Friday, December 24, 2010

Saying Good-bye

Thursday, December 23, 2010

My time in the safe haven of Baile Tusnad was winding down and there were many slow farewells taking place over several days, like lingering over a sumptuous conversation you don’t want to end even though it’s three in the morning.

Tuesday I said my first good-bye to Barni who was going to spend Christmas with his alcoholic father. We had a preliminary good-bye on Monday night when he looked at me with sad eyes, hugged me strongly and said in that low serious tone he has, “Thank you.” And I knew he meant it from deep within his heart.

On the morning walk to school, Barni, who usually runs ahead with Lorkia and Laci, stayed behind with Ishti and me. He even walked home from school with us and I gave him the camera to use. He wrapped the strap around his wrist and pretended to drop it, giving me that mischievous smile. Out of all the kids, he’s the last one I’d have concerns about with the cameras and the computer. I hope he sees as bright a future for himself as I see for him. We had a few more hugs at the house and then he was gone. The first good-bye of many. I was hoping my heart would hold up as there have been several good-byes in my life recently and loss is something I never deal with well.

Tuesday night, Judit was singing in a school performance at five o’clock. Ilonka, the Nevelok whose house I’ve been staying in, walked with me, Ishti, Mozes and Judit. The classroom was buzzing loudly with kids yelling, running wild and boys and girls hitting each other in that flirtatious way nine-year-olds do.

The children took their places and a triangle ding signaled their cue to start singing. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t understand the words; their angelic voices, mistakes and giggles spoke directly to my heart. I videotaped them like a proud parent would do. At the end of the performance the girls walked around the classroom offering a tray of small crackers and plastic cups of orange soda. They smile and look everyone in the eyes and don’t miss one person in their offering. I take a cracker from each tray, having learned from when they offered me candy they really wanted me to take it.

A few more hugs to kids I’ve laughed with, comforted and walked hand in hand with over the past few weeks and then I went to decompress at Apol, the pizza place I frequented, and lost myself in facebook before going back to the house to start packing.

Wednesday was the day I’d be saying good-bye to the rest of the kids at the house and that night I was planning on visiting with Sabi and the kids at the St. Francis house to say farewell.

Judit was especially needy on Wednesday, knowing this would be our last time together. She wanted me to play with her like I do with five-year-old Mozes who climbs all over me, but she doesn’t realize her strength, size and age are not conducive to that kind of play. It becomes bothersome and Lorkia scolds her.

Enco came to the house in the afternoon to steal me away for an exit interview at Szekely Fogado where there were a group of Romanian businessmen drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. Enco commented she knew they were drunk because they started hugging and kissing one another. Harghita county is mostly a Hungarian population and there’s a bit of criticism toward the way the Romanian government works, or in many cases, doesn’t.

The afternoon was spent baking cookies and much to my surprise, Lorkia was the one to take over the activity to the point of shooing the young ones away; not even allowing them to sprinkle red and green sugar on the cookies, so they just filled spoons with sugar and ate it, respecting Lorika’s authority. I felt badly for the kids but didn’t want to contradict Lorika’s admonitions to them. At fourteen, he’s sort of the man of the house and I wanted him to feel some autonomy in the activity.

With very little guidance from me, he rolled out the dough, floured the rolling pin, flipped over the dough and pressed the cookie cutters precisely before lifting the fragile dough to place in exact positions on the makeshift baking sheet to be placed in an oven that has one temperature; hot.

Lorika has all the qualities to make a great baker, meticulous, detailed, organized, precise and he takes pride in his work. I want to send him a book on baking and I imagine him in the future in culinary school. There are so many possibilities for these kids but they will most likely have to leave Romania to achieve them. The country is economically depressed and many young adults are leaving the country to find work.

The kitchen started to get that nice buttery sweet smell which lured the young ones into the kitchen as I slid the cookies onto a tray with a knife. Judit reached for one and like a strict father, Lorika looked sternly at her barking, “Nem!” You can gather that means, no.

I would have let them get covered in dough and eat the cookies fresh out of the oven. When Lorika left the kitchen for a moment, I covered my eyes as Judit reached for a cookie with a hopeful look in her eye and a big grin.

When most of the cookies were stacked in neat little piles of matching shapes on the tray, Lorika finally gave the okay to eat them. Forty cookies were all gone in a matter of minutes.

With a few scraps of dough left, I invited Mozes, Ishti, Felix and Judit to roll the dough and press the cookie cutters. They sprinkled the dough with flour and too much sugar and Judit ate it raw.

It was tough to break away from them that evening. We had our final hugs and as I walked outside toward the gate, tears filled my eyes and that familiar nausea I had before I left for Romania returned.

Laci came running out the door with a ¼ full bottle of water I’d left behind and lingered for one more hug. I trudged up the hill attempting to quicken my pace to get to the St. Francis house, it was already nine p.m. and the younger kids would probably already be in bed.

The front door of the St. Francis house was locked. I had no choice but to head back to the house. The clanking and high pitched whistle of the train that used to make me think of how quaint Tusnad was, now sounded like a sad call that it was time for me to move on.

That night I dreamt about my mother dying. She has in fact been gone since 1991 and I don’t often dream about her dying. In this dream she had been ill and had survived many years beyond her prognosis but she finally succumbed. My brother and I were making arrangements for her service by the sea. We threw bouquets of flowers onto a hillside and then walked to a dock where her casket would be released into the ocean. There were children present and I didn’t want them to see the reality of death. My brother and I stood on the dockside of a tall gated wooden fence built high enough that the children couldn’t see the release of the casket into the water.

That morning after getting dressed and packing the last few items, I headed over to the St. Francis house where I was grateful to have breakfast of sliced meat on buttered bread with Sabi and a few of his boys. One last kid grabbed my hand and sent me on my way with a full but saddened heart.

Enco had arranged for someone to pick me up at Ilonka’s house to drive me a few hours over the Carpathian mountains to the town of Sighisoara where I’d spend one night before heading to the airport in Targu Mures on Friday, the 24th.

As we drove up and over the mountain pass the sun emerged and the distance between the little town of Baile Tusnad and my secure feeling while there was growing.

I just had to keep looking and moving forward even though I am drawn to the safety of the past.


  1. Good blog. I wish I could write about my experiences like this, may make this time easier.

  2. Okay, not a dry eye in the crowd, including mine. How beautiful and sad all at once. Love, kiddo. Brad