Andris reached across the front seat of the red Passat wagon and found my hand, held it tight. He offered silent comfort, and I accepted it. No platitudes, thank you, no empty words or clichés. I only needed an ear, a shoulder, silent understanding and compassion. He offered these. We talked about family, shared photos, compared notes. My recent history had been much more rough-and-tumble than his, but, sniffling, wiping my face with my free hand like a child, I suddenly felt a thousand weights lift from my shoulders. Raw wounds spliced and drew clean edges together, healed, free of poison.
It was a good day. A day of many blessings.
When I wept at sight of my father’s, grandfather’s, great-grandfather’s home, about a half hour south of Ventspils, just before the tiny village of Sarnate, I didn’t even bother to wipe my eyes. We had left Kolkas Rags behind, looped around Ventspils again, and were now driving along the coast toward Jurkalne, where I would stay for the next two days. Sarnate was on the way, blink and you miss it, and the sign for Tomdeli—the name of my fathers’ house—had loosened and curled down on itself.
We pulled into the small dirt drive. Andris got out to examine the sign. Līdumi was at top, the house beyond, and then Tomdēli. He uncurled the sign and held it in place for me to photograph. My father at home, back in the States, would want to see this. His health no longer allowed him for such long, grueling travel… my photos would be his lens on this world now.
Leaving the car on the side of the road, we walked the property. No one was there, although the little house was clearly inhabited. No doubt used as a summer home, as many here along the coast were, as the windows were boarded up with wooden shutters and the property appeared bolted down for the winter.
My father’s family had been forced to abandon it in World War II. Like so many Latvians, they fled the incoming Soviet army. With a few belongings, only what they could carry, my grandparents and their four sons, my father the eldest, fled in the night to Vārve, where a waiting boat would take them out to sea, eventually to find their way to the refugee camps in Germany. As the Soviet army invaded and staked their illegitimate claim, this house, like all others in Latvia, was nationalized. The communist government had no allowance for private property. Homes that had been in families generation after generation after generation were simply taken away.
From what I had heard, Tomdēli had been nationalized and a Russian military officer had moved in for some years. He was gone now. My parents at some point had visited, knocked on the door, and been invited inside to look around by a kindly old woman, who apparently had understood the pained expression on my father’s face.
In previous years, I had brought my children here. I had stood them at the front door and taken pictures. A generation lost. A generation with a complicated identity. A generation of tangled and far-reaching roots.
|Drawing of his father, Ernests Aistars, by Viestarts Aistars, my father|
|Drawing of my great-grandfather, Ernests Ansevics, by Viestarts Aistars, my father|
I would stand close to the tiny picture and stare, and wonder. A little house with a wide front door and a wooden overhang… a well to one side, and foliage growing up around its walls, in decoration. It looked like a good little house. It looked a little like a fairy tale …
The picture hangs on my father’s art studio wall today. I still stare at it whenever I am there.
|The house in the early 1990s|
I wandered to the brick ruins to the north of the property. These buildings were long ago beyond repair. Now only random parts of walls, a tumble of rocks, where once there had been rooms, now grown shoulder-high in weeds. A rusted old bin held collected rain water, gone brown, and a little frog floated on a leaf inside. Vines of tiny blue berries grew over a brick wall, reaching toward ground. It was all from a long ago, long forgotten yesterday …
"Thought you might want this," Andris handed me a sharp rock, a chunk fallen from the ruins, long and triangular in shape, almost like a blade. "To remember," he said. If I didn't handle it with caution, it could leave a wound.
"Sharp," I said, feeling its edge.
"Yes. It is."
(To be continued...)