June 17, 2010

College Graduation, 2010

Posted in Children, Family tagged , , , , , , , at 7:01 am by Liliana

Sasha and Nena

Sasha and Nena

Last weekend was special. My daughter Nena and nephew Sasha graduated from college. Together.

Born three weeks apart (Nena is older!) with very different personalities and approaches to life, these two cousins grew up in devoted families in the same town. They were in many ways closer than siblings, not having that sibling rivalry to contend with.

When they were toddlers, we called them rug rats or twins.

Both flourished during the four years at the small liberal arts college they attended. They shared friends, professors, and classes. But as they grew and changed, they learned to argue and criticize each other. They also gave each other space as they made inroads into their own interests and fields of study.

Nena’s style is to dig deeply within herself as well as research and learn all she can about a topic. She is introvert, artistic and contemplative.

Sasha casts his net wide and gathers information from the people and the environment around him. He is gregarious, extrovert, willing and interested in engaging anyone in a conversation on any issue.

Nena is a talented poet who majored in philosophy and worked as a teaching assistant for all four years. Sasha majored in English literature, but his main interests are social justice and civil rights law. He worked with juvenile offenders, Mexican immigrants and community organizers.

As I kneeled by the stage, waiting to take pictures of my two college graduates, this is what I heard. The college president called the name Alexander Holtzman, then Natalia Holtzman, and from their family, classmates and professors erupted a wild roar of applause.

And while my little rug rats, Sasha and Nena, entered one side of the stage, out the other side came a tall, strapping young man and a beautiful, poised young woman.

These two cousins – a gift to the world!

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June 10, 2010

Mark Twain and I

Posted in Books, Travel tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 7:19 am by Liliana

Mark Twain and I

Mark Twain and I

From my earliest childhood, I loved to read. My favorite memories are of sitting in some dark, snug corner, straining my eyes, losing myself in a reality very different from my own. Any book, comic, pamphlet, magazine – anything with words or pictures (or both) – was fair game.

I don’t know how old I was when I first discovered Mark Twain. It was love at first sight. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn became my favorite people in the entire world. I loved the mischief, the humor, the danger, the exotic atmosphere of the land that I knew nothing about. I loved the English names of the people and curious words like Mississippi and Missouri. I loved the sense of adventure.

Years passed. My parents, sister and I traveled to the US and I went to college in New York City. I moved on to other writers and other worlds. I hardly thought of Mark Twin in those days.

But during my senior year of college, while deciding where to go to graduate school, a professor suggested St. Louis, Missouri. And that word, Missouri, brought with it a flood of memory. I applied, was accepted and got a scholarship. All the stars were aligned just right for me to travel westward, and I decided to get my degree there and then move back to Yugoslavia.

The first month in St. Louis I met a young man named Jeff.  We went to movies, theater and poetry readings. We talked about philosophy and argued about Nietzsche and Heidegger for hours.

But the way he won my heart was by suggesting, on a whim of a moment, in a middle of an ordinary school day, that I miss my Milton class and that we drive the couple of hours to Hannibal, Missouri. This is the town where Mark Twain lived as a boy and where he set two of his most famous books.

Jeff had a very old, ugly and beat up yellow car that he called – the frog. We drove the frog down the banks of the Mississippi and I looked out in wonder. Here I was and this world was real. Mississippi. We walked all over the small town of Hannibal and it seemed frozen in time. It was touristy, and tacky, but I loved it. The old houses were small, the rooms miniature and childlike – fitting for memories of a young girl. We ate fried trout at the Becky Thatcher diner. We had ice cream in the Tom Sawyer ice cream parlor.

I never made it back to Yugoslavia.

March 19, 2010

Plains, Trains and Automobiles

Posted in Children, Travel tagged , , , , , , at 7:00 am by Liliana

The City of New Orleans

The City of New Orleans

Yesterday was travel day for several kids in my family.

My daughter Nena and my nephew Sasha go to the same college. Their spring break started yesterday. Each had a trip planned. Nena traveled to Chicago and from there she and her fiancé, Peter, took the overnight train to New Orleans. At around eight in the evening she texted her dad, “Do you know what this train is called?” Jeff knew. It was called the City of New Orleans. So she and Peter traveled on the City of New Orleans to the city of New Orleans. I hope Nena writes a poem about this. I know she had the old song running through her head.

Sasha, and four of his college friends, were starting their drive to Panama City, Florida, at eight o’clock the same evening. Sasha had sprained his ankle while playing basketball the previous week, so we were a little worried. But he had no intention of canceling this adventure. These kids have been working hard and with their graduation coming in June, real life will be upon them before they know it. They wanted one last vacation together.  I called to wish him a good trip. “Have a great time,” I said, “and be good.” He said he would. We didn’t elaborate.

At the very time that Nena and Sasha were leaving on their trips, my son Mike was flying home from Santiago, Chile. He had been traveling in South America for four months, and was coming home to get ready for law school. Sam and I spent the evening getting Mike’s room ready. Sam vacuumed, while I dusted and placed fresh linens on the bed. As the last touch, we placed a vase of fresh daffodils on the night stand.

That is what families do. Say good-byes, send best wishes for glorious journeys, and welcome their travelers back. Life is good.