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Family Story

Preface: This is a story that I grew up with, the tale of how my grandparents and father came to the US from Latvia. Latvia is one of the three Baltic states, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, that sit between the Baltic Sea and Russia. During World War II, both Soviet and Nazi forces occupied Latvia. Latvia’s independence was restored in 1991. The song “Rīga dimd” that you’ll hear is a Latvia folk song about the glory and beauty of Riga, Latvia’s capital. It’s a bit like our “America the Beautiful” : it’s not the national anthem, but still a song that evokes happy images of its native land. ______________________________________________________________________________ ♫(joyful, freely sung) Rīga dimd, Rīga dimd! Kas to Rīgu dimdināj'? Aijaijā Tralalā Kas to Rīgu dimdināj'? It was the tune sung joyfully at the country dance. A dance where a cornet player’s eyes met a young ladies' between spins of the folk dance’s steps. Eyes locked, smile, blush, "Sveiks," hello. My Opa had ridden 20 kilometers by bicycle to play cornet at that dance never expecting to find the woman who would become his wife, and yet, that is how it happened. A traditional courtship, marriage, dreams of a life full of happiness, freedom and love in front of them. Oma moved from her family's farm with a pond and fruit trees into town, where Opa opened a bicycle shop. ♫(softly, as a lullaby) Rīga dimd, Rīga dimd! Kas to Rīgu dimdināj'? Aijaijā Tralalā Kas to Rīgu dimdināj'? Soon a baby boy came. He, too, grew to love bicycles, happiness, his grandparents' farm with the pond and the fruit trees. But war came, too. (Marching feet) The Germans came. The Russians came. The Germans came. People did not sing Rīga dimd. Riga did not resound. My grandparents joined the resistance. And the night that the soldiers reached their town, they took their son and the clothes on their backs and left. (Silence) They went to the tiny fishing boat, only 35 feet long. A hundred and thirty-nine people pushed and crowded, shoulder to shoulder. "No, you can't take your trunk of books, Professor. We only have room for the people!" My Oma and Opa clutched their son and prayed. ♫(prayerfully) Rīga dimd. God help us. Two days later, they landed on Gotland Island, Sweden, having crossed the cold Baltic Sea. They lived in a school-auditorium-turned-refugee-camp for 4 months. The Swedish King sent the refugees clothes and food and helped them find jobs. Opa became a lumberjack, working a 2-man saw. Oma found a job as a housekeeper and took cooking classes. They pieced life together in Sweden for 2 years before a new opportunity, a new land, a new sort of freedom presented itself. Oma and my father were able to get a visa to America. Once more, they boarded a boat bound for a new land. ♫(looking toward the horizon) Oh say can you see? Rīga dimd. By the dawn’s early light. Riga dimd. The Petersons, distant cousins, rented a room to Oma and Dad. Oma found a dishwashing job, 25 cents/hour, at the Boston Lying-In--predecessor of Brigham and Women's Hospital. The Petersons' two daughters, around Oma's age, were making 40 cents/hour at their jobs. When the morning breakfast chef quit, Oma was promoted. She now had to work at 5am everyday, but was paid 70 cents/hour. "Well, since you're so rich now, you'll have to find another place to stay," was the Peterson's response. ♫(sighing) Rīga dimd, Rīga dimd. Meanwhile, Opa and Oma's father and 37 other Batlic refugees sailed across the Atlantic, riding the currents to West Palm Beach, opening American eyes to the Baltic's plight. President Truman stated, "I have felt considerable personal concern over the [Baltic refugees] who recently displayed such courage and determination in crossing the Atlantic to our shores in two small open boats. This is the type of pioneering spirit that built this Nation...I have directed that all avenues be explored toward enabling this group to remain here, if they so desire, so that they may eventually become citizens of this country. " ♫Oh, say does that start-spangled banner yet wave O’er the land of the free, Rīga dimd, and the home of the brave Rīga dimd. We grew up with my Oma and Opa's story of coming to America; its telling was always accompanied by her "famous" pierogs, which are similar to stuffed rolls with less dough. Oma had a myriad of different stuffings, from meats and potatoes to mushrooms and onions. They were my absolute favorite thing that she cooked! Oma documented all of her recipes in a Latvian cookbook that was published in the US, entirely in the Lativan language: Virtuves Māksla: The Art of Latvian Cooking. A number of years ago, my father and I began translating it to English. Being a family favorite, Oma's pierog recipe was the first we did!


1 Step

Mix together Yeast and salt, sugar and oil, ground together until it flows. Warm the milk to 110o F and mix in the flour, butter, and yeast mixture. Allow to rise in a warm room.

2 Step

Beat it back. Knead, and allow to rise a second time. Transfer (roll out of bed) the dough onto a bread board for rolling out, squeeze into oval shapes and fill each one with the pre-thought planned pierog filling. Pinch the edges closed and place on a platter. Allow to rise again. After they have risen again, brush with beaten egg and cook until light brown at 400o F.


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