He arrived to Lithuania in a fashionable but very thin coat. It was February, one of the coldest and miserable months in Lithuania. He chose to travel in the off-season to save some money on air tickets. He paid for it dearly, freezing in his fashionable American coat; taking baths in a cold bathroom with almost no heating because Lithuania was going through such troubled economic times; walking in an ice storm to an organ music concert, and falling on the ice.
Staying with the Family
When my mother decided to give one last chance to an American man, she just wanted to get the whole mail-order bride ordeal over with, and move on with her life. My grandfather, who still was harboring some hope for a brighter and better future for his daughter, suggested we extend our hospitality to the American by offering him to stay with us.
The reason behind such an outrageous idea was that this particular man was coming to see not three, not four or six women at the same time, but just one, my mother. I still don’t know what my mom managed to write him in her letters, but he was coming to spend time with my mother only. It was a huge advantage in my grandfather’s mind that required some extreme actions.
My mother and I were horrified by this idea. A stranger was going to stay with us, sleep in our apartment, eat with us, and use the same tiny bathroom. We had two rooms: one was mine, one was my mother’s. There was no living room, no dining room. Our small kitchen was our dining area.
We did not think that any sane man would accept our invitation. Wouldn’t you be scared to stay with a strange family, with people you never met, in a country that just yesterday represented your Cold War enemy? Imagine our shock, when he said that he liked the idea and would be staying with us!
I immediately pictured the American getting up in the middle of the night, pulling out his American sharp axe, and, with a sadistic smile, slaughtering us. I did express this concern to my grandfather. He reluctantly admitted that a nighttime slaughtering was a remote but viable risk, and said that he will stay with us for the duration of the stranger’s visit.
When the American arrived, I did not like him. He looked out of place, smiling cheerfully in the cold and icy Lithuanian weather, in the unwelcoming airport, in the cab, in our small and cold apartment. The smile did not diminish a bit even after observing our pre -World War II toilet. The American was way too smiley for my liking.
We found out much later that he did not sleep the first few nights in our apartment. Not because he was jet lagged, or the bed was too firm and too short for his tall 6 feet plus body. He did not sleep because he was thinking that he might be chopped up for a Russian borsch by two women and a skinny old man, my grandfather. I guess, in the night, thousands of miles away from the U.S., the idea of staying with unknown people did not seem too appealing.
I didn’t like him for a long time, right until the moment when he slipped on the ice and landed face down in the snow. There was something very human and very touching about him, laying spread out on the snow, and laughing his ass off. From there, things between us picked up.
My mother, who was tired of all American men by the time our guest arrived, did not care much if he liked her and what he thought about her. She did not put too much effort into getting to know him. She was exhausted mentally and emotionally.
They could barely talk to each other, mostly with the help of a translation dictionary. However, with time she started to warm up to him. After all, the man deserved a lot of credit for simply:
- staying with us for two weeks in spite of the rough winter conditions;
- getting through my mother’s broken English and obvious indifference;
- surviving my openly hostile looks and snippy comments;
- saying he liked our cold apartment, and arguing with us when no one believed him;
- adjusting to the constant absence of hot water;
- enjoying our murky and unhappy looking city that offered icy wind, snow and no sun.
He definitely was not what we expected.
Closer to the end of his visit, my mom started to spend increasingly more time with the American, taking him to concerts, museums, and just walking around the city. It was interesting to watch them trying to talk to each other, laughing while looking up words in the dictionary, and then just looking at each other, and smiling. It was obvious by the end of the visit, they did somehow manage to find a common language, even if it was not quite your ordinary English.
Why He Wanted a Mail-Order Bride
Remember the types of men I mentioned in Part II? He was a complicated mixture of Type 1 and Type 3. He was disappointed with his relationships with American women mostly because he was looking for a traditional marriage where a spouse provides love, comfort and care alongside with cooking and cleaning.
He was not looking for a woman who, like so many of us, tried to have it all: marriage, career, children and a social life. All he wanted was a companion with the same values and goals, with the same understanding of life and the same appreciation for each other.
He did find it all in my mother. She, in turn, found much more in him: responsibility, kindness, security, stability and, most importantly, love.
The End of the Story
They wrote many letters to each other. My mother would spend long hours hunched over the dictionary, composing letters. He came a few more times to Lithuania before popping the question.
They got married in Lithuania, and he left to the U.S. alone. The process of getting a visa even when you were already married was very long and exhaustive. My mother had to go to Poland for an interview at the U.S. consulate. The U.S. consulate in Lithuania did not provide these type of services. He came back for her months later, when she got all the required documentation and was allowed to enter the United States as his wife.
My mother left in 1993, and never looked back. Twenty years later, they are still together. Love, after all, can always find a way.