Giving Thanks and Finding Gratitude…Happy Thanksgiving from the Ozols Collection

Antons Alfreds Ozols. by Auseklis Ozols. Oil on Linen, Private Collection. Ozols is pictured with his watch, history books about Latvia and the Baltic area, as well as a few pieces of his regalia from the mens organization Latgalia.

Thanksgiving is a multifaceted topic as we consider colonialism, immigration and cultural identity. For our family, Thanksgiving is a celebration of gratitude, recollections of experience that helped us find the places we occupy today, and endless narratives of finding home amidst struggle.

One of my favorite stories of Thanksgiving is about my father as an 8 or 9 year old boy. In the process of escaping war torn Europe with my Grandparents, he describes being on a US navy troop ship in the North Atlantic Ocean during winter:

“Everyone on board was seasick, the North Atlantic during winter is one of the roughest seas to cross. I went to an upper deck to breathe some fresh air and the salty freezing waves pelted me in the face over and over again. A man came out and took me by the hand to the kitchen. He gave me an orange. I immediately went to find my sister and parents who were suffering with sickness inside. We peeled the orange together, divided it up and shared the entire thing. ” (Auseklis Ozols)

He explained that as he unpeeled that orange it was one of the most heavenly experiences of his life. He had never tasted an orange so delicious, sweet, perfect. Even the brilliant color was a sharp contrast to the life they were enduring as the family escaped communism with its accompanying threats and terror.

I always think of this on Thanksgiving-now especially as my own children are that age, imagining the gratitude of a child for a single orange.

Portrait of Miek Laan (Marie-Cornelie Van Dorp Laan) Auseklis Ozols. Oil on Linen, Private Collection (Fire Damaged) Miek Laan received an Erasmus Medal from the Queen of Holland for her family’s work hiding Jews in their cellar during the Nazi Occupation of Holland. The Laan family emigrated from the Netherlands. . Miek is shown above with flowers from her expansive wildflower garden, which she cultivated in her back yards in Old Metairie and Ocean Springs Mississippi. Their experience was very different than the Ozols family as the Laans made the trans-Atlantic trip with all of their furniture, paintings, and family heirlooms. They moved directly to New Orleans from the Netherlands.
Mana Mila Mamina (Portrait of Dzintra Kristina Kreslins Ozols) painted by Auseklis Ozols, Oil on Linen, Private Collection . Dzintra is pictured with a piece of her sculpture and flowers from her garden. The inclusion of flower buds and detached petals are representative of the journey she made away from her homeland.

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