Most people have an urge to dig a little into their roots.
The British Isles and parts of Europe are often packed in the summer with Americans carrying guidebooks and asking for help in discovering their home town and how to order the local beer. The Canadians are much the same, but more polite.
And tapping the roots on my father’s side wasn’t too difficult. My father in fact wrote a little history, taking the family tree back two hundred years. To see the places they lived, visiting Northern Ireland and Scotland is not too challenging. And the local beer is just fine.
But my mother’s side, that’s another story.
Her family left Transylvania, in a town called Medias, around 1924. Medias was one of the fortified towns founded by Saxon Germans. While there were Hungarians who lived in the area, the majority of the population was Romanian-speaking. My grandfather had his lungs damaged by a gas attack, fighting for Romania against the Central Powers in World War I.
But that’s one of the few stories I know, for despite the mythology of Canada as a mosaic of many cultures, it was not easy to preserve much about Romania when my mother was growing up in southwestern Ontario.
They were the only Romanians in the little town of Strathroy, not far from London, Ontario. My grandfather ran a shoe repair shop, learned English, sent his kids to the Presbyterian Church. By the time I was born in the 1950s, there was no Romanian spoken in the house, and my mother claimed to know not a word. She could make some Romanian recipes: cabbage rolls, stuffed peppers, and placinta crepes for dessert. That was about it.
After my grandfather died, my grandmother would save up to visit her brother and his family back home. She went two or three times. I can remember she used to bring back sweet wine and very stinky cheese. She didn’t have good things to say about Mr Ceaucescu.
I would try on periodic visits to ask my grandmother about what things were like back in Transylvania before she came over. She was in her eighties, and her answers were getting vague. She was not very interested in social commentary. Other than that the Communists had done significant damage to her homeland.
She was in a nursing home by the time I visited her during the Christmas holidays in 1989. Her TV was carrying coverage of the capture and execution of the Ceaucescus, and it was an optimistic time for Romanians. But I couldn’t get her to focus on the news. She was tired. That was the last time I saw her before her death a few months afterward.
Fast forward 25 years, I’ve largely wound down my career in the advertising business. My resolution for New Years 2016 was to learn the Romanian language, from a zero base. (Well, other than from knowing some French and even three years of high-school Latin which can teach you something about the genitive/dative case of neuter nouns.) During the year I’ve made a fair bit of progress, and I’ve reconnected with my relatives, now living in Bucharest.
My continuing interest in things political has encouraged me to follow the course of Romanian public affairs. I’ve been reading their history and their newspapers. There has been much progress since the short and bloody Revolution of 1989, but their democracy is still fragile in some respects. Legislative elections are taking place on Sunday December 11.
And starting next week, armed with my laptop and a largely untested Romanian vocabulary, I’ll be there taking the pulse of the motherland. First in Timisoara, where the 1989 Revolution was sparked, and then in Bucharest where I will meet the relatives. Doesn’t everyone visit a cold climate in December?
If it’s okay with you, I might share a few things I discover.