Every year on my birthday, November 4, Bucharest, Romania was smothered in snow. Never having visited Siberia, I was under the impression that the winters in my hometown were absolutely brutal. Still, there was beauty in addition to the freezing snow.
I can remember one night, in the winter of 1937, when my mother and I were standing under the streetlight, waiting for the streetcar, and, all of a sudden, we heard the sound of bells. When we turned to where the sound was coming from, we saw, coming down the street, a large sleigh pulled by two horses. The horses looked as if they were dancing. Around their necks, they wore bells, which made a lovely sound as they moved. The snow glistened under the streetlight, and the sound of the bells was very delightful. We were very lucky. Our streetcar came very soon after the sled passed by. The experience of that night was so pleasant that I have kept the beauty of those few moments in my memory all these years. A few years later, after King Carol had abdicated and left King Michael on the throne and after the Nazis were well established, the only things that did not change were the cold and the deluge of snow that came every year.
At the age of eleven, as a responsible member of my family, I was supposed to check if people had started to wait in the bread line, and I decided to stay because I was fast enough to be the first one in line that day. I made sure that the ration coupons and money were in my pocket. It was winter and it was freezing. Although I wiggled my toes and stamped my feet to avoid frostbite, I did not walk away, afraid that I would lose my place in the line. When the bakery opened, I got my bread, but I couldn’t make a fist because my hand was too frozen to hold the change.
I arrived home to a hero’s welcome, and I felt very proud of myself for accomplishing this feat. It was the first of many times that I had to wait in line for our precious daily rations. For years in my new home in New York, whenever there was a line (e.g., for a movie), I would choose not to stand in line. Today, I finally can go and stand in a line; however, I always think of those other times when my waiting in line was not for just a movie, and I am grateful for the changes in my life.
(June 30, 2009)