Antiques….What Do Americans Know!!!

After we married,  life, as we knew it, didn’t stop or changed drastically for anyone but us! We were shocked as we discovered that we had to adjust to it, not it to us, in order to survive. For months we continued to live with our parents and finally, thanks to my mother moved into a small apartment in a far away  section of Bucharest, called Balta Alba (The White Lake).

Our parents insisted that even if we were married going to college was still a priority. Education, not sex was a priority and too bad we chose to have sex first!  There were ups and downs and  hard times and good times. We both went to college and managed to graduate, while tutoring kids and taking summer jobs.

After my mother gave me her life-time savings to have a down payment for a small apartment she even bought us a  small car, which only Christian was driving. He insisted I wasn’t bright enough to drive, I was a woman and could wait! My mother loved Christian, and he became the son she never had. In all truth he was charming and catered to all her needs, she was the source of his material wellbeing, and he was no fool. He was attentive, nice, praised her. How could she resist such charm?  I was not and definitely could not compete with him or grow a penis! I was jealous of their closeness but told my self I needed to chase away those inappropriate feelings and be happy they got along so well. After all, they both loved me and their way of showing was very similar!

My mother never achieved her goal for me to become an architect and after long debates, she decided I should study English, a language of the future and get into the University of Bucharest.  The competition was more ferocious than the one to get into high school. Especially because I didn’t have “healthy origins” meaning my parents were intellectuals, not workers.  That made it even harder to get a spot in college, as the ones with healthy origins had priority.  Again, I surprised everyone and myself,  and became a college student in the English- Romanian Department of the University of Bucharest.

During the 4-years of college, Christian’s love grew into possessiveness and he escorted me to the doors of the University and picked me up, to “protect” me.  He knew every step I took, every person I spoke with, every thought I thought.  It was like being back with my mother, but a little better because sex was good. I was thrilled that someone loved me so much that he’d even choose my outfits and if he didn’t like them he’ll make them for me. I sure was a lucky woman to be so loved!

Still, we always needed money and one summer break,  while still in college, I applied to be an interpreter for an International Fair  in Bucharest. Countries from everywhere participated and they needed English speaking students to present their products. Interviews were arranged  by my college, and thousands of young desiring Romanians stood in endless lines, hopeful they will be among the few chosen.

I was selected by two countries: Japan and America.  I opted for the Americans. Interpreters from previous years told us the Americans were “the best”. They offered coffee on breaks and  cake on Fridays!  They gave the presenters red polyester uniforms and what was most amazing we got to keep those uniforms when the Fair was over. Nothing could beat such deals! In addition, if one befriended the Americans, they could buy Kent cigarettes from the dollar stores where Romanians were forbidden to shop. I was sure our  social studies books, the Marxist-Leninist theories, were all correct, the stories about the capitalists exploiting the working class, were true… Perhaps, I tried to rationalize, the Americans at the Fair were all  undercover spies, or  came to Romanian instructed to make a good impression and place seeds of doubts into our trusting communist hearts .  What was the truth? Who knew the truth, and did I really care, while I sipped the American coffe, eating cake, all dressed in the red uniform. I looked good in red! That was all that mattered.

Those were good times, when having a cup of good coffee after standing and presenting an American product for 6 or 8  hours at the Fair, was the highlight of my life.  I knew so little, I desired even less. Doesn’t it say in the Bible,”Blessed be those poor in spirit?” or something to the effect that  being not so intelligent, or knowing little could be an asset? Well, The Bible was right! Although, truth be told, The Bible was a forbidden book in Romania of 1970’s. I only saw, touched and read  the Bible years later, parts of it at least.

In 1974, after I finished collage, fate had it, that walking down the Magheru Boulevard in Bucharest,  I bumbed into the Cultural Attachee of the US Embassy in Bucharest. His name was Dick.  He was very tall and had longer red hair, covering his bushy eyebrows. He smiled, which made me smile right back even if I were sad and worried I had no job.  I didn’t think he’d remember me out of the tens of presenters at the Fair, but he did!  He said he  remembered my good work and presentations when we first met. I blushed with pride: An American, and not just any American,  remembered me!  Oh, I thought, this was my opportunity to ask him for a job! I was afraid he’ll just run away, so, quickly and out of breath I told him I finished college but had no job.  May be he could help? I asked, my heart pounding with expectation…  As if it meant so little, Dick took out of his pocket his card and said:

“Yes, I think I can help you, call me tomorrow.”

I put his card in my purse and we said good bye.

The job Dick had in mind for me was part-time, but I would have accepted anything! He put me in touch with the new Associated Press correspondent in Bucharest and his wife. Nick and Cassandra needed a part-time secretary/interpreter. Would I interview with them, nothing was guaranteed, of course!

YES! Of course I wanted to interview, I was more than interested, I could not believe my luck, but what was the Associated Press? I asked my husband. Oh, ah was a journalist, a reporter. We wondered why did the Associate Press send a reporter to Bucharest where everything was perfect and we all adored Ceausescu and his wife! Was it possible somehow they found out about the long lines for food? The closed churches? The lack of freedom to travel outside of Romania? The terror? The political rebels who disappeared in prisons? Didn’t they, the Americans understand these were small sacrifices, temporary sacrifices made by the people and we all worked for the welfare of our children… well may be the children of our children, as things would get worse first, before they got better!

An interview was arranged one spring morning in 1974, between the AP correspondent, his wife and myself. I stood and stared  at a white villa with black trims, protected by gigantic iron gates.  I went up the spotless marble steps all the way to their apartment, which occupied the entire floor. I rang the door bell.  No answer.  Heavy, uncomfortable silence…

Should I ring again? Should I leave?  Did I really ring the bell? It made no noise. I pressed the button  harder and this time a woman’s hurried voice answered from the other side of the door:

“Just a minute, just a minute, I am trying to open the door!”

I blew it, I thought. I was too impatient and rang too many times… for sure not a quality one would want in a secretary!

I was going to stay for the interview anyway, I had no choice!

I leaned on the door and felt fainted. The woman opened the door abruptly, or so it seemed, and I almost fell over her. I straightened myself quickly:

“Hi, I am Rodica, I am here for the interview!” I tried to grimace and to  look confident.

The woman was thin and blonde, with shoulder-lenght hair and beautiful blue eyes.  She didn’t seem angry at me…She smiled and extended her hand:

“I am Cassandra, Nick’s wife. Please call me Cass.”

I stepped in and looked at the floor crowded with unpacked boxes.  We stepped over a few as she was leading the way to Nick’s home-office. We knocked in the French glass doors through which I could see Nick sitting at his desk and talking on the phone.  When he was done, he stood up, and my eyes followed his body unwinding into the tallest man I have seen. He reminded me of those actors in the few American films I saw. He sure was handsome and he smiled too! They all smiled!

“This is my husband, Nick Ludington,” Cass introduced us, and “this is… Rodica? Is this how you pronounce your name?’

Yes, it was perfect, she pronounced it pefectly, I assured her, but truth be told, if she didn’t I wasn’t going to correct her.  I didn’t even hear how she pronuonced me name.

My job at the Ludingtons was a young woman’s dream. Not only did they have two young boys, ages six and eight, but the Ludingtons traveled often and we, Christian and I, were asked to move in and babysit the boys and supervise the housekeeper.  The housekeeper was assigned by the Office for Services to the Diplomatic Community.  She was suspicious of me and I of her. Which of us was the undercover security officer? I knew I wasn’t, but she didn’t and that uncertainty made her respect me enough to stop stealing the Ludingtons  expensive booze when they went on their trips. Nick had to write a letter to the Office for Services to the Diplomats, to make it all legal. I, as a Romanian citizen, was not allowed to work for a foreigner without their permission. What if I was a criminal? It was the Romanian’s government duty to protect the diplomats.

My employment with the Ludingtons lasted a year.  Then, Nick was reassigned to the Middle East. The best times, while I was in their employment,  were when Cass and I went on Lipscani, an  bazzar-like area of Bucharest, known for its second-hand furniture and oddities. Cass called them antiques, but what did she know? If you asked me, they should have all been trashed! They were too old and dirty!

On one of these trips we stopped by an antique furniture store which was so crowded with items, we had to step over piles of chairs and dressers to reach the four chairs Cass eyed from the distance. She couldn’t have seen something closer to the door? I thought as I bumped by knee on a dresser.

“They look comfortable.” she said, and sat in one of them.

I didn’t say a word and she continued:

“For Nick’s back, you know…”

I kept silent. They looked dirty. Why would she even look at such chairs when she could afford new ones!

“How much?” Cass asked the vendor.

“Four dollars each!” he said. “A bargain!”

A bargain? What was he talking about? Four American dollars for an old dirty chair! Thank God for Americans to buy such things, I thought. A Romanian would never make such mistakes, we knew better!

“Do you like them? It’s a very good price,” Cass said, and I shook my head in an indefinite direction which could have meant anything.

She loved the chairs, she paid and we took them home.  Nick loved them too! Everyone seem to be in agreement about the chairs so they grew on me, the chairs and their hidden beauty became part of the household..

Years later,  when life took me from Romania to the Ludington’s house, in Pennsylvania,  I re-visited with the chairs. This time, I liked them, just because something was familiar, like seeing old friends! I knew these chairs, they were from Lipscani, Bucharest!  Now they were on the Philadelphia Main Line. Like me, they traveled a long way.

“Oh the chairs from Bucharest! You still have them!”

“Yes,  would you believe it, ” Cass said, “We appraised them  in New York and they are original Windsor Chairs, worth over $2,500 each! Not bad for a $16.00 investment! ”

We both smiled.

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