In Romania, April is a great month. The trees start to bloom, the sky is generally blue, the birds come back and start singing, the green fields are covered in small colourful flowers (ghiocei și toporași și brândușe…), loads of kids start running around again, enjoying the warmer temperatures and the fresh smell ofreviving nature. Then there’s Easter with the Easter bunny, the cracking red eggs competition and pouring water on each other (Romanians celebrate Orthodox Easter, by the way, hence some of the traditions are very different from Western celebrations). To add to all that magic, growing up, April has always been a special month for our family because half of us are born in April.
When we were kids, we would often spend the spring breaks and Easter holidays in the village, at our grandma’s place. All the green fields belonged to us. We would get out of the house in the morning and just run around on the hills with the other kids until it got dark. There was always something to do, we were never bored. We were rolling down the hills or having running uphill competitions or acting out famous TV series (I still remember the tune of the American show “Dallas”; I was usually assigned Bobby’s role) or climbing in the trees or cooking imaginary recipes in imaginary pots using grass and other plants around or collecting flowers to make flower crowns or bracelets or riding our bikes on the paved main, mostly empty street of the village or just sitting in the grass and making up stories or teaching the youngest kids of the group nasty swear words. No one worried about us, no one thought that it wouldn’t be safe for us to be out on our own, with no phones and no way to track us, no one bothered us and we enjoyed the freedom soooooo much! It was all truly magical.
Both Easter and birthday celebrations were usually small, sometimes they even happened at the same time. There were rarely other people attending except for close family and it was all centered around food. My mom would spend a full day in the kitchen to prepare all of that, with the rest of us taking turns to help out. So much food! Enough for a whole week. “Saladă de boeuf” was my favourite, but after I literally ate just that until I got sick, I wasn’t allowed to eat more than one spoon anymore. The cake would usually come from tanti Gina – a friend of our mom who owned one of the few cafeterias in Hunedoara – the best one, we thought. Tanti Gina was never at this celebrations, but we really only wanted her cake anyway.
When my parents finally managed to save enough money for buying a Dacia (Romanian car) in the mid ‘90s or so, we sometimes went on day trips to the mountains close by. We would usually go to Gura Zlata, in Retezat mountains – the favourite activity there was trying to cross the river by jumping on the rocks without getting our shoes wet. Not all of us were lucky to manage that all the time. Whoever had wet shoes, was made fun of all the way back home. Jokes and making fun of each other was always a big part of the family dynamics. Humour was also used (and is still used) often as a way to avoid serious conversations related to feelings, annoyances, different opinions etc.
During all these day trips, Evelina (the car), was always very patient with my car sickness episodes. She was never angry at me for the times I couldn’t hold it until my dad managed to stop the car. My sister, on the other hand, who was always sitting next to me, hated to be the collateral victim and only found it funny a week after the incident.
Back then, things were easy and simple. None of us needed much to be happy, nor did we have much. An unconfortably tight sincere hug was a good enough birthday present. Even if tanti Gina’s cake was missing, it wasn’t a big deal.
Things have changed a bit meanwhile: each of us has different priorities, different perceptions of what the bigger picture is, different views of what’s important and what’s not, the family extended thanks to my wonderful brother-in-law and my super cute niece and, most importantly, tanti Gina’s cafeteria is not the best one in town anymore.
It’s been years now since I’ve experienced the magic of April in Romania, I’m generally away. The desert in Botswana doesn’t remind me much of those green hills full of colourful flowers that I used to run around on as a kid. It’s just the Skype conversations with the “birthday kids” of the family that remind me of those days while making me realize how much things have changed.
I guess that all I’m really trying to say is “Happy, happy birthday!” to the April birthday kids, full of many magical moments that would revive the freedom of childhood.