I do not recall a lot of my father’s stories, but the ones about his mother, my grandmother, and his sibilings were my favorites. I could not believe my roots were in such a fairy tale, yet they were!
My grandfather, my father’s dad, was a tabacco specialist. He was Greek and to make it to Barlad, a small town in Moldova, where he had a job, he needed to cross the Danube River, which he did. The story went, he was too tired to travel that night and found a fisherman’s hut to sleep overnight. The fisherman was happy to have a guest, as the season wasn’t bringing enough to feed his numerous family. He welcomed the Greek stranger and gave him the best bed. He invited him for dinner, and the stranger gave them more money. He was friendly, dark-haired, handsome, and smoked good cigars. The younger children went to sleep early, but Ana, my grandmother, stayed late. She was 13 at the time and the oldest of the 8 children. Greek man are known for their love of booze and women and my grandfather was no exception. He smiled at Ana as he drank another bottle, and she must have agreed to what he whispered because she smiled and soon after disappeared in her room. She was tired.
Soon, the parents went to sleep too and so did the stranger but somehow, he must have been confused by the new environment, because he ended in Ana’s bed.
No one knows what happened that night, but in the morning, when the household woke up, there was no sign of Ana or the stranger!
“He kidnapped my Ana, he sneaky Greek! All Greeks are womanizers, I should have known better, I should have hidden my treasures!”
After a few months they received a letter from Barlad. It was written by the Greek, in Ana’s name. Ana didn’t know how to read or write and she only spoke a Russian dialect, “lipoveana” spoken only by the fishermen on the Danube, at the boarder with Romania.
She was asking for forgivness and told her family Ion, that was the Greek’s name, didn’t kidnap her, she went with him willingly because it was love at first sight! He was her soul mate, and that was it for her, she just knew it in her heart! She went on explaining that he had a good job and she stayed home and was learning to read and write in Romanian. At the very end, she announced casually that their first child was to be born soon and how happy they both were about the new addition.
The letters stopped for many years, but at least the family knew she was alive, married, had children… what else could a fisherman’s family dream for their daughter who eloped at 13 with a strange Greek? A girl who didn’t read or write or had any skills. Yes, God was good to Ana, it could have been much worse. At least the Greek was a gentleman and married her.
Aftr another 5 or 6 years, another letter arrived, this time in a different handwriting, but it was from Barlad too. This letter was in Ana’s handwriting, which impressed everyone off the bat! She was explaining how after a year of happiness, she got pregnant again, and again, and Ion started to come home less and less, until one night he didn’t. By then, she was pregnant with their fourth baby and felt tired and fat and didn’t care if he ever came back. He was drinking more and more, and when he did, the monster came out, and he was screaming and breaking things and the kids run to neighbors until the fighting stopped and their father fell asleep. She told her parents in the letter that after a stormy winter night he never came back and the villagers looked for him a little, but not too much. He had the reputation of a drunk and womanizer and charmed many wives already. His behavior didn’t make him popular with the other men or his family, so no huge efforts were made to find him. The fourth baby, my aunt, was born without Ion being present.
Together with the baby, spring arrived: The snow melted and the flowers showed their shy, colorful heads here and there, and the sun warmed the almost frozen bodies of my father’s family members. My grandmother went on to saying that when the snow melted completely, Ion’s body was found in a well, somewhere in the field. He must have tried to take a shortcut and fell in the well covered by snow. He was dead, so now she was a widow with four children and had to find a way to raise them… No, she didn’t want to go back home, she was just telling them her story. No, she wasn’t asking for anybody’s help!
The story went on and according to my father, his mother became a maid. She went to rich people’s houses, collected their dirty laundry, washed, ironed and folded it and took it back to the owners. It was hard work and the children were expected to help once they were 5 or 6, strong enough to hold a basket of dirty laundry.
I never met my grandmother, but I admired her. There was a picture of her, an obese, stern – looking woman in our family album. Her hair was grey and her eyes looked angry, or was it sad? No… they were angry! I tried to imagine her as a 13-year old, probably thin, beautiful, full of dreams and hopes. She died young, at fifty from I heart attack. I was not born yet.
And now, here was I, a young woman of almost 18 in Communist Romania! After that New Year’s Eve party in 1966, Christian and I continued to see each other at school, during recessions at first. Slowly, that wasn’t enough and there were rumors about us. The teachers wondered why a “good student” like me would even talk to a “troublemaker” like him!. I knew why, but no one seem to understand. We decided to meet outside the school, in secret, to avoid the unpleasant rumors. Christian wake up an hour earlier and walked to my apartment to pick me up, so we could walk twenty minutes to school together. Most times he brought me a flower and we walked hand in hand through Cismigiu, which was a beautiful park. Many times, he carried my book bag, so I didn’t tire myself. I was in Heaven!
On weekends only, my mother allowed us to go on dates. Generally a movie and a walk in the park, even having a beer, since there was no age limits for drinking in Romania. Sometimes we were invited to parties called “ceai” (tea) and we danced, or rather pretend to dance as we rubbed our bodies against each other.
It became harder and harder to go back home after our dates. We were now Seniors in high school. We had been officially together for two years, yet my mother didn’t care… All she cared about was that when I married I was a virgin so my future husband could not say I was a whore. Only whores slept with men without being married and she was going to make sure such shame wasn’t going to happen to me… actually to her, because people would say “Where was this whore’s mom? What was she doing?”
To assure such shame will never become a reality in our lives, after each date she’d sit me on a chair and first asked me questions. She wanted to know in detail what happened, where I was touched and why. Did I like it Oh! Such lack of pride! This was the easy part. Then she was ordering me to part my legs so that she could determined if I was still a virgin or I had been shamed. That was unbearable.
“More, more, I can’t see… oh… NO!”
I felt her nails digging into my thighs trying to part my legs and my legs felt stiff. Perhaps, that’s how dead people feel, I thought. No, dead people didn’t feel at all, perhaps it would have been better to be dead!
“Oh, I think I see a fine crack into your hymen! How far did you let him go? You whore! No one will ever marry you! You’re doomed…
After such sessions I’d usually go in the cold bathroom and vomit bile until the pain from vomiting took over and I couldn’t feel the pain of shame, of being a whore, of being compromised forever! I wondered if it were so wrong, why did it feel so good? I wondered why would God, if there was one, give me all these desires and make me do all these shameful things. Yes, for sure, I was no good.
It was the end of our Senior High School year and we were still going to school but not in uniforms, as all the other students. For two weeks we were allowed to come to school in our regular clothes and prepare for the final exam, Baccalaureate.
The desires of my flesh had become less important when compared to the OBGYN exams, and decided to listen to my mother’s advice, because only she knew best and truly loved me, and told Christian no more touching. We’ll have to wait until we were married! I wasn’t a whore.
“Then, let’s get married!” he said, as if getting married was the simplest way out of this convoluted situation.
Get married… well, why not? What would that really mean? She will no longer check my vagina if I were married… that wouldn’t be bad at all…
This was how, the two of us, age eighteen, legally allowed, decided to get married in secret. We filled out the papers at the Consiliul Popular (City Hall) and one morning, during recess, holding hands and very scarred we went to the City Hall to get married.
The waiting room was empty. It was 10:00 AM on a working day. A photographer showed up and went inside the Mayor’s office, where the ceremony was to take place.
After about an hour, the mayor herself came out and asked:
“Are you guests to the wedding which was supposed to be at 10:00? Do you know what happened to the groom and bride?”
“We are… them!” we answered and stood up.
The photographer looked disappointed and the mayor seemed stunned but we went in the officiating room.
Ceausescu’s portrait smiled at us and the mayor played the Communist Romania’s Hymn and read our rights and duties. She shook our hand and the photographer took pictures and handed us his card.
“Congratulations! You may kiss the bride!” We kissed lightly.
“You may really kiss,” the photographer said, “you are married now!”
They left and we kissed again, a deep passionate kiss! We were married, we had the right!
When the time for my vaginal check up arrived, I refused to undress. My mother was stunned. I handed her the marriage certificate. She read it, turned it over:
“Is this real?
“Okay, I guess someone did marry you! That’s done. Now make sure you don’t get pregnant!”
“You’re not pregnant, are you?”
I wasn’t, but her question made me wonder why did my mother not believe in me being good enough, attractive enough for someone else to love me… for me? I am still asking myself the same question, over and over and there is no way I could ask her. She died in 1980.
It was May 28, 2010, the same month Christian and I married in 1969. I was in Pennsylvania and both my daughters lived in other states.
My telephone rang and on the screen I saw my youngest daughter’s name.
It must be important, I thought, she never called unless it was important, otherwise we texted. Easy, impersonal, controlled, ending it when you felt like it without being rude, just ttyl (talk to you later). Easy, much easier than when we grew up.
“How are you honey, what a nice surprise! Where are you? Are you okay?”
“Yeah… I am fine, We are in Vegas.”
“You mean, Las Vegas, Nevada where “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?” I said trying to appear relaxed,. My thoughts were racing… why was she in Vegas? was she gambling, who was with her in Vegas…but I asked nothing. I knew better, the more I asked the less I got answers. I just waited for her to offer …
“We just got married, mama! I am married!”
She texted me pictures of her and her husband in a white limousine. I assumed there was a photographer present, just like in my wedding. Theylooked happy and tan. I was happy for their happiness.
We hang up and my thoughts race back to my mother… what would she have said?
She was dead, dead since 1980 and she must die in my mind too. It is 2010 mama! No more control!