Saturday, May 16, 2015

grandma - motherhood

Maria hoped to gain some stability through marriage (for the previous parts of the story see part 1, part 2, part 3). She had been single up to 32. In this time she would move frequently - typically every two years and often from one corner of the country to another.

Iulian's first job after they were married was in Targu Secuiesc - one of the three cities in Romania with a predominantly Hungarian population. In 1945 it was more troubled than the rest of the country because instigators poised people of one origin against the others.

Granma, her children and grandpa. This picture stayed near her bed.
 Iulian was charming, polite and fluent in Hungarian (he also spoke German and French).  He had been born before 1918 when the Transylvania had been part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. So, Maria and Iulian were hopeful when they set up their house there.  She was also pregnant with their first child. However, they were not well received by the local leadership. She was soon sent a copy of the city newspaper that said that they got rid of the mayor, and all that was left now was to get rid of the engineer. Iulian was traveling at the time. In that period their two pigs were poisoned. So, she sent the dead pigs to soap manufacturing. The woman who was sometimes helping her was also pregnant with a similar due date. Both she and her child died in child-birth. Maria also had a difficult delivery, and remembered being alone with the midwife who was encouraging her with the statement "push madam, push or your baby will die". But her child did not die then. She delivered a healthy baby boy, whom she named Teodor after her husband's father and brother. When Iulian returned, he was accused of insulting the mother of Vasile Baciu (a guy with some political involvement in the area), and promptly fired. Iulian had never insulted an old lady in his life. His Hungarian was good enough to use the most polite forms of address that the language has. Yet in that period fairness did not play a role. The reason was written on his work permit in red letters, and they had to go.

The next city they moved to was Beius, a beautiful little city in Transylvania that is still known for providing beautiful hiking trails, skiing, fresh water fishing (e.g., trout), and wild-boar hunting. Maria and her baby traveled alone to meet Iulian in a train reserved for cows that did not have heating. She succeeded in keeping the child warm with a blanket she had received upon departure from a kind neighbor. When recounting this story some 50 years later, she regretted not rewarding this woman more generously upon departure. 

Maria's brother Grigore was living in Beius, and Iulian and Maria found a house nearby. When Teodorita was 1 and 1/2, Maria had a second baby, a little girl they named Mariana. Grigore would look after the children when Maria was at work. When she returned home she would often hear him telling her little girl how beautiful and precious she was. Both children had Maria's big blue eyes. Teodorita had her mother's slightly upturned nose, and Iulian's ebullient personality, while Mariana was more quiet with her mother's perfect oval and her father's breathtaking smile. Grigore had married a woman of German origin to save her from deportation to the forced labor camps. They had a son of the same age as Mariana, who later became a Mathematics professor at the university in Cluj. Both Grigore and his wife were kind and caring, and their marriage turned out to be one of the most successful unions in our family.

In this period, people of German origin, and other individuals disliked by the system were sent to labor camps in Russia to work in mines. Many did not return and died of mistreatment, cold, hunger and sickness.  Soon local labor/extermination camps were built in Romania to emulate the Russian Gulag. Iulian's uncle Adrian was sent there for being an officer in the Austro-Hungarian and in the Romanian army. He had been educated in France, and went to school with Charles de Gaulle, but the borders were already closed and there was no external help.

Before their second child was one year old, Iulian and Maria had to move again. This time they moved to Timisoara where some of Iulian's extended family lived. Maria obtained a job in Lugoj, a city 60 kilometers from Timisoara. She left the children with their father and one of his sisters for a few months until she found a place to live. Teodorita, who was 3 at the time, missed her so much that he tried to reach Lugoj by foot. A stranger asked him where he was going, and insisted that he returns home. Once Maria found a place to live, she took her children and her husband with her. Her mother-in-law later came as well. The children were enrolled kindergarten starting at 1 and 1/2 (Mariana) and 3 (Teodorita).

Iulian left again for a job closer to the center of the country where there were forests and mountains, which maintained some resistance to the Russian forces in hope that the Americans would come to liberate them and to close the torture chambers and forced labor camps. Iulian was hoping that he would be treated more fairly there than in a bigger city. When they were separated, Iulian and Maria wrote to each other every day. I remember reading his last letter to her. He wrote how he missed her and that it was cold and rainy, but he would not feel any of it if his beautiful wife had been with him. She would generally write what the children were doing, and also describe her trials of finding him a job in Lugoj. Teodorita had inherited Maria's beauty and intelligence, and Iulian's outgoing, charismatic personality. At five he was quite popular with the everyone on the street and in kindergarten. In his last day at home he had attended a funeral of an older neighbor "to take flowers to God", and came home with a slight fever. There were no other symptoms. When the fever continued, Maria sent a telegram to Iulian to come immediately, and went to the hospital with her son. She worked with the doctor to procure antibiotics for him, which were very difficult to obtain in 1950. The aim was to rule out a pneumonia and potentially other types of infection. When he did not react to the antibiotics, he became a suspect of polio for which there was no treatment. The only thing that may have helped would have been the iron lung, but they did not have one in Romania at that time. The final diagnosis was polio that  caught the respiratory muscles.

Teodorita spent his last moments imagining he could talk to God. He tried to argue with Him and convince Him to spare his life "God, if you only let me live, I promise to bring you lots and lots of flowers every day." In the end he excitedly asked  "Mother, Mother, a carriage with angels has come to pick me up!  May I go?" Maria answered "Do as you wish, my darling", and in the next moment he was gone. She later wondered if perhaps he would have lived, if she had said "no!". Iulian arrived a few hours later. His sister, Octavia, went to meet him at the train station. He had been crying throughout his journey because he thought he had felt his son die. However, until he reached Lugoj he hoped he had been wrong, and when Octavia told him Teodorita was gone, he fainted. Both Maria and Iulian were depressed and could not laugh for many years to come. While a lot of the sorrow abated in time, their love for their son lasted their whole life.

Mariana at 8
Mariana in school
Iulian gave up his dream of planting and maintaining forests, and of making the world a more fair place. Instead, he moved back with his family. Maria succeeded in obtaining a job for him near Lugoj after she convinced an official to agree that it was natural for the husband to move where the wife was and not only the other way around. However, he was soon asked to sign that a known forest had never been there when it had been cut, and the wood had be stolen. He refused to sign, and went to court with all the necessary proof to win his case. However, the judge, who could not write and signed with his finger, refused to listen to him and instead preferred to spend the allotted time calling him names. Iulian was demoted from engineer to gate-keeper. By this time, he had developed paroxysmal tachycardia. Their family doctor recommended retirement. He thus stopped working in his field. Instead he taught Mathematics at the local Hungarian highschool. He and Maria started taking their daughter to the seaside in vacation for at least a month each year, and always made sure she knew how cherished she was.

Maria, Mariana and Iulian
Maria continued to teach until she reached the standard retirement age. For some years she was assigned to teach mathematics to a special class of students from the Orphanage. Many were severely mistreated there. However, at the end of each year, the students were tested and had to adhere to the same standards as those who lived in normal households without any extra help. She considered this public humiliation of herself and her students deeply unfair. Then every spring, summer and fall she participated in field work with students. They had pick corn, plums, etc. Additionally, she was assigned to visit the families in Lugoj by foot, and count the children in each family to ascertain that they were going to school. Then there were many meetings in the evening where they would be told of the greatness of the president and of the communist system. 

After particular harsh treatment from the school director, she was asked to respond. Instead of arguing her case, which would have been useless and potentially dangerous for herself and her family, she wrote a poem addressed to the director, whose name was Ana. She then read it in front of the other professors. It was considered an elegant response that was remembered over the years, and caused no repercussions. I only known the beginning. It started with:

"Ana draga
Scumpa fraga
De ciulin
Garnisit cu maracin.
Tu dai din coate
Si deschizi usile toate, ..."

Very rough translation

"Ana dear
Sweet thistle flower
With spines empowered
You elbow your way 
Through the door array 
Making all roads clear....."

Maria, Iulian & Mariana in 1975
My mother
After they retired, their life in Lugoj was quiet. They bought a beautiful Victorian house with huge doors and high ceilings together with Octavia and her husband. The joint ownership played a role in saving it from demolition. However, they always made it clear that the most precious thing on Earth for them was their daughter, and not the house, furniture or clothes they owned. They were so proud of her when she became doctor. She was truly outstanding in her work and later became an even more amazing mother. 

When my brother and I came along, grandma and grandpa loved us dearly. They (both of them at first, and later only grandma) lived with us until we were old enough to stay home on our own when our mother had to work. They wanted to help her be the best doctor she could be, while making sure we thrived as well, and they succeeded.

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