My wife, Janice, has often urged me to write about my experiences as a native
Lithuanian, a refugee, a DP, an immigrant and now an American. I never
thought that there would be any interest in my uneventful life, until one day
sitting down and thinking about
the varied experiences I encountered with my parents, my wife, my children,
my family, my friends and strangers. It was not uneventful after all.
Giving it some thought I concluded that it may be interesting to relive my
experiences and share them with anyone who falls upon my words. At Least
I might have some fun reliving the past before I forgot it all. Maybe my
grandchildren would enjoy reading about "Papa."
Thinking about it some more, I recall viewing television programs such
as the History Channel, World at War and so on. Now I was reinforced
that maybe there is a story worth relating and that being a new arrival
in the United States in 1948 and a refugee that I would have a story to
tell and reflect on as a LITHUANIAN AMERICAN.
There may be even more to this story; experiences, memories, joy, heart break,
life's twists and turns, but never boring.
How does one become a LITHUANIAN AMERICAN?
My story, one of millions with similar experiences, but different.
The Soviet army invaded Lithuania in 1940 and incorporated the country
into the USSR. To a freedom loving people, this was a horror with the return
of the Russians since Lithuania's Independence in 1918. Prior to that
Lithuania was under the control of Russia for 123 years. The Third Partition of
the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth took place in 1795 and wiped Lithuania
from the map of Europe.
Lithuania has a proud history being the largest state in Europe in the 15th century.
At that time, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania spanned the continent from the Baltic
to the Black Sea. It was one of the most diverse countries in Europe. It could be
likened to a melting pot of various ethnic groups, languages, religions and
With the invasion of the Soviet in 1940 the mood began to change. Fear started
to set in among the population. Refugees from the West and South arrived seeking
refuge from the Germans. Lithuanian Independence was no more and people
worried about the future. In June of 1941 thousands of Lithuanians were exiled
to the far reaches of Siberia. A collaborator pointed out my grandfather as an
educated man. This act caused my grandfather, his wife and my aunt to be
ordered to pack up what they could carry and report to the train station the next
day. Grandfather took all the necessities he could carry including a sack of potato
seeds. This sack of seeds will later prove to be most valuable in the Siberian
forests. This transpired a little over a year before I was born.
Shortly after that, the Germans pushed out the Soviets and began the
Lithuanian occupation. There seemed to be a relief with the Russians gone.
However, Lithuania was still occupied and not free. I was born in July of 1942
a little over a year after Grandfather's exile.
As a healthy little "burbulas" [bubble] and my
mother's "pupite" [Little bean], I was my parents pride and joy.
Naturally I do not recall my early years, but I remember what was said
later during family gatherings and on holidays, especially "Kucios" -
Two years later in July 1944 my birthday was celebrated and then on
July 4, 1944 my parents at my mother's insistence decided to flee to
the West with the fear of a Russian advance.
Mother was right. The Russians did return and resumed the repression
and deportations. I didn't find out details until much much later after
Lithuania's eventual Reestablishment of Independence in 1991.
We now flee to the West as refugees
Our refugee status went West into Germany then South to Bavaria and Austria
trying to avoid military conflicts and areal bombing that was constantly battering
Germany as the Allies advanced.
While avoiding active military action, we were in Austria when we avoided
bombing from the air. We found shelter in a cave in a near bye mountain
to avoid the Allied bombs. I later found out that it was here that I was exposed
I'm told after we returned to where we were living at the
time, the house was damaged from the bombing. The house was in Salzburg, the
birth place of Mozart.
I was getting older, now 3 in the Summer of 1945, and the war ended just before
my birthday. My memory may be coming back either factual or hearing stories.
We were on foot as I observed a house on the mountainside. A Swiss like cottage
or chalet with large stones on the roof. Out walked an old man with a white beard,
bushy white hair, a leather hat and a long staff. I asked if this was Santa
On another occasion I was sitting on my fathers shoulders as we walked.
He asked "Will you carry me when I get old." I replied "Ne!" - No!
How sorry I am that I said that then. I loved my father - it saddens me that
he is no longer with us [died in 1975].
Another year went by, I'm 4 in the Summer of 1946, then 5 in 1947. Memories
are more clear and vivid and I remember isolated events. We found ourselves
in a refugee settlement that may have been for former German infantry.
This was a three story building that was rather long several hundred feet
in length. The entire floor was open like a ward. The only way for each
family to have some privacy was to sting clothes line from wall to wall and overlay
blankets as dividers. It was rather crude, but did achieved a minimum amount
of privacy. The refugees where housed here for temporary shelter until
more permanent housing could be found along with employment. To the
rear of this complex was a steep incline to a tall mountain. A US soldier
was a sentry at the main entrance of this complex. The entrance was
a gate like a hole in a wall. On one occasion I went out for a walk,
adventuresome young lad, and upon my return the new sentry would not
permit me to enter. The sentry spoke to me in the local German accent
and I responded in perfect German. He did not believe me, that I was
a Lithuanian refugee and that I lived here. My mother saw this from inside
the barracks and came running shouting "Raimundi, miene Raimundi" -
Raymond, My Raymond. The sentry was now convinced.
My Father was very well educated, multilingual including speaking
some English. He found an excellent job with the US Military at their
main base. He ended up becoming the highest ranking civilian on the
base, something like a Chief of Accounting Operations. It had to do
with all sorts of accounting - he was a whiz on this subject.
We lived in Kirchheim at one time in a loft apartment over a bakery.
It was fun being able to go for a ride in the bakery horse drawn
delivery vehicle. We later moved to a farm. I remember Tante Ox - Aunt Ox
who had two beautiful daughters. These two lovelies met American GI's
and often entertained them in their room. On one occasion I wondered
what they were doing, so I peaked through the key hole. To my surprise
they noticed and sang out "Ach, du lieber Raimundi, Ach, du lieber Raimundi..."
Oh You Dear Raymond. I ran in embarrassment. These two young ladies
liked me very much and the Ox family was very kind to all of us.
My father was able to find us improved quarters at a former German officers
barracks. The unit was white stucco, several floors high and like a row house
with numerous entrances. We lived on the first floor with two bedrooms,
a kitchen and a living room. There was a hedge out front, a rear yard and
beyond that a newly planted nursery with thousands of trees that were planted
in recent years.
My mother wrote to our "Tetule Vera" Auntie in the US to tell her where we were
and how things were going. Tetule was not really a relative, but we started
calling her that out of respect and she was older. She was a former housekeeper
to my grandfather who came to the US in the late 1920's early 1930's to marry
Uncle John [out of respect]. Tetule and Uncle John ended up sponsoring
us to come to America. They paid for the passage and found a job for my
father at Burba's Chicken Farm
Life was not easy even with the excellent position my father got with the US Military.
But my mother tried to make things easier for us all. Auntie would send us
packages with all sorts of goodies. As a youngster in this period, I experienced
some items for the first time. I even liked the white [ sort of beige in color]
Hersey chocolate bars. I later found out in the US that the white chocolate bars
were not white at all - they got discolored [stale] due to a several month shipping
process from the US to Germany.
Mother would go to the black market and barter cigarettes [ one or two] for
needed items. She didn't barter for eggs. No not her. She got the real deal,
real chickens - egg layers.
I don't know how but a chicken coop was built behind our apartment and
these several chickens kept us in eggs. Actually one balck hen layed an egg
almost every day. She was responsible for me to become an entrepreneur
at the age of five. I took several of the extra eggs and sold them for fünf Pfennig -
Five Cents and went to the bakery to buy a large pretzel.
Some first time experiences I just can never forget. My father came home
one day with oranges and bananas. To this day I can still savor the first
taste of the banana at the age of five.
I don't recall where I was, but it was a bombed out area with just a few walls
still standing and only the tops of the foundation visible. The rest was ruins.
Some clean up work seemed to have been under way because the streets
were rather neat. My curiosity got the better of me as I climbed on top of
a foundation wall and began walking along the top. I must have stepped
on a loose brick or a loose section of the foundation. I do not remember
much after that. When I woke up I found myself several levels below the
top of the foundation wall. I must have blacked out. I don't recall being hurt.
My mother took me to market on occasion. This time she took me to the
theater to see an American western. The movie was in black and white
and it was about a stage coach robbery. The shooting was so real and
so loud I closed my eyes and blocked my ears with my hands in freight.
It took me a long time to recover from this experience.
Sometimes we went to visit my Dede [uncle] Juozas - I think he lived in Bavaria
with my Teta Ele, and their three sons, Dede Bruno, Dede Irvis, and Dede Ziga in
what I recall was a castle. Uncle Juozas had a small mustache and reminded me of
David Niven [ for comparison]. He was my Grandmother's son on my Mother's
side and going back to my Great Grandfather who was a "grafas" - a count.
a title given to him for his architectural work in Lithuania. He was of Italian
heritage. For his efforts he was also granted some land. So I have a bit of
Italian in my veins.
I liked coming to Dede Juozas's castle to play with all the medieval pewter or
lead knights on horseback and play war games with my young uncles.
They were close to my age - the youngest was my age and there was a
year or two difference between the other two. We could come here by
way of a Dodge military truck with a driver from my father's work. Dede Juozas
and his family emigrated to Australia because they did not want to wait
the several years it might take to go to the US. In 1947 some were told
that the wait to the US would be three to five years or more depending
My father's work was fascinating. I loved going to the military base seeking
all the trucks, tanks, planes and more. The food was great in the mess halls.
They had food I never tasted before. It was delicious. I also started to learn
English talking to all the soldiers and sailors. The Navy mess hall was my favorite.
One of the sailors gave me a light blue parka with a zipper and hood.
I started school here and took a street car to town every day. The school was
run by Lithuanian nuns. I had a long walk from the apartments - barracks
to the trolley line. The trolley ran in the
middle of the road on an island between a tree lined right of way. It looked
a little like the Commonwealth Avenue Green Line in Boston, Massachusetts.
I don't recall the distance to school, but it took a while and I enjoyed going
to school by myself every day.One day I thought I would save the cost of
the trolley and take a short cut home. There was a path that ran on a diagonal
from the city to the country and the barracks where we lived. I came
waltzing in [ about 7:00PM several hours late]. My mother was a wreck,
crying, then overjoyed that I was OK, then furious with my action
[of walking home]. She thought I was abducted and lost forever. I took
the trolley from then on with no side trips.
The path I took from the city was familiar to me. It was along this path that
we had our vegetable garden. All the refugees were given a plot to use to
grow fresh vegetables to supplement their needs. It was a great idea. My
Mother had a great green thumb and a knack for growing vegetables. She
was quite a good cook with the little we had and managed quite well. After
this experience in later years I saw pictures of my parents and me. I had a full
plump face and could be compared to Spanky of "Our Gang." However, when
I looked at my handsome Father and Beautiful Mother, I saw the hollow checks
they had as did many others. I could see how much they cared for me and how
much they sacrificed to make sure I was properly fed as a child.
I did have a hospitalization to have my tonsils removed. In those days the
stay in the hospital was lengthy, four weeks. I was very sad when I could
only see my mother through a window of an upper floor of the hospital.
She came often and waved to me. I cried! I so wanted to go home and
be with my parents.
One night my Father came home after a long trip and brought home a cat.
A cat for me, my real first pet - she was gray and black with green eyes.
This cat did have extra lives, my father almost ran her over in the middle of the
night. She bounced off the truck and he saved her.
I was sent to the store to pick up some milk carrying the empty milk urn.
The urn was like a miniature commercial white metal milk urn. So
I wouldn't loose my coin I put then inside the urn. Upon arrival at the store
the clerk filled the urn with fresh milk. She now asked for payment.
I rolled up my sleeve and reached inside the urn ....
My Mother's sister, Irena, got married to Stasys Urbonavicius [later Urbon] in December of 1946 and a year later gave birth to my first cousin, Neringa. She was as beautiful as her name. In Lithuania, Neringa is a haven resort on the Baltic Sea with pristine beaches and sand dunes. Neringa and I still correspond and see each other from time to time. My Teta [Aunt] Irena brought Neringa for visits every once in a while.
I was 6 already and we were scheduled for an early emigration to the US.
My father was given the OK for first position for a Lithuanian to go to the
US. This was the thank you he was given by the US military for his outstanding
efforts at the base.
Then one day I got the life scared out of me as I saw a convoy of trucks
arrive. The trucks were escorted by US Military trucks with
white stars followed by Russian cars and trucks with red stars.
I ran into the house frightened as I have never been. I was shaking as
I told my mother the Russians have come to take us back. She calmed
me down as we watched the military stop next door. The teen age girl
next door was crying, my play pal friend also six was excited with all
the attention. The father of the next door family decided to return to
Lithuania and didn't tell anyone. His wife was also crying as was
her mother. It was frightening to see this take place as the teen was
dragged to the car and all their belongings loaded in the other trucks.
The Russians made a spectical of this event.
The word came to get ready for our journey to America. We were to go
to the German Port Bremerhaven for embarkation. Well, now it hit me.
We are about to leave. What do I do about my cat and my chickens. When
I asked, I was told they could not come. To my recollection I found a home
for my cat for at least a few years. The chickens became a blessing to
one of the neighbors who now could have fresh eggs every day. The
other events of our departure from the Barracks must have been uneventful
for I forgot what occurred.
We arrived in Bremerhaven and must have spent the night someplace
prior to climbing the gangway of the USS General Black a former
troop carrier during the war. Our luggage, what little we had, was stowed
on board. I remember a large wooden white trunk that my Father had built
that had the bulk of our possessions. It had several steel latches - two secured
with screws and one with a paddle lock. Now the ship's whistle blasted as
we pulled away from the dock and everyone waved to those below. I was full
of excitement as I looked forward to the journey ahead to the United States.
It had to be about October 20,1948 because the journey was to take ten days.
Next, we were in the English Channel approaching the Strait of Dover. A tiny
little vessel approached the USS General Black. I could not believe how small
it was. The Pilot was on board this tiny vessel and came aboard to steer our
ship through the Channel. That was my first and last first hand look at the
Cliffs of Dover.
After a couple of days we were in open water and in the Atlantic with fair weather.
For some reason I felt that we were getting special treatment [ maybe because of
my Father's service]. A feature article of our family appeared in the
magazine UNRA [ A UN publication]. I was given a special tour of the ship climbing up to the
stacks and seeing the entire ship from high above. Later, I found out why there were no other
Lithuanians on board. We were the first to take this journey.
Now several more days into the Atlantic the waves started climbing.
To me they looked like mountains moving towards us shaking the ship
and making it sway up and down, up and down. People were getting sick.
Dishes were flying everywhere crashing on the floor. I laughed at the sight.
Many became ill from all the swaying. I was not affected.
When things quieted down on the Atlantic, we were nearing the United States,
Long Island Sound, and the port of NEW York. I don't recall much of the final
entry other than tug boats with streams of water shooting in the air and
the Statue of Liberty. I think we moored at Pier 44 [Not Ellis Island]. It was
October 30, 1948 and we landed in America. I'm not sure exactly when we
disembarked. It may have been that night or the next. But when we did,
we went to a train station, possibly Penn Station for our overnight trip to
South Station in Boston. Massachusetts.
Upon arrival at South Station in Boston, Massachusetts Tetule and Dede met us
in their 1940's powder blue Studebaker. We were off to West Bridgewater
taking a winding route through Boston and then route 28 South. The ride
even took us through Milton Lower Mills, site of the world famous Walter
Baker Chocolate factory. Strange, may years later we moved to Milton. I got to
see the country side and then the huge City of Brockton and many shoe
factories along the way. Then just outside of Brockton we turned on to
North Elm Street in West Bridgewater and a few more streets brought
us to Spring Street where Tetule and Dede lived. As we took a right on
to Spring Street I noticed a large water tank. I had an unusual reaction
and a sigh of relief as I uttered,
"..... and now we are in America."
The weight of fear and apprehension was replaced by a feeling of Freedom
and Joy. We are actually in America, our new home. Safe! It took two days to
set in. What a sigh of relief. This is the first time I felt like this since I can
remember. I was six and four months. .. and Free
We entered the house through a mud room and into the kitchen. The wonderful
aroma of something cooking filled the air. Tetule was a wonderful cook as I
found out over time. The kitchen was huge for two people. She had an oversize
stove on foot high legs fired by either wood or coal. Tetule planned a welcoming
feast that we later enjoyed in the dining room.
I later noticed that the kitchen was not really over sized. Uncle John [Dede]
was a retired plumber and now a farmer with live stock. The kitchen was
perfect to feed many friends who came to help out on weekends all year long.
Uncle john had about a four acre farm. One section was an apple orchard with
a small section of blackberries, gooseberries, and raspberries. Also, hay was
harvested between the apple trees and other vacant areas of the farm. Beside the
house over the drive way was a grape arbor, Concord grapes used by Uncle
John to make home made wine. And, there was a screen house, gazebo, where
guests could sleep in the warm months. At the end of the driveway was a two
car garage with an attached utility room - a work shop. Walking around the
garage there was a small chain link gate that led to the other out buildings.
The first building had a slaughter room to slaughter chickens, turkeys, pigs, goose
and what ever else needed attention. Attached to that was the main stock barn
that housed the two pigs and two milking cows. Beside that and above was
the carriage barn and hay loft. There was also a free standing smoke house
to smoke meat - mostly for pigs - hams, bacon and sausage. There was also
a large out building housing up to 150 to 200 turkeys and another utility shed.
Then Tetule had her vegetable garden where she grew every vegetable possible,
including rhubarb and poppy. She also grew many traditional herbs.
The poppy seed were used in baking and also for
a special treat at Kucios - Christmas Eve. This is the mental picture of Tetule's
and Uncle John's home that impressed me for many years to come. Their farm
was basically self sufficient, except for a wonderful bread that she could not bake.
Kilkus farmers bread in Montello was unequaled Lithuanian rye. We lived on
this bread for many years.
On November 7, 1948 we went to St. Casimir Lithuanian Church in Montello
[section of Brockton, Massachusetts] to celebrate our first Mass in America.
The Church was not fully completed and the Masses were held in the cellar.
The roof of the Church was flat with black tar paper covering it. A few years
went bye and the Church was completed with a beautiful simple interior
and a high steeple.
After Mass we went to Kilkus Baking Company to pick up that famous Lithuanian
Farmers bread, a ten pound loaf. The aroma in the the bakery still fills my
minds memory and probably will never go away. Uncle John took us on a
tour of The Lithuanian Village, Montello. He showed us were some of his
friends lived, Zenki's Market, three Lithuanian Clubs, the retail district of
Lithuanian stores and his old Plumbing Store before he retired.
This was one fine Lithuanian community
I was enrolled in the Sunny Side School about a mile away. I had a little
language problem with English phrases and words I never heard before,
however, the teacher was understanding and the other students welcomed
and accepted me. I'm glad I learned some English while in Germany, it
made it much easier to communicate and encouraged me to learn even more.
We were introduced to many of Tetule's and Uncle John's relatives and friends
that lived near by as they came to the house. We were welcomed so warmly.
Tom Burba, of Lithuanian descent, had a commercial chicken operation that supplied
Boston with thousands of chickens. My Father was supposed to work for him.
However, my Father was an Accountant. He went to Boston to seek employment
in his line of work. He stayed at Uncle John's friend's house in South Boston,
Peter Bernotavicius, a retired Domino Sugar worker. Father came home
on the weekend's
Our first Thanksgiving was celebrated here at Tetule's. She put out a feast featuring
one of her own turkey's. Uncle John and his friends slaughtered about 100 turkeys
for sale, preordered by many Lithuanians in Brockton and South Boston. Uncle John
sold every bird he grew. The remainder, about 50, we sold for Christmas. For this first
Thanksgiving Tetule and Uncle John had a huge table. It ran from the dining room into
the living room - one long table. I never saw such a long table with so much food that
represented a traditional Thanksgiving feast. We had much to be thankful for.
There had to be over twenty people at the table.
Then December and the snow came. One blizzard created a snow drift that reached
the second floor attic window. My room was in the attic, a small heated finished
The rest of the walk up attic was bare, just open roof studs. The floor was a rough
floor and contained various boxes and such for storage. I tried looking out the
from attic window but it was coverd with snow. I never saw so much snow, not even in
Europe. I went outside through the side door and the snow was deeper than I was tall
on the flat. I don't recall just how they handled all the snow, but eventually we could
December 24, 1948 was "Kucios" - The Lithuanian Christmas Eve and our first in America.
I was dazzled by the decorations on the Christmas Tree. I never saw such a Christmas
Tree, so many decorations, all lit up. Tetule was
cooking away in the kitchen with a marvelous aroma filling the air like never before.
Then in the evening guests started to arrive about 6:00PM. We all sat down to a table
with a linen table cloth on top of straw. [Traditional] Tetule and Uncle John walked in
opposite directions around the table breaking off a piece of a "plotkele" [ Traditional
Lithuanian Christmas wafer like a Communion wafer] with each guest and giving
them a kiss. Then the meal started - freshly fried "auseles," fried mushroom filled
dumplings the size of your thumb with a bullion soup. The various courses, pickled herring,
herring in tomato sauce and onions, one with mushrooms, several different prepared
fish, cod, eel, haddock; vinigretas - a four bean vegetable salad with cubed beets, diced pickles and
sour cream. There was also a kisielius, made from cranberries and aguonu pienas
[poppy milk] with slizikai [small hard pastries made from leavened dough and
poppy seeds]. The slizikai soften up in the poppy milk.
This was a traditional twelve dish meatless Lithuanian Christmas Eve supper,
What a meal, what wonderful conversation, all I could do is listen to the adults as
I ate this meal of all meals. After the meal there was desert, babka, pyragai, cookies,
and many other goodies that guests brought. There was coffee and tea and hot
chocolate for me. I was the only child at the table. This was the best day I ever
Then after supper I was handed some gifts. Each guest brought me a gift.
This was not only unexpected, this overwhelmed me. I never saw so many
toys in one place and all for me. I even got some clothes that made me feel
that I was becoming an American, real American clothes - jeans, a fur lined
parka, a plaid shirt, sneakers and on another Christmas Eve I got a huge
three wheeled extended bicycle - I tried to take it out the next day, but
there was too much snow. We came to Tetule's for many more Kucios for
years to come. She and Uncle John became the only family we had in America
until my Aunt [Teta] Irena came
Christmas Day a new aroma filled the air in the kitchen.Tetule was hard at work
cooking the turkey for the Christmas Day feast. She started the turkey early in
the morning, before she went to milk the cows. She didn't get much sleep
after Kucios ended, but the milking of the cows could not wait, nor feeding
the pigs, chickens, geese and the dogs. All the turkeys we gone, sold for
Christmas Day Dinner.
We moved to South Boston, "M" Street after my Father got a job with the largest
accounting firm in New England, Patterson Teele and Dennis. He was quite
knowledgeable in accounting, however his Lithuanian degrees were not sufficient.
He would go to Northeastern University Evening Division for several years to
get another BA in Accounting and then sat for the CPA exam to become a Certified
Public Accountant. At the time most immigrants had to do it all over again
Mother went to work as a seamstress at Cable Rain Coat Company to supplement
the family income. Later, she was promoted as an assistant to the factory
We were the first Lithuanian immigrants, DPs [Displaced Persons] that arrived
in South Boston in 1948. There were several Lithuanian neighbors that lived
next door [ second and third generation] but didn't speak very good Lithuanian.
They used words like "sidewalkas" instead of s^aligatvis. They just added an "as"
to English words to make Lithuanian words. They began to learn Lithuanian
from my Mother and me.
Well, I had to go to school and since we were in St. Bridges Parish I was
enrolled there. I didn't like it. My classmates made fun of me and my funny
English. I didn't have a South Boston accent yet, so I stood out as different
and not Irish. The nuns were not very helpful either. They resented me as
a newcomer, a DP [just used initials - didn't know the meaning]. They
thought that more DPs would come and take jobs away from the Irish laborers
and longshoremen. Frequently when I didn't understand what a nun said I would
be punished by being put under her desk. From time to time the nun would
kick me with the point of her shoe or boot. Many times I was kicked in my sides
or my legs leaving a black and blue. I didn't dare tell my parents for fear that
they to would punish me for being bad. Why else would a nun punish me.
It was coming close to the end of the school year, was I glad. But one more
time I was told to go under the nun's desk and got kicked in the face.
I didn't have time to position myself for protection. My nose started bleeding
like a water fall, the blood would not stop. I pushed myself out in defiance
so the nun could see me all bloodied. She was scared and gave me her
handkerchief to stop the bleeding and let me go home. This time I told
my mother and I did not return to St Bridges. My parents didn't go to the
school about this matter. They did not want to cause a problem being newcomers.
My mother found out that there was a Lithuanian school, St Peter, that was not part of the geographic
Archdiocese parish structure. I was enrolled in St. Peter School, Lithuanian Parish, in the fall of 1949.
We lived on "M" Street, South Boston on the second floor. The landlord,
Peter Bernotavicius lived on first floor and his son Pius and his wife on the
third floor. In 1949, South Boston was largely an Irish section of Boston.
However, there were pockets of other ethnic groups Lithuanian, Polish,
Italian, Albanian, and more to come in the 1950's.
Our second floor apartment was huge with seven rooms. When we arrived
in 1948 the walls were bare The hardwood floors were bare. Walking on the
floors was like being in a museum. Taking steps and walking created echos
that broke the silence. The kitchen now reminds me of "The Honey Mooners"
apartment [The Cramden's of TV fame with Jacky Gleason]. The walls were
barren in need of paint and decorations. The sink was white porcelain
cast iron on legs. A very basic utilitarian unit with a drip edge as large as the
main sink. The Refrigerator was also of while porcelain with a motor and
refrigeration unit exposed on top and open legs on the bottom. There was a
table with four chairs. There were no kitchen cabinets or counters as today.
The was a large pantry just off the kitchen. It was huge. Actually, more
could be stored there than a present day kitchen with all its cabinets. There
was a gas cook stove on legs that was also the heater in winter. The heat
was provided a kerosene unit connected to the stove. There was a 55 gallon
drum in the cellar that stored the kerosene. Between the living room and the
parlor there was another kerosene heater. It was dual purpose in that wood
and paper could also be used to heat the front of the house. There were sliding
doors between the two rooms that could be used to divide the two. A central
corridor connected four of the rooms and the bath room.
The bath tub was also white porcelain iron on legs. In those early days there
was no shower. Later, a rubber hose and shower head was added. The toilet
flush box was overhead about 5 feet with a pipe connected to the toilet itself.
Taking a bath was an event and it took forever to fill the bath tub. It was
great when there was enough hot water.
In each room there was a light fixture in the middle of the ceiling. The light
bulbs were either 40 or 60 watts and hardly lit up the room. The kitchen was
din even when the light was on, barely lit up the room. In time things got
brighter, bigger bulbs better fixtures and plug in lamps. But there were never
enough outlets. Many three way plugs were added over time to accept more
appliances and lamps.
Many times we went to the municipal building on East Broadway to take a shower.
The shower area was in the basement of the "Muni." The main function of the
"Muni" was the Municipal Court and other administrative offices. There were
quite a few shower heads in several rooms with no privacy. But there was always
plenty of hot water to take a shower. Towels were available for a few cents.
So we went here several times a month during the cold months.
In the warm months, we frequented the "L" Street Bath House. The facility,
built under the famous Mayor Carley's Administration, is world famous.
This bathing facility was built on the idea of "Roman Baths." The main feature
was that the men were in the nude except for the required "fig leaf." Boys
were allowed to go around in the "natural." There was a custodian that enforced
"fig leaf" requirement. He walked around with a long pole that had a feather
attached. He would use his staff as was necessary if some one was lying
down without the required "fig leaf." The Beach side of the Bath House was
protected from the public beach by two fences running into the water several
hundred feet. There were two similar Bathing areas, the Boys "L" and the
Women's "L." The women were required to wear bathing suits. Inside the Bath
house there were shower stalls and towels were available. The second
floor had a glass solarium of special glass for tanning year round. And
it could get quite hot. The showers here had hot and cold salt water.
I spent many summer days at the "L" with my friends.
The Early Neighborhood
The Lumps, Bumps and Trust
Since we were the earliest immigrant arrivals. there may have been some
negative feelings towards us. To be honest, I never felt any prejudice. What
I did experience was difficult to over come, but eventually I over came it.
....coming home from school, St Peter School on "I" and 6TH Streets, early
on was difficult for a seven year old new to the area. I had to walk four city
blocks on my own. It didn't bother me to do this. I've been walking home
from school since I was five. However, there was a trying period when this
hulk of an Italian, Pino, would confront me, block me from going home and
then hit me with his fist on the head. I had to deal with this on my own since
my mother was still at work. This kept happening several times a week.
I would try to walk home different routes, but, Pino would figure out what
I was doing and still block my way home and "slug" me in the face and head.
Later, I made friends with David Kleponis, an upper classmate, who lived
around the corner from me and we walked home together along with a few
other St Peter classmates. David was the last one who walked with me.
This action kept Pino away, safety in numbers. Then one day I was all
alone again and Pino confronted me again. This time I asked why he
was doing this, hitting me. He told me he did not like me waling through
his territory. When I told him that I lived in the area, on "M" Street, around
the corner, he stopped pouncing on me. You see he never saw me in the
neighborhood before and was just protecting the neighborhood from
outsiders. This bit of communication saved me from future lumps and bumps
on the head from Pino.
Then I graduated to Ed Berlo who picked up where Pino left off. Ed was
doing the same thing when he say me, slugging me all over. Finally
one day I saw him and ran toward my yard with him in hot pursuit.
I ran into the yard after opening the wooden gate and timed slamming
it back so it would hit Ed. The gate slammed him right in the face. Then
I opened the gate and whacked him in the head with my fist and stood
my ground with "dukes" up in a fighting position. Ed backed off and we
became friends after that. Ed was twice my age and I gained his respect
for taking him on.
I befriended Jackie Clougherty who lived across the street. However,
every once in a while Jackie would call me a dirty "DP." This didn't
mean much to me, but I thought that there was something wrong,
because of his tone. A few of the other neighborhood kids would
see and hear this and they started to call me a dirty "DP." So, I
finally asked my Father about this sought his advice.
The next time I saw Jackie I asked him why he called me a dirty "DP."
He said that his Father called my entire family dirty "DPs." Well,
I told Jackie that I take regular baths and am not dirty and explained
what my Father told me, DP means Displaced Person etc. So the
next time I went over to Jackie's house to watch TV he took me to
his Father and he said, " He pop, Raymond and his family aren't
dirty at all. They take regular baths like we do. And, Raymond
and his family came here from Lithurainia [Lithuania] because
the communists invaded their country. And, D P means displaced
person, some one who lost their home and country and escaped
Jackie's Father replied, "Any one who hates those Commy bastards
is OK in my book." Never heard the dirty "DP" comment again.
Mr Clougherty from that day on was very nice to me. He was a
Longshoreman and didn't like all these foreigners coming over
taking jobs away from "Real Americans."
My Father always had great advice whenever I had a problem. He told
me that he always wanted me to solve my own problems, but if there
ever was a time I needed help, just come and seek advice. There were
only a few times that I sought his council. Most of my problems I solved
on my own.
I later found out that the Irish community was in deep fear of all
the immigrants, fear that the immigrants would take their jobs away from them.
I don't know of any Lithuanians who wanted to become or became
longshoremen. With time the neighbors found the newcomer Lithuanians
to be very good neighbors, industrious, honest, neat, and an asset.
Most of the immigrant Lithuanians were very well educated and went
to night school to earn degrees all over again as accountants, engineers
and other degrees. No one lost a job to a Lithuanian. Other Lithuanian
immigrants went into manufacturing like "Domino's" - America Sugar Co.,
one of South Boston's largest employers because there were many jobs
unfilled as the economy soared after
World War II.
The Old Man
Probably one of the most significant individuals that entered my life, was
Petras, Peter, Bernotavicius. We lived in Petras's house until 1958, ten years.
In retrospect, he could have been my Grandfather, the one I never got to know.
Peter was a kind old man, fair, mild mannered, smart, hard working and
a respected Old Time Lithuanian. He was a retired "Sugar Worker" from
Domino's American Sugar Company. I never heard a bad word out of him.
He always had others in mind.
I spent a lot of time with him and learned a lot. He introduced me to the
neighbors, the Aleksunas and Alex [shortened from Aleksunas] families next
door. In the basement he piled up wood and logs he salvaged from the
We lived four short blocks from a salt water bay where wood would come
ashore and that he would pick up with a huge two wheeled cart he built. From
time to time especially in the colder months we would cut up the wood
in the cellar. There was a large wood burning stove in the cellar and he
let me stoke it while we sawed the wood, and split it with an ax. I spent many
hours with "The Old Man" in the cellar and then bring up the wood to the
first floor where he lived. He had another wood stove between his living room
and parlor. He even gave me some wood to take upstairs. Boy was the
wood heavy. We would sit by the stoves, listening to the crackle of the burning
wood and some times even stuff excess paper in the stove. He would tell
me stories about the sugar mill, how he lost his toes to diabetes, about
his fishing at Castle Island and more.
Other things I learned, plumbing, electrical and repairs around the house.
He would show me, let me try and guide me. Never a sour note. Never a yell.
What patience he had. So after a while I could fix or replace a leaky faucet.
Electrical work like changing a fixture, installing a receptacle or repairing
an electrical appliance came easy. He turned me into a seven year old
handyman that I could apply later life. I even learned how to repair
windows and screens. Cutting glass, caulking windows, fixing frames became
a lot of fun and I looked forward to these projects to fill my time.
Then he took me fishing. He had a huge two wheeled cart. The box was four
feet wide, six feet long and about three feet deep [approximate measurements].
All the fishing gear was put in box and we would push it to Castle Island and
the short pier that was on the Boston Harbor side. We went night or day fishing
depending on the tide, time of year and the type of fish that was in season.
It was so much fun learning to fish with Peter. We went fishing at night and
even in the winter sometimes. Many times we came home with a few fish and
that huge cart to push. Why?
Then one day we caught fish like crazy, almost filled the cart. We had Cod and
Haddock. Oh what fun that was. He even showed me how to clean the fish, fillet
and pack them in the cart so they would stay fresh. When we came home,
day time, he would yell "Fish, we have Fish - Cod and Haddock." The
neighbors loved this. Then I ran to each neighbor and handed then some
Cod and or Haddock. Nothing went to waste.
As I got older my interests changed gradually and I spent less time with Peter
and more with my friends. All the lessons I learned from Peter became
most valuable and useful in later life. After we moved away Peter was
starting to fail and he went to St Joseph's Manor in Brockton that was
run by the Sister's of Jesus Crucified, a Lithuanian order of nuns. The
very same order taught at St Peter School. He spent the rest of his days
among other Lithuanian retirees
Yes, Peter was the Grandfather that I got to know, not just "The Old Man."
Making It in America
The Early Entrepreneur
At the age of six I never thought of America as being the land of opportunity, only
as the land of Freedom that my Father - parents chose to take me to. Nevertheless
opportunity came my way. Having moved to South Boston at the age of six I
soon ran into opportunity. Several inches of snow fell overnight. I went to see
Peter who was shoveling the sidewalk out front. I asked him if he had another
shovel and got one. The snow was rather heavy. Coastal Massachusetts storms
off the water left very heavy snow falls.I shoveled the side alley that went to the back
door. Once I finished I went to the front where Peter sat down on the front stairs.
Since, the snow was not shoveled beyond our house, I kept shoveling in front of
the neighbor's house. The houses were about twenty-four feet wide with a
six foot alley on one side. Shoveling a thirty foot path on the side walk did not
take too long. Then I continued to shovel until I reached the corner at 7Th Street
where Benk's Brothers liquor store stood.
I finished just before 9:00AM and sat down for a rest on Benks's stoop. A man
came bye and asked me to move because he wanted to get into the store. As I
started to leave he asked if I was the one who shoveled the path on "M' Street.
Answering in the affirmative, he asked if I wanted to shovel the 7Th Street side,
but the whole side walk, not just a path and then complete the "M" Street side
the same way. And then he told me to come in the store after I finished.
I agreed and did as he asked. This time it was much harder. Instead of a narrow
two foot wide path, I cleared about an eight foot wide area from the side of the
building to the curb stone and tossed the snow at the edge of the street. This
side shoveling was about one hundred and twenty-five feet long. Whew!! This was
a hard task, but, I completed it without taking a break and then cleared the
"M" Street side the same way right past the next house and our house.
A lady came out of the next door house and asked me if I shoveled in front of
her house earlier and now. I told her I did and she thanked me. She then
outstretched her hand and said " Here is a quarter for all your work. Can you
do this again when it snows. And, little boy what is your name and where do you
live." I told here my name and pointed to the house next door. "Oh. you must
be the new family that just moved in. Yes, please shovel me next time and also
do the stairs" and she went inside. Wow! A quarter. money, my first quarter
in America. At the time I had no idea of the value the quarter.
That was a lot of work shoveling bother sides of the block. So I sat down on
her stoop to take a much needed rest. I have been shoveling for over four
hours and worked up a little sweat. Having sat there for a while, a smartly
dressed man came bye and asked if I shoveled out Benks's sidewalks. "Yes!"
I said. "OK! After your rest, go inside. They want to see you." said the man.
After a few minutes I entered the store and waited until the clerk finished waiting
on his customer. The clerk asked "How much do I owe you?" I shrugged
my shoulders not knowing what to say or how to respond. Then another
clerk came out of the back with the smartly dressed man. "What's your name
and where are you from" asked the smartly dressed man. I answered "Raimundas
is my name and I'm from Lithuania." "Lurthu what?" He uttered! "No, where do you
live now.?" He asked. I told him and the three laughed, belly laughs. They thought
I was soooooo funny. They never heard such a weird English accent.
[ My South Boston accent had not yet set in.]
The clerk calculated that I worked about two hours and handed me a dollar bill.
I was shocked. They pay for my having fun!!! I still had no idea what a dollar
Then the smartly dressed man came to me and said, " My name is Mr Benks and
you did a very good job. I understand that you cleared a path on the "M" Street
side all on your own without being asked and then shoveled the 7Th Street
side on request and didn't even expect to be paid. Here is two dollars for you
Raymondas. Hope we can count on you for the next snow storm.
You have a job here if you want it."
I just made three dollars and twenty-five cents. Those words that were said to me
have stuck in my head almost verbatim all these years.
Peter saw me coming, he was sitting
inside by the bay window overlooking the street. He motioned for me to come
inside. We discussed what I just went through, earning some money from the
woman next door and the store. Peter explained to me that I can earn money
by doing work in the neighborhood by helping people out. But, he also told me
that I should save some of the money, use some to buy the tools I will need
and then spend some money on a few pleasures - candy, toys etc. But,
always save!! [Good advice that I took and remembered.] He reminded me that
I could not have shoveled the sidewalks without my own shovel.
There was still disbelief in my mind. There is always Father who will explain.
That night after Father came home, he asked me what I did today. I told him that
I earned $3.25 for about three hours of shoveling snow. In amazement, he said.
"Raimundeli suneli tu biznierius." Little Raymond my son you are a businessman.
Ah! Now I got it. It was just like in Germany when I sold the eggs from my chicken,
business. It is all about business.
This was my first start as an "Entrepreneur" in America. This was my beginning.
I earned all my money from that day forward, never needed an allowance for
work around the house. In years to come, there were just a few occasions
that I was short and asked my Father for any money. What I earned that day,
at an hourly rate, was more than my mom or dad earned at their job. I did not
know this until many years later, many many year later.
And, I was only six. Still needing a lot to learn.
My relationship with Benks Brothers and the staff grew and lasted almost ten
years until we moved away. They always had odd tasks that needed to be
needed boxes knocked down for the trash pick up. As a very busy liquor store,
they emptied hundreds of boxes a week. Later, when I was older they gave me
this task for some added side income. In the warmer season, the owner and
the clerks asked me to [hand] wash their cars and clean out the inside of the cars
and the trunks. You might say I learned to "detail" cars on my own. They were
very generous. In my teens, I helped with stocking the back room and swept
the storage area. I was not allowed to work in the retail area officially. The
store eventually closed. I do not know that part of the history. However, in
recent years I drove by the corner of "M" and 7Th Streets and still saw that
antique sign with gold letter, BENKS BROS. The store is now an apartment
or condo. Many of the three deckers in South Boston have been subdivided
My snow shoveling route grew over time as I added many more regulars and
sought out other shoveling jobs when there was time. This turned into a very
nice seasonal [Winter] earnings effort. These experiences also helped
me in later years. While in High School I developed a winter snow shoveling
route and earned up to several hundred dollars per storm. On one occasion
I shoveled three days strait averaging over two hundred and fifty dollars
per day. This was one of the largest storms to hit Milton at the time.
Opportunity was all over. Across from Benks Brother's was Klem's Bakery.
I went in there many times to get hot bread right out of the oven, snow
cap dinner rolls, pastries and donuts. I loved the aroma of the bakery
and every chance I could, I would peer into the back room to see what
was going on. Mr Klem, the baker was of German descent. He overheard
me speaking German one day [ at the time my German was perfect - with
a "Schwabisch" accent]. He mentioned that he had seen me working for Mr.
Benks and wondered if I could help him out several times a week.
Answering him in the affirmative, he told me that on Monday's, Wednesday's
and Friday's he would like me fill his kiln [oven's hearth] with coal. The
pay was fifty cents for each bucket of coal filled and brought up from the
cellar, poured and leveled in the hearth. I agreed. Three to six buckets
of coal had to be brought up on that schedule based on how much coal
was consumed. I would stop bye after school to complete this task. This
little job was good year round. At first I could only manage one bucket
at a time, later I could lug up two at a time. I also got the opportunity to
see the inner workings of the bakery. Mr. Klem would also let me come in
while he was baking early in the morning and in the middle of the night.
There were occasions he would ask me to help him on the spot. I felt
so honored. This also gave be some osmosis time, later very helpful
when I launched my own bakery in the 80's.
There were more opportunities to help neighbors, but, few responded.
ERRANDS: Neighbors always needed errands run. Get me a loaf of bread,
or a quart of milk, or some other small task. The pay was what the neighbor
offered; a quarter to one or more dollars. This too was an opportunity I took
At the First National Store and the A & P on Broadway, errand boys would line up with their hand made carts and offer to take customers groceries home. These carts were line up like taxis and each boy in line got his chance to earn a delivery fee. Some boys got jobs out of line because the had a favorite customer / shopper who picked them. I put a cart together with Peter's help and got in line one day. The errand delivery boys ganged up on me, telling me to leave. "Your not Irish. Beat it punk." - I left very disappointed. This was one of several attempts while I lived in Boston, that were "Irish Only Can Apply." Some were more subtle than the Southie Boys.
Every opportunity up until now involved Peter and his teachings. With my savings
I opened a savings account at South Boston Savings Bank. I did not want to
have money lying around and both Peter and my Father mentioned "Interest".
A way that my savings could grow and grow they did. Several times a month
I would walk to the bank to make a deposit [Bus cost five cents to a dime] and
exercise was good - sometimes I would run like in training.
Now it was time to buy some more tools. I already had several shovels of my
own, buckets, sponges, turtle wax, chamois and later a tool box full of
basic tools; hammer, screw divers etc.
It was time for fishing equipment.
I went to Raymond's Department Store on Washington Street in downtown
Boston and purchased an eight and ten foot fishing poles, several Penn
fishing reels, three spools of 300 yard fishing lines, sinkers, an assortment
of hooks, several knives [ utility, filleting, scaling, working etc] and other
odds and ends. Peter and I still went fishing and neighbors kept asking
me for fish that they would buy. So, now during various seasons I went
out to Castle Island and fished for Cod, Haddock, Mackerel, Smelt, Pollack,
Flounder, Silver Hake and on occasion even crabs from the "L" Street
Bridge near the Boston Edison [now another company]. During the Summer
I fished from the Boys "L" fence with several of my local buddies. I
got them interested in fishing. On one occasion just before a hurricane
we had to throw back many Pollack we caught so many.
The neighbors loved getting fresh fish all filleted. Women sitting by their
windows would see me come from far off and the words was spread like
wildfire, the fish is coming. Sold all the fish and kept enough for our freezer
Castle Island was a great place to fish. There were a series of piles
[long oil saturated logs] that were driven into the sea bed that formed a big "U"
and became a platform or deck to fish from.
On a particular cold day I was situated on
the outer end of the piles casting my pole with the tide still going out.
I was still wearing my hip boots that I used to go digging for bait, sea worms.
The boots were
fairly new and I did not want to take them off and leave them on the deck for
fear of being stolen. The regular fishermen were OK and I knew them well,
but there were some wise guys prowling around that would just love to take
them at a "five finger discount" - [better known as stealing]. Not much was
happening. The fish seemed to have gone out to sea. So, I decided
to leave the outer pilings and go back to the deck. I turn around and spun
out head over tea kettle and must have blacked out.
[I later found out that I stepped on a round clothes pin fishing line that a little
kid forgot to take with him. This acted as a roller and made me spin
360 degrees into the water.]
Next thing I new, my
shirt / chest was caught on a nail in front of me and my hip boots were
under water, filled with water. I could not lift myself out with all the weight
of the water in my boots. My fishing pole fell into the inside of the pilings
while my line was on the outside of the pilings. Right then and there I had
the feeling I was about to die, a feeling of helplessness came over me,
but I still had my whits about me. No one saw me fall in, or so I thought.
I yelled "Man over board."
Several of the fishermen ran over and two on each side yanked my out.
It took four of these guys to pull me out. Half my body was soaking wet.
I managed to take my clothes off in the shivering cold and put on a dry
set of clothes. I always brought two changes of clothes with me in case
of a bait digging accident. There are time while digging for bait and
walking through the mud one could fall face down in the muck and mire.
Now I 'm in dry clothes and remembered my fishing pole. I proceeded back
out on the piles and noticed that my pole was now out of the water and
the top end of the pole eyelet was stuck on the nail that had a piece of my
shirt on it and the line was stretched out straight into the harbor. I got a hold
of the pole and felt a tugging at the other end. Oh! I think I caught a fish
during the excitement. Yes, it was a Haddock and a good five "pounder."
Boy was I lucky to catch the only Haddock that day.
Many years later I got two of my friends interested in fishing for eel. Kazimieras
and Gediminas wouldn't believe me that there might be a great eel fishing area
on the other side of Carson Beach at Columbia Point. The Point was a landfill
that was still being extended into the bay. I noticed a large amount of sea weed
at low tide, a smooth sea bottom. Looking for bait, sea worms, I went there
and dug up large quantities of sea worms up to 24 inches in length. Perfect for
eel bait. And, if there were worms like that, a fat sea bed and sea weed. There
just had to be eel.
Having convinced them, we loaded up our bikes with soda, spukies
[ submarine sandwiches] and many other goodies and all our fishing
gear. We picked a morning, early as the tide was coming in so we could have
many hours to fish with the tide incoming and then high. And, what is fishing
without food, drink and goodies [ we had no boat, just bicycles and ideas].
We got there when the tide was still low and dug up out bait, sea worms. Kazy
and Geddy could not believe the size of the worms. Now credibility set in.
They started to believe me. We dug up more worms than we would need and
would have enough for another day at Castle Island and a day of fishing there.
After digging up our bait it was time for a snack. And as the tide was coming
up we put our poles together, two each and fixed up our hooks and sinkers.
I put two hooks on one pole and three on my long pole and cast out several
hundred yards. I didn't know it, but Kazy and Geddy only used one hook
on each pole to my total of five hooks and bait.
Well our poles were set and the waiting began. We started to eat one of
our spukies. I brought 4 for a long day of fishing. I knew how much energy
we consume over the course of a day of fishing. We sat, ate and talked
about what we might expect. Our shirts were removed and were only dressed
in shorts and sneakers. The sun was beating down on us from a perfect
blue cloudless sky. Across the bay we could see the skyline of South Boston
and the Dorchester Heights where Geddy lived. To the right was the "L"
Street bath house and all the fig leaf sun bathers and further right
we could see the Sugar Bowl and behind that Castle Island and
Boston Harbor. Boy! What a view from here
I barley got a few bites into my spucky and a look at the skyline when the tip
of my long pole lunged down as never before. These fishing poles are lodged
between the rocks of the jetty in such a way that when a fish strikes the tip
of the pole bends and comes straight back and bends again as the fish starts
to fight the pole until the angler pulls on the pole to hook the fish. But, my
pole never came back it stayed bent forward, very low and really bent. with
the fishing line going left and right.
I sprung for the pole so as not to lose the pole. Some fish have actually
dislodged a pole from the rocks and pulled it into the water and bye bye
Hook, Line and Sinker along with the Pole and Reel, a $200 investment or more.
Grasping the pole firmly, I took hold of the rod and felt this enormous pull. A pull
I never felt before. My line was going in several directions, right, left, forward
but never toward me. I started to reel in my line of 50 pound test. Largest fish
that I caught in Boston Harbor was under 10 pounds. What could this
monster be. I kept reeling slowly. The line was so tight. What ever it was it is was
powerful, but never broke the water, also unusual. What do I have? Both
Kazy and Geddy stood bye in amazement. I was not stuck on the bottom.
The feeling of motion was there as I made progress reeling in and my pole
half bent. Never was my pole bent this low. But I kept reeling, now about
50 yards away. Geddy and Kazy stool by with a mallet, a net, and a knife.
Both wore their gloves.
Now 25 yards to go and still the tugging, left, right, forward. Even closer,
as the sever tugging changes to a strong pull and then a slight pull. As the
line is almost pulled in only s few more feet, the water is broken in three
places. I had a first time triple header. Three on one line, eels. Now as
the eels reach the rocks we are standing on, Kazy grabs one and strikes
the eel with a mallet to stun him. Geddy grabs the next one and also
stuns the eel with a mallet. Both eels were removed from the hooks and
they promptly secured them through the gills on a leader and put them in
I had the third one almost out of the water. This one was huge, the largest
eel I ever saw, a Conger eel. I could not put my hands around the head.
It was that big. Over all length was only about four feet or so. Eventually
I got my hands in his gills and whacked him with the mallet trying to stun
the eel. I don't remember how long it took too pull these fish in, but
it seemed forever. The two eels were also about four feet in length.
These eels were a record. Kazy and Geddy never saw eels this big,
neither did I. Now they were convinced. There are eels here and big ones
to match the sea worms. These eels had plenty of food to eat and grow.
The rest of the day we kept pulling in eels until we felt we could not carry any
more home on our bikes. All three of us had large side baskets and I had
rigged up a basket on two wheels like a mini trailer that could carry quite
a bit of fish. Peter helped me rig it up just for returning with a great catch
of fish like this day. Now Kazy and Geddy shook their head in disbelief.
We ended the day with very little bait left. Most of the eel were taken to
Kazy's house where his father built a smoke house in the lower cellar
in their house. We all took a few eel home. I took a few extra for my
neighbors and the huge Conger eel to show Peter. Now he was in disbelief,
as he never saw one that big.
The three of us fished for eel for a few more years. I worked out a deal
with Perry's Fish market who bought my eel any time I caught some. There
was a substantial Central European community in South Boston by now
and eel was one delicacy in high demand, especially smoked eel.
Many year later Kazy started a commercial eel trapping business on the
North River in the Pembroke, Hanover, Norwell area of Massachusetts.
He would trap them, net them and then store then in fish tanks, converted
above ground swimming pools. These pools were filled with salt water from
the North River. The eel would be stored here until there was a sufficient
quantity to ship out. A special tanker would transport the eel to Logan
International Airport for shipment to Europe. Kazy had a successful
business until the European demand changed. Another example how
we learned from our early experiences as immigrants, on our own,
and how we took advantage of opportunities.
Games We Played