Saturday afternoon, we arrived in Fagaras, a city near my mom's village, Vistea de Jos. My cousin, Rosmina, who has been my generous host this trip, grew up in Fagaras with her sister, Anca.
My aunt Dorina greeted us with so much enthusiasm and eagerness to please, I can't fully capture it here. But I'll try.
When you walk into a Romanian household, especially here, you're hugged and kissed on both cheeks and you're automatically taken to a seated area with a table ;-) And then you're fed. But you're not just offered what we would consider normal hors d'oeuvres. You're given a few courses. You're given wine too, maybe some Romanian liqueur. And of course, some coffee.
You're asked numerous times if you're doing OK, if you've had enough, if you're tired, cold, need anything at all, if you've eaten enough, want more, and so on.
It can be overwhelming, but in a wonderful way. At least to me. Because it's not that way in the U.S., at least not in general. My mom is this way and I always used to yell at her to quit being so stressed out with guests and so pushy with food. But I get it now. It's custom. It's just the way it is here. At least with my family :-)
But here's the part that got to me ... and got to me hard.
When I walked into my family members' homes (I visited quite a few), I was greeted by such immense warmth, love and ... I can't even quite place it, maybe an admiration, as though being looked over, looked through, studied and embraced all at once. I haven't been here to see some of these family members in 18 years. I've grown quite a bit from 11-year-old, tom-boy, running after the animals Cassandra.
I visited my mom's brother-in-law, Demetriu. He'd had a stroke not long ago and was not able to talk much or move much. I walked into the room, he saw me and he started to cry. Maybe it's because he saw my mother's face in me. Maybe it's because he remembered me at 11 years old, riding his horse. Maybe he just was sad he couldn't greet me properly. But it went straight through me.
We couldn't stay long. And it occurred to me I might never see him again. So I grabbed his hand, I squeezed it hard, said goodbye ... exhaled and we left.
We then visited my mom's sister, Tori, in Victoria. She was considered the "Black Sheep" in the family, the one who was a bit rebellious, was always funny and always made everyone laugh, especially my mom and I. She hugged me long and hard and cracked jokes. She, of course, gave me food. She called me her baby, told me she loved me. And then we were back on the road to Fagaras.
On Sunday, we left for Vistea.
I walked into my mom's church, which was so much more breathtaking than I remembered at 11. The rich colors in the murals cascading down the walls, the intricately painted ceiling and candle-lit crimson carpets were glorious.
Suddenly, I became the talk of the people. And I felt immediately self conscious. Understand, these villages are small and everyone literally knows everyone, so seeing a new person walk in is immediately noticed.
Slowly, people came over to our group, asking who I was. A few women, old friends of my mother, came up to me, touching my face and gazing into my eyes, motioning to my aunt and cousins how much I resembled my mom ... "Cornelia."
They squeezed my hand, kissed my cheeks, touched my hair and told me I was beautiful. I blushed and said "Multumesc" (thank you) over and over and over again, not knowing what else to really say. We stopped by the cemetery behind the church to see my mom's parents' graves ... as well as her sister's grave and her cousin's grave, both who passed before their time.
Then we visited my mom's eldest sister, Chevuca. She's been sick with diabetes and a hip replacement. She saw me ... and she started crying. She hugged and kissed me and called me her love. She couldn't say much, but I reminded her of when I was last there and I was sick in bed. My parents were gone at that time (visiting another city). My aunt came into my room with rubbing alcohol and a hot washcloth and she rubbed my arms, legs, neck and face ... just the way my mom did when I was a kid. And it made the flu body aches disappear. And it made me feel like home.
She teared up.
We then called my mom (it was her birthday Sunday). And the first thing my aunt said was "Mi-e dor de tine" ... I miss you.
She hugged me close before I left. I said we (my parents, brother, sister-in-law and myself) would hopefully be coming back in two years. She said she hopes to still be here.
We didn't let her finish. We said she better be here. I let that wish fill my heart, especially for my mom's sake, and then I let it go.
We said our goodbyes a bit later, after I walked the family farm, drawing in the sweet scent of thousands of grapevines above me, begging to be picked, yearning to be ground up and bottled for wine.
I recalled chasing the animals, I recalled my grandma working in the fields behind the barn and I reacquainted myself with Rego, my uncle's horse I fell off of when I was younger. He was much sweeter this go around :-) He let me pet him for quite some time.
We visited a few more family members and curious neighbors. They all looked at me, saw my mother's eyes, cheekbones, nose and smiled.
I talked to my cousin about it later. She told me, it says a lot about my mom, the way people responded to seeing me, to seeing her in me.
I'm pretty sure when I share this with my mom, she will cry.
Between learning more about the history of this country, my family and culture as well as reconnecting with my cousins and aunts and uncles, I feel I couldn't want for more in this moment.
I see so much of myself in my cousins and so much of my mother in my aunts, it amazes me. I don't want to leave them ... not after just feeling I've gotten to really know them.
I suppose I now know what this feels like. What being torn between one life and another feels like.
I also now have a sense of completion in some way. Not as though I don't have more to learn and discover, but a sense that this other part of my life, of myself — a part that has been primarily in the dark over the years —is suddenly lit.
And I don't know what else to do with myself ... but smile.