MYRA'S CHILDHOOD

Guiding Questions:

  • How did Myra's family blend Jewish traditions with the larger cosmopolitan culture of her time?

  • What were two enjoyable aspects of Myra's childhood?

  • How do you know from the text that Myra came from a wealthy family?

  • What is one fascinating detail you see in the photographs of Myra's childhood?

It is likely that Myra was born with the name Beyle Mere Melnikaite. She told me, in an interview, that her given name was "Bela Marie" and a Lithuanian Internal passport records a student named Beyle Mere Menikaite (Melnik) who was born in 1919 whose information can be found in archive KRA/66/1/2937. Her household number was KA15563.

Myra's childhood was filled with bike rides and radios playing the best new songs from America and the old songs from Russia. She and her sister spoke Russian with her father and Yiddish with her mother. They got dressed up on Purim in costumes and went to synagogue on the holidays, even as a non-religious family.

Because of her mother, they kept a kosher home. While in 2020 keeping kosher qualifies a Jew as religious, in early 20th century Lithuania this practice was to be expected. They went to the Chor Shul in Kovno and her mother lit candles on Shabbat. On Fridays, they cooked meat into a cholent and brought it in a big pot to the baker's, who kept a large oven going for the food to stay hot during Shabbat. They ate roast turkey, goose, hamburgers, liver, lemon cakes, gefilte fish, matzoh ball soup, kishkeh, brisket, durmah and more. They had a full-time Polish maid who helped her mother with everything.

Myra was the joyful, open-minded, and modern child. She declared she had a boyfriend at age 8 and a more serious one at age 14. She was a terrific dancer but had a tutor as she didn't do great in school. She never graduated high school, and remembers that she flunked out on the last night.

Myra loved the American and German movies and the great actors like Clark Gable and Joan Crawford. At the theater, they got a whole box for the family. "Melnik was a name to be proud of," she remembers.

Myra spoke Yiddish, Hebrew, German, Russian, and Lithuanian. As a teenager, she took English and went to the movies to learn more. And she even spoke a bit of Polish. 

Her father read two newspapers everyday: Pravda and Isvesia, both in Russian and they had a Jewish magazine that came from Riga.

The family vacationed in Kulautuva over the summers, a countryside town on a river about 20 km. from Kovno and her father came for the weekends. Each of her father and her two uncles took a month off over the summer to be there. Her uncle Samuel had seven children who also went so there was so much fun. They went to the beach, sunbathed, swam and journeyed into the nearby woods lay in hammocks. They rented a nice villa and Myra spent much time with her closest cousin Moishe.

Myra's younger brother Eliahu was born in 1926. He was blond with curly hair, beautiful features, and a slight verbal stutter. She babysat him in Kovno and on the beach and loved him dearly. He was strong and as he got older ate everything in sight. 

Myra was the joyful, open-minded, and modern child. She declared she had a boyfriend at age 8 and a more serious one at age 14. She was a terrific dancer but had a tutor as she didn't do great in school. She never graduated high school, and remembers that she flunked out on the last night.

Myra loved the American and German movies and the great actors like Clark Gable and Joan Crawford. At the theater, they got a whole box for the family. "Melnik was a name to be proud of," she remembers.