My husband Dave and I have been married for 59 years. We first met when I was in 8th grade and he in 9th. We dated all through high school, dancing on Friday evenings, and after graduation, we became engaged. We went to college together, married, lived in married housing on campus until getting the first job, and starting a family in another state.
When I wrote Rock and a Hard Place, A Lithuanian Love Story, I realized how simple our life had been. We met, fell in love, grew up, married, job, children, and so on. We were living our dream of togetherness. The couple in my book, Vytas and Donna, who shared their life stories with me, tell a totally different kind of love story. But it is that – a love story. In a different time, a different place, love is still love. In any language, “I love you” is the most wonderful phrase to speak or to hear, don’t you agree?
Vytas and Donna grew up in Lithuania in 1930s. Vytas’ family owned a large and prosperous farm. Donna’s father was a pharmacist; her comfortable family lived in town. I could relate easily to their childhoods as they shared the details: chores, fun, games, food, holidays, loving parents. Children in Lithuania were free, happy, innocent, just like American children. Until, they weren’t.
The title of the book, Rock and a Hard Place, A Lithuanian Love Story, is the story of a Russian invasion and a German betrayal, and the love of their country. Lithuanian children who were growing in love in the 1930s grew into Displaced Persons of the 1940s. When the sky falls down on you, and there’s nowhere to go, and you no longer own the country you love, can you grow up to become an adult who can love? Will you know how? Can love survive fear? In the case of the Lithuanians, mostly Catholic and Jewish, faith was weft and warp of their lives; always was, always would be, and it made the difference in their survival.
As teenagers, Vytas and Donna first met in a Displaced Persons Camp, where families cooked, slept, went to school, and prayed in bombed out factory buildings. The teenagers held dances on the weekends, went to Scout meetings, and life continued in a country not their own. Lithuanian teenagers who were once independent and self-assured, now wondered about their futures. Would there be any love left over for them? Where would they live? What did life hold for them? They were D.P. Nobodies.
I won’t be a spoiler and tell you about the next several years, only that 35 years passed before they set
eyes on one another again. As an adult, Donna still saw the boy she’d had a crush on because he was taller than she was. Vytas still saw the vibrant girl with flowers in her braids he didn’t have the courage to dance with. But they still had golden years ahead of them and a life they could never have imagined when they parted so many years before.
“Only God could have planned such a journey,” Donna told me. “Only God could have saved this much love for us two nobodies.”