Starting from Scratch

Me (fifth from the left) with (clockwise) my mother, my father, his sister, her husband and my grandmother at a Thanksgiving dinner in the first house my parents bought in Michigan(Photo: my cousin, Viktors Miške)

My father was 42, my mother was 34 and my maternal grandmother was 70 when they emigrated to the United States with 5-year-old me. Five years earlier, they left everything behind in war-torn Latvia other than what could be crammed into my father’s sports car. The little money that they accumulated as displaced persons in post-war Austria was spent since the States prohibited bringing in so much as a cent. My mother managed to buy bolts of fine fabric and take them to a tailor before we set sail from Bremerhaven. And sew some USD into the lining of my new coat. We arrived at the train station in Lowell, Michigan in 1949 with not much more than the spiffy clothes on our backs. With less, actually, since we were obligated to repay what it cost to get us there by working, for all practical purposes, as servants indentured to our sponsors, a Lutheran minister and his wife.

Nevertheless, we soon had a new car that we owned outright and a spacious house with a mortgage that we had no problem paying and eventually owned outright, as well. All without seeming to scrimp. “Those damn immigrants,” the locals said, wondering how we could do it. (Technically, it was “darn” since the fine Christian Reformed folk of Grand Rapids, where we moved, never cursed.) In part, we did it by doing what has always been expected of any sort of immigrant. My father found a back-breaking job as a finisher in a furniture factory, and my mother took a position doing piecework—a compensation system designed to force people to work at break-neck speed—in a factory manufacturing brass fittings. Only after a devastating miscarriage did she teach herself accounting and get moved up to the office floor. Both spent most nights and weekends renovating our house, a duplex where we lived in one side and collected rent from the other. Which was possible because my capable grandmother assumed the day-to-day housekeeping and childrearing chores.

The other part, however, had nothing to do with being “good immigrants.” Immigrants can work incredibly hard and still not make it in America. What gave us the  edge, I have come to see, was that we, as well as our cohort, did not represent the sort of “huddled masses” that native-born Americans of that era assumed we were. Rather, we were what Ieva Zake more accurately described in American Latvians: Politics of a Refugee Community, “. . . a selective stratum of inter-war Latvian society—mainly upper and middle classes with a very high proportion of politicians, public figures and intellectuals among them.” We did not come to America for a better life. Apart from occupation by Nazi and Soviet armies and the constant threat of death or deportation, our lives were already plenty good. All we had to do was recreate them. This gave us a guiding image, something similar to what elite athletes hold in their heads: a vivid, multi-sensory re-experience of how it had been when everything was exactly right.

This stands in stark contrast to the vague imagery of the American Dream, which many now see as nothing more than a myth, anyway. While there are still those who continue to claim that anyone—even the poorest person—can rise to the middle class and beyond unless they are either lazy or stupid, research shows that most people are doomed to stay where they are. And that this is particularly true in that Land of Opportunity, the United States. According to a 2020 report on 82 countries by the World Economic Forum (click here to download), the US ranks 27th in social mobility. Which puts it a bit above the now-independent Latvia (31st) and slightly below the other Baltic states, Lithuania (26th) and Estonia (23rd). The top ten nations, in descending order, are Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Austria and Luxembourg, with Canada coming in as14th. Not by accident, these are all places with strong social safety nets. It turns out that rugged individualism does not work so well for those who have never known much economic security and who could do with a little governmental help.

Long before learning of this, I was bothered by how many Latvian Americans refused to see that their experience was not comparable to that of millions of other underprivileged people. Registered as Republicans, they found fault with the Democrats’ War on Poverty, declared by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, as well as the associated Economic Opportunity Act. Even my father, who changed party affiliation  once he decided that voting with the rich made no sense whatsoever for a refugee relegated to manual labor. He could not understand why his hard-earned tax dollars should go to those no worse off than he once was, particularly since he had managed to get to where he was then with no assistance of any sort. Which meant—four years earlier—buying a single-family house in the best school district in town while keeping the duplex as rental property. And, by 1964, supporting a daughter—that would be me—who was in her junior year at the University of Michigan and was palling around with the aforementioned rich. So when an able-bodied Black lady with lots of kids and no prospect of employment—what, back then, was unkindly called a “welfare queen”—moved into our duplex, he made it his mission to “educate” her. Preaching a course of action that he deemed would get her off the dole, he horrified my mother, who feared that this would not end well. I was less worried, correctly predicting that it would lead to little more than some spirited banter.

My father never succeeded in converting “Queenie,” as she asked to be called, but the Democrats did impose some constraints. Less than a year after my father died, President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. Some two decades later, however, my father lost a little of his moral high ground. My cousin in England died, and his son sent me a short memoir that he had helped him write. A passage about my father (“Uncle Viktors”) made me furious at first—why focus on that, of all things?—but subsequently just made me shake my head and smile:

My father’s brother, Uncle Viktors, was rather bohemian by nature and my father financed his studies at university. Once Viktors had to appeal for funds from my father when he was in Paris and needed money to get home, which made my father rather angry. At other times Aunty Lidija bailed him out. I loved him dearly.

Meaning that Viktors—not unlike Queenie—once neither had any compunction about living on other people’s money nor any talent for managing his own. Add that to the well-known fact that he was generally unsuited for physical work despite his fine physique and whatever he learned growing up on a farm, and you had an urbanite who—not unlike Queenie—relied  heavily on cleverness and charm. But, unlike Queenie, he was nevertheless able to radically transform himself and do what it took to survive post-war poverty. And move up in America after starting from scratch. What separated them seemed inextricably tied to the sort of life that each had previously known.

These days, I see the same struggles where I live in Maryland. Some,  no doubt, will—ultimately—be fine. Refugees from the Middle East, for example, who often come from affluent areas. The Syrian family that started a restaurant and gallery down the hill from me. They were not only able to withstand the destruction of their homeland but also the repeated ravaging of their new business, first by successive 1000-year floods, then a 100-year pandemic. (See To Leave or to Stay.”) I am less sanguine about those who arrive here from the poorer parts of the world. Those I come into contact on a regular basis since, being old and disabled now, I need to have all that I use delivered. People like the personable Instacart shopper who surprised me somewhat by texting in French from Costco. After engaging him in a doorstep conversation, I learned he had come here six months ago from the French-speaking part of Cameroon, a country  that has simultaneously  received a massive influx of refugees from the Central African Republic and sent over 600,000 others to Nigeria alone. 

The same holds true for many residents here, whether immigrant or native-born. Clearly, requiring those who have never experienced “up” to somehow pull themselves up by their bootstraps is absurd. There are numerous countries where social mobility consistently occurs. Why is America so stubbornly unwilling to learn from them?

Note: for a look at what it took for my family to get to where they could have that car (see photo below) and that Thanksgiving dinner in their own house  (see photo above), read my short story “Home Furnishings.”

 

Me, posing with our brand-new Ford sedan. (Photo: my mother, Elza Jurģis)

 

President Johnson’s commencement address at the University of Michigan stadium on 22 May 1964, also called “The Great Society speech.”

Private Parts

Me in my standoffish mode, sitting on a dock at Reeds Lake in East Grand Rapids, Michigan during the early Fifties. (Photo: my mother, Elsa Jurgis)

The most fun I ever had with my mother occurred after she came to live with me in Maryland following my father’s death. We often did silly stuff. Sometimes I made up songs or modified existing ones to suit the situation. (Neither of us could carry a tune, so it worked out well.) In my car, I would sing “Seven Little Girls Sitting in the Backseat” each time she said something like, “Keep you mind on your driving, keep your hands on the wheel / Keep your snoopy eyes on the road ahead.” Once I got to “Kissin’ and a huggin’ with Fred,” I tickled her stomach. “Don’t touch my private parts,” she said. “What are your private parts?” I asked. “All my parts are private parts,” she said.

I recently related this anecdote to my niece, Mara Miske, who found me a few years ago through this site. Although we had never met and she was decades younger, our connection was immediate. And, much as we insisted that we were not real Latvians, both her parents and I were that by birth and it accounted for much of our natural rapport. And why it was harder to achieve with those who had negligible ties to our native land. The latter became abundantly clear while she was coaching me on how to approach the middle-aged man who likely was the baby that 21-year-old me gave up for adoption at birth and whom Mara had located  through DNA data posted on the My Heritage site. Being the more maternal of the two of us, she said, “Give him the warm-and-fuzzies he needs.” After which we laughed, knowing that most Latvians are simply not wired that way.

Not that Latvians are cold, although I have certainly heard that said. And read about a study–led by a researcher from Michigan State University, of all places–that ranks Latvia and other Baltic States near the bottom on  empathy. Rather, it seems to be hard to find the right word. One that gets the point across without being perjorative is”self-contained,” which is defined as “quiet and independent; not depending on or influenced by others.”  Another is “introverted.”  Some liked that one so much it became the basis of a long-running, award-winning campaign–#IAMINTROVERT–to promote Latvian literature. (Never mind that it was launched at the 2018 London Book Fair, where the market focus was on the Baltic states, including Latvia, and where the large crowds and absolute unavoidability of social interaction must have made it an introvert’s worst nightmare.)

While the campaign gently pokes fun at what could be considered a national trait, it also highlights some positive aspects. Namely, that there is a link between a preference for solitude and creativity.  In one article, Anete Konste, a humorist integral to the campaign’s success, notes that introversion is prevalent among authors, artists and architects as well as others working in creative fields. The  piece goes on to state that psychologists have suggested that creativity is an important part of  Latvian self-identity and, as such, a priority in the government’s educational and economic development plans. The European Commission has thus reported that Latvia has one of the highest shares of the creative labor market in the European Union.

How Latvians got that way, of course, is anyone’s guess. If pressed, I would say that it started with some particularly brutal forms of natural selection: the wars, occupations and displacements that have plagued the Baltic region throughout history. The introverts–or, as I prefer, the self-contained–kept their heads down and their emotions in check, trusting only themselves. Thus, while my maternal grandfather was murdered by a paramilitary mob during the Russian Revolution for defending his factory (see “The Face-of Extremism”), my maternal grandmother, pregnant with my uncle, quietly took my two-year-old mother back to Riga, sold sausages on the street until she turned herself into a successful business woman and–two world wars later–died in a hospital bed in America at age 90. A lesson my mother, who played her cards close to her chest, learned very well.

The trick is getting others to understand. Both the horrors that you have encountered and the damage they have done. My mother’s solution was to not even try. Her experience was so far removed from that of her American acquaintances that she let them believe what they wanted. Which, once she arrived here in Maryland, was that she was a cute old lady from somewhere they could not quite place. Every morning for years she–legally blind and crippled by arthritis–and her English Springer Spaniel walked the steep, winding loop that took her to her beloved Trolley Trail and back again. I feared for her safety, especially after the dog died, but refused to leave her staring at walls while I went to work in DC. Somehow, she always attracted a crowd. And, inevitably, someone would say, “You have an interesting accent. Where are you from?” And my mother would say with a smile that only a few would see as anything but sweet, “Michigan!”

I emulated my mother until I was17 or so. Then, while having a hard time writing a paper on “The Waste Land,” I downed most of a bottle of vodka, lost consciousness in a pool of vomit and was taken by ambulance to an emergency room in the dark during a blinding snowstorm. (See“Winter Wonderland.”) Perhaps binge drinking–so common in Latvian social circles when I was growing up–is as instrumental as solitude in turning introverts into creatives. All I know is that after the ranting and raving I did alone in my second-story room while falling-down drunk, I found my own voice. And, decades later, after I retired and my mother died, the time to devote to writing essays and stories and novels and, eventually, the development of this site. I truly believed that if I could find the right words to string together, the world would come to understand me. Even my long-lost son would, once I gave him his family history. (See “Why I Write.”)

Whether my communication style made me better understood than my mother is up for debate. Particularly when it comes to inferring my feelings. Take the case of the  man who might be my son. (The qualification only means that a definitive maternity test conducted by a certified medical laboratory has yet to be done.) Before Mara could school me on warm-and-fuzzies, I had inundated the poor guy with data designed to quickly fill the gap left by my decades-long absence. Posts and pages from this site, published and unpublished works and material that I generated just for him. How was that to be taken? How would you know without being told that the poem about loneliness and the sea written by the the cartoon character of an introverted Latvian below started as an attempt to write a love letter?

NOTE: To read more about my own self-contained writing style, see “A Formal Feeling Comes.” And for more on one of my minor contributions to Latvian literature, see “A Book About Sentient Beings, Great and Small.”

 

The #IAMINTROVERT campaign team at the 2018 London Book Fair.
One of a series of cartoons created by writer Anete Konste and artist Reinis Pētersons.

Ethel Street

Me (center) at Ethel Street in Grand Rapids, MI, surrounded by my father (left), his sister (right) and her husband and son (rear). And some lilacs.

Ethel Street was a quiet street with tall trees, spaceous houses and shiny sedans parked along both curbs. It was actually an avenue, but we never call it that. It started at Wealthy Street, on the edge of a thriving business district, and opened to an alley where trucks rumble in and out. It ended some nine blocks south at Pontiac Drive, where the regular grid of Grand Rapids dissolved into the sort of sinuous streets I would learn to associate with abundance and ease.

I was not much more than five years old, then six going on seven. It was the start of the Fifties. My father and mother and her mother—Oma, as we called her—were with me. One of my father’s sisters and her husband and teenaged son were often there, too. We were Displaced Persons—DPs, as people called us—relocated from Latvia.

We lived in a west-facing wooden house of nondescript color that sometimes looked like sunset. It was separated from the sidewalk by a small patch of lawn. Unruly spirea branches pushed clusters of tiny white flowers through the rails of the front porch. A multi-car garage took up most of the rear area, and the space from there to the back porch was primarily paved. Whatever yard was situated to the south was obscured by a colossal row of lilacs spreading purplish scent.

I loved the lilacs, but also the snow. My mother sent my father and me outside with shovels. We laughed as we cleared a gray path to the street. Waging war on something so wonderfully white and sparkly seemed silly to us. Once we stopped to make a snowman.

We rented the entire first floor; someone I seldom saw lived on the floor above us. He must have used the exterior stairs by the alley.

Ethel Street was not the first place we stayed in the States. That was an unheated space above a garage in Lowell. It belonged to our sponsor, a Lutheran minister with a considerable congregation in Grand Rapids. He wanted my father to turn fallow fields into a functioning horse farm and my mother to scrub toilets in exchange for saving us from being shipped to São Paulo to work on some sort of farm there.

Unfortunately, he foolishly pinned his hopes on my father, who was not sufficiently farsighted to study agriculture. Instead, he selected a theology and philosophy curriculum at the University of Latvia in the capital city of Riga, where there were horses but, sadly, no farms.

My father, therefore, slogged 26 miles on foot through thick snow to reach Grand Rapids. He found a job as a finisher in a furniture factory on Godfrey Avenue and a warm place for us across town on Ethel Street. My mother then found a position doing piecework in a factory producing brass fittings, just down the street from my father.

My mother and father took the bus to Godfrey Avenue. Otherwise, they stayed close to Ethel Street. Everything we needed was there.

Saturday mornings we walked across the alley to where a bakery—what could be better?—was situated. My parents bought loaves of bread, which where never quite as crusty as we wanted, then asked the clerk to add cream horns or éclairs. The ones that were sure to shoot powdered sugar up my nose or streak chocolate on my cheeks.

Sometimes I set out with only my mother, turning right on Wealthy. We entered the dark recesses of Doepping’s Dry Goods, where she hurried me past bolts of deep blue dotted Swiss and ice-cream-colored organdies to bins where strips of white cotton eyelet were stored. Which she stitched to the bottom of a white cotton dress strewn with strawberries to keep me covered as my legs lengthened.

Other times I set out with just my father, particularly when Oma was out of insulin. We ended up in the back of Peterson’s Drugs, where revolving racks brimed with paperback books. I laughed at the logos on the spines: kangaroos, penguins, and roosters. Then pulled a serious face to help him select weekend reading. I later learned the lurid covers concealed works by writers such as Somerset Maugham.

From Peterson’s, I was well on my way to the center of the world. Three streets came together to form a wide-open intersection that required someone on each side holding my hand before I considered stepping off the curb. Norwood Avenue ran into Wealthy as Lake Drive sliced through on a slant. Our first bank was there, and Eberhard’s Super Market—the most modern in town—stood just beyond. 

Turning left from Ethel to Wealthy, there was a posh dress shop. We never went inside but liked looking at the mannequins through the plate-glass windows and dreaming of the day we could. When my mother needed a new gown for function my father’s exiled fraternity arranged, we took a bus to the Salvation Army store on Sheldon Boulevard and returned with something she managed to transform.

Further west was the Wealthy Theater. The first time my parents bought tickets, someone misunderstood. The futuristic fantasy we expected was way too realistic for me. Mounting cabin pressure forced blood from the spaceman’s eyes, cracked open his skull and smashed his ship to smithereens. The next time, we saw Cinderella. I liked it so much my parents bought me the pop-up picture book.

While I usually ventured out from Ethel Street accompanied by my parents, there were a few places where it was only Oma and me.

One was the alley. My parents always shopped at Eberhard’s on a strict schedule, organized around the days that they got paid. Oma and I, on the other hand, made our way to the rear of Pastoor’s Food Market whenever we pleased. We rummaged around in the wooden crates ready to be hauled away, making obligatory statements about wasteful Americans. Then lugged home cabbages—perfectly good once we pulled off the outer leaves—or even some lovely tangerines.

Another was school and several associated sites. All we had to do was turn left on Ethel and right on Sigsbee, then walk a few blocks and there was Sigsbee Park Elementary School. My first few days as both a new kindergartener and a foreigner who spoke no  English were predictably scary. Particularly the one when everyone left and no one seemed to remember to pick me up. But then I made some friends and learned what to say and somehow became much braver.

My friend Marsha’s house was located on Sigsbee Street between home and school. Her mother was an accomplished housewife and always ready to welcome me with special treats. Oma helped me buy and wrap a present to take there for my first American birthday party. She washed and braided my hair, buttoned my claret-colored silk dress and bundled me up so I would not catch cold. Wearing her elegant black coat with the karakul collar, she walked me both ways.

I added another stop once I reached first grade. Mrs. Engleman, my silver-haired teacher, invited me to her house after school. Since she lived right on Ethel Street, just a block or so past Sigsbee, I was permitted to visit her. I loved her sunroom, which was full of hanging plants, crystal figurines and cages of canaries. She encouraged me to always excel, and I became the star of her weekly spelling bees.

Then my parents brought home a brand-new Ford sedan, and everything changed. Summers, it took us to see sailboats on Reeds Lake, monkeys and snakes at the John Ball Park Zoo and picnickers in Johson Park. Winters, it took us to see Christmas displays in Herpolsheimer’s and Wurzburg’s windows. And my aunt’s house whenever we wanted. It also took my parents to a duplex on Worden Street. In a part of town I had never been with a school I had never seen. And bought it without bothering to ask me whether I wanted to move.

Which was when I knew that I was doomed to remain a displaced person all my life. I had been displaced from Latvia, Austria and Germany. And finally, I was displaced from my beloved Ethel Street.

Three states and thirty some streets later, I bought a historic millworker’s house on Oella Avenue.  Some years after that, my widowed mother moved from Michigan to Maryland to live with me there. With her came boxes of diverse documents, which I tried to organize as I found time. Some were pieces of the past that only a mother might want to keep. One was a letter from Mrs. Engleman:

Ilse is a well-developed little girl and shows much happiness in being in school. She has developed a great deal in the first grade.
            Ilse displays much enjoyment in her ability to read. She reads with expression and understands what she is reading. Ilse does all her work well and puts forth her efforts to please you.
            Ilse is loved by all the children. She wants everyone to be thoughtful of others. This has been taught her through love and respect for her Grandmother.
            I have loved Ilse, as she is so appreciative of all we do in school. She shows much originality and artistic ability and is very careful and neat in doing her work.
            Ilse will be promoted to second grade. She has been an excellent little girl and I shall miss her not being in my room.

I left my second-floor study and went down to the kitchen, where my mother—then ninety—was stirring a large pot of frikadeļu soup.

“Of all the places that I’ve lived,” I said, “Ethel Street was the one where I felt truly happy. Perhaps it was the only place.”

Ethel Street?” she said. “That was where that horrid man upstairs let that poor dog of his howl day and night. I was never happier than the day we moved away from there for good.”

NOTE: I posted my last piece over a year ago, a few weeks before the start of the pandemic state of emergency in Maryland (30 March 2020). It was not so much that I nothing left to say as it was that too much was swirling around in my brain. And this piece, moreover, is merely an abridged version of something I wrote for a workshop at The Writer’s Center decades ago. We were asked to model our writing on a short story we liked. I chose James Joyce’s “Araby,” particularly for the beginning and the end. While his was fiction, mine was fact. Though I was always aware, as I wrote in “Fact or Fiction?,” that the distinction between the two is blurry at best.

 

Oma and me on our way to Marsha’s birthday party.

 

The Face of Extremism

The Red Guard at the Vulkan factory in Petrograd. (Photo: Viktor Bulla)

I have trouble making small talk. I set out to offer some trite remark about the weather but end up blurting something about my grandfather being executed by firing squad in Ukraine. A reliable conversation-killer in many American circles, which is one reason why I set up this site. Now, when I want to share socially awkward ancestral stuff, there is some chance that someone might actually want to respond. Which is what Emma Hardy did after reading my previous post. And, remarkably, revealed similarities that reached beyond Ukraine to an obscure town in the Austrian Alps. But let me start with Ukraine since our president, Donald Trump, has recently put it on the map.

One meaning of “Ukraine” is “borderland,” and boundaries were shifting at the beginning of the 20th Century. When my grandfather, Teodors Johansons, arrived in Kharkiv, it was the administrative center of a Russian district established by Empress Catherine the Great and a major industrial and cultural presence. It was also where the idea of an independent Ukraine was first proclaimed. Teodors had started out in Sweden and traveled the world as an engineer building bridges. He had married Elizabete Zeltiņs in Rīga, then also part of the Russian Empire and making nationalistic rumblings. Elizabete had given birth to my mother Elza in 1915, so he had come to Kharkiv with them, part of the wave of Latvian migration around the turn of the century. His job was running a chemical factory. At home, from the little that I know, there was love and laughter. Teodors and Elizabete had a penchant for pranks, tossing pickled herring from their flat into hoods of passersby below bundled up for the winter.

Revolt against the Russian Empire started in 1917 with the February Revolution in the capital city of Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg) and the formation of the Russian Provisional Government, dominated by wealthy capitalists and the aristocracy. Community assemblies called “Soviets,” dominated by soldiers and the industrial working class, permitted the provisional government to rule but insisted on the right to influence the government and control the various militias. This was not a stable situation and collapsed with the October Revolution, a Bolshevik-led armed insurrection by workers and soldiers in Petrograd that overthrew the provisional government and transferred all authority to the Soviets. In December, Kharkiv was invaded by Red Guard forces and a Soviet Ukraine was established. This was around the time when Teodors—as I had always envisioned it—was led out to the courtyard of his factory and, despite repeated attempts at reasoning with the militia unit leader—the revolution desperately needed factories and educated people like him to run them and so on—was executed by a formal firing squad while Elizabete, then pregnant with her son Gvido, and two-year-old Elza were allowed to return to Rīga with suitcases full of worthless rubles.

It was only after receiving Emma’s response that I did some reading on Teodors’ executioners, most likely the Red Guard. I learned that enlistment was voluntary and only required recommendations from Soviets, Bolshevik party units or the like. Unit composition and organization varied greatly, and military training was often conducted while workers were still employed at their plants. And the units, while successful in local conflicts, could not prevail against more formidable adversaries like the White Army. But I did not consider the possibility that my grandfather had, more likely, been brutally murdered by a lawless mob until I came across a photograph of a Red Guard unit and shared it with Emma. The horror that I felt was confirmed by her response: “Lots of words came to me as I looked at red guard pic, all words profane. Omg, what a photo. Such intense anger in those faces. And the weapons! How oddly juxtaposed against his angry face is the jaunty straw hat worn by one of the men, 2nd row center. Renoir could have painted such a hat but certainly without the diabolical face below it (painting is my hobby hence this random thought on straw hats). The whole picture BEGS caution against extremes, ideological and political. I mean, it really blew me away.”

Emma’s mother was born and raised in Nikolayev, a village some 50 miles north of Odessa, currently Ukraine’s third most populous city. In 1928 or so, Emma’s maternal grandfather was taken from their home without warning. Not long thereafter, his wife was summoned to an official place to collect her husband’s shoes. “Being given his shoes meant he had been executed,” Emma explained. “That was how the Soviets communicated such things.” Which is why Emma understood about my maternal grandfather the way that others cannot. And why we are worried about what is happening today. After decades of oppression, both Latvians and Ukrainians threw off the Soviet yoke. But post-Soviet Russia is threatening those nations again. And many Americans, perhaps because they share a far more benign history, have not yet learned to recognize—much less fear—the face of extremism increasingly evident at home and abroad.

But, hey, what wonderful weather we’re having! Here I am in Maryland at the start of March, and we’ve barely had any snow all winter.

ILSE MUNRO

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