Memories from her sister, Nijole

Early Years
Lithuanian Activities
Middle Years
Seattle Life










































My dear Sesyte,

That was your nickname - Romas & I seldom called you "Valyte", it was always "Sesyte". Though 8 years older than me, we used to joke that I was your older sister and you were my younger sister - I was so serious as a girl, and you were so playful and fun-loving. You even told me that you had a distinct recollection that you wanted to be born first, and there is an interesting story about that.

After WWII, our folks settled in Belgium while awaiting their visa to the United States. You were born on the Lithuanian Name's Day of "Nijole" and mom wanted to name you Nijole, after her cousin. But Dad argued that since they were in Belgium, you should have a French name, and it was decided to name you after Dad's sister Valerija. Could it be that I, Nijole, was supposed to be the eldest, but you got your way in the end?!

As it is, I am the closest thing to a daughter you may have had. You were like a mother to me, since our mother had to work evenings and I was in your care from an early age. You made me what I am today. You always encouraged my creativity - when I was just 3 years old, you taught me how to sing harmony so that Romas and you and I could perform "Jingle Bell Rock" for our parents. When I was in kindergarten, I learned "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and you had me sing it for your 7th grade friends on the playground. When I began piano lessons, you bought Beatles song books and encouraged me to learn Beatles songs on piano. I didn't think I was good at drawing and you said "Nonsense!" and had me illustrate your college term papers and the two Scouting books you wrote.

You also were my teacher. Before I started school, Romas and you taught me how to read, which gave me a tremendous advantage throughout the rest of my school years. While I was still in grammar school, you exposed me to your university education. I remember when I was 11 years old, I had a day off from school and you brought me with you to your classes at U of I Circle Campus - I learned early about behavioral psychology, Maslow and B.F. Skinner. I remember helping you memorize Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in Olde English. And I'll never forget the pet planarian (flatworm) you brought home from the bio lab and kept in a dish on your dresser! We used to watch it turn somersaults, thinking it was so cute.

And even though I was much younger, you always included me with your circle of friends. I was at each one of the parties you threw in our basement - you never kicked me out. I was so impressed with your artist friends - I would quietly listen to Wally Endriulaitis and Bob Ramanauskas argue for hours about who was the better painter, Picasso or Miro. Or I would listen to others talk existential philosophy - it was very stimulating for my young mind! You proudly told everyone about the original piano pieces I was writing. When Bob Ramanauskas had to do a slide show presentation of his paintings and poetry for an Art Institute class, he had me compose a very avant-garde piano piece, which I played and recorded, and got to see performed in his class.

In later years, sesyte, you and I would go out to concerts and clubs together, and you turned me on to some great music acts. Although I was 8 years younger, I never got carded at the clubs or bars and you always did. You and I and Robert Maciunas would go to the free Second City comedy improvs after their last show every Sunday night, because they were so amazingly inventive! We had the privilege of seeing John Belushi, Billy Murray, Betty Thomas, and the occasional visit of John Candy from Canada, before anyone knew how famous they would be one day.

And of course, how could I forget your total over-the-top dedication to the Fab Four? I remember the Beatles' first performance on Ed Sullivan - when our family was invited to our aunt and uncle's house for dinner, and for some reason we couldn't watch TV over there (I don't recall if maybe they didn't have one!). You insisted on driving us three kids home to watch Ed Sullivan while our parents stayed at my aunt and uncle's. Watching the Beatles that night changed my life, because I decided that's what I wanted to be when I grew up!

Of course you were a member of the Beatles Fan Club and we received the Beatles special Christmas message on a 45rpm record every year. You ordered all their LPs from England so that each album had the extra two songs that weren't included on the American LPs. Because of your constant playing of the Beatles albums over and over, I know every word and harmony part to all their songs to this day, and I even sometimes recall which song comes next on the album! You collected every bit of Beatles memorabilia, bootleg albums, and John's poetry books. We played with Beatle cards, painted animations from the Yellow Submarine movie and hung them on our bedroom wall, and you took me to see "Magical Mystery Tour" when it was only playing at U of I and unavailable anywhere else. We had to celebrate each of the Beatles' birthdays with something British - crumpets, or tea with milk, for example. It was easy to remember Paul McCartney's birthday, because it's the same day as our brother's! And you went so far as to teach Romas and me British words and sayings, and we watched a lot of obscure British films on TV too. I was so envious when you actually got tickets to see the Beatles play at Comiskey Park (White Sox baseball stadium), but you didn't have much fun because the girls were screaming so loudly you couldn't hear a thing.

I could go on and on, but I hope you get the idea that I really appreciated having you as a big sister. You paved the way for me, I got to stand on your shoulders and get just a little bit further out into the world because you were my biggest cheerleader. And you had such a great enthusiasm for life and were a lot of fun. I want to say that I miss you, but it's not accurate, because I often feel you and see your influence around me. So I will just say that I really, really love you. I guess you are still continuing to pave the way for me and perhaps our whole family, having left us first. Thank you for being so caring of everyone around you, and I know we are continuing our journey together now and always...

With a tremendous love in my heart,
Your "sesyte" Nijolyte