Tuesday, March 4, 2014

43 years ago

Forty three years ago, my parents found out that even a babe-in-arms has to have a separate airline ticket paid for. That ticket was for me to get out of Romania. I was just 2 years old.

My father's sister, Sylvia had bought 3 tickets, one for each of them and third which my parents thought covered the two half fares for the both of us but was issued for my brother, George (who I miss very much but that's a very different story). They had one day to get money they did not have to Sabena airlines, in a different country, and pay for that ticket, across the iron curtain that divided east from west in those days. All this was before the Internet had made things so easy. The Sabena clerk was absolutely positive my parents would never make it for the flight the next day. Such things were impossible in 1971.

My father didn't have the phone number of his sister and the US embassy didn't have a phone book for that area of Jersey to look it up for him so my mother swung into action and called one of the few cousins she knew the Nazis had not killed. Katus Fishbein was my mother's, father's, brother's, daughter (her cousin) and had been in my mother's, parent's wedding party. She was very religious, an ultra-Orthodox jew (which becomes relevant later). She wasn't sure we'd be good for it. After all, we'd be penniless arrivals and who knows what sort of guy cousin Juliana had married. She had recently found out that cousin Juliana was alive just a year prior via a postcard her uncle Joseph had written to her brother and was somehow in her father's papers. She wrote back to that address and even though the address had had its name changed (three times by then) the postmaster delivered the letter. All she knew was that Juliana's husband was a christian. So she called another (mutual) cousin and that cousin, Clara Fein, vouched that we'd be good for it. My mother hadn't a clue that cousin Clara had survived WW II. Cousin Clara hadn't known that her uncle Joseph's family had survived until that phone call.

So the Sabena clerk in Bucharest opening up the office found my parents waiting for her at the doorstep and a telex from the home office saying that the fourth ticket was paid for twice. The Sabena home office apparently had my father's sister's number and had separately informed her. Aunt Sylvia came through without asking.

Of course, the adventure wasn't over. At customs, they inventoried our possessions to make sure we weren't stealing from the socialist fatherland. My parents were allowed three hemp cloth diapers for me, for instance. My mother still uses one of those diapers to make sure that she doesn't burn delicate clothes when she irons. They checked me for ear rings. No gold except simple wedding bands was allowed.

We all missed our flight connection and got a flight for the next day. Unlike the previous flight which had been due to arrive at 5PM Friday, it arrived at noon on Saturday. Aunt Sylvia got notified about the day change but somehow missed the time change.

When my parents finally arrived, it was the jewish sabbath and ultra-orthodox cousin Katus had asked cousin Clara to meet us at the airport. So there were my parents, two kids, two suitcases, and not a penny to their name. And here come a pair of people, absolute strangers shouting out my mother's name and hugging and kissing and conducting them to their car. The last time Clara had seen her cousin she was seventeen and my mother was three years old.

In the back, my father whispered to my mother "who are these people?" My mother whispered back "I don't know." Cousin Clara's husband heard, laughed, and all was explained on the way to their apartment.

Cross Posted: ChicagoBoyz