My uncle saw her first. After the war ended in 1945, my mom arrived at a Romanian refuge camp where she met my father’s brother, my dad, and others in their group. She was welcomed warmly by them all, which meant a lot to her since she was all alone.
My dad’s brother, who was older than dad, asked mom to go for a walk to “check her out.” The story goes that when they got back, my father, who liked mom from the first moment he saw her, went to his brother and asked “So? Do you like her?” My uncle turned to dad, shrugged his shoulders, and said “Eh. She’s ok.” My father smiled and said “Good. Then she’s for me.”
Now such a pronouncement today would sound like something right out of the middle ages. But these really were different times and relationships were often, at best, a matter of convenience. For many, love was just a far-away dream better left to another time and place. Yet here in this refuge camp filled with so many others whose lives had been torn apart by a heartless war – far from anything he had ever known or could imagine – here was something my father hadn’t even dared dream for himself – the miracle of hope.
My father had survived the war living in the woods and scavenging for food and necessities. In the best of times, he and his companions were able to hide in a room under the floorboards of a barn with the danger of being discovered or turned in always hanging over them. He lived day to day, never daring to think if there would be a tomorrow. And yet, here he was on the other side of that horrible war and there she was – my mother.
He was nuts about her. Even after 30 years of marriage, I remember my dad watching my mom come down the stairs in our house. He just beamed as he turned to me and proudly proclaimed with his still thick accent “Isn’t she bee-yooo-tee-ful!”
On that day back at the refuge camp in 1945, with his brother safely out of the picture, he asked mom if she would go for a walk with him. They got along well and felt at ease with each other right from the beginning. As they walked along a path just outside of town, dad spotted a peach tree and climbed up to get mom a juicy peach. Proudly he handed it to her, with love already shining in his eyes. From that day on until the day he died, they were rarely apart.
Mom loved telling me that story as much as I loved hearing it. And although they’re both gone now, I get great pleasure thinking about the day my dad picked the sweetest peach of all – and got to keep her.