Monday, December 19, 2016

Stories from the past

 I was walking my children from school one day when a beautiful, well-dressed lady came from the opposite direction. The children recognized her immediately as our most dear family friend, Tanti Mia; it took me much longer because I had forgotten my glasses at home.  She is in her 70s and tells unforgettable, true stories that make me feel better than any movie I have ever seen. Last week we heard the love story of Eliza, her mother in law.

I know I cannot do it justice. My grandparents were wonderful story tellers, too. I miss them very much and I regret not writing their stories while they were alive. I would then have more tiny pieces of them left behind. This time I decided not to make the same mistake. What I fail to capture, is the funny side she induces in all her stories - I cannot write the many laughs we get or Tanti Mia's expressions and charisma. I somehow have to write in my own voice.

While I do not remember meeting Eliza, I know she was Tusa Tavi (my great aunt)'s friend. My mother remembers a portly, kind lady with a lovely face with well-proportioned features and a keen sense for beauty. She used to make dresses for my mother when she was David's age. 

Years before she met us, a young Eliza had been crowned "Miss Cluj". She had been stunningly beautiful. Her favorite sport was dancing on ice. Her dance partner was a young, Hungarian man, and the love and admiration in his eyes shined through to be seen by all as they skated together. However, Eliza was afraid to marry him. He seemed too intransigent, and she thought their love might not be enough to make them happy. 

She later fell deeply in-love with a young Jewish man. His family did not want them to marry. On a New Year's eve in the late 1930s, he promised to defy them and run away with her. Eliza convinced her family that this time her love was worth fighting for. Her mother even helped her prepare a feast to celebrate their wedding with the beginning of the new year, but he never came.

Many tens of years later, he visited Lugoj from Israel to meet Eliza's family and thank her for saving his life. He had been the only one in his family to survive the Holocaust. He explained that his family drugged him for weeks to stop him from running away with her, and that he was too proud to ask for forgiveness then. He, however, thought of her often and had been carrying her picture in his pocket since. The man in charge of sending him to his death was Hungarian. Upon the demand "empty your pockets", the picture of Eliza fell out together with the rest of his few belongings. The man's expression changed. His features softened, and for a moment he looked young and wistful again as he exclaimed "You loved her, too! ...  and could not have her either.  Come and clean this office every day!  I promise you will be safe as long as I am here. I cannot guarantee you will live beyond that."  Some weeks later an opportunity arose for escaping to Israel.

Back in the 1930s, Eliza was very upset when her fiance did not show up. Her mother encouraged her to visit her grandparents in Topita to lessen her depression. On the way there, she met and married an officer in charge of the railway. They moved to Lugoj and had two children: a boy and girl. Even though her husband married a woman who's beauty and kindness inspired a love that saved lives, he cheated on her quite frequently. One of the women involved with him was known to say that the bed sheets in Eliza's house were not clean enough - this was to insinuate she was not a good wife. In spite of all this, Eliza and her husband found ways to get along and raise their children. She was also able to retain her kindness and good nature in the process. In her spare time, she created dresses that embodied some of her grace and provided a source of independent income. My mother was always proud to wear them.

Her children and their spouses loved her dearly. They all met the Israeli man upon his visit to Romania. As he was leaving he looked at Eliza's daughter, Sandra, and said: "you are very beautiful my dear, but ... like Eliza ... no!" - meaning Sandra was beautiful, but did not come close to Eliza's beauty.

Today ... I keep my children close, and wonder what kind of stories we will leave behind.

I try to retain my good nature as I turn around to listen to the third team who is "fixing" my central heating system. They do not want to install a filter for the water because the lead person has not told them to do that and he does not have one at home. They do not need to read the manual for the furnace or discuss their installation, but aggressively ask for money and there are four of them, and me holding the baby. They represent the kind of people who succeed.  So, I just gave them the money they wanted, which is 3-times more than the previous team asked for + the price for the pump. When I told them the pump was broken, they insisted this was not the problem, and then acted very surprised when they "found out" it could not work - surprised enough to charge even more money. Both pumps function for now, and the heating system does appear to work slightly better than before.

When I read the news, I often cry. The tragedies in Syria, the elections of the pro-Russian parties/entities in the US and Europe who spread hatred under the umbrella of nationalism, the various terrorist attacks and followup retaliation through more rockets/bombs are all heart-breaking and scary.

One of the many whys: we forget to promote capable people and instead argue we have no room for them. The hackers in Russia are speaking English and many of them have been educated by the world's best institutions. We could not employ them for our security because, of course, there was/is no room, and, yet, we act surprised when they go elsewhere.

 I have worked with some of the world's brightest minds, and it is sad to watch them being pushed out of their field because "there is no room" and/or constantly sabotaged by the endless bureaucracy in their own institutions. Institutions and collaborations faithfully obey CIA's rules of sabotage and this causes a lack of time. Talented people spend too little time doing important things.

Do we have room? Most houses on my street are empty and mine is not the only street like this. There are not enough children to form a play-group with, and, yet, Romania has no room for refugees or more exactly we have room for a bit over 1000 in the whole country - all placed in designated centers.

Should we have refugees in the first place? No, we should not. We should only have economic migrants. Ideally, we ought to elect leaders who build sustainable economies and do not need to destroy other countries through wars to increase/keep their power. Are my views utopic? Yes...for now.

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