FOUR

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When my husband then came home from work told me that there were rumors about some hooligans and agitators who were under the Securitate’s radar, and that they were trying to destabilize our society. Some said they were Russians, but others said they were from the Western Europe or even the US. Nobody knew exactly what was happening.

The communist leaders in every factory had given strict orders to the workers that after their shift to go directly at home and stay out of the streets after the dark.

We followed our Saturday routine, with my precious chicken soup simmering on the stove, our weekly celebration. I also made crepes and the children were happy. I had left the warm water faucet on to catch the moment when the city would give us warm water and fill the bathtub.
“Will Santa ‘Mos Craciun’ come to us, mama?”
“Oh, yes,” I reassured my children.

The tradition was to get the Christmas tree only a few days before Christmas and hide it from the children. Then on Christmas Eve, while the little ones were sleeping, the parents would decorate it with Christmas treats ‘saloane’, apples and walnuts in their shell.
It was sad that I didn’t have the money to get the treats or gifts yet until the 23rd of that month when my husband would get his salary.

After giving the kids a bath and putting them to sleep, I took out their church outfits for the next morning. It was important to have them dressed “properly” in their Sunday-only clothes in order to fit in our Baptist Church. You could never be over-dressed, and as sad as it was, I knew I had to keep up with the majority and keep the appearances.

My best friend and I had planned to go to church together next morning and we were meeting at the tramcar’s station a block away from us.

We waited for a long time at the station until a passerby told us that there was no public transportation available. We didn’t know why, but I could see my husband and my friend’s husband whispering something in each other’s ear. We decided that we should not miss our church service and we started to walk, holding our children’s hands.

When we reached Maria Square we saw that the bookstore there had the window broken, and a pile of books were partially burned in the middle of the sidewalk. The destroyed books were Ceausescu’s political allocutions that nobody bought.
It was silence. There were no personal cars on the street but a military truck rolling down in a low speed.

We didn’t dare to say anything to each other, but pulled the children’s hands to walk faster and kept up to the church.

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THREE

THREE
My best friend who lived two blocks away called me right after my daughter went to school. She asked how I was feeling, but I could sense there was more she wanted to talk to me. Our conversations on the phone were listened by the secret police Securitate, I knew that. Not only ours, but of the entire country.

People spied on people, and Securitate spied on everybody.

“Did you hear anything about what was going on at The Maria Square?” She whispered while I was taking my son’s jacket off.
“No. What?”
We let the children play in the boys room and we went in the kitchen.

“Somebody said there were people who gathered in front of the Reformat Church to back up their pastor, pastor Tokes.”
I didn’t know who pastor Tokes was. The Reformat Church had their services in Hungarian and I didn’t speak the language.
“The Securitate was going to evict him from the parochial house because he spoke against the system from the pulpit. His congregation didn’t let them take him, but made a human chain in front of the main door, in the street. More of that, people from our church and our pastor and people from the Pentecostal Church joined them and stayed there through the night.”
I couldn’t understand. “How could that help?”

My friend continued in a low voice. “They sang hymns and prayed together and the communists just sat there. Then somebody shouted, ‘Freedom! We want freedom!’ And everybody called for freedom in one voice.”

I was paralyzed. “Did they arrest them?”
“I don’t know. We’ll find out more when our husbands will come home from work.”

It was still morning and my little son and I left her house to go and stand in the line for food. I was stacking up on butter, eggs and flour of good quality for Christmas. Our rations were small, but every day I would get something and, being with my son, we could get double portions.

It was ice cold out there and the line was outside, as usual. We took our spot and I gave my son a sugar candy to keep him happy while waiting in the cold winter wind.
He was used to that.

One

ONE – It was a cold December in1989 and I didn’t know where to look for hope anymore. The whole nation was sending prayers before God, asking for the big change for so many years. We were desperate. My birth country was kept in starvation. We had no electricity during the night, and only 2 hours of warm water per day. No matter the weather, every day I had to stand in long lines for any valuable food item. For so many times I had to choose between getting milk, eggs or meat.
I had a 6 years old and a 4 years old and was 7 month far in my third pregnancy.
It was a miserable life under Ceausescu’s dictatorship.

December 15, 1989.
A small group of believers in my city gathered together in front of their Reformat pastor’s building in solidarity with him. The authorities had placed him under eviction from the rectory because of his ideas about communism.

It was a Friday night when usually we went to our Baptist church’s service, but I was too tired to get everybody ready and leave the house. My husband then, he stayed at home as well. We had no idea what was going on in the neighborhood of our church.

As the Baptist and Pentecostal churches finished their services at 9PM, many of the believers were walking home or to the public transportation stations passing by the Reformat Church where people were standing and praying in front of the building.
Militia was there.

The pedestrians stopped to see what was going on. We never had crowds in the street, unless for weddings or funerals. And that was during the daytime. When they found out what was going on, they joined the Reformat parishioners. The Militia demanded that everybody go home, but most of the people stayed. The pastor of our church stayed as well.
At that point, there was no turning back. People knew they just put their freedom in line. And even their lives.

In our ice-cold apartment, the kids were sleeping, and the house was quiet. I went back in the kitchen and sat at the table by myself. I needed that silent time to gather my thoughts and pray more. What was going to be with a new baby in the family? How would I keep him/her healthy? Because the cold was so unbearable that my two children had to wear jackets and boots the whole day.

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One Dear Family Story

images (11)I don’t know why, but I was thinking of one of my grandfathers lately, the one from my mother’s side. I remember being a few years old and holding my grandma’s hand while going from visiting my great-aunt to my grandparents’ house who lived in the same village. We met grandpa who was in a carriage full of cantaloupes, taking the harvest from the field directly to the market in a small town. Grandpa Bunu stopped the cart, looked for a beautiful piece of fruit and handed it to grandma Buna to carry it for me.

He knew how to make a violin from a dry corn stalk and play it for me. We were best friends.

Some time went by. My mother was pregnant with my sister when she and my father took me on a train and stopped at my grandparents’ home that late summer. My grandfather had passed away.
I didn’t know what that meant. It was a nice unexpected excursion for me, but I realized that something was different than usual when I saw my aunts and a few neighbors all wearing black and talking in a low voice.

By the time we got in the yard, nobody paid attention to me. Mom was crying. She hugged her mother and sisters and went in the house. The first room was the living room with a cooking area, but they didn’t stop there. Buna opened the second room, the one for guests, where I wasn’t allowed to play. When they got in that room, they were not aware that I was following them.

And there was my grandfather, lying on a rug on the floor. I didn’t scream. My family members were crying and wailing and I stood there watching. I was seven years old, living in a communist country, where people couldn’t buy a coffin when they needed it. They had to go and order it and the body was kept on the floor until the coffin arrived.
The whole scene was pretty scary, but not for me. I walked outside and went in the backyard where my oldest cousin was carving a piece of wood. He was making a cross for the grave.

It was sunny and pretty hot, but I remember that quince tree and my cousin working under its shade. I joined him for a while, but when some vanilla fragrance had spread in the air, I rushed in the summer kitchen where one of my aunts was making donuts.

Grandma Buna was sitting on the edge of the daybed and wiping her tears. The sound of her voice was soft and I went and sat next to her while she was finishing a story.
“I asked him to pray to God and receive Jesus and he always said that he would not die until he would get right with God.” She stopped and sighed. My mom and dad were listening.
“And?” my mother whispered.
Grandma blew her nose.
“I don’t know. He got bad, then worse and when the doctor left yesterday, I knew there was no hope.” She tidied the margin of the bedspread with her tired hand. “He turned on a side to face the wall and I bent over to see him. He couldn’t talk anymore. I saw a tear coming down on his face, and then he was gone.”

My heart ached and I stayed there in the dim light and sobbed.

Ten Cherries – Stay Sane

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There was an old building across my school. The wall’s paint was faded and shriveled, with grooves in the bricks.

My friend Cristina moved in that building that spring. When our classes were over, we walked outside the school building together and crossed the street straight across from our school’s gate. There was not so much traffic on the road in that part of the world in the 60s.

We were in fourth grade.

At the end of April my friend told me that the cherry trees in her backyard were full of flowers.

Everyday Cristina and I talked about the cherries and how big they were, and that I was the only friend invited to the feast.

At the end of May, Cristina told me that her cherries were yellow and that that was their color. She also mentioned that she had already tasted them and they were almost ripe. So, we decided that we were going cherry picking the following Saturday after school.

School on Saturdays ended at 11AM.
My mother was working the second shift and she had to leave for work at 1:10 PM.
I lied to my mom to cover my bases. I told her that we had choir rehearsal that day and that I would be late.
And she believed me.

The excitement of eating cherries didn’t let me sleep well the night before. When I left the house at 7:30 AM, I forgot my snack on the kitchen table.

Our teacher, Mr. Grozdan, had some paperwork to finish and he asked me to coordinate my classmates and have a contest. I rapidly put together a list of questions, split my colleagues in two groups and we played. When the bell rang at 10:50 AM, Cristina and I were out of the door. We crossed the street and my friend pushed the blue gate to her apartment building.

There were small residences surrounding the courtyard, with drying lines by the alley and a few trees. Somebody peaked at us behind the kitchen curtain and Cristina looked at me and tapped her lips with her finger. We continued walking slowly by the open doors. A man with an old shirt was finishing smoking. He tossed his cigarette butt on the ground and went inside. Before passing by another open door I saw two hands holding a washbowl coming behind the door’s curtain and discarding some liquid outside. When we walked by that apartment trying to avoid the nasty pool, a woman poked her head out to see who was there.
I didn’t care about the neighbors as long as the cherry trees were waiting for me.

We stopped at Cristina’s door and she opened it.
“Come in! We’ll pretend we stay inside.”
But we sneaked in the common backyard after a few minutes and closed the gate behind us.
There were a few rows of vegetables on a small portion of the ground, an area hardly disputed between the neighbors every year. I looked around but I couldn’t see any cherry trees.
My friend kept walking to the end of the garden where there was a big pile of tainted canisters and bins, and broken bricks.
And then I saw.

A few cherry trees were lined up on the other side of the fence.
That was the most magnificent view I’ve ever seen.
I dropped down my backpack and climbed the pile of old stuff to reach the branches. Some noise was coming from under the trees on the other side and I looked over the fence. Two men with long sticks were already picking the fruit. My whole body froze. I made a sign at Cristina and she climbed the rotten things next to me to watch. We couldn’t get the cherries.

I dared to pick one piece of fruit from the branch I was holding still, when one of the men saw me.
“Hey,” he called.
Frightened, I loosened the branch and ran down the hillock to grab my backpack and leave.
“Hey,” the voice continued,” come back. I have some cherries for you, girls.”
Cristina was still up there creeping between the wood slats. She stood tall then and gazed over the fence.
My heart was racing. I climbed the old stuff again and waited.
“Do you have a bag or something?” one of the men asked. We didn’t. Plastic bags were rare.
I emptied my backpack of my school stuff and handed it on the other side.
They didn’t fill it up, my backpack was big, but one of the men had to climb up the ladder to hand it to us, because it was pretty heavy.

Cristina and I sat down on the pile of trash and ate.
That was my first time when I ate cherries and I was full.

Three Things I Hated as a Child

I wanted a happy childhood, but my parents knew how to ruin it.
There were a few things with the power to put me in misery, and mom and dad knew how to keep them on the table. Everyday.

1.The worst of the worst – Naps
Mom was in charge with them. She was making me quit what I was doing and showing me to my bed.
“You are taking a nap.”
Pleading with her and trying to bribe her never helped.
I had to get in the bed, turn my face to the wall and sleep in the middle of the day. She would let me quiet down for a while and tiptoe back in the room to see if I was asleep. Never happen. My whole body was alerted when I would feel her bending over me to see if I was sleeping. The hard I was trying to keep my eyes close, the harder the tiny muscles of my eyes would tremble, giving me away.

2. The bad experiences every single day – Meals
My body constitution was fragile since I was born. In spite of being skin and bones I was full of energy and vitality. It was a mystery for people how I could be up and running for 14 hours a day on crumbles. I didn’t like most of my parents’ cooking. Soups, meat, milk, they were my enemies.I could live with one egg, french fries and chocolate every day of my life. My mom didn’t know what to do with me anymore to help me eat my food. All the sandwiches for school ended up in the trashcan.
“You will die from starvation one day,” she used to say.
I didn’t.

3.Monsters eating my freedom – Chores
By the time my parents would come home from work around 3PM, I had to make my bed, put my things away,do my homework and wash my feet on summertime.
With the exception of doing my homework, I.Hated.Doing.Everything.Else.
“Don’t touch my freedom! Let me do what I like!” These were my strong principles.
Anyway, I was so fast in getting everything done, that from 1PM to 2:45PM I could read one of my books, chat with my next-door friend, Irinutza, or make myself earrings from the colored wire my dad had in the shed.I was super fast in doing my homework, and most of the times my parents would find me at the table pretending to focus on my textbooks.

That was my childhood.
I know you feel sorry for me.

The Size of a Nail

When you are born in a world of fear, corruption and a particular level of poverty, your brain goes into the survival mode and you are less vulnerable. You learn how to manage it.

My parents didn’t have money to spend on what I wanted, but I knew what to ask from mom and what to ask from dad in order to get it. My father bought me books, notebooks, pencils, sweets and fruit. I didn’t need anything else to be happy after doing my homework when the weather was bad and I couldn’t go outside to play with my friends.
On the other hand, I could ask mom to buy me a piece of cake, and she would buy it. Chocolate, candies, mother wasn’t convinced to make the financial sacrifice.

I was my last year in kindergarten and it was my dad’s turn to pick me up at 2:30 PM and take me home. Mom was working the second shift. He opened the door to my classroom and caught my eyes. “Let’s go!” It was summer time and changing from the uniform into my light personal clothes was piece of cake. I placed my uniform and my indoor shoes in my locker and grabbed my father’s hand.
“Would you buy me a piece of chocolate, please?”
Tata (“father” in Romanian) looked at me with a sad smile.
“I’m sorry, we don’t have money for chocolate today.”

We got on the street and hurried to the tram station. There were crowds of people waiting, and when the vehicle stopped, everybody was trampling on everybody. Finally, we managed to get in.
The news that we couldn’t afford to buy a piece of chocolate wasn’t in fact news. That happened often, but sometimes because I asked again and again, tata would give up and make the investment.
“I need a piece of chocolate, dad.”
He didn’t answer. I could see he had a lot on his mind.

We changed trams, and after about 15 minutes, we finally got out by the market in the Iosefin area.
“Would you buy me a chocolate, dad?”
“I don’t have the money to get you a chocolate, my daughter. Why don’t you understand?”
“How about buying me the tiniest one?” I didn’t let go.
My father halted in the middle of the sidewalk and dropped his hands.
“What do you want: bread or chocolate?”
I looked at him with serenity and declared:
“Chocolate.”

He didn’t say anything.
We went and bought a loaf of bread from the bakery and took our way home by the Bega River. Just when I lost my hopes about my treat, we entered the small ABC store on Pop-de-Basesti street.
And dad bought me the minuscule piece of chocolate ever, “Dwarf chocolate”, the size of a nail.
That made my day.