Thursday, May 26, 2011

Going Home

“He thought of all his years away from home, the years of wandering in many lands and cities.  He remembered how many times he had thought of home with such an intensity of passion that he could close his eyes and see the scheme of every street, and every house upon every street, and the faces of the people, as well as recall the countless things that they had said and the densely-woven fabric of all their histories…”    Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again

The Redwood City, California Chapter of AHSGR (American Historical Society of Germans from Russia) met on May 15.  The program was to hear readings from three books and then discuss topics such as:    What does it mean to go home?  Can you go home?  Is home a place or state of mind?   The three books are:

The Horizontal World, 2006, Debra Marquart –
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, 2009, Rhoda Janzen –
A Stranger to Myself, 2009, Judy Frothinger –

An interesting question was from a gentleman in the audience.  “Has there ever been a book written about a man going home to “find himself or to heal”?  And his follow on comment:  “I think men are expected to make it in the world and do not have the luxury of going home to get back on their feet.”
This question and comment prompted the following responses:  Perhaps men do not afford themselves the luxury or necessity to be vulnerable or reflective. There is a difference between men and women, and cultural aspects play into it.  I did a search at my local library and found the following books: 
Feel Like Going Home, a film by Martin Scorsese
Going Home, Richard S. Wheeler
Going Home Again, Howard Waldrop
Books by Thomas Wolfe:  You Can’t Go Home Again, Looking Homeward, Angel, Of Time and the River, The Lost Boy

One gentleman said that he would like to see more books that told of the traditions of the Germans from Russia.  I took this to heart because this is my passion.  I want to pass on my rich, interesting culture to my children and grandchildren.  

As we discussed the books, it became clear that the audience could relate to all three books.  Some shared memories about the “odd” foods they ate.  Remarks were made about the need for respecting our elders.   We may joke and laugh at our parents and grandparents, but there will always be admiration and respect for a strong, hardworking people who are grateful to be citizens of this country. 

I am happy to have been a member of the panel.  If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me at


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day

Mother’s Day

We cooked, cleaned, labored, worried, planned, we wept and laughed, we groaned and we sang, but we never despaired.  All this was but a passing phase; “we will certainly laugh at this someday,” we all said buoyantly, laughing even then.    Kathleen Norris

Mother’s Day is a special day to honor our mothers and to appreciate our daughters. 

Today I am with my daughter, Michelle.  Her family lives at the base of Mt. Shasta on three acres of land in a log home built by her husband.  I tease her that she is living the German Russian culture, as I admire her seedlings that grow in front of a window breathing in the sunlight, waiting to be planted in the rich volcanic soil.   
Many things about her remind me of my childhood.  I watch her bake bread, work on her quilts, and work in her garden.  She has a gentle, loving heart just like her Grandmother Mollie, my mother.  

My mother had many virtues.  I often ask myself, “How did she muster the courage and fortitude to raise her children during hard times?”  My mother had three children to feed and clothe during the Great Depression.  She sent two sons off to war; France, World War II, and Korea, the Korean War.  Both were injured. And then there was me, the youngest of five, the frisky, free-spirited child.  This is when she showed her patience and tolerance while teaching me many lessons.  I remember how she taught me to sew, crochet and do Russian punch.  I remember her kindness and acceptance.

I often catch myself repeating some expression she had said.  And I do things the same way she did them.  She is a special part of “who” I am. 

Today my heart is bursting with love for my mother and for my daughter who means so much to me.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Foot in Two Worlds

May 15, the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, Redwood City, California Chapter, will meet.  The topic for discussion will be:  “A Foot in Two Worlds: A Russian-German Identity in the United States”.  The meeting will focus on three books:  The Horizontal World by Debra Marquart, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen, and my book A Stranger to Myself.  

I am pleased that I have been asked to talk about my own book.  The following questions will be discussed.  What does it mean to be a German-Russian today?  How does your heritage influence who you are?  How do your roots affect who you are today?  Can you go home?  What does it mean to go home?  Is home a place or a state of mind?  Can you forgive, come to peace with the past, and move forward?  Is it possible to discover who you really are? 
In my novel, I explore the subject of going home to heal.  My character finds peace with the past through forgiveness and she moves forward to discover “who” she really is.
Hopefully, these questions will engender a thoughtful discussion amongst members as they share their lives as German Russians. What cultural traits and traditions do they identity with as American German Russians?  I think the meeting will be an informative and rewarding experience for all.

I cannot physically “go home again” because my parents are gone and the house I grew up in is no longer there.  It was torn down and a new one built in its place.  But I “go home again” many times in my memory.  I remember many details about my German-Russian parents (my father was born in Omsk, Siberia, Russia) who raised me to appreciate and practice our traditions and to live by our cultural standards.  I still hear the words, “Do your work first and then you can play.”

I remember every detail of the house we lived in and the town and its inhabitants. My story takes place in 1957.  I was only 13 years old at that time, but the memories are etched deep in my soul.

After the meeting, I will post a summary.  In the meantime, think about these thought provoking questions.   

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bicycle Day - May Day

 Bicycle Day – May Day

Today, hundreds of thousands of people worldwide attended rallies, marches, demonstrations, all in the name of “labor”.  Some call out for higher pay, better jobs, stronger labor laws.  I read articles on the internet and found out many interesting facts about this day.  And I learned something new!  May 1 in Spain is celebrated as “Flower Day”; in Latvia, “Mother’s Day”, and in the United States, May 1 is “Bicycle Day”.  On this day, families and communities organize rides.  So, where is this all going?

My son, Chris, is an avid bicycle rider.  He rides 35-50 miles a day to keep in shape so he can participate in the annual ride in June of each year.  The ride is from San Francisco to Los Angeles and it raises money for the Aids Foundation.
May Day to me conjures up memories of my mother and I making little baskets and filling them with candy.  My mother looked at May Day as an occasion to celebrate spring.  This tradition was faithfully observed throughout my childhood.  In our calm, quiet little farm town we were impervious to things unionist or political.  We just delivered little baskets to our neighbors.  We knocked on the door, and then ran away.  It was a fun game. 
When my children were young I tried to pass on this tradition, making baskets for them to deliver to their friends’ houses.

Today, I find out that it is "Bicycle Day" in the United States.  So, what am I to do?  Give up on this childhood memory and start riding my bicycle on this day? 

My German Russian roots will fight me all the way.