A while ago, I posted this story from Do Not Avenge Us. It is one of Margareta Cemârtan-Spânu’s memories from Siberia, where she was deported with her family.
The apple from the story was an icon. As an icon makes the Kingdom present on earth, the apple made home, Bessarabia, present in the small room of cold Siberia.
The Apple with Scent From Home
by Margareta Cemârtan-Spânu
One evening of a late autumn, as we were staying in the house, we heard someone knocking at the door. We opened, and a man around 50-60 years old came in, carrying a heavy suitcase with him. We recognized that he was one of our people, from Bessarabia, because he had a sheepskin hat.
He said “good evening,” and then looked at us and said:
“There you go: I got to the wrong place again! If I do not know Russian, I cannot find my people. Do you know where Mândâcanu lives?”
His father had died there, in Siberia, and he came to see him. When we found out that he was from Mihăileni, we, of course, did not want to let him leave so soon, especially bunica. We all began to ask him to stay to tell us at least something about what was going on there. I remember he told us:
“The communists took everything for the kolkhoz! They took our horses, oxen, cows, plough, and earth… They go around carrying a gun at all times, menacing people, and they took everything from us…”
Bunica asked him:
“Are my girls alive, healthy?”
“Alive, but they work for masters. Russians from Chişinău, from the party, come to the village, and the women must feed them and take them to the hotel. If they refuse, when they no longer have turkeys or geese to feed them, then the Russians menace them, ‘You’ll go after your mother to Siberia!’ They have no option; they must accept them. In short, the communists brought only disgust to the village, and no joy.”
Bunica was content that at least they were healthy and had not died; they had not been imprisoned or taken some place.
The man was getting ready to leave to his relatives, and dad told him that he would accompany him to show him where they lived. Of course, the man did not feel right to leave like this, and he opened his suitcase. He unlocked it, loosened the belts, and took out a ruddy-yellow apple, and he gave it to me, since I was the smallest. He said that it was for the soul of his father. I was confused, and I did not know what to do. I looked at bunica, I looked at dad, at the apple… But Emil jumped, grabbed it, and said “thank you.”
Then dad put on some clothes and left with the man. We sat at the table and began passing around that ruddy-yellow apple among ourselves. Bunica was sitting, and her hands seemed to tremble because she wanted to hold it as well. Emil took it from me and put it under his nose, by his eyes…
No, I have no words; I cannot render what we felt because of that apple. For three days, we kept it as if it were God, as if it were gold. Gold was nothing compared to it. It was so dear to us because that apple, with its fragrance, took us back home. We saw again absolutely everything: the garden, the flowers, the fruit, the sheep, the horses, the cow… everything was contained in it… We were home; it took us home completely, and we wanted to feel our home as much as possible. It did not even cross our minds to say, let’s cut it, let’s eat it, because I can no longer bear it. No word from anyone. Even during the night, when we went to sleep, we saw that apple in our dreams.
The third day was a Sunday. Bunica woke us up in the morning, washed us, and lined us before that small icon brought from home. Before that day, from time to time, dad refused to pray, for, if there were a God, why would He allow something like that. But that time even he prayed before that icon and said “Our Father.” Then, bunica took the apple from the middle of the table and cut it exactly in four pieces; she gave it to each one of us as if it were communion… Even now I can see her old, dry hand, how she gave so beautifully that piece to each one of us. She made a cross over it before she cut it, just like she used to do with the bread back at home; that’s what she did to that apple. She cut it and she gave each one of us a piece… But we did not eat it even then; we took it and licked it, smelled it and stared at it, as if we saw a miracle in it. I think it took an hour before we ate everything.
Today, when I walk on the street and see a bitten apple thrown someplace, I see immediately that apple from Siberia…
This is a traditional hat worn especially in the fall and winter.