Thursday, May 6, 2010

My new home in Woodland

I was too excited, scared, and anxious to sleep. Every object, smell, landscape looked utterly unfamiliar and scary. I did not know how to act, the English I learned in school did not resemble at all the Southern slang I was hearing. I had to ask Bill to explain to me what people said all the time. I felt lonely, isolated, and did not trust anything or anybody. I was expecting a knock on the door any moment to take me away to jail. Every time I saw a policeman, sheriff, or a State Trooper my heart would race and I fully expected them to ask me for my papers. I was finally free from communism but did not understand anything around me. I needed time to explore my new found freedom. I could not understand why the population could come and go as they wished without the government giving them permission and without legally notarized papers , why they could move from town to town, state to state, change jobs, own property, or do anything for that matter. Surely, there must have been some centralized power that pulled the strings to make this society run so smoothly. My understanding of how capitalism ran so successfully without any centralized interferrence was minimal.
The next morning the constant parade of visitors began - I was a novelty, almost like a new circus act in town that everybody had to come gawk at, touch, and ask question of, marvelling at my foreign accent and my "exotic" looks. If I had to hear the word exotic one more time, I was going to explode. People would ask stupid and insensitive questions out of sheer ignorance. "Do they take a bath in Romania?" "Sure, once a month, whether we need it or not." I felt compelled at first to answer the idiotic questions truthfully, but, after a while, it got old, and I had to improvise by being sarcastic or cocky. I had as much fun with it as I was legally allowed to do so. "Do women drive in Romania?" Not really, we still use wagons with oxen." That was not so far from the truth in country areas where people were still pretty backwards, riding wagons with wheels made of car tires, pulled by horses. I was fascinated by the fact that even the most remote farms in the boondocks had plumbing and indoor bathrooms. That was so unbelievable to me, the septic tank was a novelty since my grandparents and the family at large that lived in rural areas still used a hole in the ground covered with wooden slats, good luck trying not to fall in the big goo of poop. I still remember my grandparents' water source - a hand pump that resembled the 1900s water pumps. As a matter of fact, my paternal grandmother took her drinking water from a well about two miles up the mountain. It was fun coming down, but way too difficult climbing with a big wooden bar over your shoulders, balancing two heavy buckets, one on each end. Has anybody seen a bathtub or shower in the country? Not really. My maternal grandfather, ever the enterprising engineer, had rigged a rusted bucket over the outhouse for impromptu showers when the August sun was strong enough to warm the water. We would pull a string, tilt the bucket, and the entire content would rinse the pre-soaped body. That was our shower. Did we take showers in winter? Noooo! They still had Turkish baths in the city. Villagers could bathe once in a while for a meager fee - the interior looked positively medieval, dank, dingy, dirty, dark, and quite smelly. It was alwyas frightening to go with my mother when the communist government would cut our hot water off in the city in summer time or cut water off period for reasons of rationing. The official excuse was that they had to clean the large vat of mineral deposits. This process took three to four months each summer. You can imagine how spoiled and priviledged I felt in the backwoods of Mississippi having a hot shower, runing water, and an indoor commode. I felt positively rich. Gone were the summers when we pooped in the corn fields because the outhouse stunk. Grandpa always lectured us on the bacterial sins of befouling the corn crops. The corn looked greener and healthier to me and it tasted even better.
The next dog and pony show was going to the Baptist Church with my new "family." I did not know what to expect since my mother-in-law believed I was pagan since I was orthodox. She considered our marriage in an orthodox cathedral with four priests non-existent since it was not performed in the Baptist Church. Never mind that the Orthodox Church was one of the oldest religions in the world, she insisted that we had to marry again, otherwise our children would be bastards. I learned not to object much so as not to raise the ire of my new in-laws. I agreed with her, or pretended to, but I did what I thought was the proper thing to do as an orthodox christian.
The most ardent defender of my new status was Tom, Mr. Johnson's hired hand who had a heart of gold but was poor as a church mouse. I could never understand what he said, I would have needed a dictionary for that, and he was pretty much toothless on account of his smoking habits, but he did teach me a few choice idiomatic expressions and introduced me to wild game, especially fried snapping turtle from one of the farm's many ponds - it tasted like chicken.

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