Nov. 4 election night in Springfield was also “Lithuanian Ladies Night Out.” Ten of us gathered to share wine, memories, smiles and questions at a shop called “It’s All About Wine.”
I couldn’t help feeling that our immigrant ancestors were smiling down on us, and maybe also tipping a glass in heaven, if that’s allowed. (It would be hard to imagine a Lithuanian heaven without some kind of alcoholic spirits.)
The store’s proprietor obliged with a few smartphone photos of our group, to which I remarked that no flash would be required due to such an excess of blonde hair.
Mary M. brought a hummus dip to go with our wine, and also the plates and napkins necessary to divvy up and devour a pizza.
Our upcoming Lithuanian-American Club Christmas Party on Dec. 6 was mentioned, as well as a possible Nov. 22 caravan to Grand Duke’s Restaurant and Racine Bakery in Chicago.
Coal Miner with a Poet’s Heart
My favorite part of the evening, other than introducing my long-lost Orback cousin, revolved around a hand-written music book belonging to coal-mining immigrant Leonard Naumovich, Sr., whose granddaughters Joanie and Mary were present. Grandfather and great-grandfather to the city’s large Naumovich clan, Len, Sr. died in 1934.
When two of our “Third Wave” Lithuanian immigrants, Asta and Irena, graciously did an on-demand translation of some of Len, Sr.’s handwriting, we made an exciting discovery.
We learned that Len was not only literate and educated, but that he was also a fan of Maironis (1862-1932), the leading poet of Lithuania’s national revival after hundreds of years under the Polish or Russian heel. This daring late-19th Century renaissance of the Lithuanian language and national consciousness, while Lithuania was still under the rule of the Russian Czar, coincided with Len’s own life and times. And he apparently remained a part of it even after immigrating to the U.S.
Len’s fragile 100-year-old music book is also an inspiring testament to the spirit of music and poetry that lived on in the heart of a poor coal miner with no opportunity for the life he would have chosen to live, if he had had a choice other than mining coal.
The mysterious words “Kur bėga Šešupė” that Len, Sr. wrote on the bottom front cover of his book turn out to be the opening of the most famous Maironis poem, ever: “Where the Sesupe River Flows:”
Lithuanian Lyrics and Approximate English Translation
Kur bėga Šešupė, kur Nemunas teka: Where the Šešupė River runs, where the Nemunas River flows
Tai mūsų tėvynė, graži Lietuva: That’s our fatherland, beautiful Lithuania.
According to Wikipedia, “Almost every Lithuanian can recite these words by heart. The poem is so well-known that it is treated as an unofficial national anthem.”
Inside Len, Sr.’s book are the words and music to another Maironis poem: “Riding Day:” The poem in translation begins: “Although I rode all day and I rode all night, I arrived at nothing; Then suddenly, I came upon a beautiful lake…”
And, since several of us remarked that we couldn’t remember hearing spoken Lithuanian, check out an audio reading of the poem, “Kur bėga Šešupė” at this link (you will need Windows Media Player):