Her home was simple and old, built out of mud, wood and dirt. It had no electricity, and the sunrise darkness would pour over her shelter a cloud of mystery, and some strange sort of pleasant creepiness. Her oil lamp would flicker through her window every night, like a shiny ghost ironically dancing in the quietness of her home. It would dance all the way until Lina's (Leena's) prayers were whispered and gone up high. Talking to God was her only way of entertainment; her small foggy eyes would hardly recognize the black hieroglyphic letters on the yellow pages of her old Bible; she was unschooled and she learned how to read very late in her life; she would read and spell the words with the skills of a first grader.
Lina was loved by all the children on our street. As a fly sticks around a toasted bread with jelly, that's how all the kids were sticking around her old looking shack with a wooden porch and smelling like former lives and memories. It might have been the huge mulberry tree we were climbing freely, and eating its sweet and abundant fruit; or it may have been that feeling of escaping reality and stepping into a long lost tale. How many nights I had spent there, by her tall bed covered in hand made rugs and carpets, way too rough on her trembling bones; how many stories I had listened to while stuck to the wooden chair that felt like grease to the touch; how many times that ghostly oil-lamp flame cast its spell on my childish face struck by amazement; how many times I played deaf when I would hear my mom's voice calling through the bathroom window. Lina's voice carried more mystery, more ancestral weight and excitement than the reality of my home. And I was prone to wonder outside of the present and inclined to imagine and love old tales.
She would tell me about the richest man in the village, the only wealthy being at the time; the Hungarian Baron who's lands were worked by the villagers, who's gardens were majestic and colorful, who's flowers were crowning his castle in nice shaped arches. She was a servant in his home since she was 17 years old and knew all the secrets of the matter. She would describe the rich wardrobes, the dinner table stuffed with delicious dishes, the busyness of dozens of people to please a family of four. She was detailed about the drama between all of the people serving the household; she would recall the ethnic animosity between Romanians and Hungarians and the secret fights that would undergo the Baron's knowledge.
My mind was spinning with fantasy, and my blood was boiling under the pressure of running this fascinating synopsis of a time I never lived through my mind. In a poor communist era, when everything was trimmed down to black and white, when variety was no option, when everyone was equal to ones neighbor, when socialism and system was shoved down your throat, there was no time or stimulants for ideas, for imagination, for dreams... But I had found my hiding place in Lina's home, in Lina's past, in Lina's little, scary shack, in Lina's pronounced profile reflected on the wall in the light of an old oil lamp.
Lina loved kids because they were carrying the energy she had lost, and the joy she never had. They helped her reconstruct a childhood she never had. She was never a biological mom, but she was the mom of her siblings, robbed of the joys of being a child herself. In her teenage years she was the caretaker of the Baron's kids, robbed of the beauty of falling in love or being pursued... Lina was simple and lovely and she has walked around the bitterness of unfulfilled dreams. She has turned it down every time it would want to make a nest on her heart. Lina has trained herself to love what others got and she was never given.
Why did my mind turn to such an old memory like Lina? It might be because I am aging. I am sure enough still pretty far from being 90 years old, but her tribute is a good cure to the danger of growing old as a cranky, sour, wrinkled soul. Putting up with the curious energy of other people's kids is a phenomenal accomplishment that I have always admired as an adult. This sums up Lina (Leena), who's mulberry tree was climbed a thousand times a summer, who's grass was crushed by dozens of small feet a day, who's fruit was eaten under her incapable eyes, who's porch would host all the little, noisy bodies as shelter through a storm.
So I have started to train my mind like Lina, figuring out how to avoid becoming the Scrooge of the street, who's yard can never be crossed, who's memories will never touch anyone outside of those who lived them... After all, it can be my 60 years project.