30 May 2013

Hands On Latvia: Kalna Ķonēni

Like many Canadians, I have more than one ancestral home. I've been fortunate to visit several. Confession: Depending on the advance research I did, and/or the resources available when I got there, it seems I rarely got answers to the unknowns. In fact, I know now I did not always ask the right questions at the moment I was there or even make the best use of my time in terms of information-gathering.
Left: The revered oak tree of family memory

So be it. There is much to be said for soaking up environ-ment―all sensual sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, sentimental triggers―and the special effects of new people.

It was a happy day to meet for the first time many maternal relatives; my family members shared the enthusiastic greetings and enjoyed their hospitality. Who does not have a mother / aunt / cousin who says "You must eat everything on the table"?! So Rasma and granddaughter Zane and others welcomed us at the farm where generations of Freibergs and Lindes have persevered agriculturally, through oppression, resistance fighting, military battles, deportation, and struggles—that we in North America can hardly begin to imagine. And that was just the twentieth-century! Two revolutions and two World Wars in your backyard. Epic hardship that made small periods of peace and happiness that much sweeter.  

The table was laden with special treats. We had an orgy of photo-graph reviewing (and eating) with memories and mutual story exchanges facilitated by Madara and Zane. We are humbled that they are fluent in English while we have only mastered a few Latvian words. Last year's mid-summer dried wreathes of oak leaves hang above us, bestowing good vibrations from the traditionally-revered tree. 

Our mutual ancestor Ansis Freibergs came to Kalna Ķonēni by about 1840 with dairy farming experience. His gift for gardening is vivid in the family memory. In spite of all the intervening disruption and terror, his great-great-grandson Normands operates a dairy farm today. The extended family gathers several times a year to help with seasonal chores.
Mālpils Lutheran Church
Mālpils Cemetery
Our hosts took us on a marvellous countryside tour relevant to all the places I mentioned in My Latvian Ancestors (gleaned from all those parish registers and other Raduraksti sources1), truly a hands-on visit. The ruins of the Vatrāne estate community; the Taurupe Manor owned by the same landlord; Keipene, Madliena, Suntaži, and finally Mālpils, location of the Lutheran church where historical family sacraments took place, and the cemetery. Some of the "seasonal chores" for the entire family include caring for the family burial plots where Ansis lies with his wife Truhte, son Otto and wife Ilze, and more.

Zane shows us the ruins of Madliena school-house, now being restored; most probable execution site of reform leader Otto Freibergs in 1906. 

The young people in this family are aware of their history through long family ties to the same community. But they are forward-looking, cosmopolitan, optimistic ... endearing.

When I read of the hard-won Latvia independence being shattered in the 1940s; when I hear the stories of Kalna Ķonēni farmhouse being spared from the torch in order to treat wounded soldiers; when I see the fruition of labours begun almost two centuries ago; absorbing the sentient heritage around me continues to thrill, that this tiny nationality survives with such spirit.

These are very strong people I come from.

1. Latvia State Historical Archives, Raduraksti (http://www.lvva-raduraksti.lv/en.html) online historical resources.

[Second of four "Hands On Latvia"]
Photographs: BDM, CDM, CBM, April 2013 (thank you!)

© 2013 Brenda Dougall Merriman


Cathy said...

Great photos, even better when put into this story.

Elayne Lockhart said...

So glad that your trip worked out so well and that you were able to interact with so many amazing family members. Strong people indeed.