As you may recall, I went looking for my grandfather’s village, Iasi, a little over a week ago. I took the train from Bucharest (where I was robbed) to Fagaras. There I made the acquaintance of Gabriel Gulu, my angel who drove me around and served as my interpreter to the Romanian villagers in Iasi.
Did they know the family Bacal?
Did they remember the family Weinstein or Bacal?
Let us take you to the oldest man in the village.
“I have lived here all my life. I am the third generation of my family to live here. This is not a name that I know.”
They were Jewish. Evray.
Uncomprehending looks. Some people look down at the dirt.
No. No Jews here. Some confusion.
Please to inquire at the office of records.
Gabriel and I eventually do so, only to learn that the office has records going back to 1908, and my grandfather was born a year or two before that. Who knows, anyway? The Communists destroyed so many records.
Evray. Jews. Iasi was once a Jewish shtetl, according to a friend’s online research. I believe it. The Jews had to live somewhere, didn’t they? Before they were deported, murdered, or decided to emigrate?
Romania is a country of trauma and secrets, and great hatred of minorities. It was painful to be there as a daughter of Jewish Romanian heritage and of Unitarian Hungarian spiritual heritage. Complicated.
We stood in the street in Iasi, Gabriel and I, attracting a lot of attention for two reasons: first, a car in the village! There aren’t many, and those that are there are known. Second, a car with an American woman in it!
A baba (my word for grandmother) rushed up to me without warning and embraced me. She stood all of 4’11”.
“God bless you. You are always welcome here,” she said as she stroked my arms, my face, my hair. I crouched down to her, looking into her eyes. “You are always welcome. Welcome here.” Gabriel was embarrassed and uncomfortable as he translated for us, but we were not. I blessed her, too. “Bless you, grandmother. Thank you.”
“You’re so fat and beautiful,” she said. “Thank you,” I said, laughing. I knew that it was meant as a compliment. I was wealthy enough to eat well. A very Old Country mentality. We didn’t want to let go of each other. We kissed goodbye after long minutes of just embracing. I told her that she was beautiful. Beautiful.
Later, after I visited the Registry of Records, she came by the car again. This time I grabbed my camera and asked her for a photo. This is a face I couldn’t forget, but I’m glad you’ll be able to see her now, too. What did she know? She wasn’t just crazy. I swear that on my life. She wasn’t just crazy.