My earliest memory of my Mom is wrapping myself in her skirt. I was born in Brazil. She wore skirts and took them off at the beach to swim in the ocean. She paced herself elegantly wherever she went. I recall watching her in wonder because she could wood burn any piece of wood and turn it into a treasure. The designs were of her native country, Romania. She had a flare for cooking though I was not allowed to disturb her, and to this day I try to recreate the wondrous soups she served, to no avail. She read and she wrote. She sewed and she embroidered. She painted icons. She was odd in that she was unpredictable in the face of being a priest’s wife. She held her own opinions and standards about absolutely everything, and though she sought to be friends with others, people tip toed, as I did.
I remember my Dad softly calling her name “Gina” when it was obvious she was about to say something we wished she would not, like the time the wife of the President of the church board mentioned that in America women mostly had short hair cuts. She was a lovely lady, and my Mom raised her big eyebrows, and announced the braid would stay on top of her own head.
She proudly told anyone interested that her name meant “well born,” and she was despite being a premature baby. The oldest of seven, she was dearly loved by her family. Unlike the gals her age, she left the parents’ farm in Timisoara, to go to Bucharest and attend the University. She did some study of milk, and no one could know more about it. Her degree was in Chemistry. I remember feeling intimidated coming home from High School; to me, Chemistry class was close to Mandarin, Chinese, a language I had not heard of at the time. However, it was my mother who told all the parishioners about the benefits of Chinese tea. I didn’t know how she knew that and often wished she would say no more. Those dear folks just nodded.
It would take volumes to sketch her accomplishments. Many would say she was terribly ambitious. Shortly after moving to the United States of America, she realized that my Dad’s salary would not suffice. They refused to accept food stamps because they did not believe in taking anything from any government. Therefore, when we became citizens, my parents declared they would be Republicans, and we were so grateful. Just like the movie, The American Story, we arrived to assimilate and be freed of socialism and communism. It was what I heard from under the table as a child. I remember the old shoes all around me as I sat at the foot of a large round table to play with buttons collected in a small box. I heard a lot. Everyone dreamed of coming to America.
My Mom found a way to get to Pittsburgh from Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, where we lived. She learned the language, went to the University, and received a Master’s Degree in Library of Science. Being the big city lady that she was, she applied for a job at the Library of Congress, in Washington, D. C., and when she received her first paycheck, my parents returned to the library to return it, sure there had been a mistake, afraid of consequences. It was a lot of money! The good they did for so many in need only escalated as they had naturally led a life of goodwill by finding sponsors for others hoping to come to America, and they did.
Somehow, my Mom even succeeded to be a part of an exhibition at the library exposing her beautiful plates, bowls, crosses, pitchers and embroideries. Her hands were delicately beautiful. She sang badly yet sang the responses in every one of my Dad’s congregations. To the parishioners, she was “Proteasa,” a title given a priest’s wife in Romanian just as “Matushka” is given to a priest’ wife in Russian. Titles given were and are out of due respect. I never did get used to teachers being called by their first name by students. My Mom crossed herself a lot, and I have picked it up too. The Orthodox say the words as do the Catholics, some Lutherans, and Episcopalians, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” The Orthodox join together the thumb, pointer and middle finger in honor of the Trinity, touch the forehead, then the belly, followed by the right shoulder, and the final cross to the left shoulder. The other faiths cross themselves with just the tips of their fingers. Traditions have a place and a distinction set by well-meaning ancestors. I find it offensive to degrade them. However, I inherited my Dad’s large hands. DNA does that too. I sort of respect these facts.
In the photo above, she stands next to the bookcase she wood burned. My Dad varnished every piece. The two were the closest couple I ever met. They were different as night and day yet remained united in thought. During Great Lent they fasted for forty days and on Fridays only drank water until after sundown. I was excused for the most part because I was anemic. In time, I’ll write more…This is just to let my heart unwind as the day comes to an end. Yesterday was thirty-six years since my Dad passed, and he would have liked me writing about her. He liked her “phone station”. She would answer “ALO”…
Aside is a photo of the bookcase in a different setting along with the chairs and table she so carefully wood burned…now a treasure owned by her first grandson and his wife. He called her “Bunica,”grandma in Romanian. She became a widow at sixty-seven years of age, and thirteen years later, I received a call from a Social Worker in Washington, D.C.; my Mom would have to be evicted because she was causing trouble. Good grief, who would have thought ? I went to pick her up, and she came to live with us: my husband, bless his soul for agreeing, four unsuspecting sons waiting, a white rat, a cat, a dog, and two parakeets. Did I mention as I grew up no animals ever set foot in our house ? Oh, we got to know each other well, and that I’ll keep for later. We cared for her a total of ten gloriously difficult years, and not due to her doing.
Life 101 did not come with an Instruction Manual.
“Memory changes the color of memories.” __Jacques Bainville
Do share your thoughts. It would make my day…