By Rasa Von Werder, February 24th, 2021




2-23-21   Continue Chapter 8   MEDUSA HAD TALENT

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To lighten things up a bit let me explain that Medusa had talent.  She wasn’t all bad – Hitler made the trains run on time.

I must give her credit for back at the farm she did several things mail order, which even I benefitted from.  One thing was she joined the ‘Book of the Month Club.’

I remember age 12 reading ‘Gone With the Wind’ in two days & nights, reading nonstop.  My 7th grade teacher, Mrs. Cooper, {she loved me dearly} finally couldn’t stand me peering down at this book in my lap, walked over to my desk & took a look.  She didn’t complain, I believe she felt if I was going to have my head down all day in school, Gone With the Wind was worth it.  I also remember ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne DuMaurier, which I loved.  She got these books monthly, I read them all.  That was how she improved her English. 

 Dad, however, did no such thing.  He was busy translating history books from Polish to Lithuanian & writing poetry, crying in his soup for the long lost days.  He had a REAL LIFE in Lithuania & being 17 years older than Mom, it was harder for him to adjust.

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Another valuable thing she did, at least for herself, was a course in floristry.  {Many years later she would buy spoiled bro a greenhouse, floristry business in upstate NY – he worked it into the ground.  Pun intended.} She already knew how to grow things – was a genius at every sort of edible plant & flower garden.  Now she learned how to make professional bouquets, like one you’d see at the Waldorf Astoria in the lounge, & corsages.

For my 8th grade graduation dance she awarded me a corsage of 7 yellow rosebuds. Everyone liked it.   {To see how it was fashionable in those days for all dances, see the Annette Funicello TV show.  She went to a party at a friend’s house & her date gave her a corsage!  People on You tube commented WTF?  But then it was expected for all nice parties.} My outfit was a cotton yellow top & full skirt of the same material.

A little aside here.  My 8th grade graduation ceremony a friend of the family bought me a dress.  It was scoop neck gathered bodice in light blue chiffon with a full skirt – they called that ‘semi formal.’  It was the fanciest dress I’d ever had.

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Then there was a celebration at the Salvation Army Retired Officers residence where my Mom was the Chef.  This places her first real professional job {after Thorn’s Milk Bar}at my being 13 – the year then was 1958.  

another aside:   {She got the job through PULL, a pull poor Dad never had.  In Germany my Uncle had been the driver for a woman named Clara Kaiser.  She was the Dean of Columbia University.  She loved my Uncle & Aunt & sponsored them, with Grandma, for their entrance into the U.S.  Her next door neighbor up the hill was the lady who owned the magnificent Victorian mansion I spoke of in Waccabuc.  This lady gave employment, room & board for Aunt, Uncle & Grandma, & they lived on the third floor.  This woman, understand the importance of connections, wrote a letter to the Salvation Army Officers Residence when Mom applied for the job, recommending her highly,  & because of this Mom embarked on a lucrative career where she eventually ended up at the Reader’s Digest in Pleasantville.  In between she was offered a job at the Russian Tea Room near Carnegie Hall, for $30,000. a year {not sure which year, early to mid 1960′s would be worth about $250,000. or nearly $5,000. a week – was the one who told me pulling my leg?} – which she turned down, I was told, because it wasn’t enough bread for her to move to New York City. 

She told us this story – it could have been true.  At the Reader’s Digest Guest House {which she managed} she made dinner for Governor Nelson Rockefeller, & he said,

“That was one of the best dinners I ever ate.” 

The garden she created at the Reader’s Digest she used for dinners at the Guest House (veggies & some flowers) – they featured on the back of one of the Digest publications, praising her for it.  {end of second aside}

So here I am sitting there, where everyone brings their families to be introduced.  Across from us is the janitor’s family with a brother & sister teens.  The sister stands up & lo & behold, she’s WEARING MY DRESS.  Medusa gave her my dress, without even asking me – as if I was a non person. 

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As I said, she was a genius at agriculture.  She made a vegetable garden inside an old broken down chicken coop.  The ground still had lots of chicken shit & old door & window frames with glass, which she placed over the foundation, creating what’s called a ‘cold frame,’ inside of this she planted cucumbers, radishes, lettuce, onions, so she’d say, 

“Rasa, get me some cucumbers, or lettuce or spinach,”

& I’d run there & we had these things fresh every day.

Here are some of the things we planted, enjoyed & later tried to sell – {except the selling didn’t work, we went bankrupt.}:

Strawberries, peanuts,{they don’t taste good until you roast them} muskmelons, watermelons, wheat, corn, lingonberries, blueberries, peaches, tomatoes, blackberries, raspberries, cabbages, every kind of green leaf for salads, turnips, potatoes, rutabagas, beets, carrots, beans, peas, EVERYTHING I can’t even remember.  {The call that a ‘truck farm.’}  And we had these grow up big, healthy & abundant, enough where if they knew how to sell them, we could have made a small fortune.

Mom also made some nice tulip beds & what is most important, a Holy Virgin rose garden, with 100 bushes most beautiful & all colors, which only I was willing to weed, with the Lady’s life size statue at its head.

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We also had many other flowers such as zinnias, nasturtiums, lilies, etc.  The house came with a big apple tree with perfect ones for pies, she made the most yummy pies.

Which comes to her most lucrative talent – cooking.  When she first started she was an expert at Lithuanian food, which included exquisite cakes, such as Napolean {to this day my fave cake} & those of several layers which might include a layer of strawberries, exquisite frostings made of pure butter {I had to knead the hard butter into a cream, add sugar, then she added food color & maybe flavors.} 

 On Christmas she created a round log cake with markings & branches to look like a birch bark tree, inside filled with strawberry preserves.  (She made hundreds of jars of preserves from our own gardens- of every kind of jelly, jam, tomatoes & grew mushrooms in the cellar, & knew what mushrooms in the woods were edible–all I remember is ‘baravykai’-fat one & another I can identity but don’t recall its name.} 

She made her own farmer cheeses including the sweet cheese for Easter with raisins & slivered almonds {which I learned to do here at my house one year, with cottage cheese as the base}, her own yogurt – all from our cow which she milked {which I also made here, I had a guy get me raw milk.  You add some buttermilk to ferment it, let it stand a couple days in a cool place, make sure the top of the jars permit air to get in, like if you cover with wax paper pop some holes in it or use permeable cloth on top.  Don’t use aluminum foil.}

Traditional Lithuanian fare includes lots of potatoes & flour dishes.  {We are a cold country, similar to where I live in upstate NY.}  She made homemade ravioli filled with cheese or meat or potatoes.  There was stuffed peppers or cabbage filled with rice & ground meat {she ground her own meat which babushkas in Eastern Europe still do}.  Us kids learned to make the best potato pancakes {they must be grated on a fairly small grate, a bit of flour, an egg or two, lots of oil, that’s it.}

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And so she was an expert at Lithuanian fare because of her roots, but when my brother’s friend came for dinner {only his friends were permitted to eat with us, not mine} she tried to impress with American food & burned it.  But live & learn, she got ‘The Joy of Cooking’ & other books & practiced a thousand times & learned all there is – including all kinds Italian fare – & eventually was a professional Chef – something to be proud of. 

Abusers can be talented, & they don’t have to be stupid.  Sinners can be pretty damned smart.



So who wanted her to go to my Mother-daughter dance?  Who needed her?  She would spoil it.  I could not understand why the staff, when I told them she wasn’t coming, seemed puzzled, like ‘What’s wrong?’  Nothing’s wrong.  Mom is an abuser & I am a non person.  I love Scouts, she hates me, leave it alone.  I’ll be there, that’s all that’s necessary.  She was the ONLY MOTHER out of thirty scouts who didn’t come, but I was HAPPY.

Oh yes, I was the ONLY SCOUT also who didn’t wear a uniform as Mom wouldn’t buy it.  I attributed it to poverty, it wasn’t necessary.  {Years later she refused to buy my ‘senior pictures’ in High School.  So there’s no image of me in the Year Book.}

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 Looking back if I had had a better relationship with Dad I could have asked him for these things – but we hardly communicated after Mom closed the iron door.  And so, when she shut him out, he forgot me.  And I had given up on him taking me in.  Years later, when I left California in 1972, I came back to live with him in the same apt. in B’klyn.  I told him I would pay the rent – & he said OK but remember, I’m still the boss – haha.

     Scouts was one of the greatest experiences of my life, due to the camaraderie, being outdoors together & the things they taught us.  Every meeting we held arms & sang,

“Let me call you sister, I’m a Girl Scout, too,

Let me hear you whisper, all the Scout laws true,” etc.

To the tune of ‘Let me call you sweetheart, I’m in love with you.’

What a wonderful feeling to be loved & RESPECTED!

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We went to a lake once, {my best friend Sharon – smartest girl I knew -  brought the greatest potato salad she shared with me} we learned how to make a ‘Bunsen Burner’ – how to make a bed properly {there’s a trick to corners!}, how to make carnations out of tissues, some simple cooking recipes, but the one incident that jars my memory happened on the six mile walk, it taught me something about myself.


None of us had ever walked six miles before.  I think they lied, it was more like sixteen.

Two of my best friends were named Monja & Nadja – fraternal twins – I think they were Russian.  Both beautiful, Monja was tall, Nadja not so tall, blue eyed honey blondes.

So we walk & walk.  We stopped for lunch at a farm where someone treated us.  We also went along the way to an ice cream place & a wonderful lady paid for all our ice cream.  To me, it was Heavenly.

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We walked through woods & fields.  We were Scouts, so we had honor – we did not eat one strawberry calling to us from a field.

But at the end of the trip, about a half mile before base camp, Nadja & I both collapsed.  We said not a step further, this is it.  Then Nadja said, no, you don’t understand, I really truly cannot take another step!

OK I said, then get on my back, I’ll carry you the rest of the way – & that’s what happened.  I can honestly tell you, she wasn’t heavy & I stopped being tired!…………………..

to be continued


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