing his absolute unwillingness to sit down at the piano we had to stop the lessons. Much later Yurgis reproached me that I heeded his protests and didn’t force him to study, to continue the lessons. I felt guilty since his father hadn’t interfered in this and I thought that that if he studied without desire, under force, that nothing would come of it, especially since Yurgi’s was stubborn and it was difficult to subdue him.
As an eight year old child he had to undergo an appendectomy which remained indelibly imprinted forever in his soul. To this day I don’t understand why they performed the operation without an aesthetic. It was true that the blind gut was terribly inflamed and the operation was urgent.
The poor boy moaned, and I heard his moans behind the door and sobbed unconsolely. It seemed to me that the operation continued endlessly. Later he told us with shuddering how he felt them cut his body, how they took out the blind gut, about each prick of the needle and how extraordinarily terrible was the pulling of the thread as they stitched up a live body. It was as if he accused the doctor for such flaying of flesh and us his parents, for permitting such a cruel torment. His entire life be couldn’t organically endure the sight of cancer or blood.
He got very bored while he was recovering in the hospital since he hadn’t read books up to that time (also out of a certain stubbornness- “I don’t want to and wi11 not read.”) But once a classmate visited him and brought him a book of Main Rid’s He read it to our general delight, and after that Yurgis read children’s literature.
In the following winter the children were sick with Whooping cough with protracted cough and its obligatory vomiting. The surprising thing was that our daughter had already stopped being i11, and though she caught it from Yurgis, she no longer coughed, but he coughed as if he were falling 111 again. This had gone on too long and we had to turn to a doctor. The doctor had to tell Yurgis with authority and persuasion that the cough had already passed and that he had to stop coughing. This suggestion turned out to be the best medicine. He got better and we all breathed lighter.
The Second World War had begun and my son became a genuine commander. He was friendly only with those boys who served him unconditionally. There weren’t so many of them: two to three and they were younger than he was or weaker in development.
At home we loved him; I was always especially sensitive to him, but all of a sudden without rhyme or reason he started to make faces; he blinked his eyes and tightly shut his eyelids. During this time his face and especially his mouth changed its expression. He studied so-so, being outstanding only in math. He didn’t especially like school and perhaps this was reflected in his nerves or in a feeling of not being fully valued or that he was worse than others, but we had to turn to the doctor. I lightly massaged his forehead daily according to the doctor’s advice. It gradually got better and the boy stopped grimacing.
The Soviet Army was getting nearer and we had to flee since we already knew that my husband would arrested and we we would be divided. It was better to travel under bombardment, hunger even 1f it came to going on foot only if we could be together and not await this nightmare. My husband was already on the Soviet’s list; when they had ruled for a year in Lithuania they suggested my husband spy on his friends and denounce his colleagues every day. He so sharply refused this vile role then that they noted it down. Fortunately a few days after this offer the Germans occupied Lithuania in one day and the Soviets didn’t succeed in arresting my husband. He was completely unacceptable to them; he had finished the University in Berlin, had worked 1n a German factory–Simons Shukert and knew German perfectly. It was enough for the Soviets if a person were a philaletist; such were considered potential spies. Traveling lightly we took only the most necessary so that we could carry our bags ourselves if we had to. The children and I were especially not sad, but were rather in an elevated mood. At the beginning we stopped a few days in Berlin, already half destroyed and darkened, but then we headed south to Frankfurt on the Main. My husband continued to work in Frankfurt in the same firm, but the children and I lived in Bad-Naugeim, a health resort town which was looked on as an infirmary. All the big hotels had been turned into hospital and during our stay they continued to turn the small pensions into infirmaries. There the children began to attend the German gymnasium. The children and I studied German at home. Once at school one of the vulgar boys argued with Yurgis and hit him with his fist. Yurgis, seeing the unjust fist in his face, covered his face with his hand, and the other hitting his hand, broke the boy’s hand. Niole (his sister and my daughter) brought him home after they had helped him first at school. She was indignant at the vulgarity and impudence of ignorant German children. Not one of them knew that Lithuania bordered Germany. They all hated foreigners.
Yurgis took up drawing in our last years in Germany. His graphic monograms were exceptionally beautiful and scrupulously executed. Similarly he loved small drawings. It was interesting to watch how he drew tiny figures with lines alone and with circles in the place of heads. A mass of various arm, leg and head movements vividly showed the character and movement of each figure. For example, he sketched a boat and the people on it. Everyone was doing something; each was in a different position and it was absolutely clear what he was doing. One could see the same thing in his small tablet–the same figure but in a different position. Rapidly flipping the pages made the characters seem to come alive and move. He was assiduous and patient, and when he aimed for some goal he achieved it.*
In the autumn of 1946 the children lived in D-P camp where the Lithuanian gymnasium began. Both studied and both were scouts. Yurgis had a liking for the sea and numbered amongst the sea scouts. In the gymnasium Yurgis was outstanding in math and weak in the Lithuanian language.
Once Yurgis had an unfortunate fall while skating and broke his leg above the ankle, resulting in his being hospitalized for six weeks. This circumstance once again exiled him from school and activities. He drew and read a lot and was furious that they took so long in letting him out of the hospital.
In the spring, in April of 1948 we left Germany for America. We hadn’t one relative there. The charitable organization “Church Velt (Field?) Service” took care of us. They met us, placed us in a good hotel and soon found work for my husband in his field, and in the autumn they enrolled Yurgis in a boarding school in Dobbs-Ferry where he excellently finished high school in one year.
At first he had no one close to him at this school, and not knowing English he set to reading Dostoevskii who became one of his favorite authors. It was obvious that he solidly undertook his studies; he even wrote a long article on Dostoevskii in a school magazine which he edited. One of the editors of the “New York Times” paid attention to this serious article and even wrote about it in his paper.
After the solemn act there were ten superior students on stage and my Yurgis was among them. After the final celebration (of finals) many teachers told me many compliments about my son, predicting a bright future for him. I was happy and proud of my serious boy. *
In this period Yurgis made a small model of our dacha in Lithuania. All the measurements were precise according to the directions of his father, my husband.
The next stage was Cooper Union where there was no tuition, but a strict selection of especially talented students. The exams were varied–he had to do things he had never done–sculpture, figure modeling, drafting, drawing and math. Barely ten percent of those who took the exam passed it and my Yurgis was among that ten percent. He lived at home with us and went to his own school.
He also finished Cooper Union with excellent grades and received a stipend to continue his study. He chose the University of Pittsburgh in the school of architecture. He wasn’t interested in sports or girls; he started to take music lessons and didn’t miss one concert. Besides this he took a course on the history of the Russian government. Then on his own initiative he made an interesting diagram of the Russian State from the very beginning to the revolution. The notebook was made of transparent pages, and beginning with the last page a map of Europe was drawn clearly underlining where the borders of the Russian princes were. Alongside he entered the dates and names in small print. The next page was who changed the borders of the kingdom and when and so forth. Page after page changed the tsars and kingdoms of the Russian state. Through the transparent page one could see the previous borders. This was a remarkable and interesting work which could recall the entire past course of study in one moment.
When he finished this University he continued to study. At the beginning he started work as an architect, but was very disappointed seeing that the work of young architects was limited to drafting for which one needn’t be either talented or possess an education. He decided to study art history at New York City College and become a professor.
This was the time that my husband died in 1954. It was the first death in our family. I was broken hearted and completely helpless without my Yurgis who, though he seemed so impractical in life, undertook being my protector and took care of me as his father did.
My daughter got married a year later. We sold our house and car and split the profits evenly–2,OOO dollars each, and I started living with Yurgis in a small modest apartment in the center of New York. It was not far from there to his university. I was still sick at heart and my son was not only my protector; he was my joy and consolation.
An old and very good professor taught art history at the university. He treated Yurgis like a son, invited him over showed him his immense library and told him that it would serve Yurgis after his death when Yurgis had become a professor. Once again Yurgis studied seriously and well, dreamed of becoming a professor and worked on his large project–a diagram of the entire course of art history–in every free moment. This work was a chef d’oeuvre. Any professor could work from it. Each lecture was entered with the most important facts and alongside were small photographs or drawings. He worked by fits, and it was impressive to follow such interesting and captivating work. Yurgis always shared his ideas with me, talked about a lot that he had learned from lectures and books. His memory was phenomenal. He could arrange everything neatly in his head, and we both dreamed how he would become a professor and how we would travel during the long vacations.
In the spring when his favorite professor died right before the exams, Yurgis went to the exams out of spirits. Something had broken in his soul and he lost interest in his idea of becoming a professor. The exams went well, but they flunked him in French. They suggested that he take the exam again in the fall but Yurgis flatly refused. He said that he studied not for a diploma but for knowledge and that to slave over a language(which was almost native but now unnecessary) was something he didn’t want to do. And so our dreams were destroyed •••
At that time some people turned up who were sympathetic to Communism and they decided to create an avant garde magazine for which Yurgis thought up the name, “Fluxus.” They decided to acquaint the large American public with the new direction of the magazine. There were announcements in the papers, they sent out invitations, and the auditorium was lent by the Lithuanian Society. But when the appointed day came the Board of Directors of the Lithuanian Society rescinded its agreement since they had found out the essence of the meeting. To them, who had fled from the Communists, it seemed blasphemous to hold such a meeting if it even vaguely recalled Communism. Yurgis and his friends had to stand at the entrance of the auditorium and turn everyone back. Yurgis was very disappointed and rejected the Lithuanian Society completely. He even changed his name from Yurgis to George.
On the advice of a friend he rented a place on Madison Avenue and opened a gallery. He took ultra-modern avant garde paintings. The paintings didn’t sell and the gallery was very poorly attended. Yurgis worked as a draftsman and all his earnings went to this gallery, printing and dispersing of prospectus and letters. He also sketched himself, drops with India ink on a white background. We sold one such work, but cheaply, for fifty dollars. I had to sit in this gallery all day and clean up the huge hall.
A new era began in our life. The gallery became a concert hall. The first concert was given by excellent musicians from Europe, playing music of the Middle Ages–singing and lute playing. Yurgis began to be captivated by the harpsichord and lute. He conceived the plan of selling these rare instruments, corresponded with Europe and began to receive them and sell them. But the business didn’t work out, and we only lost a lot of time, care and of course, money.
The next passion was the sale of delicatessen goods, of foreign canned good: fish from the U.S.S.R., the famous “Pate de fois gras” from France. And this business didn’t work out either although I fervently helped him, spending hours over hundreds of letters which distributed all over America. Again we had a loss, the result of which caused us to live modestly and to economize in everything. I would have gone to work, but I had to help Yurgls; I worked instead of an employee in the gallery. Alas that my Yurgis was not a business man.
After the first wonderful concert meetings, rehearsals of a completely opposite character to the Middle Ages began, those of the avant garde: certain electronic sounds and still some others that were entirely incomprehensible to me. The public was the new youth, overgrown with hair and slovenly dressed.
One Sunday I went over to Yurgis’ as I always did bringing some tasty pastries with me that Yurgis loved. We used to make coffee and enjoy these treats together. But this time I stumbled on a locked door, though noise could be heard from inside. I knocked. My son opened the door a crack and seeing me he asked me in an unfriendly manner why I had come. I was surprised since we had established that I always come at this time. He quickly took the box of pastries out of my hands and said, “Go home!” He shut and locked the door. They were having a rehearsal. Yurgis knew that the society of these half shaved people was unpleasant to me and didn’t want a critically inclined person to constrain his friends with his presence.
This was the first that Yurgis was so nasty to me. Sadly I made my way to the subway. In the carriage tears streamed down my face and it was bitter, as if I had lost my son forever, so sensitive and attentive. This was the beginning. I didn’t understand his passion at all and he didn’t try to explain it to me. We understood that we had begun to talk different languages. I was simply unhappy and this annoyed him.
When he redid the gallery according to his taste he cut away a heavy layer of plaster to open up the bricks and leave then in that form. He wasn’t able to hire people; one of his new friends helped him. There was solid dust from this work. He spent the night there in an adjacent room where the window opened, but the window faced the rooftops and the whole bed would be black from soot in the morning. Neither day nor night did he have clean air; he also worked without a mask. He didn’t let me clean anything up, but did it himself. He caught cold and began to cough badly and this cough turned into asthma which suffocated him. He couldn’t get along without cortisone.
Yurgis worked as a draftsman and though his earnings weren’t bad, much money had been lost in the unsuccessful affairs with instruments and canned goods and the gallery also cost money and Yurgis became a debtor for the first time and to many people. His apartment even wasn’t paid for for two months. I was in despair. I didn’t have the means to help myself and the money we received on the sale of our house went to buy some land on the shore of Goodson.
Finally he decided to escape further from these failures and got himself a job in the American Army as a private architect. We left some of our things with my daughter, the remainder Yurgis rapidly liquidated; he gave more away than he sold, and since the trip and the apartment in Germany were paid for by the army for us both, we left for Wiesbaden, Germany.
We quickly found people in Wiesbaden who interested Yurgis. Again there was the publication of certain little books, prospectus for these people who were almost poor. Yorgis never talked to me about his financial affairs, but I saw by his thrift and near miserliness that his salary barely covered us.
They began to get ready for a performance. This extraordinary performance was even going to he shown on television. The evening arrived and I, fortunately, didn’t see the program (we didn’t have a television.) The next day I met the former landlady of our hotel on the street and I was grieved by her sympathy as if some kind of terrible grief had come to me. They had seen the previous evening’s program and had been horrified. It showed how several young people, including my son, had destroyed a piano with hammers and axes. Even if the instrument was old and useless, it was noble, someone had once played on it, had evoked beautiful sounds, it had served talented hands which had given the public joy and rapture. It was painful and terrible to watch how the chips flew, to hear the complaining twanging of the severed strings. People couldn’t hold back their tears seeing such a shameful and tormenting end to the instrument. We don’t know what to do with old useless instruments, we don’t see this cruel treatment of them, and so this grief and sentiment is understandable. These people felt sorry for me, sympathizing and understanding how a mother’s heart would ache seeing what her son was doing. At that time he seemed possessed by a dark strength.
My Yurgis, so pure, light, talented and sensitive had turned from a high calling. With his good education he knew how to value beauty and knew much about it. He adored the music of the Middle Ages and church singing. And suddenly it was as if he weren’t himself.
He felt that I wasn’t sympathetic and became even more secretive. It was as if we were on separate shores. I had fallen completely from my normal life. Higgins and his wife came from New York and stayed God knows how long with Yurgis in his apartment.
It was difficult for me to see how completely absorbed he was in something so absolutely incomprehensible and strange to me. And I decided to leave forever for my parents who were calling me. My three sisters and brothers lived there. Yurgis was happy with my decision and I left.
I spent three months in Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro, but I didn’t like Brazil. Yurgis sent me affectionate letters and it seemed to me that he had possibly changed. He invited me to stay with him and I went back. But nothing had changed in out lives; he was as absorbed in his various plans and projects as before. And I left him again, deciding to work in New York even as a servant. But it was not easy for me in New York. Somehow I didn’t know how to adjust. I got a room for certain services and managed to make both ends meet.
Yurgis wrote to me again, inviting me to come stay promising that all would be better. Asthma tormented him; he had even been in an army hospital. He had to quit work. He bought a very inexpensive car from the army, quit work and we travelled around Europe for several months. His work was easy, but it burdened him. He always wanted to be completely free.
As before, he didn’t drink or smoke and didn’t make friends with women. I wanted him to marry very much, but he constantly said that a wife would take away a lot of valuable time from him, and that he didn’t have that time. I cost him almost nothing, taking care of him and the house cost not more for the two of us than he spent himself.
We travelled_over almost all Europe in this big beautiful station wagon. He saw Belgium, Holland, France, Italy and Austria. We stopped in the most interesting places, where one could get to only in a car. We saw museums, castles, cloisters, and an endless number of temples. Everywhere Yurgis knew what to look at and how to look. We didn’t need a guide; my son was a splendid guide end explained the smallest details, knowing them from art history.
We visited towns that were museums in themselves. He was absorbed by the beauty of the architecture and art and I was happy taking in the knowledge and delighting in my son for three months, as if he had reborn for beauty. He would have been such a remarkable professor or scholar; he knew how to explain gripping details so well. He had the gift of speech and knew how to persuade.
After this unforgetable journey we returned to New York. It was difficult at the beginning. We didn’t get along, and I worked as a servant in a doctor’s family where there were five people in the family and a large apartment. I worked only five weeks and was exhausted. I found work in a shoe factory and lived in a small room. My relation with Yurgis quickly got better and he suggested we live together again. I worked now and we could live modestly. Whatever Yurgis did or what he earned I don’t know; he wrote something, edited brochures to order, and did some kind of work for a magazine.
He wouldn’t hear of marriage as before and even got angry when I talked about it. He didn’t have the time; this is how he excused himself. He had his friends to whom he was devoted with his whole soul. They were like his family, his own children. He met with them willingly, but he didn’t allow anyone to smoke in his presence, even his closest friend. He was always at home, always busy. He went out for short periods of time and to a large circle he was seen only at performances, concerts, and exhibits; usually he worked at home.
I soon changed work and entered a hospital as a nurses aid, but a year later I became Kerensky’s secretary. He was finishing his last book and had to dictate it since he was nearly blind. After he had finished writing, I went to read him books or the paper. The good salary came in very handy and Yurgis and I often went to the movies or the theater, and sometimes we went to the cloisters which he loved a great deal. Japanese and foreign films, ballets and tours of performing Soviet troupes. He loved everything Russian, as well as things Japanese. His friends know more about his work and goals. I know only one thing, that our souls were never apart. With the rare exception we saw each other weekly. He came to visit me; I treated him and he lay down after lunch. Often he brought a certain interesting book or album with him to show me and discuss. He read so much about World War I and World War II, and a medical encyclopedia. He enjoyed sharing his reading with me. We would meet either in town, go to a restaurant, or go to an interesting film together. We didn’t miss any Japanese or famous films. We saw all Swedish and Russian films too. After my heart attack, the doctor forbad me to go up to the fifth floor where my apartment was, because there was no elevator. Yurgis invited me to live with him. He lived in a basement, and though wide windows looked out onto an inner court which was tiled with flagstone and planted with trees, the studio was full of heaps of boxes; a wheel barrow with cement, and all kinds of dusty tools. Instead of a kitchen was a corner with a hot plate and an old refrigerator. The bathroom and shower which he had also done himself were located in the hall. When I arrived in this awful basement, Yurgis quickly transformed it, making a wide Japanese sliding screen to separate my corner from his. I had my favorite sofa and shelf out of boxes which had been a project of Yurgis’ in Germany where he made them. On their doors he had glued enlargements of photographs taken during our trip in Europe. I still have this shelf and an as attached to it as I was to my beloved son, seeing him in it. He still worked a lot with icons. He bought nice albums where there were reproductions of icons from museums; he cut them out and glued to small boards and affixed them. They looked like genuine icons. I had almost a hundred of them, but when we left Europe Yurgis hurried to take them back and distributed them to his friends. Every Christmas I received several icons from him, and he still loved all kinds of boxes and chests of drawers of which I still have a few. In every country he bought something remarkable besides postcards and gave it to me. I was surrounded exclusively by his work and attention. Everything I have is something he gave me for Christmas or Mother’s Day or my birthday. He loved antiques and sometimes’ he bought old cupboards and chests.
He covered the floor of his basement with a series, of wide plastic strips, but all this was impractical and not genuine and he promised to make a floor and a ceiling. Dust and sand fell from the girders onto the floor. Mice darted about. This was very unpleasant for me and one evening Yurgis caught seven of them an entire family. It was quieter after this. One of his friends remarked on how good it was that I was living with Yurgis since it obviously a pity to see his wretched manner of living. Others who would come for the first time since my arrival would simply ooh and ah. Almost daily I washed the floor in the court and the windows so that they shone like in a store. There were plants next to the window and I tried to keep each clean. Spring came and my whole body began to ache as if from rheumatism. My legs, arms, fingers and the small back lost their warmth and a damp cold came from the cement which even the mattress and the rug didn’t keep out. I feared becoming an invalid and decided to leave Yurgis again. His studio was all set up and he could get along without me. Again and again I tried to talk him into getting married; but he refused as before. He got angry and asked me not to repeat these ideas about marriage. He was not sentimental with me; we didn’t even kiss when we met, and parting I didn’t even manage to kiss him. At that time was very busy rebuilding studio. This began in the sixties shortly after we returned from Europe. He bought a. house in down town New York near Canal Street not far from Greenwich Village–an artists’ center. He bought the house without hardly any money at all, persuading me to give him the savings which I had managed to pull together thanks to some typing work. And we both sold our land at Good son. In all I had about five thousand dollars and he had a certain amount. Working with some cheaper workers he rebuilt more explaining this in such a way that the people buying the studio gave him money and he could continue the reconstruction and finish the studio. He sold these studios too inexpensively, earning almost nothing or very little to get by one. No one believed that it was so cheap; everyone thought that he was earning millions in this. And so it went house after house. Some were more expensive and better, but he would barely manage to sell a studio in one house when he would buy another house along with a friend. Money was no longer to be found and he borrowed again from his sister whom he promised to pay back double. But when I lived with him in the basement I worked in a shop for the exchange of goods with the U.S.S.R(Russia). All of my earnings went not only on food; he often borrowed fifty dollars for paint of tool. I gave him a lot of my hard earned money, feeling sorry for him and wanting to believe that everything would be as he promised. But he was always optimistic in his affairs, and if I sometimes doubted them he called me a pessimist. Similarly, he took countless sums of money from my daughter, and if he returned them one day, he would borrow more the next, persuading her to buy studios, assuring her that she would double her money. She believed her brother and gave him money, bought studios, but never managed to sell them and get her investment back.
I simply got tired of his studios, purchases and sales and didn’t even want to hear about them any more. As before we met every Sunday. I lived close to the gulf in Mamaronk and we walked along the water, sat and chatted peacefully not touching the areas where we disagreed completely. I felt that he rested spiritually at my house. After lunch he always lay down and, dozed. Walking him home near evening, I gave him some food I had prepared that would keep him several days.
Something would go wrong with his studios, or he would do something illegal or people would demand the impossible from him, and he would be indebted again to someone; someone would be dissatisfied with him.
Yurgis led a strange life. He Was hiding from the marshall-a government official–and made a simple cat and mouse game out of it. At home he locked himself up securely, made a secret exit from his studio for himself, and carried a Japanese sabre in case of an attack. In any case, he always had this sabre when he visited me on Sundays. I don’t know what he was experiencing in his soul, but he talked about all these things with invariable humor; he himself laughed and was a delighted as a child. He even thought of sending this official postcards from all the countries of the world where he had friends who could help him in this undertaking. He wanted to lead the marshal into the illusion that he was traveling in all these countries.
I felt in my heart that one day he would have to pay for all this, but there was no possibility of warning him. And then one day specifically bribed people beat him up. Having paid the electrician and in complete accord with the contract, Yurgis reserved two thousand dollars for certain additional work. But the work was done poorly and Yurgis had to fix it himself. He understood electrical currents well and guessed where the mistake Was right away. He didn’t, therefore, hurry to settle up with the unconscientious contractor. And this fiery Italian didn’t want to wait a long time and decided to punish Yurgis and dispatched his Villains.
One morning when Soho hadn’t begun its life fully, on the weekend, two men came to Yurgis. They asked him to show them a studio for sale. He left with them and when he turned his back to them to open the door, they fell on him and began to beat him in the head iron rods. Covered with blood, he fell. These criminals began to kick him in the chest and stomach. Yurgis started to call for help, beginning to understand that they could finish him off in such a fury. A woman artist who lived in the opposite studio recognized Yorgis’ voice, came out to see what all the noise was about, and the villains disappeared rapidly. She brought Yurgis a wet towel, called the police who arrived momentarily and took him to the nearest hospital. Nine doctors set to saving him; they gave him 36 stitches in his head, put a tube in his chest through the air passed, and set his four broken ribs. They gave him an injection to ease the pain. He was in good hands, and the doctors when they found out who he was, were especially attentive and did everything possible to renew his health. He was in “intensive care” for nine days. Yurgis was almost happy and in elevated spirits. Only the bruise near his left eye, and the eye, full of blood witnessed the misfortune.
I felt very sorry seeing my son after this incident. A famous doctor in eye operations, tried to do everything possible, but, alas, the eye was lost forever. But this was the inescapable result of his unjust deeds and actions. He was in debt, to many, promised to return money to many and gave name to anyone, or they pressed him very hard, he would; so as not to lose friends, borrow form one and give to the other.
In general, all that he did he did lightly as if playing. He talked about his misfortune, a very tragedy with such an inimitable humor that it was impossible not to laugh. Finally there were no more homes that could be sold, and if there were, they were very expensive. Many people, moreover, followed Yurgis’ idea, but they succeeded; they acted legally, wisely, sold them for great sums and earned a lot in the business.
Yurgis decided to leave New York for another state–Massachusetts; he wanted to buy a home and we had even chosen one house together which he planned to make over in his own style, to rent or sell. And he wanted to retain a small piece of land for himself and build a house according to his own taste, as he long dreamed of. It was as if my Yurgis had returned anew; he wanted to live with me in quiet surroundings where he could work and go to New York. But something went wrong again. Once he went to look at houses with a friend. They especially liked one large estate; it was a former estate of a rich horse breeder and stud farm. He decided immediately, like the father for all his children that he could house all his friends there, but not one of his friends wanted to live there and share the purchase. Everyone was tied to New York by his work and it wasn’t convenient for anyone to live three hours from the city. But the farm was already bought. He had to take everything on his own shoulders, all the cares and work. The friend who was with him also didn’t want to live there, but he sometimes gave money for expenses–a very small portion. But as before Yurgis got the rest from his sister, my daughter, who gave it to him, pitying him. Yurgis was disappointed in his friends many times, but he loved them as a family and was grieved by their estrangement.
He made a lot of changes and improvements; he hired students in the summer who helped him. He paid them a little, and worked indefatigably himself; but there was too much work and it demanded excessive expenditures.
Thinking I could live close to my son, I went to the farm. I cleaned and washed all the rooms. There were thirty of them in this one house and all were neglected. So were the halls, the stairs and the huge veranda around the house. The house had three floors; the roof leaked. Yurgis crawled up on the roof himself and spread a huge plastic sheet over the hole in the roof. For the time being the situation was saved; the roof didn’t leak. Many of the repairs had to be done by specialists that cost a lot of money, and as usual, there was none. Autumn came and it turned out that the heating was out of order and demanded enormous repair. There were fire places in several of the rooms, but they heated only a small part of the room and at night it was as cold inside as out. I caught cold and began to run a fever; I froze in the course of the night. Finally I left him completely and moved to Florida. I had arthritis. Yurgis didn’t protest that I had left him, feeling sorry for me, and understanding that I couldn’t survive a long winter in such conditions. At first he wrote to me, and then he began to call me every week on the phone. His letters always shone in rosy colors and his voice sounded hale. I stopped worrying, thinking that he was happy there and knew how to get settled. He began to rent rooms, but it always turned out badly. One of the best separate rooms, beautifully remodeled was rented to a woman with four children who was on welfare. She stopped paying and lived free of charge for a long time, filling her room and the court with noise and chaos.
Yurgis got three goats and told me enthusiastically how he made cheese out of goat’s milk. A young woman, one of his tenants showed up who was able to help him with his goats and in the kitchen. Yurgis was thankful for her and didn’t ask for any rest. They made friends; she knew how to please him, clearly doing what he wanted.
But he began to grow ill in the summer of 1977. After he ate he stomach ached, especially when he lay down. He noticeably lost weight and went on a diet. He loved dried fruits, but they made him worse. At that time in the autumn he had to go to Seattle to do an exhibit for the museum Avant Garde–he had been invited. He got worse there and went to a doctor. They ran different tests, but found nothing. When he arrived at home he was seriously worried and went to the different where they ran tests once more and found nothing blameworthy once again. Near Christmas his friend went to her mother’s for the holiday, and he was left alone, sick with three goats who had to be milked fed and cared for. I had already scheduled an urgent operation for the 21 of December, 1977. It was a long operation, lasting three and one half hours. Three pounds of blood had to be given to my body. I lay there for nearly three weeks. Neither I nor my son were able to be at my daughter’s for the Christmas Eve celebration as we usually were. My daughter and grandchildren were saddened by our absence.
On the sixth of January they did a biopsy on my son and found that a terrible CANCER had taken refuge in the most dangerous place in the vital organs and glands. It was impossible to remove it. They succeeded only in taking a small piece for research on the tumor. I was still in the hospital at that time.
I received the saddest news from my daughter that cancer of the pancreas was incurable and that my son had two more months to live.
This news destroyed me; in the beginning I didn’t know how to live or what to do. Reading my wonderful Teaching, and calling God I took myself in hand and wrote letters to my son nearly every day. I wanted to prepare him for crossing to the next World. Although the doctor had told him ambiguously, “fifty-fifty.” I knew that there was no salvation and that his days were numbered. But I still clung to the hope that perhaps my prayers coming from the heart, full of love and anxiety would help. I believed in miracles and asked many friends to pray for him even though I wrote him from the beginning that he shouldn’t fear death that it was only a shift from one plan of life and that there he would be happier that he would be healthy and would achieve the fulfillment of all his dreams and aspirations. But I didn’t want to distress a man still young who was only forty six, and so I wrote about miraculous healings, about prayers of good will, about his psychological energy and about his desire to live. I wrote him about my limitless love, recalling his wonderful childhood, our links, and the unforgetable time we spent together. But I still hadn’t made up my mind to go see him. It was a severe winter and they had been buried by the snow and inside it was not warm and I had neither warm shoes or a warm coat. Moreover he wrote me that he wanted to marry the tenant and I didn’t want to become entangled with them right away. And my leg still ached badly, perhaps even more than before the operation. He very simply wrote me that he liked Billy, that he could talk with,her, that she helped him, but that there was no intimacy between and that he had told her that he was still a virgin, and simply didn’t know to approach a woman and put the initiative in her hands. But she hadn’t decided to approach him, and as he expressed in his letter, both treated each other like fragile glass ware. But the disease was, in the meantime, developing and he faded with each day, losing strength. The doctor had told him that he would die between March and April and he decided to get married in the end of February. He wanted to repay her, and most importantly he felt depressed at night and panicked at being alone. After the wedding she slept next to him, and that is the only reason he got married. He never touched her as a woman and never experienced any kind of sexual feeling for her, and later when we were in Jamaica he told me that he never had loved her and that he didn’t know what the feeling of passion meant which morphine had long ago deadened for him, this morphine so necessary in delivering him from inhuman pain. She, of course, knew that he was at death’s door and decided to get married. (she was not a girl; she had a daughter from her first husband from whom she was divorced) because she couldn’t as a good Christian be close him even at night; her name would nor have suffered from this though, since everyone could plainly see that he was a fatally ill person. On the contrary, only those who didn’t know the tragic news judged her as a cunning and egotistical woman.
The wedding was celebrated at my daughter’s, who arranged the celebration so beautifully, sparing neither energy nor money. Only the most immediate family were invited. I flew from Florida. But I didn’t even take a gala dress with me; it seemed to me that the celebration was a very sorrowful one, like a “feast during the time of the plague.” My heart wept from the depression and pain of seeing my son so strangely changed thinner, weak and terribly pale. They had already rushed to be registered in Massachusetts and came as man and wife. It seemed that Yurgis had undertaken a new game which was unusual-as was everything that he did.
In the morning at breakfast I spoke with Billy alone and she asked me why he had married her. I told her plainly and truthfully that it was terrible for him to be alone and he wanted to have someone near him. Yurgis also married because he wanted to repay her, thinking she would receive a pension after his death. But she would receive the pension at 62 and not earlier–Yurgis dldn’t know about this. In the beginning he wanted to leave her everything but later, obviously disappointed, he didn’t write any will at all, and his papers were in disorder. Everything that my daughter had give him–thousands and thousands of dollars, and my only savings went to him as down a bottomless well; all this waS lost. But she retained many valuable things, his work, and most importantly his NAME, which this alien woman was completely unworthy to bear.
My daughter and I accepted her one of the family, gave her all sorts of presents, and she visited my daughter like visiting home. But in the depths of my heart I couldn’t elicit a love for her. She become capricious and impatient. Even after his death she said that she hadn’t spoiled him, considering it a caprice, and that he had needed a close human being, that he was in need each minute wanting someone to sit near him. It was especially difficult for him after the cure in Jamaica.
Yurgis wanted me to come with him to Jamaica and my daughter bought the ticket immediately. I flew there two days later. He was still on his feet, but going to the second floor where our room was he had great difficulty, holding onto the railing with both hands and resting after each step. He didn’t like the diet in the hospital, but he simply couldn’t eat any other. Everything was without salt and sugar, and he could no dried fruits except bananas. This kind of food nauseated him, and being hungry he couldn’t overcome his repulsion to it. He stopped going down to the table; he lay down the whole time, and I was near. Pain often tormented him and I would massage his back, praying with tears in my eyes that it would be assuaged; often these pains came at night, when tears poured out of his shut eyes. I sobbed soundlessly seeing my unhappy son.
He often took morphine, but it didn’t take effect immediately, and even after a large dose of the drug, he rested only a short time, unconscious. But he wanted to live; he showed me an interesting little bool–a chart about the development of humanity, altogether like the work he had begun when he was still a student. He read the novels of Balzac(it seems) where he learned the dictum: “Before the wedding people spoil each other’s mood, and afterwards, the air.”… And he found it funny that this was surprisingly true. When we talked about his wife, he spoke without enthusiasm, clearly disappointed. This person was born for high feelings; he was born too early; he was a person of the future, when the soul will long for the heights. He was pure and bright of spirit. His enthusiasm, his limitless fantasy went along crooked paths. An essence too delicate and too sensitive was crushed pre-maturely before it had time to grow strong. God took him earlier than his time for a future, better life.
Yurgis got thinner not by the day, but by the hour; when he returned to the farm he lay down the whole time. But still in Jamaica he had told me with humor: the next stage of growing thin–“the bones crumble since there is nothing to hold them together.”
I wanted to be near him his last numbered days and minutes very much, but I was restrained by the thought of his wife who might not like my presence, especially as one had to drive a car on the farm, and I didn’t know how to. If she got angry and left him we would both be helpless. She had already threatened to leave him, but my daughter consoled me saying that she would soon go up and get him and bring him to her place, and that I could fly up on the very same day and be near him.
How inscrutable are the ways of the Lord. Everything turned out differently; Billy remained, but she was cold with him and often left him for hours and he suffered alone.
In the end this woman prevented me from being close to my dear suffering son, and herself didn’t give the necessary attention to a dying person. In total she was near him, if one counts, not even two full months with interruptions. In the beginning after the wedding, they visited their friends, were several days at my daughter’s. Later he spent two weeks with me in Jamaica, and he was in a hospital for the last ten or twelve days. Up to Jamaica Yurgis was able to get around by himself, and he was even in a hurry to finish up objects that he had begun, but after Jamaica he became worse by the day.
Once Yurgis told me bitterly how he had been unlucky his whole life! He had so many operations, so many different serious illnesses, and now diabetes had showed up with the cancer. Soon after he returned home, his legs began to swell and the doctor said it was a blood clot. In the hospital in Boston they found out that jaundice had started owing to the hunger, and that he was completely weak. I longed to go to the hospital, foreseeing the end was near, and I wanted it so that he should die in my arms, I prayed to be with him before his exit into the other world. But the doctors didn’t allow it; there were instances where they had to cure the relatives afterwards; they suffered such torment at the bed of the dying. My daughter visited him two days before his death; she couldn’t speak about him without tears, he looked so terrible. But he still hoped to get better, and he clearly wanted to live. But on the ninth of May at three o’clock, in the afternoon, my daughter phoned him. He seemed to have been waiting for the call; he was very happy, but spoke confusedly, getting excited and rushing; my poor daughter couldn’t make out a word. But she was able to understand by the tone that he had lost the hope of getting better; the doctors were not undertaking anything, and there was no sense in fighting. Fifteen minutes after this conversation he died. When my daughter talked to me, she told me to fly that day to Boston, that our Yurgis was dying. But a half hour after her call, she called again to say that Yurgis had DIED.!
My son had gone, my little son, my joy and my sorrow. He told me at the time of his “wedding” that he wasn’t afraid of dying and that when he died he would soon call me to him…
In the coffin, which they opened especially for my request, he looked young, even his thinness was not so terrible, but the expression on his face was strangely offended. He was offended by fate, so many failures and so much suffering.!…
I didn’t weep, but my heart screamed; something painful and tangible trembled in me like an electrical current. I spread a rose colored oil on his lips, the dear unforgetable lines of my boy, and placed fragrant freesias and a white rose near his face. On the lid of the coffin was a huge bouquet of white flowers: freesias, lilacs, tulips, and peonies, like a bride at a wedding, a sign of INNOCENCE to my pure angel. Already sentenced to death, he had selected his favorite music and recorded it on a tape and asked that everyone listen to his beloved music during the farewell. All his friends came to pay their last respects; his family and all were grieved by his early death and listened to the music with feeling, and it seemed to me that his spirit was amongst us, touching each of us and listening with us and approving us.
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