February 11th was the anniversary of my Močiutė’s
birth. “Močiutė” is Lithuanian for “Grandma”. A couple of years ago, when I was
visiting her in Lithuania, she told me that she much preferred to be called “Bobute”.
She made her transition back into pure positive energy last September,
thankfully. The last few years of her life were painful, lonely and
challenging, to say the least.
I feel highly honored to have shared the bond and the time
that I did with this fine lady. She was one of my greatest friends and taught
me how to really care for others, especially for children. She is the grown-up that I
remember spending the most time with because she was fully present and focused
on me, reminding me that I was worth the time and attention. She interacted
with my younger sister Melisa, or better known as “Melisite”, and I all of the
time when she was watching us. I have other memories of grown-ups spending time
with me, but they are few and far between those with Bobute. And I am sure that
it has something to do with the quality of the attention that was given and
shared. Thinking back, the amount of physical time that we spent together in my childhood was not so great. The quality of time, on the other hand, was inmeasurable.

Bobute with Jaime in the back yard in Phoenix.

We had the privilege of living with her for a few months
when our parents separated. I was around four years old and Melisite was a year
and a half or so. We weren’t encouraged to watch television, which we protested
then, but now I can enjoy the countless images and feelings of creatively
filling my time back then. Močiutė helped us cover her floors in colorful
mosaics made from the plastic milk bottle caps she’d collected, she colored
with us at the kitchen table, and spent hours playing the card game that has inspired the
game that we are making today for the project. She sang songs, watched
us dance, played with us outside and let us climb her fig tree. She read books
to us before bed and always let us sleep on the proper parts of the two beds
that the three of us shared, as she slept in the “crack”. She bathed us, fed us
and nursed us when we were ill. She gave us frozen figs instead of ice cream,
and cucumbers with honey instead of candy. She also lovingly disciplined us
often, and taught us to “Think before speaking.”
Bobute with Melisite in her garden in Arizona.

She almost always spoke to us in Lithuanian when we were
little, and taught us to respond in the corresponding manner with more patience
than most other grown-ups ever seemed to have. I realize now that she was my
first foreign language teacher and this early experience in life is what likely
gives me a lot of strength and security while teaching and speaking a foreign
language today. I am so grateful that she and my father, (or “Tevelis”), found
it so important to preserve and pass on the culture of Lithuania to us and am
sure that my life has been greatly enriched for this reason. We were not only
exposed to a language that the Lithuanians say is right after Sanskrit on the
historical timeline, but to foods, customs and a history that many people never make
contact with during their entire time on this planet.

Bobute lived in the states for about fifty years, in
Chicago, IL. and in Pheonix, AZ. The story that took her five hours to explain
to me on one of my many memorable trips to Lithuania of how and why she ended
up in the states and escaped Russian soldiers three times is for another blog
post…This one is going to be quite lengthy as it is.

I used to imagine pushing Bobute around in a wheel chair in
the future when I was little. I’d wheel her to the park and back in my mind and
always told her that if she ever needed to be taken care of when she was old,
she could count on me. I never could actually picture her needing to be cared
for though. She was so strong and was always busy doing something physical. She
never let others pitch in with household chores, partly because she knew you’d
use more soap than was necessary, and she liked to be in control of her spaces.
She was always well groomed, fit and “on top of things”. She used to flex her
bicep, which I remember being like a gymnast’s, and tell me that it was from
drinking fresh carrot juice. She was always dressed nicely in one of the unique but
elegant dresses that she’d made.

She also took care of her husband, our “Senelis”, as he
disappeared into the dark world of Alzheimer’s. She endured this part of “in
sickness and in health” for twelve long years. She almost never left the house.
She maintained her sanity by channeling the creative forces of nature into
beautifully weaved traditional Lithuanian belts and book marks, and when she tired of that trade, she
took up patchwork and made over a thousand magical hearts and pinwheels of all
shapes and sizes to adorn the walls, beds and tables of homes across the world.
She even ended up incorporating some of her old clothing and material from her
dresses into potholders, bedspreads and pillow cases.

I can relate to her way of making art when I work the wire
and beads in my jewelry making and the colors in my painting. During the last few
years of her life in the homes where she resided in Lithuania, we had the
chance to work together in a way. We spent countless hours together at her
little table and she mostly watched me work my handicrafts, but every once and
a while she suggested a color or change in the pattern that was coming through
me. She often held on to some of my materials and passed them to me as a
fabulous assistant would. This way we were able to create together and share that
indescribable space of being. She even helped me prepare for my first trip to
Burning Man as I created different outfits!

Her cooking skills were definitely to be admired and I am
very thankful that I was always exposed to the curious, and mostly delicious
cuisine of Lithuania while in her home.
Beet soups and salads were probably the weirdest things for us as kids,
but I love them all and continue trying to pull them off. My favorite dish of
hers will always be her pancakes, or “blynai”, always accompanied by her
homemade berry, apricot or peach jam of course! I am so happy to have inherited
her knack for cooking and can usually swing a decent reproduction of them
(minus the homemade jam) for interested newbies or family members that are
craving a nostalgic and super-comforting treat. I think this is the only reason
that I will never completely take the plunge into a 100% vegan lifestyle. I am
so glad that I was able to learn how to make these foods by her side in Lietuva
(Lithuanian for Lithuania) when she was still able to show me how.

Now that you have been properly introduced to Marija Edelis, my sweet Močiutė, I hope that you’ll be interested to continue reading in upcoming posts. I have so much to share with you about her and the lessons she taught me. I’d like to let her live on through my writing. If you don’t already know her story, you might be curious to find out how she ended up returning to Lietuva and also how she winded up going to the states in the first place… Stay tuned to learn more very soon! Thank you for reading and I hope that this first part has inspired you to spend more quality time with the little people (and the not so little people) in your life! You’ll miss them when they’re gone, and creating lasting moments makes it happier to miss them because the connection you create is eternal.

May peace be with us all!
Būk laimingas! (Lithuanian for “BE HAPPY!”)