There is an old Consul writing machine on the desk beside my laptop. Behind them, the silence of the green garden outside the window washes over me in a gentle wave. The silver pine tree that we used to decorate, the few times we visited for Christmas. The wisteria blooms already gone for the year, with its thick crown of leaves. The willow, that is now three times the size it had when I was little.
When I sat down, it took less than a second before I felt ready to write, and one more second to open this blank document and type out the first words. Recently, I’ve been picturing myself sitting at this very desk, typing away on my laptop and taking a moment to look out the window at the trees. I wanted to know if it would help cure my writer’s block.
When I was little, the layout of this room was different. By the time I started writing–or at least, consistently, wanting to write–my family no longer made the trip to this house. We stopped coming around the time we moved into a house with a garden in the city. The same time that I, like my older sister, finally grew into a moody teenager who preferred vacations abroad or at the beach.
My grandpa still made the trip. He had always enjoyed the countryside–or maybe he was always after the feeling of home. He came from a family of peasants and spent his childhood in a village, helping out with harvesting and livestock. After moving to the capital city as a young man, building a life and a family in Bucharest, he never got rid of his longing. A painful missing ache for his quiet village and the nature that he called ‘his’ persisted. In Romanian, the word dor conveys it. When towards old age his marriage with my grandma soured, traveling to Bughea on his own became a refuge that gave both of them space and relief. Long after my parents stopped whisking my sister and I to the fresh air of our countryside property, my grandpa found his peace between the two houses and the big garden.
Most times, he drove down on his own in his old, bright red Dacia Logan. I later drove the same car to the village, once he was too old to drive it – and I was old enough. He sometimes entertained himself by crafting small stools and tables out of wood. To this day, they can be found, mismatched and imperfect, occupying random spots around the houses and the tall blades of grass. He built my sister and I a double swing from scratch, picking a spot near the gazebo where we sat down to eat. We would finish our plates and just as soon jump up from our seats and onto the swings. We played as circus acrobats–standing up on the swing as it was already in motion, and doing all kinds of ‘acrobatics’, jumping or wrapping one leg around its chains. Somehow, we never got hurt.
Other times my grandpa snoozed in his armchair with the TV on. It was an ancient screen with the grainiest display, that he would almost always set to the sports channel. He would watch the various matches, but very often fell asleep while they were on, head bobbing to one side and small snores escaping his mouth. I’d accidentally walk in on him, always getting amused to no end, and calling whoever else was around to share in the comic scene. He’d invariably wake up and brush me off with a slightly embarrassed gesture or mumble. When he was awake in his armchair, it would usually be to write in the various journals he kept. He recorded things like the expenses he had had during his stay at the houses, or notes on various TV channels and their broadcast schedule. He always kept things in writing, no matter how trivial. He only stopped when his hands grew unsteady and shook too badly.
At some point, my parents decided to build a chicken coop. My grandpa was in charge of looking after the handful of clucking critters for some years until the endeavor was dropped. He also looked after our resident dog for the time that she was alive. She was already on the property when my family bought it, and no one felt the need to kick her out. My grandpa called her Laika, after the dog who made the trip to outer space, and they kept each other company on the many summer weekdays that us urbanites were absent. Bughea was her home, too, and despite having to fend for herself throughout the winter and fall months when none of us would be there to feed her, we always found her greeting us with a wagging tail and a gleeful tongue out each spring upon our return. When we did adopt a dog–a bichon and poodle mix called Oscar–Laika welcomed him, too, in her home, each time we brought him along on our countryside trips, or each time we left him there in my grandpa’s care. Laika passed away one winter, when the melting snow on the house’s roof fell and buried her under. She was found by our neighbor in the spring.
Oscar’s final resting place is in Bughea as well, under one of the tall pine trees by the fence. It was my grandpa who buried him there. When Oscar was about eight, he suffered from kidney failure. He had been feeling ill right as we were due to leave for a vacation, during which time my grandpa would dog-sit him. The odds of him getting well enough to await our return were small enough that when we said goodbye, we knew it might be the last time we would see him. I remember crouching in the hallway of the low house in Bughea with Oscar sitting in front of me, giving him one last hug. While we were away, our grandpa called from Bughea to tell us that the doctor suggested the kindest thing to do would be to put him to rest. My grandpa was there with him when it happened.
I’m not sure when it was that my grandpa’s trips to Bughea became less frequent. I assume it was after my grandma’s passing. He first stopped driving his car, which complicated the trip with multiple changes between the trains and buses. He was also becoming less able to care for the huge garden and the two houses. The visits stopped altogether when my dad decided he wanted to rent out the property and find a full-time tenant. By then, it had been years since I had last visited Bughea.
My grandpa grew old in the city. I became an adult, graduated from high school, and moved abroad for college. Bughea became home to an ever-changing variety of tenants. On my first visit after many years, I was met with a ruin of what it had once been. The grass had grown up to my waist, the paved alleyway in the garden overrun by weeds. Without the care of my grandpa, the property looked abandoned. My childhood was left behind in the past, and apparently, so had Bughea.
Thankfully, only a few years later everything was well again when the property became home to an independent journalist. He often invites his friends to visit: other journalists, but also artists, activists, social workers. Small tokens of their presence are left behind–a well-known graffiti tag on the disaffected chicken coop, a sticker on the dishwashing machine that says “Who does the dishes after the revolution?” The journalist sometimes posts photos of the houses and the garden to his Instagram. One of the photos was taken from this desk, with the writing machine and the trees in the background. That is when I first pictured myself here.
Last summer, my grandpa passed away. He was eighty-six years old and had been struggling through failing health in his final months of life. He was emotional and tired, and would tell us he wished for relief. I don’t think anyone in my family really knew how to comfort him. When we finally went to clear out his apartment, we found a treasure chest of antique objects. We invited our journalist tenant to select any items he may want to keep for his collection, and some of them now proudly decorate the houses of Bughea. He’s made them into a sort of gallery of new and old – my grandpa’s woodworking projects and collected objects, alongside the modern artifacts of the leftist youth, all adorning the most unassuming places. My grandpa would love to know that what he left behind is safely tucked amongst anticapitalists.
My grandpa also left us five A4 notebooks in which he hand wrote the story of his life, alongside an elaborate family tree on the first page. My name was added in last, as his youngest granddaughter. I felt I was getting to know him for the first time, and was given a glimpse into an internal life he had never shared with us. I lived through his childhood, his departure from his native village, his old-school love story with my grandma, his days as a railway traffic control officer. His story ends around the 1960s, never covering the story of my mom’s adulthood or her marriage to my dad. For this reason, his thoughts and feelings in regards to his visits of Bughea remain a mystery. There is no explanation for this rather abrupt end. Perhaps he grew too tired, perhaps he couldn’t find the time or energy to continue writing when he stopped making the trip. Or maybe he decided we would just be able to retrace what happened next with the help of my mom’s and my aunt’s memories.
The desk I am sitting at is in the smaller house. The Consul writing machine belongs to the current tenant, so does the happiness of the garden. I think my grandpa would be glad to know that Bughea is no longer in ruins, and that sitting at this desk has interrupted my writer’s block. I didn’t know what I was going to write about today, but my thoughts seamlessly guided me to him. The timid love he had for this place. His endeavor to leave us a written account of his life. The first few paragraphs of his story, in which he apologizes for having the audacity to write, despite thinking he is not equipped or entitled to. His courage and honesty in doing it nevertheless. It was easier for him to write about his life than to talk about it. The easiest ‘thank you for everything’, was to write about us & him.