I grew up in communist Romania, during the 80’s in a non-traditional setting. When I was born, my parents were still in college and I was raised by my grandparents (being raised by your grandparents is quite common in the Romanian culture). I saw my parents often, as they were visiting and once a year I would go on vacation with them. I lived with my grandmother and grandfather (and later on with my brother) in a tiny one-bedroom apartment and our neighbors were lawyers, factory workers, doctors, cooks, engineers… you name it – all social classes lived under the same conditions.
I remember buying our bread on a ratio, based on an average the state decided we should be entitled to consume. I also remember how my grandmother was rushing to avoid the huge line when the rumour had it that “the grocery store received new merchandise”, whether it was oil , sugar or meat. We pretty much recycled everything – my grandmother washed and reused every plastic container and bottle, used tea bags more than once (until your tea was basically warm water with a used bag) and sew back together my ripped socks.
We had warm water once a week, during a 3 hour interval. I used to be the first to bathe and then my grandparents. I used to love playing in the water like a dolphin in the ocean and there were even times when my grandma had to use my bath water because there was no more hot water running. Another vivid memory I have is not having a washer. I remember my grandmother hand washing all our clothes with homemade soap (made from pig fat).
My diet consisted of local vegetables and fresh fruit. First time I had a banana, I must have been 7 (and I didn’t really like it). But I loved apples, grapes, pears, plums, watermelon…potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, beans, eggplant, just to name a few. We had meat once in a while – and in rather small portions.
Most of my clothes were hand-me-downs from cousins or friends or handmade by my mom or grandmother. My father did some traveling abroad (which was quite unheard of during that period) and brought me a pair of jeans that instantly upgraded to being “the coolest kid in town”. When my brother was born, his diapers were made out of cotton cloths cut by my mom, which were reused by washing and boiling daily.
I grew up watching Russian, Bulgarian and Romanian cartoons that were running on national television for 5 minutes daily. Once in a while, I would go to the movie theater on Sunday morning to watch Tom&Jerry.
Looking back, I realize that despite the difficult life conditions, as a child I never lacked anything. I was happy to play with my dolls, read and let my imagination run its course and I l climbing on trees outside. I didn’t have any less of a childhood than someone who had lots of toys, access to television, Disney movies and refined foods. I was just as loved and just as happy as someone from the Western world. And I think that having experienced all that, made me even more appreciative of everything I have today.
I get very emotional every time I see the picture below, as it encompasses the simplicity and the beauty of my childhood: