My mother in her early twenties.

If I close my eyes I can still see and touch my mother’s sleeve as she is kneading bread with a smile in the corner of her mouth. Her face is serene and focused. She always told me you are not allowed to be upset or start a fight while you are making bread. No matter how hard things were sometimes in our family my mother asked us to put it all aside.

“The bread turns bitter if people argue or are upset”, she said. “There needs to be harmony and peace for the dough to rise.”

I would sit on one side of the big wooden kneading bowl pouring in fermented  kefir, fresh well water, sea salt, and freshly ground white flour from our wheat fields. She would raise an arm covered in white paste in the air only to slide it back in fiercely and gracefully just in time to lift her other one up. It was a dance she did once a week for years with me by her side silently wondering whether my mother was a witch. How else could she make flour, water and fresh kefir turn into this amazing artisanal bread, make cheese out of raw milk, sauerkraut out of cabbage and make my ear infections go away with secret tinctures she would work on in the kitchen long after all of us went to bed.

Yet she woke up at the crack of dawn with my father and milked our cow, fed our animals and cooked us all breakfast. By the time I woke up she was dressed up, sipping on a cup of tea with my father long gone working in the fields. When we finished eating she would grab her extra large bag filled with graded papers and we took our walk to school together… for eighteen years. Same routine everyday. Somehow despite my morning grumpiness – I am not a morning person – mother maintained her good humor and managed to get me in good spirits by the time we reached school where we went our separate paths. Me to my various classes, she to a room full students eager to learn a foreign language. I held my mother’s hand going to school even throughout high school because she had so much strength to give and so much confidence that my shy young years needed so much.

My mother taught English and it became our secret language from a very young age. I remember the pride in her eyes when I first spoke to a native speaker without her needing to correct any of the irregular verbs. Yes we spoke English together while gutting chickens, making pickles or chasing turkeys back in their coop in the evenings. She taught me to have big dreams and be proud of who I am and where I come from.

When I told her I was going to America one evening as we were making sweet pastries in our clay oven her smile quivered but she kept it there. She helped me pack my bags and put away all my Romanian books. After I flew away on the wings of a plane on my new adventure, my brother found my mother talking to one of my photos on the wall in those early months of separation, but she never complained or asked me to stay. She knew I was restless and I wanted to see the world, pursue knowledge and adventure- the things she didn’t get to try as young woman during the Soviet regime.

My mother rebelled against the system in her own quiet way by reading forbidden books, celebrating

At our American wedding she walked me down the aisle.

Christmas and Easter by walking five miles to the closest open church, getting “sick” during the communist marches during her university years, listening to the radio stations forbidden by the government. She is a rebellious, free thinking alchemist still. This Christmas she came to visit us with a suitcase full of homemade feta cheese, fermented homemade wine, local artisanal sausage, smoked bacon poured in big lard jars and apples from our orchard. I have no idea how she managed to sneak all this in through security!

Although it is not Mother’s Day in Moldova this Sunday, we celebrate it on the 8th of March, I wanted to share with you all a glimpse of my mother, an amazing woman  to whom I owe so much. A woman I will write stories about for the rest of my life. Thank you Mama for loving me unconditionally. Your love and support helps me be a better woman.

And Happy Mother’s Day to all of you Mamas! I bow down to all the hard work, sacrifice and love you offer us, your children, even when we take you for granted. God bless you all!

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