In Memoriam

Alexandra Kalvenas Kazickas
June 17, 1920 – June 17, 2011

Alexandra Kazickas died early in the morning of her 91st birthday at the family home in East Hampton, NY.  My mother was often in great pain those last months, but she rarely complained.  The stoic strength she had shown in the early years of her life, living on her own as teen-ager, and then during the stressful war years was a constant in her character and personality. Her courage, as well as her engaging charm and candor, all come  through in her diary entries in Odyssey of Hope. 

December 12, 1940 - We’re waiting for Professor Jurgaitis to begin his lecture. The guy sitting behind me strikes up a conversation by complimenting me on my hat. I retort, “What can you say about the girl wearing it?” He rises to the bait, tells me I’m much lovelier than my hat, and without another second’s pause, invites me to go for a walk sometime. P. 43

And so began the wonderful love story of my mother and father. He had spotted her years earlier at a basketball game - the beautiful dark-haired woman in a sea of blondes,  battling it out against the Polish team.  Later he saw her again, running in a relay, the wind tossing her black hair. And then by chance, he found himself sitting behind her at the university. That flirtatious exchange led to dinner and dancing, courtship and  finally, marriage on August 15, 1941.  

While my father’s voice powers the stories in Odyssey  of Hope, it is my mother’s candid expression through her diary entries that gives the book an even greater emotional resonance. So much of the time she was frightened, anxious, and worried sick about what fate awaited them in the chaos of war. 

“We hate the Germans but we can’t muster up any joy over the Russian victories either. All I feel is the sense of an absolute unknown. What will happen to us? If the Germans win this war, a sad fate awaits us. But if the Russians return, it will be impossible  for us to stay in Lithuania. ” P. 90

Often during their ordeal as refugees, roaming through Germany from Breslau to Dresden on the eve of the bombings, to Bavaria with a  toddler daughter (me),  when Alexandra and Joseph were separated for days, my mother exhibited the fortitude needed for survival. “I felt so lonely – without my birthplace, with no home and now without my husband either.  Holding Jurate’s little hand pressed tightly in mine, I held back my tears, knowing I had to be strong.” P. 109

But she was secure in the knowledge that somehow, through his ingenuity, intelligence  and sometimes sheer luck, her husband Joseph would find a way out of even the most calamitous of situations. As he did,eventually securing passage on the boat SS Ernie Pyle to a new life in America.

I am filled with mixed feelings. I am very happy that the period in our lives of just waiting and having no clear objectives has finally come to a close. Though America is very far away, beyond this ocean that is endlessly rising and falling in waves, my heart pounds in  anxious anticipation. I believe we’re sailing to a land of freedom and endless opportunities.” P. 162

But first this college- educated woman worked her fingers raw sewing buttons in a factory and then with barely any knowledge of English, typed hundreds of pages of my father’s dissertation for his PhD in economics at Yale. She reluctantly accepted his decision to go into business rather than, to her way of thinking, the more prestigious world of academia because “he is primarily a man of action… Business offered him much better opportunities to make use of his personality traits, talent, drive  and energy.” P. 199

Sadly, my mother never wrote another word in her diary after 1959. Today, how I would have loved to read her accounts of life as a mother to four boys (in six years!) and the wife to a now successful, world-traveling businessman and finally, a grandmother of eleven.   She enjoyed a comfortable life in the United States but it was obvious that those early years as a displaced person during the war affected her deeply.  She took nothing for granted. Deeply religious, she thanked God for all her many blessings. And she loved Lithuania, even venturing back alone during the dark Cold War years when it was deemed too risky for my father to return because of his anti-Communist activities.  

To honor my mother’s memory, my father and my brothers, Joseph, Michael and John, and I have created the Alexandra Kazickas Grants Program (AKGP) which provides support for the 37 Lithuanian Heritage schools throughout the United States.   In these schools, more than 2000 children, some third or fourth generation, learn about Lithuanian history, culture and customs.

My family’s "odyssey of hope" brought us to the new world of America,  but we know that one must never forget one’s heritage, and the homeland that Alexandra cherished to her dying days. 

Jurate Kazickas