Continuing with the theme from my previous post of my Earliest Memories in Romania, I’d like to share one of my best Romanian stories from my childhood. It’s filled with adventure, excitement, unexpected twists, and valuable lessons learned. So make some tea, get comfy, and enjoy the story.
The Day I was Scarred for Life in Romania
Even though I was only 3 or 4 years old when it happened, I still remember as if it were yesterday, the day I got scarred for life in Romania. The story goes like this. Across the apartment building where I grew up there was a house owned by an elderly man which had a nice garden. The fenced in garden was full of all types of fruit trees. There were, cherry, apple, pear, plum, and many other type of trees containing fruits I didn’t know the name of. One thing I did know though, is that the forbidden fruits on the other side of the fence tasted like a slice of heaven.
Me and some of the more adventurous neighborhood kids would often risk, at the hands of the old man who owned the garden, a vicious beating, to hop his little fence and plunder his garden. When our sweet teeth would ache, and the sun laden, ripe delicious looking fruits across the fence became too irresistible to our little stomachs, we would gather together and plot a heist to obtain some.
The raid usually went down like this. Two kids from our posse would position themselves on opposite corners of the garden behind the fence as lookouts. When it was clear, they’d give the signal, and me and the rest of the group would storm the fence. Like buffalo in the Serengeti crossing a croc infested river, we’d intensely hop over it to the other side. After landing, we’d make a mad dash to ambush the garden’s trees.
Once we reached the fruit our strategy was to first collect the ripest ones off the ground, and then to go for anything else our little arms could reach. We used sticks to knock fruit down, hopped like kangaroos to reach ones on low branches, and sometimes, if a tree contained particularly scrumptious looking fruit, we took the extreme risk of climbing it.
If an irresistible looking tree provided enough lower branches to be scaled, two of our men would team up on it. One kid, the harvester, would help boost the other, the climber, up the tree. The harvester would then remain on the ground to collect and be a lookout. The climber in the tree would wildly start knocking fruits down for the harvester to gather. He knew he didn’t have much time up there so he would ferociously shake, kick, ram, and jump on any branch within his reach to shake loose the treasures it contained.
To collect the fruit, we used our shirts as our knapsacks. We’d bend the bottom of the shirt up to our necks and then we’d tuck them under our chins. This way once our pockets were stuffed full, we’d have two arms free to collect and stash other fruit in our shirts.
An Old Man Full of Rage
Now, going back to why being up in the tree was the most dangerous part of our pillaging. It wasn’t the riskiest part because of the chance of falling out of the tree. No, no, that wouldn’t be too bad at all. It was treacherous because if the old man were to catch one of us during our heist, the beating he would give us would be severe enough to not only deter us from stealing from him ever again, but it would also make it impossible for us to even entertain the thought of stealing anything from ANYONE ever again.
As you can probably tell from by my previous paragraph. The old man who owned the garden didn’t take too kindly, to put it mildly, in having it sacked and its fruit depleted by the neighborhood rascals. That’s why it was so strictly important for us to have attentive lookouts keeping guard. We knew If the old man were to catch one of us, he would turn our bottoms into minced meat. In fact, he wanted to snag one of us so badly, that in the hopes of catching us in the act, he eventually spent more time pacing around his house and garden, than he actually spent tending to the garden.
Unfortunately for him, our speed, and the wit in the way we conducted our swoops, ended up being too much for him to be able to catch any of us. He was like a scarecrow guarding the hen house. Even though he desperately tried, he didn’t have enough push to nab one of the fox cubs plundering it.
Every time one of our guards would spot him, usually as he was giving, swinging rake in hand, violent chase towards us, they’d holler and yell, and we’d be up and over the fence safely with our fruit before he’d even reach the tree line. Everything was fine and dandy and we’d scatter off to our hideout to enjoy our booty and laugh at his antics. All was grand and well until the day the old man finally wised up and decided to fight back with a new type of arsenal.
The Barbed Wired Fence
The day that I was scarred for life in Romania started off like any other day. Me and my crew of hoodlums were bored and craving some forbidden fruit. So, naturally, we decided to hit old man grumpy’s garden to satisfy our appetite. We banded together and made our way to his fence. Once we got there though, we were greeted by the unexpected.
What stood before us wasn’t the old raggedy beat down fence that we previously conquered on numerous occasions. That fence had vanished. In its place stood a taller, brand new, and very intimidating looking fence. The new height wasn’t even the worst part, the worst part was that the top of the fence was now fortified by sharp and threatening looking barbed wire. The barbed wire gleamed menacingly at us in the sun, and in a way seemed to be saying, I wish you would.
We were dismayed, and dejected, we kicked rocks. One kid in a burst of rage put a stranglehold on the fence and shook it viciously in anger. The thing of our nightmares had become reality. Feeling helpless and discouraged we were about to turn around and find something else to do when I decided I wasn’t ready to concede defeat yet.
I said to my fellow comrades “I’m going over to get me some fruit, and no new fence is going to stop me.” I then asked, “who’s coming with me?” Unsurprisingly, not a single one of them said “I”. I told them fine, I’ll go alone, and ordered the rest to keep lookout.
I can’t exactly say where the courage came from that day, or what drove me to scale that dauntingly sinister new fence, but whatever it was, I’m glad it happened. Taking on that challenge as a kid I believe was the catalyst that propelled me to not settle for mediocrity in life. I believe that day was instilled in me the habit of risk taking, such as moving to Romania from the United States, and of always striving for better.
So, with my partners down below, some who were encouraging me onwards, some begging me not to go, I began to scale the fence. I remember even now how fast my heart was beating and the intense feeling of having adrenaline pump throughout my body. Once I had begun the climb I knew I wouldn’t back down and nothing was going to stop me from getting to the other side… that is, or so I thought….
The Old Man’s Rage is Avenged
Unbeknownst to us, the old man was cleverly hidden somewhere, of which to this day I don’t know the location, in the garden waiting for us. I had reached the top of the fence in triumph, I was almost there, just a few more steps to go. I had slowly and carefully positioned my left arm over the fence and gripped the other side. I then began to lift my right leg to maneuver it and my body over the barbed wire. It was at this step that all hades broke loose.
I remember all of a sudden hearing loud hooting and hollering coming from down below. I glanced down quickly and instantly read the look of panic across the faces of my gang. They were jumping up and down, yelling, and ferociously pointing at something. I looked towards what they were pointing at. The old man had exploded like a bat out of hell from an undisclosed location and was fast making ground towards me, ferociously swinging his rake as he came.
This was the closest the old man had ever gotten to any of us, and this was the angriest I’d ever seen him. I remember seeing his red, fuming, sweaty face, full of bulging veins, getting closer and closer. His usual rage and anger was compounded by the fact that even this new fence wasn’t enough to deter the objects of his violent desires away from attempting to steal his fruit.
I knew I had to act fast or else I’d get cracked over the head by the old man’s rake and potentially fall over to his side where I would of been…. I dread to even think what would have happened. Dreading that scenario, and mere moments before the old man reached me, I took a leap of faith. I acted, and acted fast. Even though my left arm was still over on his side of the fence, I threw my body from that position over to my side of the fence in one swift motion.
I landed on the ground with a hard thud. The adrenaline in my veins got me up as quickly as I had fallen. The old man had reached the fence by this time and was jabbing his rake through it trying to get at me. The amount, variety, and complexity, of curse words I heard exploding out of his mouth were enough to make Webster himself envious of the old man’s vocabulary.
With little time to waste, I took off running out of there as fast as a baby deer who’d discovered his legs for the first time. As for my colleagues, they’d already dispersed the area before I even landed on the ground. I kept running as fast as I could, jumping over anything in my way, all the while not looking back even once.
Life Lessons Learned
When I finally reached the outside of my apartment building I looked down to see what the wet cold feeling I had across my left arm was. I was flabbergasted to discover that my arm was completely covered in blood. I don’t remember feeling any pain throughout this whole ordeal. Not from landing over the fence in a thud, and neither from having my wrist get caught on the barbed wire. The bursts of adrenaline that were flowing through me must have canceled out any hurt.
Looking down at my bloodied arm I wasn’t panicking, the only thoughts I had were, where is all this blood coming from, and, I can’t let my mom find out about this. To my dismay, the next thing I remember hearing was my mom’s voice asking, “what are you doing over there?” She was outside tending her flower garden when she spotted me acting suspiciously. Upon seeing me, she instantly knew, the only way a mother could know, that something was up.
She approached to interrogate me. I threw my left arm behind my back when I saw her coming. She asked again what I was doing and why was I hiding my arm behind my back. Before I could answer she quickly grabbed it and pulled it out to find it drenched in blood. I remember thinking, oh no, now I’m in for it. But to my surprise, instead of anger, my mom’s face was riddled with concern. She quickly took me inside where she cleaned and wrapped my wound up.
After some hard explaining, mixed in with whatever fibs I felt I could get away with, my mom had gotten the story out of me. I remember her forbidding me from ever stealing fruit or going anywhere near the old man’s garden again. If a possible lashing from a rage filled old man, and a barbed wire fence hadn’t previously deterred me, the warning look of consequences to come for disobeyment that my mother gave me sure did put the fear in me.
Although he had previously lost many battles, that day marked the day the old man finally won his war against the tyrannical scoundrels who pillaged and plundered the fruits of his labor on so many previous occasions. As for me, the scar, which resembles the barbed wire that placed it there, on my left wrist, serves as a reminder of all the lessons I learned that day.
Any time I look down at my scar I am reminded that taking risks makes you feel alive. I’m also reminded that not all risks end up in your favor. Bust most importantly, I’m reminded that if you’re profusely bleeding, your mother will be more concerned with your safety than with disciplining you for the wrong you’ve done!