Friday, April 10, 2015

Grandma - young

Maria had a happy childhood in Curtisoara (for the beginning of the story see the previous post) which was spent playing with her siblings, and with the other children in the village.  The only cloud on the horizon was that her best friend sang in the village choir, while Maria was not allowed to sing. They told her she had no ear for music, which was very confusing for the child.  She pointed at her ears and argued that there was nothing wrong with them.
While not musical, she was enthusiastic in most of what she did. She and her friend once boiled the skull of a dead cat until the bones separated from the meat. They later cleaned the bones and gave them to their teacher to use for hands-on biology lessons. In addition to being interested in science, she also liked reading. She would read while guarding the family cow, and often closed her eyes to say poems by heart. At other times, she was tempted to group her cow together with those of other children. The children would then play together. The cow was generally good, but in one of these instances of neglect, she ran and hid in someone's cornfields, and was not found till morning. By then the damage was extensive, and her father had to borrow money to pay for it. 

One day an inspector came to test their teacher and appraise the village school.  He asked Maria to go to the blackboard and write: 'Ducandu-ma la scoala m-am intalnit cu mama' (Going to school, I met my mother). She wrote the sentence correctly, justified the hyphens, and explained the sentence structure. The inspector was very impressed and praised the teacher for his methods. The teacher recounted the episode to her father, but it did not stop there. From that day on, every time the teacher passed their front gate, he reminded Gheorghe (Maria's father and my great-grandfather) 'to send the girl to school'.
Sabina's home. Now the Ecaterina Teodoroiu memorial house.

Maria started fifth grade in Targu Jiu. One of her colleagues was Sabina Toderoiu, the youngest sister of Ecaterina Teodoroiu, a young girl who was both a nurse and a soldier in the first world war. All the other Toderoiu children died in the war. Ecateriana became national hero that is placed between Joan d'Arc and Florence Nightingale. Their home is now a museum that is still maintained by someone in their family.

After paying Maria's first year of school, her father ran out of money. So, Maria came home, and studied on her own from some old books she borrowed.  A year later she was walking the streets of Targu Jiu and crying in the rain. Since she had no other good clothes, she was still wearing her school uniform with the addition of a cap that partly covered her eyes. The director of the highschool passed by and stopped to ask her what was wrong. Among sobs Maria explained 'I want to go school, but ... father ... has no money'. At the suggestions of the director, the teachers  funded a special scholarship for Maria. She became 'bursiera comitetului de profesori'. They covered her tuition, room, and board in exchange for supervising the younger students when they did homework, and helping with their integration in school.

Gradma is the 1st person on the second row (left).
A few years later Maria finished highschool. However, the graduation exam was sustained in only a few centers in the country. She was expected to go to Turnu Severin (90 kilometres away), but had no money to get there or pay the local expenses. So, she sent a telegram to her father that read 'Vinde vaca sa dau Bacalureatul' (Sell the cow so that I can take the highschool graduation exam).  The cow was an important member of the family, and could not be sold.

It was close to election time. So, her father and the village mayor petitioned one of the two parties candidating. This resulted in funding not only for Maria but for all the poor girls in the county who qualified to take their highschool graduation exam. They were each awarded a stipend for room and board, while transportation was arranged in a big truck. Maria was examined in all subjects that were deemed important. In geography she was asked to explain the course of the Danube river. She started with its origin in the Black Forest in Germany and continued with all the other major cities it passes through forgetting only Turnu Severin, the city the exam was in. However, even with this slip, she did well on this exam and on the others, and even saved a little money from her stipend to bring back home.

After highschool, she enrolled in university in Bucharest with financial support from her oldest brother, Constantin, who had just started working. A few hundreds of students would start university each year, but only a hand-full graduated. One of her teachers was Gheorghe Titeica, who founded the Romanian school of differential geometry. Titeica had outstanding pedagogical talent, and cared deeply for his students. He had told Maria that his secret to teaching was that he still prepared his lectures, even through he was already experienced (and famous). He started every lecture by placing his pocket watch on the table, and always finished on time while succeeding to explain all the material clearly.

Another one of her notable teachers was Dan Barbilian (pen name Ion Barbu), also a mathematician. Although he was not as talented at lecturing as Titeica, she watched Ion Barbu become one of the greatest Romanian poets of the 20th century. His writing career started after a bet with his friend, the literary critic Tudor Vianu, where he argued that everyone had latent literary talent and could write, even himself. He further claimed that mathematicians would make the best poets if they had time to write, and successfully proved his point. His strength of opinion and unsmiling posture greatly intimidated his students, who frequently failed his exam in analytical geometry. Maria passed all exams in their first round. She obtained her degree in mathematics (primary specialization) with a secondary specialization in astronomy. A number of years later, she encountered Dan Barbilian again while researching the library where he worked due to the complicated political environment. With her now adult eyes, she saw him as a kind and polite little man with white hair, who helped her in her search. She thought that she and her colleagues had been very silly to be afraid of him. 

In the meantime, Constantin dies suddenly of meningitis. Maria goes home to help her parents and tries to hide Constantin's death from her mother, Ioana. She realizes her mother knows when she sees her carrying water. In Curtisoara, a person who loved the deceased was expected to bring water every day for six weeks to someone in need. This water is thought to appease the thirst of the dead in afterlife.  Ioana insisted to do 'the spring of afterlife' herself as a last show of love, even though she knew she was not well. Great-grandpa was the untrained doctor of the village, and he and Maria tried to help with medication from plants in tea, and baths, but the condition did not remit. She died six weeks later - as soon as she finished her last duty to her boy. 

The story remained that Ioana's heart could not be mended after the death of her first born son. Her own death left more heartbreak behind. Her youngest daughter was 11, and still liked to fall asleep close to her mother's breast.  Her youngest son was 13, and already away to school. The image of the young boy arriving home on someone else's horse to find his mother gone would stay with Maria until the end of her days. His forehead had been bleeding from the speed with which he hit the passing branches as he rode.

Maria became a mother figure to her youngest siblings.  She often had to get them out of scrapes. At one point she remembered receiving a telegram that read "Lost all clothes. What to do?". It turned out that her youngest brother had gone swimming, and all his belongings had been stolen. Maria immediately took leave from work and got onto the first train to deal with the situation. He eventually became an electrician in the navy, and lived his life close to the Black Sea, where we sometimes visited. After a severe bout of encephalitis, her youngest sister announced that she was moving in with Maria because the villagers did not believe in her recovery, and did not think she could be sane. Her father's only question before letting her go was "how will you get there?". She answered coherently and so he gave her money for the trip and his blessing to do what she thought was right. She stayed with Maria until she started college to become a Mathematician herself. She graduated from the university in Bucharest after her father's death, but still chose to become a Math teacher in Targu Jiu to stay closer to home. She raised her children there, and also helped raise some of her nephews and nieces. 

The next part can be found in the following post.

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