I have always chosen to defend our values and the Romanian language, and I mention it without any shame, that when I was a pupil, I recited a poem and I will say it again to anyone, especially now:
May the whole country be yours,
And if you ask, we’ll give you more
But let us have the language of our nation ….
Words must always be weighed well.
I’m writing this here, because … I could omit to do it and stay silent. In every village there is room for quarrel and misunderstanding, but it is all the more ironic when conflicts start over literary principles. You’d think the village had room for division.
I’d like to read you a bit from your book, from this text you’ve written, The Woman of Old, and ask you some questions, may I?
Would you like to tell me anything about the title?
To be a woman is not just to be a mound of flesh and bones, we say this now, in the times we live in, but it wasn’t always like this.
Why wasn’t it always like this?
Because women were not valued. A woman had to shut up and listen. What others decided, she would have to do it. Because if she didn’t, she’d get a foot up her ass.
I’m an old woman and, in my years, I’ve known and heard about the life women once led. As children, girls were raised patriarchally and taught how to shyly accept their place in the world.
You say here that girls had to be shy. Were you like that?
Is that how you were raised?
To be aware that they must walk one step behind the man, not to interfere when a decision is made, therefore, to keep silent and endure if any injustice is done to them.
Do you agree that the woman should stay silent and suffer?
Yes. In those days, that’s the way it was.
Did you like it that way?
Well, to tell you the truth, it wasn’t that bad. You didn’t lie to anyone, you were like a saint, like when you put the icon on the wall and it says nothing, not a word.
But was a woman’s opinion valued?
Yes. But only the old woman of the house, only she had the right to command. If we, the young women, wanted something, we told the old woman and if she agreed, it was okay, and if not, no.
Only the old woman of the house was allowed to decide and even interfere in the men’s talk, who in turn valued her as the hostess of the house.
She decided what to boil, she put the food in the workers’ bags, she had to know when those who had gone to the field were coming back, she stayed at home with a host of grandchildren and the work at home had to be finished on time.
What was the old woman in your house like?
My grandmother, let me tell you a detail of her life, if she made pita, soft pita, and the workers went away and she had nothing to put in their bags, she would go and make them tălăniță [a mix of flour and water, baked in the oven]. That’s how my grandmother was, that’s how much she valued workers, and her daughters who had children, she took the grandchildren to her house, to take care of us, and if she cut a bird, she divided the liver between everyone. Only if you did something she didn’t like, she would say don’t do it again, you didn’t do it right.
Was she ever hard on you?
No, because I behaved.
Did she ever wrong you?
Well, of course, in the course of a life, there are good and bad moments. She had a granddaughter from a daughter who had died. I was amazed that she valued her, the girl without a mother, more than the rest of us. Everything she had, she gave to Linca.
Did Linca appreciate that?
Yes, of course. As she got everything she wanted, she appreciated it.
Did you and Linca get along?
Yes, she became the godmother of our children, so we had to cherish her.
The young women in the house filled the pots with water for watering the horses, they put hay in the baskets, and carefully placed the jugs with drinking water for workers in the hay, so they wouldn’t break.
The men put the tools in the cart, depending of the season. The old man of the house watched the preparations and when he decided, that’s when the horses were taken out and the men and women of the house and the workers went to the field.
Did you go too?
What did you do? Did you like it? How was the weather? How long did you stay?
We’d go before five in the morning and stay until the afternoon. When my father-in-law was the host, he would bring us home early, he would say let’s go home at 4 o’clock, for the dogs have already forgotten our faces.
Did you go far?
Yes, because some fields were near Padina, others were close. The rich had plots of land here, in the village, but the poorer ones went further away because the land there was cheaper.
Was the land good? Were the crops good?
Did you keep the crops for yourselves, or did you also sell some if it?
We sold some. We kept what we considered we needed for a year, we paid the workers in products, wheat, corn, whatever it was, and sold the rest.
What did you like to eat?
Both boiled and fried, any kind of potatoes. But I don’t like dumplings.
In winter the women did the hand work.
What did they make?
Stockings, sweaters, thick cloth.
Did you also learn how to make them?
Yes, some things I did, others were woven on the loom, the thick cloth. My mother went to see an old woman and she wanted to sound more lady-like, so instead of saying thick hemp like we called it, she said peciconi like they say near Văsâla, and I went and asked her to take back the word, we didn’t have any bloody peciconi, and she said that this is how she thought she would sound more lady-like. There are things I don’t accept. I too often need courage to speak my mind, it’s not easy for me all the time, and I find that people sometimes judge you too easily. It’s good to keep quiet sometimes …
They say it’s better to be mute than to be a chatterbox.
The old woman used to cook food for everyone and let the young women weave on the loom. In those days, there were two or three women in the house, and they all weaved in one room to save light. The old woman of the house also had a loom, but she only sat down at it until after lunch. She weaved the cloth needed for the household: for the horses, for sacks, cloth for shirts, for coats.
The young women would sit down at the loom after breakfast and weave until evening, with a short break for lunch. They weaved: bags, girdles, trousers, then they would weave dowry for the girls, aprons. By spring they would finish the work they had started, and then during Lent they began to wash, stiffen and sew the skirts and aprons.
The young women went to visit their parents on Sunday afternoons, so as not to waste work time. At evening sittings, because there was only an oil lamp burning, they used the time for less laborious things: they made stockings, they spun the woold, and the old woman of the house did the carding.
Photo credit: Diana Bilec
English translation: Cristina Chira