My step-mother, Antonia (Toni) was born in Russia in 1909.  Shortly thereafter her family moved back to their homeland of Latvia.

Latvia,  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latvia , has through out most of it’s history been ruled by other countries, Sweden, Poland, Germany and Russia. 

Toni was raised on a small farm but moved to the capital of Riga as a teenager.  She meet her first husband there.  After World War I Latvia had became an independant country.  However in 1939 Russia took control again.  One night Russian solders came  and took her husband away.  She never saw or heard from him again.

When Hitler drove the Russians out in 1940 he was viewed by many Latvians as a “savior”.  Even today the country is divided into two populations.  The “Nationalist” Latvians and ethnic Russians.

Most Latvians embraced their German “liberators”.  Some all too well.  There was a Jewish death camp just outside Riga.

At the end of World War II when the Russians came back Toni and two of her sisters, Natalija (Natalie) and Valerija (Valeria) fled the country.  A fourth sister, Marija (Mary) chose to stay, saying “There is nothing more the Russians can do to me.”  What they did was send her to a labor camp in Siberia for 10 years.

Toni and her sisters made their way to a Displaced Persons Camp in Germany.  Natalie’s husband, Helmut, found work in the mines of Belgium.  Valeria and her husband, Rudy, immagrated to Canada.

Toni had wanted to immagrate to Australia but she hurt he leg.  The opporunity came to move to America, the country she blamed for allowing the Russians to invade and take over her country.  Rather than stay in the DPC she decided to come to the US.

Toni is the most honest person I have know.  One story that illustrates this, confirmed by one of her friends who was in the DPC with her,  is when she had to have an interview with an American Colonel.  Her friends told her to make up a story or her application would be rejected.  She refused to lie and told her true story to the Colonel.  He told her she was the first person who had not lied to him and put her name on top of the list.

Toni was sponsored by the local Lutheran Church and moved in with a couple in Greenwich, CT.  She told me of her first night in this strange country where she did not know one word of English.  She said she spent the whole night crying in her bed.

Toni was also the hardest working person I knew and soon got two jobs, working seven days a week, as a waitress and cleaning houses for the “rich” in Greenwich.  She cleaned the house of the Editor of the New York Mirror, Charles McCab.  When they gave her a Christmas bonus she tore the check up and told them to never give her another “bonus” or she would quit.  It was a days work for a days pay, period.

She got a job in the factory where my father worked.  They fell in love and got married, which lasted until my father died 30 years later.

I only lived with Toni for one year, my senior year in high school.  We were both very stubborn people.  I can’t say we got on well, but I believe we did respect each other.  I was in my angry young man phase.  To illustrate how stubborn Toni could be she had argument with her sister Valeria and they did not speak to each other for over ten years.

Toni and my father were very happy until my father retired.  I don’t know what happened but he seemed to withdraw from the world and became completely dependant on her.  He suffered a nervous breakdown.

When he died at the age of 76 Toni was completely devastated.  She lived another 20 years but never really recovered.

At the age of 90 she could no longer take care of her house.  She moved in with her neice Inga, the one I cat sit for, who was her god daughter.  When I retired I would stay with her Thursday and Friday to give Inga some rest.

This was perhaps the saddest experience of my life.  This very proud, very independent women could hardly walk, had to wear depends and needed someone to clean her.  After I did that I could see tears in her eyes.  All she talked about was wanting to die.

She broke her hip and had to stay in a convalescent home.  I would visit her on Sunday.  When I had to leave she would grab my hand and beg me to take her home.  It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do to leave her there.

Toni did try to commit suicide once.  After seeing the state she was reduced to I don’t blame her.  If I ever get to that stage were I can’t even walk and some one has to change my diaper and clean me I might well want to end my life too.

Toni died in her sleep at the age of 96.  She had a long and hard life, but she also had many years of joy, such as the 30 years she was married to my father.  She was the most honest and hard working person I have ever known.

  

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