When I first moved to Romania for my work in 1993, the youngest of our two sons was less than one year old. In those days there was no good quality fresh milk in the shops and the import of long life milk was irregular. This problem was solved in the person of Salomnia, an old lady who did some cleaning at one of our neighbors. She lived at the outskirts of Bucharest and one of her neighbours had a cow. Every other day Salomnia would bring us a cola bottle with fresh raw milk and that solved the problem.
It didn’t take long and Salomnia became part of our household. We learned she was born in Bessarabia (now Moldova) and had come on foot to Romania during the 1932/1933 famine. Here she had met Vasile whom she had convinced to marry her after lying to him about her age (he was years younger than she was). Vasile had worked for 40 years at a hydraulic press machine in a shoe factory and had become rather deaf.
They lived on the outskirts of Bucharest in a very small house, on a small plot of land. They sold tomatoes they grew themselves and eggs from their chickens and both of them would do errands for others to complement his small pension. They had no children and only a few remote relatives.
Our kids loved Salomnia. They called her Tanti Baba (Tanti means “aunt” and Baba means “old woman” in Romanian). She played with the children, made them their favorite food (coltonasi cu branza) and helped in the household where she broke more glasses, cups and plates than I imagined possible. This probably explains the amount of luck in our happy family.
Vasile made some wine every year. Now I like to make things and he was proud to show me how to make wine. And so it happened that we set off on a wine making joint venture in which we would make wine for both households. Additional grapes were procured at Obor market, a wine press was borrowed by Vasile from a neighbour and a big plastic barrel was found. In the end my most important contribution to the production process was to drink 40 bottles of mineral water so that we would have enough empty bottles for the wine. No PET in those days. I also bought a little wooden device in the Netherlands to drive corks in bottles as well as the necessary corks. This made Vasile very happy, real wine needs a cork, not plastic caps. The bottles were filled using a hose and a few blows of a hammer drove the cork into the bottle and that was it.
The Mystery of the Chickens
It is all memories now. We moved to another part of the city and later left the country. When we returned in 2001 we visited them and contact was re established for a short time. Salomnia died in her sleep one night in December 2002, she must have been close to 90 years old. She was buried in the village where Vasile was born, 40 km from Bucharest where they had purchased a grave in the graveyard next to the church. After Salomnia’s death, Vasile would come to our house once a week to sell eggs. His chickens had become remarkable productive after the death of Salomnia and laid eggs in large quantities all year round. This biological mystery was solved one day when we found a date stamp on one of the eggs. A piece of sanding paper with the eggs made us realize he was buying them in the supermarket and used the sanding paper to remover the date stamp. He died not much later and was laid to rest next to Salomnia.
Important Was The Journey, Not The Destination
And the wine? I remember making the wine and I remember that our share was 40 bottles of 1 liter. I don’t remember the quality of the wine and cannot even remember drinking it.
Like more often in life, it was about the process more than the end product. Important was the journey, not the destination. It brought us was an unlikely relationship with an elderly couple. We keep fond memories of them.