December 23, 2016

Goodbye to Irene.

Irene Katele, 1958-2016. From this blog, you know her as Irene (the commenter).

Here's her blog, Amber Reunion, which begins here, on September 16, 2011:
Atlantic Ocean, June 1949. This is where everything began. These happy folks are my parents, as immigrants, aboard the "General W.M. Black," the vessel that transported them to the United States. They were Displaced Persons from Lithuania, and they had lived since the end of World War II in the American-occupied zone of Germany.

The ship sailed from Bremerhaven. My Mom was shocked by how small it was. Men and women slept in separate quarters, and everyone ate oatmeal. Most of the passengers got sick during the trip. My parents had never felt better.
It's full of "family photos dating back to the 1860s": "Tambov, Russia, 1912. This is my paternal Grandmother, Tatjana. Tatjana was about sixteen when she posed for this photo. I love the shoes!"/"Soviet Union, 1940. The is my paternal Grandmother's mother, Nina. After the Russian Revolution and the execution of her husband, Pavel, Nina continued to live in the Soviet Union. Nina's expression, the way she holds the wildflowers, her hat, and her ill-fitting stockings speak to me."/"In the 1930s, my Mom's maternal aunt, Dora, adopted the glamorous look that came into fashion on the eve of World War II. Think Marlene Dietrich with auburn hair. The first stories I heard about Dora pivot on her forward-looking viewpoint. More provincially wired people found her views and behaviors scandalous. Others recognized that Dora simply was born about sixty years too early."

There are many stories and photographs of growing up in Chicago in the 1960s — like: "When I was growing up, I learned about holiday customs. Lithuanians, for example, celebrate Christmas on the night of Christmas Eve ("Kūčios")":
The Kūčios meal consists of twelve meatless dishes, one to represent each of the Apostles. All of the foods are cold dishes so that the hostess does not have to cook on such a solemn day. On Christmas Eve, we primarily eat vegetable salads, gefilte fish, and marinated herrings. Lots of herring: herring is served at least four ways.

Enforcement of these traditions is inflexible. During one memorable Christmas Eve, we had a guest who did not eat fish. Cold fish therefore was out of the question. My Mom roasted and served a duck. My Dad spit bullets about the breach of Kūčios protocol. Even now, over thirty years later, my Mom usually says on Kūčios, "Do you remember when I roasted a duck on Kūčios?!!" as if that were a really screwball, Lucille Ball-like, thing to do.
There's mindbogglingly intricate knitting. (Sometimes that knitting came to me and you saw it on this blog —  like here.)

And there were many vignettes involving poodles. (Sometimes those poodles made it onto my blog, like here and here.)

What a great life she lived! How lucky we were to have known her!


Lyssa said...

I'm so sorry to hear that. I had a brief email exchange with her several years back, when I was more active in this world. She was a lovely person. RIP, Irene.

Meade said...

Such a pleasure and privilege to have known you, Irene. So many gifts you gave us through your blog and the wonderful life you lived. Fly free now with all the birds and animals you loved and where you will forever live on in our hearts.

Henry said...

My sympathies to those of you who knew her.

The last entry on her blog is very poignant.

MadisonMan said...


What a great knitter!

traditionalguy said...

A very interesting lady. She had a lot to offer. Peace.

Laslo Spatula said...

I love the photo of her Dad by the Skylark.

Something of an era: seems everyone had the picture of Dad with the family car.

Peace to her.

I am Laslo.

rehajm said...

Her blog is compelling with the mix of old and new. I learned about her life.

I love the photo of her Dad by the Skylark.

Me too!! At first I thought it was my family's LeMans. I'd know that back window anywhere.

Off topic- why do we blur our license plates, even a Skylark from the '70s? Everyone sees your plate when you drive around, you know. Are there that many corrupt people at the DMV that will help connect you to your vehicle?

alan markus said...

Her last blog statement: No worries; I will be back later

Hopeful right up to the end. Sounds like a wonderful lady - the link to the UW profile is great.

Wish I would have known to follow her blog - will have to do it retroactively. I should know by now that anyone with the "Ann Althouse Seal of Approval" has to be worthwhile.

Original Mike said...

Amazing knitting. The skill is obvious, but what amazes me is the patience.

Cancer sucks. RIP, Irene.

Nora Armstrong said...

Longtime reader, deep lurker. Thank you for this, Professor - and thanks for helping me to reconnect with my old friend several years ago.

Irene and I were HS classmates. We met in first-year Latin and shared almost every class in every subject during our four years at Trinity. She was our class valedictorian and also so impressive in many other ways! She made her own prom dress (middle-class girls in the western suburbs just didn't do that kind of thing, even if it was a Vogue pattern!) and was even then an accomplished knitter. In our senior year she baked me the most astounding birthday cake I've ever had, a beautiful and scrumptious nine-layer Viennese tort. She introduced me to my first HS boyfriend.

Over the years we kept in sporadic touch. I heard she got her JD at Madison and was teaching there but didn't make the connection to Althouse until the professor posted a picture of the engagement gift Irene and her husband Ray gave to the happy couple. I emailed Althouse inquiring whether her friend Irene was my friend Irene, she forwarded my message and thus Irene and I were able to reconnect.

A couple of years ago, in the process of decluttering I posted a picture on FB of a satin robe I'd never worn and offered it free to a good home. Irene snatched it up, and sent me a box of handmade chocolates as a thank-you. I knew she'd suffered a setback this fall but was completely taken by surprise when she sent me an email with a picture of her wearing that robe in the hospital, with the sweetest brief note. It made me cry then, and thinking of it now I'm crying again.

Rest in peace, wonderful, brave lady. All who knew you are richer for the experience.

Ann Althouse said...

"Wish I would have known to follow her blog - will have to do it retroactively. I should know by now that anyone with the "Ann Althouse Seal of Approval" has to be worthwhile."

Go back to the first post that I link to and read up.

She mixes the time periods very interestingly. The historical stuff. The 60s. The present. If's very bloggy and readable, with so many photos and nice succinct text.

Ann Althouse said...

@Nora Armstrong Thanks for seeing how I could help you do that.

MayBee said...

I am so sad to hear about her passing.

Yes! I so loved her knitting and her insights on this blog. My kindest thoughts to her family and friends.

Lyle Smith said...

God bless Irene!

Rick Lee said...

Wow... those sweaters are amazing.

MadisonMan said...

I'm of that age when people my age die early from cancer. My brother (melanoma). My oldest friend from down the street (ovarian).

A dear friend now fighting breast cancer that has metastasized.

Irene was two years older than I. Nora, thank you for sharing your story. My greatest condolences to you.

Mid-Life Lawyer said...

Lovely tribute.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

That's very sad--she seemed like a terrific person. Thank you for all the links, Professor.

Chris N said...


I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

I'm sorry for the loss of your friend.

DimeStoreDave said...

One of my few must read commenters here. Insightful and intelligent. I will miss her presence.

Biff said...

A lovely blog. Thanks for sharing it, and condolences on the loss of your friend.

I come from a "mutt" American family with many ingredients in the melting pot. The two largest contributions are from Italy and from Lithuania. I am culturally Italian-American, but physically I am quite Lithuanian; an odd combination. I never noticed it as a kid, but there really is a Lithuanian "look" that I find to be quite distinct from Russian or any of the other geographic neighbors, though some Poles will have it, too.

Somehow, I've been marked as the extended family's "Keeper of the Photos." I've been thinking of digitizing them and putting them online, perhaps in a bloggy format. As an aside, I saw a review of a scanner that promises to bulk-scan photos pretty well a few days ago in the WSJ. Anyone have experience with a beast such as the Epson FastFoto FF-640? (My risk tolerance is too low to entrust the old photos to a commercial digitizing service.) WSJ link Unfortunately, it's behind a paywall.

Anonymous said...

What beautiful work. Stranded knitting (the type of colorwork she seems to have favored) isn't difficult per se, but it does require close attention. I don't do it often because I like to knit while I watch movies etc. on tv so I don't want to have to stare at my work the whole time. Whole sweaters-worth of stranded colorwork require you to be comfortable just alone with your thoughts for long periods of time. What a peaceful life she must have had.

sunsong said...

RIP Irene

David said...

What happens to blogs when the bloggers die? My guess is that they will be buried in the sands of the internet over time. Some day there will be an archeology of the early internet, or some equivalent.

Some should be deliberately preserved and signposts created for their location. Let's hope Irene's is one of those.

Thoughts also to Mr. Irene (does he survive?). Note this lovely pair of comments from a page Althouse linked.

Mr. Irene said...
A very nice way to introduce the rich characters in the story ahead. This will generate amber waves of joy!
September 16, 2011 at 9:28 PM

Irene said...
September 16, 2011 at 9:40 PM

YoungHegelian said...

What a wonderful person, & a great commenter! She will be sorely missed. We were all graced by her presence here.

Rest in peace, Irene.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

>YT: Counting Crows - Long December

Lissette Brizendine said...

Lovely homage to Irene's blog! She was my best friend at Sacred Heart's middle school grades & one of my bridesmaids. I was so happy to reconnect with her this summer, after many years. My heart is weeping!

Kris said...

I wanted to pop in and say a few words about Irene. I'm the Kris who appears in her Amber Reunion blog. Our families were close friends from the time we were both children; I'm three years older. Irene's mom is my mom's best friend, and she was my pediatrician when I was growing up. My dad Vytenis, my mom Donna, my Uncle Al and my grandparents all make appearances throughout the blog. Irene's maternal grandmother Baba was like a grandmother to me, too.

We were both the more-than-slightly awkward first generation children of immigrant parents. We went to Lithuanian school on Saturday mornings (yuck) and we dressed differently than the other kids (I had my version of the awful glasses, too!).

We bickered when we were kids, but as difficult circumstances drew our families together over the years, we became more like sisters. We mourned the loss of our family members, spent holidays and vacations together, and stood up in each other's weddings. We stayed in touch via email and phone throughout the years and managed to visit in person occasionally, sometimes in Madison, sometimes in Chicago, and sometimes in Door County. The family circle widened with the wonderful addition of Mr Irene.

In October of 2008, one morning I suddenly felt this strange sense of urgency, that I needed to call her home. I used to chat with her Mom on a semi-regular basis but hadn't for a while, so I gave her a ring. Irene picked up, which surprised me, as I had assumed she would be at work. I asked her if she was home sick and she said "I just found out I have advanced ovarian cancer." She literally had gotten the diagnosis just hours before.

She was extraordinarily courageous during the entire eight years, going through many different treatments with dignity, grace, and optimism. She continued to teach for many years until she made the decision to retire. She was one of the brightest, most gifted, and most determined people I've ever known. We laughed together and cried together over the last 50+ years. She was the little sister I never had.

Irene's grandmother Baba also died of ovarian cancer. I remember going to visit her one last time when I was home from college, and as I was leaving she said something to me that I'll repeat here as a farewell to Irene.

Sudiev, malyutka. Goodbye, little one.


Bill said...

That blue cardigan she designed is so beautiful.

Birches said...

What a beautiful person. Thanks for the words of remembrance, Althouse and Kris.

BJM said...

Such sad news, Irene had a lively presence on Althouse, she will indeed be missed.

Godspeed, Irene.

Freeman Hunt said...

I only knew her as a commenter here where she was a lodestar of civility. The world needs more like her. She will be missed.

Paolo said...

Thank you, I'm so moved by her family's photos: they have a flavor of an older, more gentle Europe, although amidst a terribly painful era. I'm 50,but I'm deeply touched
by the dignified style so characteristic of a bygone time; perhaps I am reminded of something about my parents and grandparents, who lived here in northern Italy: a place more related with Mitteleuropa than the rest of the country.

A prayer for this kind woman.

Swede said...

I'm sorry to hear of her passing.

God bless her.

As my whimsy leads me.. said...

I will miss her deep and interesting comments. I am sorry that you have lost such a dear friend and colleague, Althouse.


edutcher said...

Just saw a message on her blog and wondered.

I followed it for quite a while.

S.he was a cyberfriend