Category Archives: Days and Nights

Waking Up on Wasaga Beach

By Ed Staskus

   There might be flies on some of you guys, but there ain’t no flies on us.” Traditional Camp Song

   My brother and I both went to Ausra, as Kretinga was then known, starting in the early 1960s, later joined by our younger sister, who continued going into the 1970s, after we had grown older than the age limit. When that happened there was no love lost in our goodbyes, watching our sister leave for camp, while we ate crumbs at home.

   Everybody who was going waited all year for the first day of stovykla, or camp, and two weeks later, when it was over, saying goodbye to fellow campers felt like summer was over, even though it was still only mid-July. We ran around in the woods like knockabouts, there were bonfires, and it was awesome to hang out with our friends. We would have traded any day in the real world for five minutes at summer camp.

   Austra was a summer camp in Wasaga Beach, ninety miles up from Toronto. It is just north of the provincial park and the town’s honky-tonk boardwalk. Americans, Canadians, and anybody who had a drop of Lithuanian blood in them was good to go. After the first year we never wrote letters home. The first year we weren’t allowed to be campers anymore we wrote letters asking for an exemption.

   Founded in 1957, Ausra was a sports culture religious boy and girl runaround camp all wrapped up in a package deal on the southern shore of Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay. The camp was and still is on twenty-four acres of sand. The sand is bare-bones and fresh and gets into everything, your ears, shoes, pockets, sleeping bag, and toothbrush, on the first day and only drops out of sight after you get home. The trees surrounding our camp are what we disappeared into for two weeks, far from home.

   The drive from where we lived in Cleveland, Ohio, to the camp was longer then. The highways weren’t all highways like they are now. Some of them were just roads. My father had bought a Chevrolet Brookwood as soon as there were three of us, a blue and white station wagon that was twice as big and long as any sedan. The third-row seat faced backwards. We called it the way back window, playing the license plate game and cows on my side.

   The rear window was where my brother and I always sat. Our little sister had to sit alone on the middle bench seat. She wasn’t allowed in the back with us, although we let her play rock paper scissors with us, since she was so bad at it. My brother and I found out from a friend of a friend she counted her lucky stars to have the middle seat to herself. When we asked her why, she just laughed like Woody Woodpecker.

   We were always so excited about going to camp we couldn’t sit still. It took forever to get there. I don’t know how my parents endured the 12-hour trip with the three of us in the back. I do know my father had stuck a globe-like compass on top of the dashboard next to a plastic St. Christopher figurine staring straight watchful ahead. When he started chain-smoking was when we knew things were getting sketchy.

   When the camp opened it slept eight boys to a Canadian Army surplus tent pitched over a plank floor. By the time my sister went to camp, wood A-frames were replacing canvas. Boys stayed on one side of the camp and girls on the other, while the smaller kids slept in roughhewn twin barracks. There were close to two hundred of us. In between were the sports field, a parade ground, and an all-purpose open-air hall, adjoined by an amphitheater of tiered logs. 

   The amphitheater was where we sang songs, acted out skits, and had a lauzas, or bonfire. Everyone ran down to the bonfire and sing-along as soon as it started getting dark. There was so much wood we had a fire every night, as big as a log cabin burning down. “It’s not like now, when you have to drive to the convenience store and buy it,” my brother said. “They only have bonfires on weekends, and they are more the size of flashlights than three-alarm fires.”

   Our camp activities director had been in the Foreign Legion. Bruno wore a black beret, a checked kerchief tied around his neck, and carried a hand axe on his belt. He mostly just picked up wood from the forest floor. Our woodpile was always sky high for a rainy day. Even though we were often reminded to never play with matches in the woods, every night it seemed to take a full box of stick matches and a half-gallon of gasoline to start the fire.

   Everybody cheered when the whoosh happened.

   The days were mostly sunny, sometimes windy and wet, but at camp there was no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather. The nights were often massively starlit and frequently damp. The summer sky at summer camp is big and windy. It’s clean and full of life, too. We didn’t shower when we were at camp. Everybody was expected to clean themselves at the communal sink in the latrine. It wasn’t just a pit, but a cinder block building that teemed with daddy long-leg spiders at night.

   Some kids hardly ever washed anything besides their hands and face, and it could get disgusting, but none of us cared too much about it. One time somebody’s parents wouldn’t let him into the car when his two weeks were up, and he hadn’t cleaned all over even once.

   “No, go back, go hose yourself off! What is wrong with you?” his mother asked through her nose.

   One year we had bedbugs. We caught them with scotch tape and kept them in a glass jar. We tried to kill some of them with poison spray, because when they sucked your blood, they left itchy clusters on your skin, but the bugs didn’t seem to care. When the camp commander found out about it, he hired a bedbug sniffing dog.

   The Beagle was so good at his work he sniffed out a bedbug hiding in the folded page of a paperback book. The next day everyone whose tents were plagued by the bugs piled their stuff in garbage bags and threw the bags inside whatever cars were at the camp, in the hot sun, with the windows closed. All the bedbugs died.

   Bruno told us that a Canadian had invented plastic garbage bags. He was proud of that because he had become a Canadian citizen. He always had something historic to tell us. Sometimes we heard what he had to say. Most of the time we didn’t.

   In the morning every morning at seven o’clock we were rousted from our cots by marching music and rag-tagged to the sports field for calisthenics. We stretched and did jumping jacks and ran the track. Afterwards we ran back to our tents, changed into clean shirts, and after raising the Lithuanian, Canadian, and American flags, sometimes preceded by lowering underpants hoisted in the night, we raced to breakfast.

   We had porridge and scrambled eggs and Post Top 3 cereal. We always had PB&J on Wonder Bread. Sometimes we had sandwich’s all day if something went wrong and there wasn’t anything else. The sweet jelly was a hit with bees and wasps. Metallic colored dragonflies, agile and powerful fliers, had the run of camp. If the spring had been soggy there were mosquitos.

   After breakfast we pushed the long tables to the side, lined our benches up in rows, and sat down for services. Father Paul, Ausra’s resident Franciscan, said mass every day on a makeshift altar. He didn’t have any kids, being a priest, but he was good with kids. He cemented his reputation in the early days when a camper swiped the wine for communion.

   “I was about 12 years old and drank it with a girlfriend,” said Dalia Daugvainyte. “The trees whirled around us along with the stars that night.”

   She had to go to confession the next morning. Father Paul let her off the hook with less than a million Hail Mary’s and a solemn vow to never do it again. “Knowing him, he probably hid a smile,” she said. Since the confessional was out in the open, he probably had to turn his head to the side.

   Late mornings we were free. We cleaned up our tents, messed around, and played volleyball, the national game, according to our sports counselor. One day we played volleybat, which was baseball but with a volleyball. We found out it was hairier than it sounds when the pitcher, who was closer to home plate since he had to lob the volleyball, broke his wrist fending off a line drive.

   Every afternoon, barring mid-summer thunder and lightning, we assembled for the best part of the day, which was going to the longest freshwater beach in the world, a ten-minute hike from the camp. We lined up in our swimsuits and towels and tramped through a stand of pines and birches to the Concession Road gate and past the corner variety store to the New Wasaga Beach coastline. Whenever we could, we made a run for it, breaking out of our two-by-two ranks, and snuck into the variety store for bottles of Bubble-Up and bags of Maltesers.

   Bruno was unlike most of the other counselors. He wasn’t a parent or a young adult. He was a wiry man in his forties with wavy hair who wore his khaki shorts hiked up to his belly button and led our formation to the beach. He had been a Foreign Legionnaire during World War Two and every summer thought he knew how to assemble children for close order drill, only to see us scatter pell-mell as soon we got close to the dunes.

   Fish-n-chip shacks on stilts and fat family cars, which were then still allowed to park on the beach, dotted the wide sand flats. The surf line was a hundred yards out, the water flat as a pancake. We didn’t swim so much as play in the water, running and belly flopping, tackling one another, flinging Wham-O Frisbees, and splashing every girl we saw.

   “You’re getting us wet,” they yelled, even though they were in the lake the same as us. One girl I liked hated getting water in her eyes and up her nose. She wore enormous green goggles and said they were for swimming, even though she always just stood and floated around in one spot.

   What none of us ever noticed was the loose cordon of watchful camp counselors on the outskirts of our horseplay, keeping their eyes peeled as we played. Walking back to camp behind Bruno we would sing “Hello, goodbye, Jell-o, no pie” because we knew we would be having Jell-o for dessert when we got back. Sometimes I walked with the pretty goggle girl.

   Bruno liked to snack on koseliena, or headcheese, and thought we should, too, but our kitchen had the good sense never to serve it, fearing mass nausea. We ate four times a day, served by eight volunteer cooks, older ladies, who made burgers and French fries, pork chops and mashed potatoes, and kugelis, or potato pudding.

   Potatoes were a staple, like Wonder Bread.

   Going swimming on the bay shore was the only time we were allowed to leave camp. It was a strict rule. Everybody feared the consequences, which was expulsion from the camp. One summer a fifteen-year-old was spotted cavorting on the Wasaga Beach boardwalk and given the choice of going home or spending the remainder of the camp in the kid’s barracks.

   He chose a top bunk in the barracks, his new campmates a gaggle of eight and nine-year-old’s.

   Two other boys who had messed up did penance another summer by staging a memorial to Darius and Girenas, the 1930s aviators who died flying from America to Lithuania. After a week building a model of the orange monoplane, they strung a clothesline over the bonfire pit, and painted rocks depicting the route, from New York to Newfoundland, Ireland, and finally Kaunas.

   That night, with the whole camp assembled at the amphitheater, they pulled the plane along the rope, telling the spellbinding story of the ill-fated flight, when near the marker depicting Kaunas, they yanked too hard on the guide rope. The plane careened backwards, shook and shuddered, plunging down too soon and too fast and crashed into the bonfire, exploding into flames.

   Everybody hooted hollered groaned wolf whistled. It was the buzz of the camp for days. The girl with goggles under her pillow was quiet. Somebody said one of the pilots had been her great uncle. I bought her a bottle of Orange Crush from the variety store to cheer her up.

   Although Ausra no longer exists, except perhaps in memory, the summer camp on the shore of Georgian Bay is still there in the same place. More than half a century after tens of thousands of Lithuanians fled Europe for North America it thrives on the thin, sandy soil of Wasaga Beach.

   Toronto’s Church of the Resurrection bought the land for the camp from a parishioner for a nominal amount in the 1950s and operated it until 1983, when it was re-christened as Kretinga. Since then it has evolved into three camps. There are two weeks for English-speaking and two weeks for Lithuanian-speaking children of Lithuanian descent, and another week for families whose children are too young for the other camps.

   There is a weeklong basketball camp in August. In 2014 Mindaugas Kuziminskas, a former Kretinga camper, played for the Lithuanian National Team in the World Cup in Spain. Summer after summer many of the same children and families across generations return. “It’s my second home,” said one camper, while another said, “Greatest camp in the world!”

   “I love this camp so much and I have been going since forever,” another camper wearing a double-sided Kretinga t-shirt summed up.

   My nephew goes to Kretinga and eats in the same mess hall as my brother and I did, shoots hoops on the same asphalt court, and every summer helps restore the same sand map of Lithuania behind the flagpoles. I asked him if he was going back next summer.

   “Oh, yeah,” he said. “My friends and I have been together for five years in the same cabin. Waking up and being at camp is the best time of the year. We get there the first day and there are high-fives knuckle-touches bro-hugs all around. We punch each other and laugh it up. When all the moms and dads are finally gone, we have sandwiches in the mess hall. Father says a prayer and the camp commander makes a speech.”

   He had already made his plans for when the talking was over.

   “After the next two summers, after my last year at camp, when I’m not allowed to be a camper anymore, I’m going back as a counselor. That’s a sure thing. I can’t wait to go back.”

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Taylor Swift Flips Out

By Ed Staskus

   By 1984 many bands had strutted their stuff at the Palace on the Prairie in Richfield, Ohio. They included Led Zeppelin in 1975, Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band in 1978, the Rolling Stones in 1981, and Queen in 1982. Frank Sinatra opened the Richfield Coliseum with a show in October 1974 and The Who’s Roger Daltrey gone solo closed the doors twenty years later.

   “The crisscross of lights, mirroring the animation of 21,000 stylish people packed from floor to roof, transformed the gray amphitheater in the hills of Richfield Township into a huge first-night bouquet of green and blue,” is how The Cleveland Plain Dealer splashed ‘Ol Blue Eye’s show across its front page. I called him Slacksey because no matter what his slacks were always neatly pressed. In 1994 Roger Daltrey’s performance drew fewer than 5,000 fans. Nobody wrote a word about it or how he was dressed.

   Over the years there were more than a hundred concerts at the Richfield Coliseum. Even Elvis and Bob Dylan got into the groove. The Bee Gees drove girls to screaming crying pleading in 1979.

   Vann Halen opened for Black Sabbath in 1978 and came back as headliners in 1984. When they did, they had to sit on their hands waiting for ice to melt. Walt Disney’s “Magic Kingdom on Ice” had just left the building. When Van Halen came to town it was the one and only time I saw the band and the one and only time I went to a show at the Richfield Coliseum. 

   It wasn’t that I didn’t go to rock ‘n roll shows. It was that the few I went to were closer to home, like at the Allen Theatre, the Agora, and the Engineer’s Hall, where it was standing room only. Downtown was nearby but Richfield was a long drive for my long-suffering notoriously unreliable car. Besides, I was by necessity a Scrooge. First things came first, like food and shelter. 

   I saw The Doors at the Allen Theatre in 1970, The Clash at the Agora in 1979, and the Dead Kennedys at the Engineer’s Hall in 1983. The Dead Kennedys blew into town during a heat wave. The air conditioning at the Engineer’s Hall was non-existent and there were no windows. We all sweated up a storm and stayed through the encore. Six years later the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers sold their building. It was demolished and replaced by a posh hotel. The Kennedys never came back.

   The Doors started their sold-out Friday night show in 1970 with ‘Roadhouse Blues’ ‘Break on Through’ and ‘Backdoor Man’. They did The Carter Family’s ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken’. That was a surprise. They sounded better raw and live than on carefully managed vinyl. They were more than worth the five dollars for the orchestra seat ticket. Eli Radish, a local band, opened, and were fun funky, but all through their set everybody was antsy waiting for Jim Morrison.

   “He worked the crowd with his staring sneers and sexy leather posing, witch doctor mumbling and general slouching about,” said Jim Brite, who was in the crowd. “The lighting and sound were dramatic. The band was great, with extended solos and workmanlike professionalism, delivering the music behind the Shaman. No one could take their eyes off Jim. It was one of the best concerts I saw, and I’ll never forget it.”

   The Doors had been banned from performing in Cincinnati and Dayton the year before. They were kicked out of Miami for Jim Morrison’s obscene language and lewd behavior. None of it mattered to the 3,000 of us filling every seat.

   “Jim Morrison swigged beer and smiled a lot between numbers,” Dick Wooten wrote in The Cleveland Press. “When he performs, he closes his eyes, cups his hand over his right ear, and clutches the mike. His voice is pleasant, but his style also involves shouts and screams that hammer your nervous system.”

   When it was over, we whistled roared clapped until the house lights came on. We were disappointed there was no encore but what could we say. Everybody was getting to their feet when suddenly Jim Morrison came back on stage. “Somebody stole my leather jacket. Thanks a lot Cleveland!” He flipped us the finger. “Nobody leaves until I get it back!” The dirty look bikers at the front of the stage jogged to the back of the hall and blocked the doors. When I looked, Jim Morrison had left the stage, but then a minute later came back.

   “Sorry, that was a mistake. I found it.” 

   He said the band wanted to play some more, but John Densmore’s hands were messed up. He was the group’s drummer. The beat couldn’t go on without the beat.

   “The drummer was walking backstage and holding up his hands which seemed bloody in the creases of his fingers,” said Skip Heil, the drummer for Eli Radish. “I felt all warmed up since we played before them, so I said I’ll do it. I wasn’t sure of the songs, but I thought they were simple shuffles. Afterwards, Jim was accidentally locked in the old funky bathroom and one of the roadies came and said, ‘Stand back Jim.’ He proceeded to smash the door in to set him free.”

   Jim Morrison died in Paris the next year and the doors shut forever on the band.

   The Richfield Coliseum was an arena in Richfield Township in the middle of nowhere, halfway between Akron and Cleveland. It was built to be the home of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the local NBA team, although indoor soccer, indoor football, and hockey were played there, too. Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics said it was his favorite place to shoot hoops. He played his last pro game there. Muhammed Ali made ground beef out of Chuck Wepner there in 1975. Dave Jones, Ali’s nutritionist, was always trying to get the boxer to try soy burgers, but he had to have his red meat. There were rodeos and monster trucks. There were high wire acts and hallelujah choruses. The WWF Survivor Series came and went and came back.

   I had a friend who had gotten tickets to see Van Halen. Two other friends of ours went with us but had to fork over $10.75 apiece for the privilege. My passage was on the house, since it was the night of my birthday. I didn’t know much about the band, except that they were no doubt about it flat out loud as all get out, but free is free and since I had free time I went. 

   The rock ‘n rollers were from Pasadena California. They were Eddie Van Halen on guitar, Eddie’s brother Alex Van Halen on drums, Michael Anthony on bass, and David Lee Roth belting it out up front. Michael Anthony sang back-up while keeping the low pitch going.  “It wasn’t until the fourth or fifth Van Halen record that people would go, Wow! You’re singing backgrounds on those records. That’s not David Lee Roth,” he said. “And I go, Hell, no! That’s not David Lee Roth.”

   Everybody said they were “restoring hard rock to the forefront of the music scene,” whatever that meant. I was listening to lots of Canned Heat and John Lee Hooker and the Balfa Brothers. The rock ‘n roll parade was largely passing me by.

    Everybody also said Van Halen’s live shows were crazy energetic and Eddie Van Halen was a crazy virtuoso on the electric guitar. During the show he switched guitars right and left, but more-or-less stuck to a Stratocaster and a Kramer, except it wasn’t exactly a Stratocaster. Eddie Van Halen called it a Frankenstrat.

   “I wanted a Fender vibrato and a Stratocaster body style with a humbucker in it, and it did not exist,” he said. “People looked at me like I was crazy when I said that’s what I want. Where could I go to have someone make me one? Well, no one would, so I built one myself.”

   His homemade six-string was almost ten years old, made of odds and ends, a two-piece maple neck stuck onto a Stratocaster-style body. He used a chisel to gouge a hole in the body where he stuck a humbucking pickup out of a 1958 Gibson. He used black electrical tape to wrap up the loose ends and a can of red spray paint to get the look he wanted.

   When he met Kramer Guitar boss Dennis Berardi in 1982 Eddie showed him his Frankenstrat. It was his prize possession. “We went up to his house and he got it out,” Dennis said. “It looked like something you’d throw in the garbage. But that was his famous guitar.” 

   Van Halen released their first LP in 1978. By 1982 they had released four more. When they came to Cleveland, they were one of the most successful rock acts of the day, if not the most successful. Their album “1984” sold 10 million copies and generated four hit singles. “Jump” jumped the charts to become a number one single.

   When the lights went down and the stage lights went up, the band took their spots. Eddie Van Halen wore tiger striped camo pants and a matching open jacket over no shirt. He wore a white bandana, and his hair long. Michael Anthony wore a dark short-sleeved shirt and red pants. He wore his hair long, too. David Lee Roth wore a sleeveless vest, leather pants ripped and stitched in all ways, and hula hoop bracelets on his wrists. He wore his hair even longer. Alex Van Halen wore a headband, and it was all I could see of him behind his Wall of Drums. There were speakers galore stacked on top of each other on both sides of the drum set.

   When they launched into “Running with the Devil” Michael Anthony ran across the stage and slid on his knees playing the opening notes. David Lee Roth was a wild man, swinging a sword around like Zorro and doing acrobatics like Kurt Thomas. He did kicks over Michael Anthony’s head and jumped over the drums while singing “Jump.”

   In the middle of one song, he stopped singing. The band played on but slowly dropped out, one instrument at a time. “I say fuck the show, let’s all go across the street and get drunk,” David Lee Roth shouted into his handheld microphone. The crowd hooted hollered cheered, forgetting for a moment they were at the Palace on the Prairie and the closest bar was miles away. One of the best parts of the show was when Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony did a long bass and drum duet.

   Eddie Van Halen did some good work on keyboards, doing the opener for “I’ll Wait” but did his best work on his guitars. He had a way of playing with two hands on the fretboard. He learned it from Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin. “I think I got the idea of tapping watching him do his “Heartbreaker” solo back in 1971. He was doing a pull-off to an open string, and I thought wait a minute, open string and pull off? I can do that, but what if I use my finger as the nut and move it around? I just kind of took it and ran with it.”

   He filed for and got a patent for a device that attaches to the back of an electric guitar. It allows the musician to employ the tapping technique by playing the guitar like a piano with the face upward instead of forward.

   Most of us stayed in our seats during the show, only coming to our feet to applaud, but there was a crowd squished like sardines at the front of the stage, where they stayed from beginning to end. It was loud enough where we were up near the rafters. It had to be mind-blowing being at the jaw lip of the speakers.

   By the time the show ended Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth had long since stripped off their shirts. It took a half hour to shuffle out of the arena, a half hour to find our car, and another half hour to inch the traffic jam the half mile to the highway. My hearing came back somewhere along I-271 on the way home.

   After the show I went back to listening to the blues and zydeco accordion. I didn’t rush out to buy any records by Van Halen. My dog and neighbors would probably have complained about the noise.

   Five years later, what seems to have happened after the excitement of being pushed into existence died down, one afternoon when her mom was in the kitchen and the cradle stopped rocking, Taylor Swift took a sneak peek at a film clip on MTV of the 1984 concert at the Richfield Coliseum. She almost flipped out of her manger. She made a vow then and there that she would do the sure thing. She wasn’t going to invite 20,000 fans to hit the bottle. There was barely enough for her.

   The first thing she would do when she was ready and able to sing her way to stardom was head to Nashville. It would be a baby step, but she had her sights set. It was going to be the hillbilly highway all the way to my way. She was sure as shooting not going to strum a Frankenstrat or bust out any hard rock moves, with or without a sword, neither wearing a shirt nor shirtless.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Breaking Away

By Ed Staskus

   Over the river and through the woods, crossing the border from the north at Buffalo, New York, and going west in the 1950s meant crossing the Niagara River on the Peace Bridge and driving down Route 5 along the lakeshore to Athol Springs, and then jumping onto Route 20. They are state routes and were then heavily wooded on both sides of the two-lane roads.

   Route 20 parallels the borderlands, running along the south shore of Lake Erie. The real frontier is in the middle of the lake. Hardly anybody pays any attention to it. Walleye, carp, yellow perch, rainbow trout, and bigmouth buffalo fish crisscross the border every minute of every day.

   The Peace Bridge is the international overpass between Canada and the United States at the east end of Lake Erie at the source of the river, about 12 miles up the river from Niagara Falls. It connects Fort Erie to Buffalo.

   When my mother Angele, father Vytas, brother and sister and I crossed the bridge in early fall 1957, thirty years after it was built, we crossed the busiest entry from Canada into the United States. We were within weeks of being the fifty millionth car going that way. We were a family of immigrants on the road from Sudbury, Ontario on our way to Cleveland, Ohio, by way of Lithuania.

   “Vytas bought an old Buick in Cleveland, drove back to Sudbury, and picked us up,” said Angele. “We shipped everything else by train, our Connor washing machine, fridge and range, beds, dressers and tables and chairs.”

   Construction on the Peace Bridge started in 1925 and was finished in 1927. A major problem building the bridge was the swift river current. Edward Lupfer, the chief engineer, drove the first test car carefully across it. When it didn’t collapse, they were hurrahed and three months later it opened to everybody in both directions. The official opening ceremony had almost 100,000 in attendance. The festivities were transmitted by radio in the first ever international coast-to-coast broadcast. 

   “We stopped in Hamilton with friends for a short while, picking up our mail from Customs. We all had Canadian passports but only Vytas had a visa, for him, not his wife and kids, but in the end, nobody said anything at the crossing,” my mother said.

   When her husband went to the United States looking for work, Angele stayed behind in Sudbury all spring and most of the summer. She couldn’t call him those months because long distance calls were too expensive. Instead, they wrote each other, waiting a week-and-more for a reply.

   “The kids have been good. I forgot to call the lawyer about the house. I have to go buy food tomorrow,” she wrote.

   He wrote back that he was working but making less than half what he had been making in Sudbury’s nickel mines. “There are many Lithuanians here and I have been meeting some of them.” He went looking for a second job.

   “I had almost no money,” she said. “Vytas was gone and there were no paychecks. I sold the house while he was gone and sent him the money. I spent all the rent money from the room upstairs and was waiting to go as soon as possible. When Rita’s birthday came, we couldn’t have anybody over for a party, but she was so young, anyway. Edvardas was mad that I didn’t invite all the neighborhood kids, but Richardas didn’t care, thank goodness.”

   We drove through Buffalo in mid-morning, passing a junkman driving a beat-up truck, a milkman in a new white truck, and a sweet-smelling bread truck delivering door to door. Wash was hanging in yards and kids were on the streets walking running riding bikes and scooters, jumping rope and kicking the can and fighting with rubber band guns made out of used tire tubes.

   “Ziurek, jis yra juodas!” I exclaimed pointing out the back window of the car at a boy. “He’s all black, his skin is black!”

   Neither I, my brother, or sister had ever seen a Negro in Sudbury. Sixty years later there were about a thousand blacks in Sudbury, but sixty years earlier there weren’t even a handful. Visible minorities of all kinds even nowadays have a small share in the city, less than 4%. Back then the share was close to zero.

   Leaving Buffalo, the houses thinning out, we idled over to the curb to listen to a man playing an accordion, wearing a red shirt and black shorts with a white belt and argyle socks, sitting on a wooden folding chair in the front frame of his garage the door open, his two friends drinking from cans of Stein Beer, and body bobbing foot peddling.

   South of the city my father pulled his bucket of bolts over at Minerva’s Red Top in Athol Springs and got ice cream cones for us at the refreshment stand. He and Angele had sausage dogs and kraut. It was a short jog from there to Route 20, the road they drove the rest of the way the rest of the day to Cleveland.

   We rented a two-bedroom second floor suite on East 61st Street between Superior and St. Clair Avenues from a fellow Lithuanian and stayed for two months, living out of suitcases, sleeping on metal platform beds, and cooking on a hot plate.

   I cut my leg on the metal leg of my cot one morning and had to get stitches. My mom stopped the bleeding, since she had been a nurse before I was born. Everybody in Germany in the late 1940s needed a nurse.

   “I don’t remember a thing about that,” Rita my sister recalled.

   “There was a candy store on the corner,” said my brother Rick, who had a sweet tooth. “When you cut your foot I went there.”

   “I liked it here until summertime,” Vytas said. “My God, it got hot!” The weather was hot hazy humid. There were no fans in the house. We took care of business by eating in the backyard and drinking ice water.

   The months of July August September in Cleveland are sultry. It gets into the 80s and 90s and stays there. My father was from Siauliai, Lithuania, where it stays in the low 70s. He had lived in Sudbury for eight years after World War Two, where it stays in the mid-70s.

   “We visited Vytas’s sister Genute and her husband Andrius,” Angele said. “They had moved here earlier and had three daughters. We decided to buy a house together.”

   They bought a duplex on Bartfield Ave., a two-block stretch of street between East 129th Street and Coronado Ave. with nineteen houses on it. There were coal sheds in the basement and a set of tornado doors in the back. There were two bedrooms in both units of the duplex, one for bedding the children and the other the grown-ups. 

   “It was horrible,” Rita said. “I didn’t have my own room. I had to sleep in the corner. My brothers fought all the time.”

   A blind man’s house on a knoll anchored one end of the street, a three-pump two-bay Gulf gas station anchored Coronado and St. Clair, and a broad one-story log house building behind the gas station doubled as a home for the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Boy Scouts. It was fronted by a weedy tree-filled lot.

   We messed around there all the time, in the old cars behind the gas station, pretending to be gangsters, and on the field in front of the log cabin, playing red light green light. We played kickball in the street, and in the winter, we built snow forts on the blind man’s knoll, since he had a big yard, and if you ruled the fort, you could throw snowballs down at everybody while they had to throw up. They had no chance.

   I went to first grade and Rick went to kindergarten at the Iowa-Maple public school that winter, walking the fifteen minutes up East 127th St. to Maple Ave. The first school there was demolished in 1951. Our school was brand spanking new.

   We didn’t know that a stone’s throw away across Eddy Road, the thoroughfare north to Bratenahl, the city’s wealthy lakeside suburb, was the footprint of the house where the last president of Lithuania, Antanas Smetona, lived and died on January 9, 1944, when the house caught fire. Five years later, when we moved out of the neighborhood, my mother took Rita to see Birute Nasvytyte, who had been a concert pianist in Europe before the war, from whom she started taking lessons. Birute was married to Julius Smetona, one of the ex-president’s sons.

   I woke up one day after the New Year 1963 and found out we were going to be moving in the spring. My parents told us we were living in a bad neighborhood and had to move. Until that day I didn’t know that where we were living was a bad place. I liked our neighborhood and my friends. 

   But by then our neck of the woods had become a borderland.

   New interstate highways, slum clearance, and urban renewal were changing Cleveland in ways I didn’t know anything about. Some large parts of downtown and tracts of the east side were being torn down. Entire neighborhoods disappeared. Blacks started moving east. Whites started moving farther east. Everybody was saying, “The niggers are coming.” They made it sound like the plague. Everybody was asking, “When are they going to get here?”

   Whenever a real estate sign went up everybody was suddenly afraid there would be a dozen signs inside of a month and that property values would fall to next to nothing. Nobody wanted to be the white face in a sea of black, not if they could help it. Nobody wanted to be the last man standing. All the ethnics, Ukrainians and Romanians, Slovenes, Slavs, and Balts, started moving out.

   “I felt threatened that my neighborhood was being invaded by these people,” said Walt Zielinski, a local Polish boy. “I made it tough for one new black kid. We had a big fight. I beat the crap out of him, and that was it. But, as time went on, we became best friends. Then as the neighborhood started to change the first black families moved away just like the white families did, and they started to be replaced by a lower class of black people, and it started to get rough. I got beat up a lot. I was the little white kid. I was really intimidated. All my friends were gone. I felt very alone.”

   Most of the African Americans who moved to Cleveland during the Great Migration lived in the Cedar-Central neighborhood, bounded by Euclid Avenue to the north, East 71st Street to the east, Woodland Avenue to the south, and East 22nd Street to the west. Those frontiers were rapidly changing. The dynamics weren’t the same.

   There were some hillbillies who lived next door to us, and one of their kids hit my brother with a rake one day. My friends and I had to rescue him. But I hardly ever saw any black people, except on the bus. We were only in the Iowa-Maple school for a year. After that we went to the St. George Catholic School on East 67thStreet and Superior Ave. We had to take two city buses there and back every day. Everybody was going to work at the same time we were going to school, white and colored all mixed together.

   There were nearly 900,000 people living in Cleveland in 1960, a quarter million of them black. Twenty years later there were only 570,000 residents. All the black people were still, for the most part, living in the city, but more than 300,000 white people had moved away.

   In the summer we rounded up what bikes we could find, balls and bats and mitts and rode up Eddy Road to Glenview Park where we played all day. We could see Lake Erie and it was windy a lot. If somebody hit a pop-up into the wind, catching it got tricky. Bobby Noga, who lived on the other side of us from the hillbillies, caught a pop-up with the top of his head one day. It popped into his hands, and he hung on to it.

   Tens of thousands of refugees from Europe settled in Cleveland after 1949. They all wanted to assimilate with the Anglo Americans. Nobody wanted to assimilate with the African Americans. In 1964 picketers at a segregated school in Little Italy were attacked by a mob of more than 400 white men wielding knives and clubs. Nearly a hundred policemen on foot and horseback tried to keep the riot in check.

   “You would have to be crazy to picket,” CPD Inspector Jerry Rademacker said.

   After the mid-50s immigrants on the east side started moving to the East 185th Street, Lakeshore Boulevard, and Euclid neighborhoods. They moved to Parma, which by 1960 was the fastest-growing city in the United States. Ukrainians filled up State Rd. and Poles filled up Ridge Rd. Jews moved up the hill, filling up Cleveland Heights. The Cleveland metropolitan area became one of the most segregated in the country. 

   After the white flight was over it was all over.

   When we lived on Bartfield Ave. my brother and I and our friends walked to the Shaw-Hayden Theater on Saturday afternoons to see double features, paper bags of popcorn our moms had popped hidden under sweaters and jackets. Scary comedy and tragedy masks lit up lurid in purple led the way. The movie house sat 1200, but we always sat as close as we could, the better to see the monsters and cowboys and spacemen. It’s where we saw the B & W 3D “Creature from the Black Lagoon” on the newly installed CinemaScope screen. The auditorium was dark, but the lobby was all white wood, a kind of knotty pine. We liked to touch the knots.

   In the wintertime we went to Forest Hill Park to skate on the frozen lagoon, lacing up in the boathouse, teettering down to the ice. We went sledding on Sledgehammer Hill, scaring ourselves silly going as fast as we could, screaming hitting the bump near the bottom of the long downhill and going airborne. After we moved, we didn’t do that anymore. 

   Rita, Rick, and I had to go to a new school, Holy Cross, where we didn’t know anybody. It took twice as long to walk there, too. Everywhere else all of a sudden was too far to go. My parents bought a single house on a street starting at East 185th St. on the border of Cleveland and ending at East 200th St. on the border of Euclid. There were more than a hundred houses from one end of the street to the other. I got a Cleveland Press paper route. The new Lithuanian Community Center and the new Lithuanian church and school were nearby. There weren’t any tornado doors leading into the basement from the back yard, but it had three bedrooms on the second floor.

   “I was so happy,” my sister said. “I finally had my own bedroom.”

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com.. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Better to Burn Out

By Ed Staskus

   I never thought a motorcycle gang would be parked on the sidewalk in front of the new Lithuanian Club on Cleveland’s east side, but there they were. It was the summer of 1973. It wasn’t a gang so much as it was six Lithuanian men bordering on the same age, which was in their 20s. Two of them looked rough around the edges, but the other four could have passed for bean counters. 

   The Gelezynis Vytis Motorcycle Club was Vic Degutis, Rich Duleba, Gytis Motiejunas, Joe Natkevicius, Al Karsokas, and John Degutis. Gytis was a cop and Nutty was an electrician. They had jean jackets emblazoned on the back with the Iron Knight, the Baltic nation’s coat of arms. The knight’s horse is white and on his sinister arm he carries a shield with a double cross on it. He hoists a ‘Don’t Mess with Me’ sword over his head. The motorcycles were Harley’s, except for John’s BMW.

   The two rough around the edge bikers were Al and John. They were the two of the group I knew best. I knew Vic, John’s brother, but he was almost 30 years old, which at the time made him suspect. I thought it best to not trust anybody over 30. Nowadays I don’t trust anybody under 30. Millennials are always saying crazy things like “Sorry, not sorry” and “We need to possess our lives.” They never do anything without a recommendation from their friends. Their friends are just like them.

   Although it was surprising to see bikers at the Lithuanian Club, given how conservative most Lithuanians are, I shouldn’t have been surprised. “First wave immigrants liked their bikes,” Janis Kundmueller explained. “Our family photo album has many photos of motorcycles from the late teens to the early 1920s.” The Roaring 20s roared for more reasons than one.

   Al graduated from Cathedral Latin High School in 1968. John and I graduated from St. Joseph’s High School the same year. “Al was always a tough kid,” said Kestutis Susinskas, a high school classmate. “John was an artist and musical. We would sit in his parent’s basement with our guitars, although I think he got bored because I wasn’t very good.” The next year John was in Vietnam keeping Communism contained, although it didn’t take him long to realize Charlie was intent on doing away with him. From then on, his number one mission was keeping the pajama-clad killers at bay.

   I dodged the draft by telling the draft board I would frag an officer the first chance I got if I was forced into poplin fatigues and sent to Vietnam. I wasn’t trying to be mutinous, but I wasn’t prepared to be crippled or killed to keep somebody else’s dominoes in place. The slant eyes could go full bore Commie for all I cared. Al evaded the draft like me, enrolling in Cleveland State University, even though he didn’t have eyes set on a diploma.

   “Al was the best man at our wedding,” Lola Brohard said. She and John were married in 1981. “John talked about the war a lot. He had memories of it that wouldn’t go away. He hated the swamps and abnormal insects crawling on him. After the war he kept an album full of pictures of dead Viet Cong and NVA.”

   The Viet Cong were the local guerillas and the NVA was the North Vietnamese army. The USA lost more than 50,000 men during the war. The Viet Cong and NVA lost more than a million men. In the United States the war was called the Vietnam War, even though war was never officially declared. The conflict escalated from advisors to half a million American troops based on the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which was based on supposed gunboat attacks that never happened. In Vietnam the conflict was called the War Against the Americans to Save the Nation.

   John was based in Da Lat. It is a hilltop resort city, often foggy, surrounded by pine forests, and at the time full of French-built villas. It was home to the Vietnamese National Military Academy, where South Vietnamese officers trained. The Viet Cong attacked the city in early 1968 as part of the first Tet Offensive. John missed that battle. He didn’t miss the second Tet Offensive the next year.

   The war in Vietnam had been going on since the 1940s, when nationalists first fought the Japanese and then the French. The United States financed the French, but they were as hapless against the Asians as they had been against the Nazis, and their colonial rule came to an end in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu. After the country was partitioned and elections called off, a covert American aid program was launched. By the time John got to Vietnam it had long since failed. The South Vietnamese military was unwilling to fight for itself.

   “John was quite different when he got home,” members of the Lithuanian Club agreed. “The war really screwed him up.” He came back with his head wrapped around heavy weapons and heroin. “He became an addict over there,” Lola said. Almost half of the GI’s who served their country in Southeast Asia tried heroin or opium and 20% of them become addicted. “He went through withdrawal when he got home. His mother stayed by his bedside the whole time.”

   “I was in Ohio during the Vietnam War era,” said Joe Walsh, the lead guitar player for the rock ‘n’ roll band the Eagles. He attended Kent State University, where the National Guard pumped protesting students full of holes in 1970. “I was 20, and my reality was that people either went to college or they were draftable. The friends that I went to high school with that didn’t go to college eventually wound up in Vietnam, and I noticed that they came home different.”

   The Vietnam years were when the American Dream started to run out of gas.

   Al and John got into the biker life after John returned from the war. Before that they were just middle-class high school kids.  Al was on the Debate Club at Cathedral Latin. “He was reserved growing up,” said Rita, his older sister. “But by the time he was a teenager and started driving, he fell in love with going fast. He became a daredevil.”

   He didn’t worry overmuch about what might happen. “Sooner or later we all pay for our choices,” he said.

   “I was a little scared of Al when he got into the biker life,” Liucija Eidimtaite said. “He was one of my first friends from when I was four years old. His family was not pleased with his choices.” The family moved from the older ethnic neighborhood around St. George Catholic Church to newer North Collinwood in 1968. Al and I were in the same grade at the church’s elementary school for five years. We were in Boy Scout Troop 311 together, Jim Bowie knives strapped to our sides at summer camp. In 1978 his choice of wheels came to a fork in the road. 

   “I was traveling on E. 185th St. when traffic stopped,” Liucija said. “There was an accident ahead. I saw a downed motorcycle and was struck by the notion that it might be Al. I pulled my car over and walked to the ambulance as they were loading him on a gurney. I followed it to Euclid General Hospital to make sure it was him. It was him. I high tailed it to the Karsokas family home on Landseer St. and broke the news to Al’s parents. Both his legs and a hip were broken When I visited him, he was trussed up in traction.”

   “Did you pick up my boot?” Al asked Liucija.

   “Your boot?” she asked.

   “I was knocked out of it by the crash. Did you pick it up? It was right there in the middle of the street.”

   “No, I saw it, but didn’t think to pick it up,” she said. Al was annoyed. They were his best pair of Frye boots. He let it pass. There wasn’t much he could do about it, anyway. He was flat on his back for the duration. He wasn’t going to need boots any time soon. He was burning it up at both ends.

   “Their inner flames burned too bright,” Mariana Stachnik said. “That’s why they both expired way too soon.”

   “I worked, rode, drank, and partied with Al and John,” Loreto Accettola said. He graduated from St. Joe’s three years before us. He went to work for Penn Central the year John went to Vietnam. In 1974, after Al and John signed up with Penn Central, one of the line’s trains collided with a lift drawbridge crossing the Cuyahoga River near downtown. The switch control operator had told the crew they were good to go. After he signed off, he remembered a boat was waiting passage and lifted the bridge. He forgot to tell the crew. The train ran headlong into the counterweight of the bridge, killing both men in the lead locomotive. Loreto knew Al and John through their years of railroading together. Al eventually worked his way up to switch control operator.

    “Al rear ended a parked car on E. 185th St after leaving the Lithuanian Club,” Loreto said. He had probably had more than enough to drink. “He broke both his legs above the knee. He was bed ridden for months.” After he recovered, he bought another Harley and got married to a woman who liked motorcycles. “Her father was a bigwig at Stouffer’s,” Rita said. “He wasn’t happy about it. He freaked out the first time he saw my brother.”

   I went to visit Al in the hospital soon after I heard he had wiped out. He was alone in a semi-private room. Both his legs were in suspension. His arms were an abstract painting of road rash. There were many scratches on his face. He asked if I had any weed with me.

   “No, I don’t,” I said. 

   “Bring some the next time you visit,” he said.

   Why he wanted weed was beyond me. I had no doubt he was being fed man-sized narcotics for the pain of two broken legs. When I asked him what happened, he told me a car had sped through an intersection and slammed into him before he knew what was happening. He warned me to always be on my guard. There was no need to warn me. I didn’t own a motorcycle. Whenever I did ride a borrowed bike, I assumed everybody on the road was out to kill me. It was my own private Vietnam.

   I visited Al a few more times, but after he asked me for reefer again and again, I stopped visiting him. One day, before my last visit, I ran into John. I hadn’t seen him much since high school. He looked different. For one thing, he had a beard. For another thing, his hair was shoulder-length. We hadn’t been best friends, but he barely gave me the time of day. He wasn’t unfriendly, just indifferent. It may have been the last time I saw him. I never saw Al again after he got out of the hospital, although I dropped off a paperback copy of Kahlil Gibran’s book “The Prophet” before he left.

   I wrote inside the flyleaf, “Watch out for the man, phonies, and bad trips. Have fun, be crazy, think now and then, and take care of yourself. See ya’ another day, another time, another age.” After he died, I heard that although he never read the book, he didn’t throw it away, either.

   Al and John lived together for a while in a rented house near Lake Erie and roasted pigs in the back yard. “I went to one of their pig roasts,” Rita said. “They had brownies, and I ate one. I was naïve about it. My head started spinning and I had to ask my boyfriend to take me home.”

   John got married and had kids. When the time came one of his children donated part of his liver to his father, but it was too little too late. Al got divorced and married a Lithuanian gal who needed a Green Card. He hung in there long enough to make it to the new century. He died of cirrhosis in his late 40s. John made in to 2002, dying of the same disease in his early 50s. 

   Al’s nickname among his biker friends was Weasel. “The Weasel told me John did acid in Vietnam,” Dainius Zalensas said. “When he got home, they ate a lot of happy mushrooms together and that’s why both of them had liver failure at the same time.”

   What Al didn’t say was that LSD is excreted in urine and has no effect on the liver. On the other hand, alcohol is toxic to the liver. Europeans drink more alcohol than anybody else in the world. Lithuanians drink more of it than all other Europeans. They are always saying to their gizzards, “Today will be a rough one, stay strong.” All bartenders have the right to cut off anybody at their bar who they feel is drinking too much. No bartender ever cut off Al or John at the Lithuanian Club. There would have been hell to pay.

   “The Weasel was some kind of person, just like John,” Dainius said. “Everybody said that he wiped out on his motorcycle, but what really happened was somebody opened their parked car door on purpose in front of him, and he ran into it. Al was a brave son-of-a-bitch. Whenever we went to the biker bar on East 222 St. and St. Clair Ave., he sat down next to the largest guy there and started to tease him. No matter how much he drank he always left dry as the water, like the proverb says.”

   He meant Al had ice water in his veins. He never ate birch porridge either, another Lithuanian proverb. He stood on the small side, but it would have been a mistake to get on the wrong side of him. He wasn’t a volte-face kind of man. Dozens of keys on his belt loop jingle-jangled when he walked. He wore multiple rings. One of them was a skull ring. He carried a cutter. 

   “My brother was good at heart,” Rita said. “He became a biker to cover up his soft side.”

    Neither he nor John were going to run dry of their get up and go. Neither of them made provisions about aging gracefully and slow-going it into the sunset. Neither of them set up a retirement fund. They believed it was better to burn out than it was to fade away. They threw themselves into their adventure.

   “They were good people, good friends,” said Dainius. “Sadly, they both left this world too soon.”

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Fried Eggs on Toast

By Ed Staskus

   The first language I spoke was Lithuanian and until I started meeting other kids on the street it was the only language I spoke. All my first friends in Sudbury, Ontario, were other small change in the same boat, visiting my old country parents with their old country parents. When spring broke early my second year of life, I started meeting other children, boys and girls on the block of nine houses on our dead-end street. 

   They all spoke English and many of them spoke French. We spoke English on the street, which was how I picked up enough of it to get by. French was for talking about cooking fashion politics and popular culture. We didn’t know anything about those things, so we stuck to English.

   My close friend and arch-enemy Regina Bagdonaite, who I called Lele, lived a block away. She and I played together, burning up the pavement, except for those times that she saw me dragging my red fleece blanket behind me. When she tried to take it away and I resisted, starting a tug of war, she resorted to biting me on the arm. It was then squabbling and pushing started in earnest, all hell breaking loose.

   Lele didn’t begin learning English until the first day she went to school.

   “All my friends were Lithuanian during my childhood in Sudbury,” she said. “When I started kindergarten, I didn’t speak a word of English. Many people over my lifetime had a chuckle when I told them I was born in Canada, but English is my second language.”

   Time is money is the watchword in the grown-up world, but time is candy is what works for many children. The young wife who lived next door to my parents had a daughter and they visited some afternoons. She always brought candy and while our mothers talked, Diana and I sat at the kitchen table with a paper bag of candy between us. Whenever one of us was ready for another piece, we jiggled the table vigorously before making a grab for the bag.

   My parents an immigrant couple bought a house as soon as they could, the same as every other Lithuanian who ended up in Sudbury. They had three children inside of five years. They didn’t have a TV, but they had a telephone and a radio, as well as a washing machine and a fridge. They knew their neighbors, but all their close friends were other post-war DP’s, most of them working in the nickel mines. Sudbury was a city, but it was a company town first and foremost.

   By 1950 it had long been associated with mining, smelting, and a broken-down landscape. The environment was said to be comparable to that of the moon. Decades of mining and smokestacks had acidified more than 7,000 lakes inside a circle of 10,000 square miles. 

   “I didn’t like Sudbury,” my mother said. “All the trees were dried up and dead. It was god-forsaken as far as the eye could see.” 

   More than 50,000 acres of the hinterland were barren. Nothing grew there. Another 200,000 acres were semi-barren. There was substantial erosion everywhere. It wasn’t a wasteland, but it was a wasteland. All anyone had to do was walk up a rocky promontory and look around.

   As early as the 1920s “The Hub of the North” was open roasting more than twice as much rock ore as any other smelting location in North America. The aftermath poisoned crops. The result made it one of the worst environments in Ontario. It blackened the native pink granite, turning the rose and white quartz black. 

   “My husband worked two weeks during the day and two weeks during the night,” my mother said. “He walked to work, except when it was too cold, and whoever had a car would pick him and others up. In the morning he left at seven in the morning and got home at seven at night. When he worked nights, he got home at seven in the morning. The kids and I would wait by the window for him to get back.”

   Sudbury is in a basin. It is the third-largest impact crater on Earth. It was created about 200 million years ago when an enormous asteroid rocketed through the atmosphere and hit the ground with a blast. World-class deposits are found there and mined extensively.

   The city’s reputation as a rocky badlands was known far and wide by the time Angele and Vytas Staskevicius got married in 1949 and bought their house on Stanley Street a year later. Despite the industrial blight of the past half-century, there was a growing working-class population. They were a part of that population. The newlyweds were two of the displaced willing to take whatever work was offered in return for getting out of the Old World.

   “All our friends, the Zizai, Simkai, Bagdonai, all had children,” Angele said. “Since our living room was a little bigger than most, they often came over on Saturday nights. The men played bridge while we made dinner. The kids ran around, we drank, smoked, and danced. We put the kids away and talked all night.”

   Whoever had the opportunity to get married got married as fast as they could. There wasn’t an overabundance of eligible women in Sudbury. Henry and Maryte Zizys saw each other three times before they got hitched. The Simkai and Bagdonai stretched it out for a few months. The married men drank at home. The single men drank in bars, usually with other single men.

   The early Lithuanians who went to the New World weren’t Lithuanians, since the country didn’t exist at the time. It had once been its own empire but had since been taken over and was part of the Russian Empire. Many who fled to the United States were mistakenly documented as Polish, since there was a language ban in their homeland and scores of them spoke Polish as a second language.

   The first Lithuanians in Canada were men who fought in the British Army against the Americans in the War of 1812. For the next 130 years most of those who left the Baltics and went to Canada did so for economic reasons. After World War Two they fled toil and trouble after the Soviet Union reincorporated Lithuania into its realm. 

   “All of us hated the Russians for what they did” my mother said.

   The Russians deported hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians to Siberian labor camps during and after the war. Sometimes they had their reasons. Other times the reason was slaphappy. The neighbors might have complained about you. The new Communist mayor might have taken a dislike to you. A cross-eyed apparatchik might have thought you were somebody else. It didn’t matter, because if you ended up in a boxcar going east, your future was over.

   The house Vytas and Angele moved into was on a newer extension of Stanley Street north of Poplar Street. It wasn’t in any of the city’s touted neighborhoods, but Donovan was nearby, and so was Little Britain. Downtown was less than two miles to the east. 

   Stanley Street started at Elm Street where there was a drug store, tobacconist, five-and-dime, fruit market, bakery and butcher shop, restaurants, a liquor store, and the Regent movie theater. The railcars were being replaced by busses and the tracks asphalted over. The other end of Stanley Street dead-ended at a sheer rock face on top of which were railroad tracks. The Canadian Pacific ran day and night hauling ore. When the train wailed, we wailed right back.

   My mother and her friends shopped on Elm Street. When I was still a toddler, I rode in a baby carriage. After my brother and sister were born, they rode in the carriage. I didn’t fit anymore, having become a third wheel.

   “He was unhappy about it,” Angele said. “I told him he was a big boy now and had to walk to help his brother and sister, but he still didn’t like it. He made a sour face.”

   My father spread topsoil in the front yard of our new house and threw down grass seed. The backyard was forty feet deep but sandy and grass wouldn’t grow. He built a fence around it to discourage us from climbing the rocky rounded hill over which the railroad tracks curved west. 

   Even though children imitate their elders, they don’t always listen to them.

   “We always told the kids they weren’t allowed to climb the rock hills,” said Angele. “One day I couldn’t find Edvardas. He wasn’t in the house or in the yard or anywhere on our part of the street. I called and called for him. When he didn’t answer, all I could do was wait outside. When he finally came home, he had pebbles in his pockets. Where have you been? I asked him.”

   “I was looking for gold, mama,” I said, handing my mother pebbles that had a glint of shine. “I found some and brought them back for you.”

   Our house on Stanley Street was ten blocks from the vast open pits on the other side of Big Nickel Mine Drive. Logging and farming were what men worked at through the middle of the 19th century, but after 1885 big deposits of nickel, copper, and platinum were discovered in the basin. The impact of decades of roasting ore on open wood fires killed most of the trees not being logged for the fires, except poplar and birch, which dotted the city and our street.

   “We had two bedrooms, a small kitchen, and a nice living room,” said Angele. “Upstairs was a half bath and two rooms We rented those rooms. We usually rented to women or a couple who were new to Sudbury. Where they took a bath, I don’t know. We charged $11.00 a week for a room and saved all the money we got. Right before we left for America, my husband was able to buy a used car.”

   When Bruno and Ingrid Hauck came to Sudbury from Germany, they rented a room for several years. “She watched the kids sometimes, so Vytas and I could go to the Regency to see a movie,” said Angele. They saw “The Greatest Show on Earth” and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” We saw “Lady and the Tramp” and fell in love with the movies.

   When I was four my parents had a New Year’s Eve party at our house, inviting their friends. A few minutes before the magic moment my mother cut her eye adjusting the elastic strap of a party hat under her chin while sliding it up over the front of her face.

   “I had to lay down and didn’t see New Year’s Day,” she said, disappointed.

   When she woke up my father and Rimas Bagdonas, her dancing partner in the local Lithuanian folk dancing group, were washing the night’s dishes. Rimas worked in the mines, and wrote plays in his spare time, staging them in the hall of the nearby French Catholic church hall. We all went to church there once a month when the visiting Lithuanian priest made his rounds. It cost ten cents to sit in a pew. My brother, sister, and I sat for free. Piety and silence were mandatory.

   “I was just in my twenties, but in one of Rimas’s plays I was the mother of a dying partisan,” Angele said. “I made myself cry by thinking about the time I cut my eye.”

   September through November are cold, December through February are freezing, and March into mid-May are cold in Sudbury. The first snow by and large falls in October, but it can show up as early as September. The season’s last snow comes and goes in April, although May sometimes sees a late icy shower. There are never any flurries in June, July, and August. 

   My father learned to ice skate and taught us on a rink in the front yard. He hosed water out on the lawn on bitter cold days where it started freezing in minutes. When it was frozen hard as rock, we laced up our skates and went skating. Whenever all the kids on the block joined in it got pell-mell fast. My two friends from across the street and I dazzled the girls with our figure 8s.

   In the 1950s in Sudbury sulfur dioxide formed a permanent, opaque, cloud-like formation across the horizon as seen from a distance. There was lead nickel arsenic and God knows what else in it. The ground-level pollution wasn’t as bad, a gray haze, but was worse on some days than others.

   When it got worse, my father built an igloo for us to play in.

   It snows a hundred and more inches in Sudbury. After the streets and sidewalks are cleared there is plenty of building material. He formed blocks 4 inches high and 6 inches thick. When there were enough blocks to start, he made a circle leaving space for a door. After he stacked them, he used loose snow like cement, packing it in. He put a board across the top of the igloo door and another at the top of the dome for support. Halfway up were small windows and around the top several air holes.

   As long as there was daylight there were daylong Eskimos in the igloo.

   Our furnace in the basement ran on coal. It was delivered once a week by truck, the coal man filling up the bin in the basement down a chute. Every morning my father shoveled coal into it, lit the fire, and stoked the coal. At night either my mother or he banked the furnace, salvaging unburned coal and putting the ashes in bags. They saved some in a container on the front porch for the steps whenever they got iced over.

   My mother told us to never go in the basement. She didn’t invent a Babadook in the basement, but she didn’t want us down there messing around. One day I started down the stairs to see what my dad exactly did every morning. I tripped over my own feet and tumbled the rest of the way down. I was back on my feet in a second, ran up the stairs and into the kitchen, and started to bawl, even though I was unhurt.

   The furnace heated a boiler that created steam delivered by pipes to radiators throughout the house. We were forbidden to stand on the pipes or scale the radiators. It was the basement all over again.

   “I didn’t have to worry about Richardas and Rita, they were too small, but Edvardas was always trying to climb up on the radiator in the living room. I told him he was going to fall off and one Sunday night, while I was cooking, he fell off and broke his collarbone, although he didn’t cry when it happened. He seemed more surprised than anything else.”

   For the rest of the next week, my arm in a sling, my mother fed me my favorite food every morning, fried eggs on toast. I was the envy of my sidekicks on the street, the two Canadian boys from whom I had learned most of my English. After finishing their pancakes or porridge, they ran to our back porch and watched me through our kitchen window go one-handed at my sunny side up breakfast.

   I always saluted my pals with half a piece of gooey toast before getting back to business.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com.. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Age of Discovery

By Ed Staskus

   I was nearly three years old before I got my first good look at Sudbury. My brother had been born the year before, and lately had been crying at night, keeping us all awake. My father was a miner, working day shifts for two weeks and then night shifts for two weeks. He was one of the explosives men, setting black powder charges a mile down. He needed his nerves rock solid. He needed to sleep like a baby. He didn’t need the echo of crying in his brain.

   At first, my mother thought it was a passing thing. When it didn’t pass, she took to sleeping in the living room, on the sofa, with my brother on the floor beside her in a wooden rocking cradle. Whenever he started crying, she reached down and rocked him, settling him down. She didn’t get much sleep, although my father and I got all the shuteye we needed.

   One day, when my father was at work, and my mother had an appointment with their doctor for my brother’s one year check-up, my godfather Juozas Dzenkaitis showed up to babysit me for the afternoon. He was on the night shift in the nickel mines and had time to kill. He showed up on a 1948 Vincent Black Shadow.

   “I borrowed it from my neighbor,” he explained.

   Most of the Lithuanian immigrants who came hat in hand to Sudbury in the late 1940s and early 1950s worked in the mines. They got out of the black hole that Europe was for them and ended up in another black hole. Most of them were saving every penny they could so they wouldn’t have to work in the mines a minute more than they had to. Most of them owned their homes, but didn’t own a car, a motorcycle, or even a bicycle.

   The Vincent had a black tank and black frame. The chrome pipes were nickel chrome steel. The nickel came from Sudbury. The small city south of North Bay in Ontario sat on top of a big hole in the ground overflowing with ore. Some people called it the ‘Valley.’ Others called it the ‘Basin’. An asteroid or comet smashed into the spot in Canada hundreds of millions of years before with a payload of vital metals. Nickel took the first prize.

   During the Korean War, which ended the year before, nickel was regulated. Whenever there was combat anywhere in the world Sudbury boomed. Nickel was vital for making modern mechanized warfare. When the ripping and snorting stopped Sudbury went back to scuffling. It wasn’t boom or bust, but it was a one-basket economy, so it was boom or bust.

   After World War Two the open pits were almost exhausted and new underground mines were being dug. Nickel was being used for more and more civilian purposes. More technologically advanced smelters started seeing the light of day. While Sudbury slowly progressed from being the most polluted city in the country, starting to clean itself up, I was just getting my legs under me. My friends and I played on the black rock outcroppings all the time and never noticed the ever-present haze of ash and smoke.

   When I was born in 1951, I didn’t see much of my hometown at first. I was homesick for my old home. I saw a lot of my crib, the kitchen and living room, and my parents and their friends when there were kitchen parties at our house. I only spoke Lithuanian until the spring of 1953, when I started meeting kids my own age on the street. They all spoke English and French although none of them spoke French among themselves. English was the language out on the street.

   The Vincent my godfather was riding was plenty fast enough, but it wasn’t the Black Lightning, which was the racing version of the Black Shadow. Every steel part on the Lightning that could be remade in aluminum was remade in aluminum. Everything not essential was removed, reducing the weight by almost a hundred pounds. It had a single racing seat and rear footrests.

   In 1948 Rollie Free broke the North American motorcycle land speed record riding a Black Lightning on the Bonneville Salt Flats. He did it wearing a bathing suit, laying prone like a swimmer flat on his stomach, his legs dangling off the back end, hanging on to the handlebars for dear life. He took a deep breath when it was all over.

   I sat on the motorcycle behind my godfather, who I called Uncle Joe. I couldn’t get my arms around him and had to hang on to his shirt. He burped the bike down Stanley Street to Elm Street and took a left towards downtown. We lived on a new stretch of Stanley Street. Houses were being built as fast as could be because Sudbury was the most congested city in Canada. The Dominion Bureau of Statistics reported there were “42, 410 people jammed into 9, 450 units.”  More than a third of the housing was officially designated as “overcrowded.”

   We glided past the Regent Theatre where my parents went to see movies on weekends. My father learned to speak English in Lithuania, but my mother lived on an out-of-the-way family farm of sugar beets and pigs near the East Prussian border. The movies were a way for her to learn English. A twin bill was showing, “Creature from the Black Lagoon” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”

   The movie house was operated by Herbert Sutherland. Three years later it became home to a colony of rats. It got so it was hard to tell if somebody was screaming because of the monsters on the screen or because of a rat nibbling on their ankles. Herb Sutherland found several homeless cats and invited them to make the theater their home. The city sent him a letter saying, “We do not feel the use of cats is sufficient to eliminate the menace.” He threw the hired guns out and set out poison instead, making the problem disappear. 

   We went past the new Sudbury Arena which replaced the old Palace Rink the year I was born. Uncle Joe rode carefully, watching for mud, threading the needle. The Junction Creek overflowed its banks every year, flooding the northern and central parts of Sudbury. We rode around the General Hospital where I was born. Outside the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes we stopped for ice cream cones.

  Frederic Romanet du Caillaud, known as the Count of Sudbury, had a six-foot tall 1500-pound bronze statue of the Virgin Mary erected at the mouth of the grotto in 1907. “Queen of the Gauls” was inscribed on the statue. At first, an Italian family by the name of Drago took care of it, wiping off grime and bird shit. In the 1950s the Rosary Club was formed and with Omer Naqult. a local barber and devout Catholic, watched over the pilgrimage site.

   One year earlier almost 10,000 people gathered at the site, coming from all the various parishes of the Sault-Ste-Marie diocese. New lighting was installed to light up the shrine at night. At the start of summer more than 10,000 residents of Sudbury took part in the moveable feast of Corpus Christi procession that ended up at the grotto. My parents weren’t able to go to the parade and so I didn’t know anything about it at the time.

   The statue was an inch or two shorter than Uncle Joe, who wore his hair wavy and was strong as an ox. He could bend nails with his hands. He and his wife Brone didn’t have any kids, but I saw plenty of them, anyway. My parents had the biggest living room among their Lithuanian immigrant friends and our house was where card playing, dancing, and eating and drinking happened on many weekends.

   We set off for Ramsey Lake. Before there ever was a Sudbury the natives called it Bitimagamasing, which means “water that lies on the side of the hill.” Everybody agreed Ramsey was easier to pronounce and that is what everybody called it. Everybody also agreed the lake was dead. Sewage from Minnow Lake drained into Ramsey Lake. Open roast emissions had been going on for so long and led to so much pollution that the lake, which has few water flow outlets, had given up the ghost. Even though it was still the largest lake in the world located entirely within the boundaries of a single city, it was a shell of its former self.

   There weren’t many fish in the lake. By the 1950s, despite three decades of stocking, angling was bad. Besides the pollution, fishermen had long since been dynamiting for fish, wiping out some species like bass. When Lands and Forest biologist R. E. Whitefield went netting it took him four full days to catch five pike and one yellow perch. Lake trout were re-stocked in 1952, but that was the end of stocking for the next twenty-five years.

   Before my father showed up to sweep her off her feet, her Canadian boyfriend often took her out on the lake in his speedboat, until the day he started showing off, racing and zig zagging, and she fell off the back of it without him noticing. An evil-looking northern pike watched her bob up to the surface. By the time her boyfriend looked for her she was floating on her back waiting for him, hoping the weight of her wet clothes wouldn’t drag her under.    

   The lake is named after William Ramsey, the chief of a survey party in the late 1800s who got lost in heavy fog. After finding himself he named it Lost Lake. Others decided it would be better to name it after him but misspelled his name, calling it Lake Ramsay. Somebody finally noticed the mistake forty years later and corrected the spelling.

   When we got to the lake, I begged Uncle Joe to let me go swimming, but there was a purple-red greasy substance on the surface of the water as far out as we could see. “It’s probably some poisonous waste, or something Inco is up to,” he said. I had no idea what Inco was, but I had heard “What are you up to?” from my mother often enough that I knew it couldn’t be anything good. We went for a walk instead. When I got tired my godfather carried me sitting on his shoulders, my fingers grasping his thick head of hair.

   It was an early fall day and trees were starting to change color. There weren’t many of them, but the yellows and reds got me going and I begged Uncle Joe to take me to a forest. He said there weren’t any, but finally relented when I wouldn’t leave it alone. We roared out of Sudbury on the Vincent and into the countryside.

   It turned out my godfather was right. There were hardly any trees anywhere, at all. The first thing to happen to them was the Great Chicago Fire. Lumber camps popped up all over providing wood for the American city’s reconstruction. Then the ore discoveries and smelting got rolling, releasing sulfur, which combined with water forms sulfuric acid leading to acid rain. Saplings struggling to reforest the landscape didn’t have a chance and died by the millions. The hinterland of Sudbury looked like a wasteland. 

   Our street in the city had trees and grass and gardens but the only vegetation I saw outside the city was wild blueberry patches and paper birch. What other trees there were, were giving it their best shot against long odds. They were like the crippled kid on Pine Street we sometimes played with, although never for long. He couldn’t hop skip or run. He couldn’t keep up.

   When my godfather checked his watch, he suddenly said we had to go. We raced back to Sudbury, to Stanley Street, to our house. My father wasn’t home from work, yet. Neither was my mother.

   “When she asks you what we did today, just tell her we went sightseeing, OK?” Uncle Joe said.

   “OK,” I said.

   After my mother came home, I told her we had a great time, and while she and my godfather had coffee on the front porch, I watched my baby brother crawl around in the back yard. Our lot dead-ended in a face of dark pitted rock. I wasn’t allowed to climb it because it was steep, even though I had already gone up and down it with some of my friends.

   When they ran across the street into our yard after dinner and asked me where I had been all day, I told them all about it, all the places I had been to, and how Sudbury was bigger, better, and more exciting than I had ever imagined. Stanley Street was our world, but we couldn’t wait to see more. We ran around the back yard pretending to be riding motorcycles. 

   The sunset was a livid orange that evening. When my mother put me to bed, saying I looked tired, I slept like the rock of ages.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Kitchen Party

By Ed Staskus

Some years later living in a Polish double in Cleveland, Ohio, the last winter we lived in the old neighborhood off St. Clair Ave., before moving to the new neighborhood in North Collinwood where a school and convent adjoining the Lithuanian church had just been built, I watched my 9-year-old sister Rita walk up the stairs in her new American winter coat and remembered the blimp-style snow suit my mother made for her in Canada.

   She looked like one of the astronauts in ‘Destination Moon.’ I had seen the Technicolor sci-fi movie on a 15” black and white “Atomic Age” Zenith. It had a sharp picture, at least until it warmed up, when it would sooner or later start arcing and hissing. It was always on the verge of blasting off.

   It was space, the new frontier, brought to life by space the old frontier, at least until the TV went black. Rockets were hot. Project Mercury was done and gone, launching the first American astronaut on a suborbital flight in 1961. John Glenn lifted off on an Atlas rocket in 1962 to become the first American to orbit the Earth.

   Rita wore her space suit winters in Sudbury, Ontario. It was where my mother Angele Jurgelaityte married Vytas Staskevicius in 1949 and gave birth to me in 1951, my brother in 1952, and my sister in 1954. It was the trifecta. When she did, she gave up her job as a nanny for the Lapalme’s, known as “The Largest Family in Sudbury.” The Lapalme’s had 13 kids. She went to work raising her own family in her own house. 

   “I spent all my time cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and watching my kids,” she said.

   The day she got married she was good at boiling pork and making soup. That was about it. “I didn’t know how to make any other food.” The first time she bought ground meat for a meatloaf, she bought too many pounds by far of it. “We didn’t have a refrigerator and I had to ask one of our neighbors to keep it for me.” She learned to stick to the basics, fruit in season, fresh meat from a butcher shop, eggs, cheese, bread, milk, and coffee.

   “No matter how much I ate I couldn’t put on weight,” she said. “I was thin as a pencil.” She saw a doctor who told her not to overthink nor overeat her slender figure. “You’ll want it back some day,” he told her.

   My mom and dad rented an upstairs room to a German couple who were recently arrived in the country, Bruno and Ingrid Hauck, in order to bring in some income. They charged $11.00 a week and soon converted a second upstairs bedroom to accommodate more boarders. There was a half bath.

   “I don’t know where they went for a real bath,” my mom said. Our family lived on the ground floor. We had a full bath. Once a week in the tub was de rigueur at our house.

   “I loved having kids, but we still had to go out sometimes,” she said. My dad bought her a fur coat after Rita’s birth. Fur was more a north country necessity than a big city luxury, and didn’t cost an arm and a leg, especially since it wasn’t mink and came from the nearby outdoors.

   They couldn’t afford a babysitter but made friends with the Hauck’s, who helped out. “Ingrid loved the kids, especially Rick. She watched them so we could go out.” They walked to the movie theater on Elm Street on Saturday nights. After the movie they took a stroll.

   When she worked for the Laplame’s it was as a mother’s helper for a year. J. A. Lapalme, a local businessman, promised her he would help get boyfriend out of Germany and into Canada. He went to his office every day and every day she waited for word about the sponsorship.

   “One week he was in Montreal,” she said. “When he got home, he didn’t say anything about it. I was in the kitchen washing dishes. I asked him if he had done it, sponsored Vytas, but he said he forgot. I got so mad I threw the washcloth on the floor.”

   She ran upstairs, down the hallway to the back, into her room, slammed the door, and threw herself on the bed.

   He knocked on the door a minute later, came in, and said, “I’ll fix it tomorrow.”

   “He did it the next day,” she said.  

   Vytas went to work in the nickel mines. Sudbury was a mining town. Either you worked underground, or you worked in an ancillary business. He wasn’t low man on the totem pole, like pick-axe men, but he had to watch his step in the 3,000-foot-deep dim damp mineshafts. A wrong step could be a last step. His first job was packing black powder. He worked as a blaster, the man responsible for loading, priming, and detonating blastholes, breaking rock for excavation, creating rock cuts.

   Sudbury is the regional capital of northeastern Ontario, 230 miles north of Toronto and 140 miles east of Sault Ste. Marie. It lays in a 200-million-year-old crater, surrounded by the Canadian Shield, and has hundreds of lakes within its boundaries. Lake Wanapitei is the largest city-contained lake in the world.

   Sudbury’s economy went boom and bust through the years as demand for nickel fluctuated. It was high during World War One, fell sharply when the war ended, and rose again in the 1920s and 30s. It was one of the richest and fastest-growing cities in Canada through the 1930s. During World War Two one mine alone accounted for all the nickel used in Allied artillery. With the advent of the Cold War Sudbury supplied the United States with most of its military grade nickel.

   Angele and Vytas lived in an old two-story clapboard house on Pine Street after their wedding and a one-day honeymoon at a nearby lakeshore park and local hotel. They saved everything they could and couldn’t afford, and with the help of a loan from J. A. Lapalme, were able to buy a new house on a new dead-end stretch of Stanley Street.

    Stanley Street stretched four blocks from Elm Street, a commercial thoroughfare, past Pine Street to Poplar Street. When it was extended to the nearly sheer rock face on top of which the Canada Pacific ran hauling ore, it became five blocks. Several new homes were built. All of them had basements and coal furnaces.

   “There were three on our side of the street and three on the other side when we moved in,” said Angele. There were no sidewalks. “One of the houses on the other side was bigger. It was the builder’s home.”

   Storm windows had been neglected on their new house, regardless of the long winters.  “We hadn’t signed for the house, yet, and Vytas insisted he put in second windows. He put them right in.” They might have been immigrants, DPs from Eastern Europe, but they didn’t need a weatherman to know which way the icy wind blew.

   The builder had four children, two of them boys. I played with them in the summer, climbing the sloping rock hills behind our house, and planning on how to someday climb the steep cliff at the end of the street. Our parents forbade us the fantasy, while we bided our time, waiting for them to turn their backs for a second.

   My mother spoke Lithuanian fluently, Russian and German competently, English just barely, and French not at all. Everybody in Sudbury spoke English and French. It was hearing it on the grapevine and listening some more for her to be able to go shopping.

   “I listened to people. I learned English by talking to them.”

   The first Lithuanians came to Canada in the early 1900s to work in Nova Scotia’s mines. They established a parish and built a church in 1913. Another wave of immigration, tens of thousands, took place after World War Two. Most of them went to Ontario. They spread out to London, Hamilton, and Toronto. Some of them went to Sudbury. There was ready employment there.

   For all its work and prosperity, the mining town was known as one of the ugliest cities in Canada. Logging for the reason of roasting ore on open fires and the smoke that resulted despoiled the landscape, leaving behind scattered poplars and birches, the only trees able to endure the harm. The small city and its vast environs were often compared to the landscape of the moon. What birds there were carried their nut and seed lunch boxes from tree to tree because the trees were so far and few between. They never said goodbye, though. The nest is where the heart is.

   “The summers were short and steamy,” my mom said. “There were no trees anywhere. There was one here and there. The rocks got hot and made everything hotter. Winter started in October, and it was cold.”

   When spring came, there wasn’t much to it. Decades of indiscriminate logging, massive mining operations, and smelter emissions had wiped out almost all the vegetation. The pollution poisoned lakes and streams. The dearth of trees meant a dearth of mulch, leading to widespread soil erosion. As a result, frost was severe in the winter, and it was too summery in the summer.

   It was colder than cold in winter. The average temperature was below zero. “Our best friends, Henry and Maryte Zizys, had to go home on the bus one weekend after visiting us and it was 45 degrees below zero.” The average snowfall was above average for northern lands. The last frost in spring was in May. It came back early in autumn, if it had ever gone away in the first place.

   In the winter, once she got the hang of it, my mom sewed clothes. When she started, she had sewn little except a button back on a shirt or skirt. “But when you have to do something, I did it,” she said. She learned to sew the same way she learned to speak English. She rummaged cheap clothes from second-hand stores and took them apart to see how they had been put together. She cut up adult pants, reusing the zippers, and made children’s pants. “The zipper in pants was hard to figure out.” She learned by doing what she was doing.

   “I found out it was just common sense,” she said.

   She bought a used foot-powered Treadle Singer sewing machine in good condition. A rubber belt operated it. It stretched from the balance wheel to a flat metal bigfoot pedal at the bottom. The power came from the rhythm of the sewer’s feet. The stitch length couldn’t be adjusted. Only a single straight stitch is possible with treadle machines. But once she got into the swing of things, both delicate and durable stiches become more workable. Within a few years she was making curtains and tablecloths for herself and her neighbors.

   She sewed dresses for her friends. She made a dress for Irma Hauck. “I sewed a coat for Maryte Zizys and other Lithuanians.” She learned to make pants for the men, cuffs and all. She sewed winter suits for us. I got a German army winter field coat and matching wool pants. Rick got a Space Cadet zip up one-piece suit. Both of us wore snug form-fitting hats based on “Atomic Rulers of the World.”  Rita’s snow suit was puffed up like a dirigible, cinched at the waist, and paired with a white rabbit furry hat. She was “The Thing from Stanley Street.” We chased her with make-believe ray guns.

   When my father learned how to ice skate at a local rink, he bought us skates. He flooded the front yard with hose water, and when it froze solid taught us how to skate. Whenever Rita fell she never felt a thing, her puffy suit protecting her. But sometimes she couldn’t get back up, lacking leverage, the sharp gusty wind rolling her over and over.

   “When I lived in Nuremberg, at the Army Hospital, one of my roommates, Monica, read my palm, and said I would have three children, but one of them would die young,” my mom said. “When it was time to take the taxi to the hospital for Rita, my third child, I was so scared I fell down on the living room floor and couldn’t go.”

   Vytas got her to her feet and inside the car. In the event, my sister survived, fortune teller or no fortune teller, ray guns or no ray guns, rock solid rink ice or not.

   In the spring, between pregnancies and births, Angele performed in plays resurrected from the homeland. She danced with a folk-dance group. They practiced in the church hall and did turns on local stages, once going to Sault Ste. Marie for an outdoor dance jamboree.

   “Rimas Bagdonas was always my partner,” she said. “He was tall and a good dancer.”

   Vytas and Angele met Rimas and Regina Bagdonas in Sudbury. They met everyone they knew for the first time in Sudbury, since everybody else they had known in Lithuania was either stuck behind the Iron Curtain or had emigrated to one corner of the wide world-or-other. Many of them died in the war.

   Rimas worked for Murray Mines and hosted a Lithuanian radio program in his spare time on Sundays. He sang and danced and played the piano, violin, harmonica, and accordion. He was one of the church organists and one of the accordionists for folk dancing performances.

   He worked deep down in the rock for eight years. In 1957 he was told in order to get promoted he would have to change his last name. A manager suggested Rimas Bags or Rimas Bagas. He didn’t like the idea, at all. He worked in the dark but was beginning to see the light.

   “My dad told them he was born a Bagdonas and would die a Bagdonas,” his daughter Lele said. “So, a family decision was made that he would leave to find a job. We stayed in Sudbury. That November after he found work, we moved to Hamilton. My dad’s first job was at the Ford plant in nearby Oakville.”

   By 1957 most of the Lithuanians in Sudbury were thinking about talking about planning on leaving or had already left for greener pastures. They were moving to Toronto Montreal and the northern United States. My father made a foray south of the border, exploring where we might go to live and work.

   Mining has been and is one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. Some of the worst workplace disasters ever have been collapses and explosions. The most common accidents are the result of poisonous or volatile gases and the misuse of explosives for blasting operations. Especially dangerous below ground is mine-induced instability. It is a major threat for all miners. None of the DP diggers wanted to be dug out of rubble after surviving WW2.

   At the start of the 1950s Sudbury had a population of about 40,000 and of the 14,000 men in the labor force more than 8,000 of them worked in mining and smelting. Ten years later, due to the high demand for labor, the population of the city doubled. But at the outset of the 2000s Sudbury had the smallest proportion of immigrants of any city in Ontario, the Italians, Ukrainians, and Lithuanians almost all gone.

   In the meantime, Sudbury modernized its mining and reclaimed its landscape. They changed the climate. Nearly 9 million trees were planted over a 30-year period. It was one of the largest re-greening projects in the world. Better late than never.

   “I hated my husband having to work in the mines,” my mom said. “Whenever a miner died, you never heard it on the news or read about it in the newspaper. We only ever found out by word- of-mouth.”

   My sister’s godfather moved to Chicago. My brother’s godfather moved to San Diego. My godfather moved to Los Angeles. Henry and Maryte Zizys moved to Montreal. The Hauck’s moved to Detroit. Almost every DP who came to Sudbury for the chance to get out of Europe and for the available work went somewhere else.

   “My husband worked nine hours a day for two weeks and then nine hours a night for two weeks,” Angele said. His days of getting up, shoveling coal into the furnace on bitter mornings, having breakfast, walking or hitching a ride to the mine, working his shift, getting home, having dinner, seeing his kids for few minutes, took up most of his day. 

   “When he worked nights, we barely saw him. He would come home in the morning, have a bite to eat, and go to bed.”

   Refugees and displaced people believe in hard work as the way to get ahead. It’s often the only thing they have to believe in. Everything else has been left behind.

   “When the men were working day shifts, we had parties on weekends at our house,” my mom said. “We had a big living room and the Simkiai, Povilaiciai, and Dzenkaiciai would come over.” Rita, Rick, and I got shoved into a bedroom to fend for ourselves.

   The husbands played bridge in the kitchen long into the night, drinking beer and homemade krupnickas, which is a kind of Lithuanian moonshine, smoking Export “A” and Player’s Navy Cut cigarettes until the card table was under a pall of smoke. The wives put food out, mixed cocktails, and kibitzed the card players. They danced to records. They kicked back and talked.

   “We didn’t have TV’s so we talked.”

   They talked about their kids, their neighbors and friends, their baznycia and bendruomene, who was getting married and who was getting dumped, the movies, shopping cooking the butcher baker and candlestick maker. They talked about the local doings. The men talked about their jobs, who knew and didn’t know what they were doing. They put us back to bed when they spotted us listening. They talked long into the night in the living room.

   When it got dark outside, and started snowing, the black rock face of Sudbury got muffled in white. When the wind picked up drifts built up against the side of the house and the windows. After that there wasn’t much to see. They didn’t talk about what had been, but about what was going to be. Up ahead was what mattered to them.

   “One day a door will open and let the future in,” Angele said. In the meantime, she made sure the front door was securely latched. There was no sense in letting Old Man Winter crash the party.

Photograph by Vytas Staskevicius.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com.. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Ground Zero

By Ed Staskus

   The General Hospital of the Immaculate Heart of Mary opened in Sudbury on Paris Street in 1950. It was the first English speaking not just French hospital in northern Ontario. It had a brick façade with a steel beam grid system. The parking lot was close to hand right at the entrance, which was handy if you were dragging a broken leg behind you.

   Nobody needed to speak English or any other language to get around. “They used to do this cool thing,” Ginette Tobodo said. “On the walls they painted certain colors, one color for the lab, another color for the cardiac department, and you just followed the color to where you needed to go. It was easy to find your way around.”

  Susan Cameron was the lead blast off. “The hospital was not officially open, but my mother was in labor,” she said. It was unofficial but necessary vital time sensitive. When it’s your time to be born, it’s your time, no matter what anybody officially rules on the matter.

   When I was born the next year in March 1951 everybody was already calling the hospital the ‘General.’ I don’t remember a single second of being in my mother’s womb. The next thing I knew there were bright lights, voices, a pair of scissors, a slap on my butt, and I was being held up for inspection like a hunk of ham. I couldn’t make out what was happening. Everybody was wearing clothes and I was naked as a jaybird. It seemed like I had come into being not knowing anything.   

   The whole thing was such a shock I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it for almost two years, by which time nobody wanted to hear about it.

   A man wearing a mask counted my toes and fingers and pinched my arms and legs. He stopped when he seemed satisfied. I wanted to ask him what he was doing but didn’t know how to talk. That month’s issue of Sudbury’s Inco Triangle newsletter had a poem called “Man’s a Queer Animal” on one of its inside pages.

   “With a lid on each eye, and a bridge on his nose, with drums in his ears, and nails on his toes, with palms on his hands, and soles on his feet, and a large Adam’s apple, that helps him to eat, with a cap on each knee, on each shoulder a blade, he’s the queerest thing made.”

   I looked myself over. I didn’t seem queer, but what did I know? I checked the other newborns but couldn’t see any difference between them and me. Were we all off the wall? I was reassured when I heard a nurse say, “They are all such little miracles.”

   Inco was the corporation that ran most of the mining in Sudbury. Its head man died a month before I was born. Robert Crooks Stanley was a mining engineer who patented many new refining methods including the Stanley Process. He became president of Inco in 1922, when the company was at a low ebb. He had to close operations owing to a loss of war orders. Six years later, recovering his poise, he launched a $50 million dollar building and expansion project. 

   When I came down the chute the mines were booming. My mom was getting her bag ready for the hospital the day Len Turner and Nifty Jessup arrived at the Bank of Toronto in the Donovan neighborhood, one of Sudbury’s oldest neighborhoods, with Inco’s weekly payroll. Going up the steps of the bank, the pay clerks were suddenly brought up short by two men armed with revolvers.

   “Let me have that case,” one of them snarled.

   Len made a grab for the man’s gun. The gun went off, the bullet slamming into the bank building. The bank was unharmed. The gunman grabbed the payroll case and the thieves drove off in a stolen car towards North Bay. For all that, they made a wrong turn, got trapped on Fir Lane and the Sudbury police, more of them and better armed than the bandits, rounded them up.

   “A little of that excitement goes a long way,” Len said to Nifty after they got their company’s payroll back.

   Sudbury came into existence in the early 1880s as a construction site for Canadian Pacific Railway that was laying tracks for a transcontinental line. It was a company town and all the stores and boarding houses and everything else were operated by the company. W. J. Bell cut down every tree he could see to supply the railroad, at least until the day the railroad was done and left town. It looked like the end of Sudbury.

   It was saved from stillbirth by prospectors who found vast mineral deposits, what became known as the Sudbury Basin. It is the third largest impact crater on the planet, when something big from outer space crashed there about 2 billion years ago. “By 1886 we knew Sudbury was going to be a mining town,” Florence Howey wrote. In that year mining and smelting was started by Copper Cliff. Seven years later the town incorporated itself.

   Meanwhile, Sam Richie formed the Canadian Copper Company in Cleveland, Ohio, which was an unknown place to me in 1951, although by 1959 I was finding out all about it since my parents, with my brother, sister, and me in tow, migrated there. At the turn of the 20th century Canadian Copper was merged with International Nickel, controlled by J. P Morgan, and moved to New Jersey.

   Sudbury’s nickel plating on warships helped win the Spanish-American War for the United States. Afterwards, the British and their international military cousins sat up and took notice. The arms race was on, and Sudbury was rolling in dough.

   Even though my mother and I had been inseparable for nine months, the next thing I knew I was being separated from her. I was carried to a nursery and spent the next week in the company of a gaggle of strangers. Half the time half of us were crying. The rest of the time we were sleeping or looking around for food.

   The boy next to me seemed to be hungry 24 hours a day. Whenever anything edible was within reach, he reached for it. “He’s a nice boy but he’s got more nerve than a bum tooth,” I thought, even though he was far off from cutting his teeth. A girl on the other side of me wiggled her legs and giggled. She started wiggling her arms, too. 

   I couldn’t take my eyes off her, baby fat and all. “That girl is fidgety as a bubble dancer with a slow leak,” I tried to tell the hungry boy beside me, but the words wouldn’t come, and besides he was eating again.

   The nurses gave us a bath every morning and fed us every three hours. The nurse who scrubbed me from tip to toe was all business. She tested the temperature with her elbow, soaped me up, and I went gently down into the water. One day something scared me, and I jumped like an electric eel. I was crazy slippery from the soap and slipped out of her hands. I landed face down in the baby bath. The commotion I caused would have made anyone think she was trying to kill me.

   When we were done with breakfast lunch dinner and goodies, which was all the same mush, they bubbled us, changed us, and put us back to sleep. I wasn’t fussy or gassy and slept like a log. As soon as I woke up, I was hungry again.

   The boys took it easy in blue beds and the girls in pink beds, what the bosses in white uniforms called cots. My mother got to stay in a room with another woman, chatting it up, eating in bed, and reading Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping, and Ladies’ Home Journal. I saw her twice a day for a few minutes for some real food. One day my dad showed up.

   “Who’s that?” I wanted to ask.

   My cot was near a window. When I looked out all I could see was ice and snow. More than a hundred inches of snow had fallen that winter and there were snowbanks as far as the eye could see. The month before the thermometer had gotten stuck between 30 and 40 below for a week. It was still bitter cold. I pulled my blanket tight around me when I heard one of the nurses say, “It’s too bad we can’t take them out for a little airing.”

   The minerals in the Sudbury Basin had a high sulphur content and needed to be roasted before smelting. The open pits burned for years. The roasting yards puffed yellow gray clouds all around the compass. There were slag and mine tailing piles, soil erosion and blackened hilltops. When I was born Sudbury was largely barren and treeless. Everybody said that was the way it was. Everybody cashed their paychecks and got on with it. Tourists on their way somewhere else called the Sudbury Basin the Canadian Death Valley.

   I was an infant and didn’t have a clue that engineers and corporate executives can be a burrito short of a combination plate. The executives were sly dogs, though. What their mines paid in taxes was the equivalent of about one-half the revenue that Sudbury would have gotten if it had been any other heavy-industrial city in that part of Ontario. The national press was always saying my hometown was a “slum” or “a smaller version of Katowice, Poland.”

   My dad belonged to Local 598 of the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers. It was the biggest trade union in Canada. Local 598 and Inco hated each other’s guts. The local built union halls and a children’s camp where we went to hear music and see movies. I saw Walt Disney’s “Treasure Island” and “The Littlest Outlaw.”

   It wasn’t like I needed a day off like my father and godfather, who worked long hours miles down in the ground. One day my godfather walked up to me at the camp and said, “What are you doing here relaxing? You haven’t worked a day in your life.”

   “You’ve got to love livin’,” I said.

   He coughed up a mouthful of mine dust and cigarette smoke and laughed. “If you aren’t laughing, you aren’t living, my baby boy,” he said, reaching for his Export A’s when my dad walked up, so they could kick back together for ten minutes.

   My baby days were behind me, but I let it slide.

   My parents didn’t live in Lively or Onaping Falls, where class and race paid the bills. Little Warsaw was where the Poles lived. Little Italy was under a line of smokestacks and the Italians lived there. I ended up living in the middle of town where the East Europeans and Finns lived. The Finns liked to wrestle and ski, although not at the same time. My parents and their friends liked to play cards smoke drink and dance. They worked like Puritans, though, saving their money, so they could get ahead. They left the DP camps of Europe in the late 1940s on separate freighters with a duffel bag and enough cash to buy a snack.

  When it came time to pack up, I wasn’t ready. I had gotten used to the nursery and had made friends. I learned soon enough that all good things come to an end. It was a sunny day towards the end of the month when my dad gathered my mom and me up and took us home. There weren’t any crocuses showing, but most of the snowpack had melted away.

   The General did fine work by me. I was hale and hearty when I got to what I found out was home. I had been living on the bottle, but my mom switched the menu up, feeding me herself. My parents lived in a small, rented house on Pine Street. My father was working in the tombs of outer space, taking all the overtime he could get, and was planning on buying a house on Stanley Street, just down the street.

   Sometimes the hospital couldn’t get it done and people took matters into their own hands. Edmond Paquette, an Inco pensioner in his 80s, had suffered a paralytic stroke that left him unable to walk. He vowed an act of penance, building a built-to-scale church inside a five-gallon glass carboy. When he was done, he stood up and walked across the room to tell his son-in-law Dusty that he had accomplished his mission.

   “You’re walking unaided,” Dusty exclaimed. 

   “It’s a miracle,” Edmond said.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”