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: Flit-TM

16 thoughts on “43 years ago”

  1. “they inventoried our possessions to make sure we weren’t stealing from the socialist fatherland.”

    People can never be reminded too often that no property is safe under socialism. No matter how hard you work and save to buy something, the state can take it away from you. Because “fairness”.

  2. People vote with their feet. That sort of vote usually has the cost most immediately apparent. But I see TM’s story as illustrating, nay as dispositive demonstration that all voting costs.

  3. What could the average citizen from Romania 41 years ago steal that would have any value?

    IIRC Romania was right up there with East Germany and North Korea for brutality towards its citizens

  4. The gold coin hoard found in northern California is not the the coins stolen from the mint in 1901.

    It was probably hidden by a Confederate group as the age of the coins is far older then the first accounts.

    Another suggests the coins may have been buried by the Knights of the Golden Circle, a secretive, subversive Confederate group that some believe buried millions in ill-gotten gold across a dozen states to finance a second Civil War.

    Though the coins very well could be a fortune buried by a wealthy businessman, the time period, markers near the cache and manner in which the coins were buried fit the mold of the KGC, said Walter Getler, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who coauthored “Rebel Gold,” a book about the group..

  5. You have to start thinking of the US government as a crime syndicate. It doesn’t matter how the gold got there or who’s it was to begin with. They want their cut. See?

    The mobsters from the 30’s would understand the situation.

  6. What Michael Hiteshew said (and, in story-form, Mario Puzo and Richard Condon also said). Perhaps, more precisely, think about it more in terms of laundered money and laundered power.

  7. This needs to be longer. There needs to be more to savor. And a bit clearer. (For instance, what’s a Sabena airlines?)

  8. This brought tears to my eyes. Pardon the jingoism, but this is why Barry Soetoro is wrong when he says that American Exceptionalism is nothing special. I don’t grok the “Humor” tag, though.

  9. Skh.Pcola – You didn’t laugh at the Sabena agent? I did when I first heard that story. And the prospect of coming out of a den of paranoia that was communist Romania and then going into a car with someone you did not know in 1971 America and only then asking “who are these people”? I still can’t believe my parents did that and laughed with delight when I heard it. As with all senses of humor, your mileage may vary.

  10. “Mrs. Davis Says:
    March 6th, 2014 at 11:49 am
    Another. Immigrants understand American exceptionalism better than anyone.”

    Thanks. I had tears in my eyes reading it.

    I had a sailing friend named Imry from Hungary. He had fled the 1956 revolution and was an engineer. His sailboat was named “Villem” which he told me was “lightning” in Hungarian. After 1989, he and his wife went back to Hungary and bought property. He has come back for visits since them but lives there now.


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