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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
W. 20th St. New York, NY 10011
tel: (212) 366.1549
fax: (347) 287.6775