Memories from Lithuania

My memories of Ben Horne

I am so glad that I had a chance to know Ben. It is so good to remember the days spent with him.

I met Ben 11 years ago. I was 13 and he was 21. We met in a summer camp in a tiny resort in Lithuania called Shventoji. It was organised by a church for children’s chorus. I was part of that chorus. And Ben was visiting Lithuania for the first time. I think someone gave him the contacts of the Lithuanian priest who spent many years in the US and who was then at a church in my area. Ben was therefore staying at that church while in Lithuania and therefore joined the camp.

At the camp we were having a meeting in our meeting room where I was sitting in the front row. I remember someone asked me if they could try my glasses on and I saw my glasses travelling further and further away, being tried on by everyone interested. At the end of the meeting I looked back to see what happened with my glasses and this was moment when Ben had them on. This is when I spoke to him for the first time. Since then we would spend a lot of time together at the camp. He would tell me about his Lithuanian origins, his family, his university, his favourite music and his own bands/rapping, his DJ’ing at university’s radio… He would show me the CDs he had with him and I would listen to his favourite tracks on his CD player. This is when I first found out about Tom Waits. I was excited about Ben’s life, I admired everything he did. I wanted to do many things he did such as travelling a lot, working in a radio or singing in a band.

Once we were walking along the street in Shentoji and saw a poster of a Lithuanian band who was paying there that night. I told Ben that I know the band and quite like them. He said “let’s go”. Going to that concert was tricky because no child on the camp could go anywhere without one of the team leaders (elder youth with more sense of responsibility). Also the concert was not on the camp’s programme so basically I could never have gone there on my own. And probably no one would have wanted to accompany me. Luckily, Ben was one of team leaders! And he knew the Lithuanian-American priest who was there to allow us to go. So we attended the concert and I felt t like it was a privilege to me because I was the only child from the camp who could go and I had a team leader accompanying me alone.

One night it was decided to organise a party/show night and I remember rehearsing a dance performance with a few other girls to show to the rest of the children in the camp. I remember Ben joined our rehearsal and acted as a B-boy/rapper who was dancing around us with another boy. It was his idea to make the performance more fun that way. I remember he borrowed sun glasses and a cap from someone else to create his image for the show.

I remember on our way back from the camp Ben was teaching me some English words. He also showed me a little piece of paper he had with him. It said “Dievas yra meile” on it. It means “God is love”. He said one of his grandparents wrote it for him before his trip to Lithuanian.

Ben was speaking to me more than other at the camp. I think my English was better than others’, our interests were similar and I think he was interested in learning about me as Lithuanian person. I think he was interested in how I live, who I am, what I think, what I want… After a few years when he travelled more, I understood he was always interested in getting to know different nations, their traditions, and their history. What I also learned after Ben’s recent visit to Lithuania is that out of all nations he was probably mostly interested in learning about Lithuania as it was his Fatherland. I remember reading his blog about his last visit to Vilnius. He was describing Lithuania in a way I haven’t heard any Lithuanian describing his country in a long time. Ben admired Lithuania’s people and especially its history, he believed that we as a nation were extremely strong in preserving our culture. After all we managed to retain our language even after long years of being occupied by Russians.  

After we returned to Vilnius we kept in touch. We met a few more times while he was still there. My mother suggested he joined us for a day at our country house. Probably she thought it would be interesting for Ben to see different places in Lithuania. Our house is in a small village called Suderve near Vilnius. I remember I showed Ben around our whole territory where we have gardens of fruit trees and vegetables. We also kept a few domestic animals at that time. I remember a picture of Ben feeding grass to our goat. My mother prepared a soup for lunch made of freshly grown vegetables and also had a curd cheese that she rubbed with spices and garlic and baked in the oven. Ben absolutely loved the lunch! He asked for the second portion of soup and asked me to photograph him with the cheese. We were also playing cards with Ben in a sunny balcony. I remember we bought some soda/lemonade that we decided to bring with us to the balcony. It was Ben’s idea to use shot glasses instead of the normal ones and pretend that we were drinking vodka in the photos! Luckily the lemonade had clear colour, however it also had bubbles which probably looked suspicious!

We also went to the lake which is near our house. I remember various pictures from Suderve – it was a great fun! All of the pictures were made with Ben’s camera and the only reason I have them is because he made copies for me. Unfortunately all the pictures are in hard copies back home in Lithuania so I cannot attach anything.

One day Ben asked me to lead him to the market not far from the Church. I remember he bought a lot of CDs and a framed picture made of amber. He later asked me to help posting it to the US as it was for his family. He also bought a wooden necklace for himself with some amber pieces. He said he really liked it. When I spoke to Ben last time I asked him about the necklace and he said he had it for many years until someone ripped it off his neck at some bar.

After Ben returned home we kept in touch. I still have a lot of paper letters from Ben. Later we were writing emails each other. Actually when Ben visited Vilnius last time, I showed him all the letters I kept. In one of them he found a few stickers from his Rice University Radio station and said he had no left for a long time. He took one with him to make some pictures with it. He planned to return it to me but we forgot about it and he took the sticker with him back to the US. He later said he would put it on his car.

A couple of years later Ben came to Lithuania again. This time he came with his family. I remember I spent a few days with all of them showing around the city, trying Lithuanian food, and stopping by in their hotel. It was great to meet his family. And it was great Ben asked me to join in.

After that, I haven’t seen Ben for probably 8 years. I know he was back in Lithuania for the third time in 2007 I think. Unfortunately I was not there to meet him. I was working in Budapest for two months at that time.

In 2007, I moved to the UK to start my business studies. I finished in 2011 and started working. Ben would tell me that whenever he is in the UK he would let me know.

Last December he would tell me that he is coming to Eastern Europe – visiting Poland and Hungary. I told him that I will be home in Lithuania during that time. Ben suggested I come to Poland; he comes to Lithuania or we meet in the middle for a day or two to say hi. That was awesome! I could not believe I would see Ben again after so many years. We agreed he would come to Vilnius and stay at my parents’ flat just next to the church where he stayed 10 years ago. Unfortunately he was only there for a day and a half but we spent the whole time in Vilnius centre visiting places he wanted. We went to Uzupis – the bohemia area in Vilnius and I also took him to the old cemetery there which is unique for its old age and usually pretty statues and monuments used. We also found Uzupis constitution on one of the street walls – it was important for Ben to see it. For the rest of the time we were walking in Vilnius streets, stopping by at Lithuanian restaurants to try some Lithuanian food. The aim was to have cepelini with curd! After Ben returned to the US he said he really liked seeing me and the city and that it was great to be in his fatherland. And that he would be back again soon.

I only met Ben during his three (out of four) visits to Lithuania. I always wanted to go to the US one day and meet him there as well. I will miss Ben – he was an inspiring person to me. I am so glad I had this time with him and I will always remember it.