ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2008 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 54, No 4 - Winter 2008
Editor of this issue: M. G. Salvėnas


Sharon L. Joffee

Sharon Lynne Joffe’s paternal grandfather and maternal grandparents were born in Lithuania. Sharon, however, was born and raised in South Africa. She is Assistant Professor at North Carolina State University and author of The Kinship Coterie and the Literary Endeavors of the Women in the Shelley Circle (New York: Peter Lang, 2007).

The name rolls off my tongue as I pronounce, nay mispronounce, it.
I say it again,
And it sits,
In my mouth.
I find it on my map and trace the letters of its name with  my finger.
The map, an old German one, shows it sitting on the blue Venta River,
And I follow the river back and forth,
With my finger,
Past the Mažeikiai District, through Šiauliai, and out
To the vast Baltic Sea.

Intrigued and captivated.
I feel closer than ever to my roots.
For I too, separated by vast continents and over one hundred years,
Am Viekšnian.

My grandfather spoke lovingly of Viekšniai.
The old land, he called it.
His place, his country.

Oupa Hyme is long gone.
But his memories of Viekšniai live on in his recollections of the farming life
And the pristine beauty of the surroundings.
Memories that we, his children and grandchildren,
Share and recall,
Recollect and remember.

I look at the area in an atlas.
I pore over images and pictures and postcards and old  paintings.
The geography is astoundingly beautiful.
And I imagine the pristine mountains, the cool waters of the Venta,
My Oupa’s bucolic family farm.
I see him plunge into the river,
Enveloped by the refreshing waters,
And link himself forever to the Viekšnian landscape.

And I see too, in my mind,
My Oupa’s cousins –
Lithuanians all –
Herded into the streets,
Shot, killed, raped, and destroyed,
That awful day in 1941,
When Viekšnians,
Lithuanian Jews,
Were hounded like rabbits and sent to a mass grave.

For my Oupa was the lucky one.
He left much earlier,
Before guns and jackboots and terror reigned.
Before Viekšnian souls were destroyed, engulfed in flames,
Their heritage obliterated from the earth.

But in his heart, he was always a Viekšnian.
And I am one too.

And one day, I will go to the old country,
And see my fellow Lithuanians,
And claim kinship with them;
For they, too,
Are united with me;
Not by blood,
But by the link of shared love of our mother country
That joins and claims us all.