The first 48 years of her life were very hard and deprived under communism. When she arrived here in 1980, she was so thin and malnourished - she looked like a skeleton, with sunken eyes and pallid skin. She never returned to Romania except for brief visits. Her life was so much easier here and my beautiful daughters became our lives and her universe.
She looked back many times on her decision, analyzing everything; sometimes she had regrets, missing her siblings, but most of the time was happy to be free. She used to jump every time there was a knock on the door. She thought it was the police looking for her although she had done nothing wrong. She was re-living the totalitarian state and the dreadful treatment of its citizens under the brutal regime of Ceausescu.
She has fallen down a lot lately. She has not broken anything but has gotten some nasty bruises that are slow to heal. She still goes up and down stairs, making sure she does not miss a step. Sometimes she passes out on the patio from the heat, self-induced dehydration, or plain dizziness from old age. She is never thirsty or hungry. We remind her to drink water and force her to eat with us.
We nicknamed her Lucy a few years ago when she dyed her hair flaming red and the nickname stuck. Her real name is Mimi but her grandchildren call her Maia, like the Roman goddess of dew.
She used to move mountains with her energy, tirelessly taking care of everyone’s needs but her own. She gets frustrated because she is so slow now and her hands are weak and unsteady.
Lucy dreams often that her legs will work again like they used to; she would visit her great grandson who lives so far away; if he lived nearby, she could take care of him, she says, instead of sending him to a nursery during the day. I am not sure, she would be up for the challenge but the desire is still there.
Her eyes are as sharp as ever. She complains that her cataract surgery 10 years ago was a total failure – the doctor had no idea what he was doing. Yet she can thread a needle in no time and make sewing repairs. I cannot even see to thread a needle with glasses on and am several decades younger.
Lucy stopped doing her masterful crocheting a decade ago. I don’t know why she stopped – her macramé doilies were a work of art. Maybe she lost interest because nobody seemed to appreciate what she created. There was a store in Starkville that loved her work - she sold quite a few pieces over the years. It is sad that I’ve never learned how to do it when she tried to teach me. I saw one of Lucy’s macramé doilies on my daughter’s table when we visited. It surprised me and made me happy – one young person appreciates hand-made beauty.
Most Americans no longer understand or appreciate the painstaking art of counted-cross stitching, needle pointing, knitting, or crocheting. Everything is done by machines, uniform and without the creative flair of two gifted hands.
My cousin Mariana still makes paintings with her tiny cross-stitch needle and canvas. You cannot tell, it is not a painting, until you get up close to the picture. I bought several of her pieces last year and she had them framed. It was difficult bringing them back across two continents but it was worth it. The custom officers asked me what they were. It is masterful beauty sewn by hand, I said, a lost art in the U.S. They gave me strange looks and waved me on through.
Lucy tells me often that it is going to rain during the night. She knows for sure because the moon has lost all its water, it is a crescent moon. We laugh at her astronomical assessment, but then a steady rain starts falling after midnight. Maybe it is coincidence but it happens too many times.
Lucy refuses to go to the doctor to have any more blood drawn. She read somewhere that she may be left without blood if he draws too many vials of her precious blood. What if her body can no longer produce it? She heard on her two favorite TV channels that it may be true.
It breaks my heart to see her so unsteady and her gait so shaky; she gets frustrated with herself and refuses help sometimes. She is beginning to mix our names up but she can still remember beautiful poetry from her childhood. She lives trapped between two worlds, the old world she left behind 33 years ago and the current reality. Watching constant TV from the old world, she often confuses events happening there with events happening here.
She has not been able to learn English; she just knew enough to get in trouble. The most memorable incident was the wedding of a close friend. Mom commented to a guest she had seen before, a rotund lady, “You look good, you so fat!” Mortified, I had to explain to the lady that in our culture, being fat was a compliment. Communists kept us so starved, food was rationed and very expensive, so if you were fat, that meant that you were doing well economically, you could afford food on the black market. She did not buy the story and avoided us like the plague. We stopped making excuses for Lucy; we just file every new incident under “Lucy’s hilarious pearls of wisdom.”
We sent Lucy to college classes, our English professor neighbor offered to teach her, to no avail. She would return from class frustrated, complaining of real or imagined headaches, and vowing to go back to Romania. She depended 100 percent on us to translate everything. We thought the birth of her granddaughters would force her to learn English. Instead, she taught her granddaughters Romanian as soon as they started to speak a few English words. They knew at an early age that Maia does not speak English and what language everyone spoke. On daily walks, the oldest granddaughter served as the official translator. As a three year old, she would stomp her foot when anybody addressed mom in English – “Maia speak no English!” Embarrassed at her plight, the teen-aged girls asked Lucy not to speak Romanian too loudly in public. As they grew older, they were happy and proud that they knew another language.
Lucy took her favorite granddaughter on walks in the nearby cemetery – it was quiet, green, and peaceful. Eileen would ask her with childish innocence and naiveté, “Grandma when are you going to die so I can come visit you?”
Lucy can no longer travel by plane to see her country, her brother and sister. She refuses to use a wheelchair and it would be futile to try to catch a flight while walking so painstakingly slow, she would never make it on time or people would knock her over. Besides, she has become scared of leaving home for distances further than the mall or her favorite neighborhood restaurant. She refuses to ride several hours to see her great-grandchild – perhaps when she feels better, she says, but that day never comes.
She talks to flowers and to our 13 year old Snowshoe Siamese cat Bogart as if they understand Romanian. Strangely though, Bogart still obeys her commands.
She still has the green thumb to bring flowers back from the brink of death. I watched her pick discarded dried roots intended for trash from the street; somehow she made a beautiful green plant grow back. She has nursed so many gardens and so many of us through the years! It frustrates her that she can no longer care for herself much less for us.
We know when she breaks something when we step on shards of glass or we look for the 20 year old crockpot with glass cover and find a strange metal lid on it. When we leave for a few hours, we know, when we return, she has already rearranged something in the house that did not suit her tastes.
I watch her struggle to wash her cup and teaspoon which she insists on doing and it makes me sad. She talks about past events with clarity as if they happened yesterday. She still talks to her younger brother and it makes her happy as if he is right there with her.
Lucy’s world is so much smaller now, the house, the deck, and the patio. Tiny things in life, that we are too busy and too tired to notice, make her happy – the hummingbird in flight collecting nectar from her begonias, the deer that wonder into our back yard in the afternoon and eat the flowering tomatoes, the occasional fox that chases Bogart to our back door, the resident beaver in the nearby pond collecting twigs, the pair of Canadian geese that fly in and graze at the ridge of our yard, and the perfumed blooms of her favorite rose bush.
Lucy is still full of life on the inside but her body is failing her and so is the scant and careless medical care she receives – she is too old, they say. But I still see the vibrant, young Lucy who raised and loved so many of us, never asking for anything in return. I am thankful to God that I still have my devoted mom.