I remember the first morning I woke to the smell of cinnamon bread and the authentic butter cookies Bunica calls "fursecuri." I was visiting my grandmother in Bucharest, Romania, my native country. It was a little after dawn and there was a lovely, dewy mist in the parlor which crept in from the balcony. The towering doors of the balcony were opened to the green lofty trees lining the street. A long time ago there were red roses as far as the eye could see. The apartment itself was large and rustic with cherry-wood furniture, and softly flowing classical music. Both had survived the devastating quake of '77. The crack in the spiky rose-colored wall was visible from several feet. Along the corridor were countless doors, each with a honeycomb pattern etched in frosted glass. One was locked, so I assumed it led to my grandfather's den. As I squinted to see inside, my toes snuggled into the threads of the silk oriental rugs. They dated back to the '40s yet retained the same rich burgundy and forest green.
I slipped into the kitchen to see Bunica leaning over no less than ten green-tinted glass jars filled with apricot preserve. The bees flew about with great zeal and impatience, but she feared none.
"Good morning," she whispered in perfect old- world Romanian, as she turned to face me. A smile spread across her face the way butter saturates warm bread. She was a plump woman with smooth skin, rich with fat and compassion. Her hair was a marshmallow white laced with silver threads, all neatly cut to frame her eyes. Bunica described the color of her eyes as "caprui"; they reminded me of mint jelly. They were still bright enough to whisper hope whenever I was troubled. That morning, Bunica wore one of her many starched house dresses. It was white crimped cotton with a blue flower print, and lace around the cuffs. It was also stained with the cozy scent of vanilla and rum extracts, which delighted my senses.
"So, Darling, how did you sleep?" she asked, while reaching for a pancake-thin china dish.
"Oh, very well. You know that little German ventilator works wonders for these balmy nights." She nodded knowingly at the discomfort of 35EC, as she flipped two well-browned eggs. She always pampered me when it was just the two of us. Little things, like having the honey dribble over the edge of my toast, or calling me "Mitsi," made me rejoice inside.
"I'II be ready in a few minutes, Sweetie, so go freshen up."
I headed to my bedroom where I had dumped my belongings the night before. As I opened the door, I was struck by the morning brightness. The sunlight illuminated the cream walls as it seeped through the curtain's lace. As I examined the room, an eight by ten black and white photograph with a silver frame suddenly caught my eye. It was Bunica and Bunicu's wedding picture, dated, July 28, 1945.
My grandmother was more beautiful than I ever imagined, with tightly curled chestnut hair, the distinct high cheekbones of the region, and a long svelte body draped in white satin. It made me think of all the times I thought I was in love and I wanted to know how they found one another. It seemed so romantic to fall in love during the War. I clutched the picture firmly and dashed to the dining room.
Bunica was seated with both hands resting beneath her chin, browsing proudly at the assortment of scents and flavors on the table. I was trembling with excitement as I handed her the photo. She smiled tenderly as her eyes welled up with the sudden flood of memory.
"Do you know how old I was on that day? I was 16." I gasped.
With a hushed voice I asked, "Bunica, how did you know that he was the one, so early in life?"
"Well, Darling, it was all a chance encounter; most love stories are. It was April of 1945, an age plagued by war. I was living in the tiny rural town of Mizil with my mother and brother. At the time, most of us adolescents were robbed of our livelihood, due to the death and destruction we had faced for years. The last thing on our minds was finding that romantic kind of love we read about in books. There were widespread food shortages, piles of debris where houses once stood, and little, if any money."
"Did you ever enjoy yourselves?"
"Well, we had to find a way to get our minds off the misery. So, every night that we heard a cease-fire was in effect, a group of us would sneak into one of the abandoned factories and set up a dance floor. We'd bring our single radio, turn it up to maximum volume and lose ourselves in the music. We especially loved AIn the Mood' by some American composer. One afternoon while my girlfriends and I were planning the evening's festivities, one of the boys dropped by my house. He told me that his brother, ten years my senior, had just returned from the war and needed a date for the dance. I was hesitant to accept because of the age difference and he sounded like a sober fellow who was far too mature for me. But I decided to go, not knowing I was getting myself involved in a notorious matchmaking scheme. That evening, when I arrived with my brother, I instantly recognized Bunicu's warm golden-brown eyes which greeted me at the entrance. A tattered grey suit covered his tall, lean frame. There was an instant spark. An electric current ran through me as we spoke all night."
"So, how soon after that did you decide to wed?" I asked, with the purest delight.
"He proposed four months to the day." As she ended, her face was brightly illuminated by a mix of pride and sentimentality. It was obvious that the story had exceeded both of our highest expectations.
"And, that, Honey, is how my love story unfolded. So, you see, you don't have to go searching through the nooks and crannies to find love. It often finds you in the most imperfect and unexpected circumstances. And, when it does, you know it. That's one of the few guarantees life has to offer." A large, satisfied grin stretched across my face as my fork carved out a morsel of the warm eggs. c
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.