I’m 6 years old, it’s my last spring before going to school. I’m in the village of my grandparents, happy to stay there as much as I want – times of blessings. The snow started melting – yes, those times with real winters, and so much snow. There’s a small alley near the house – and along it, every year, we are waiting to see them – first snowdrops, “fat” snowdrops, as I haven’t seen anywhere ever since. “Granny, loooooook, here they are”, little hands dig into the snow, without feeling the cold, just hearing the heart beating faster, laughing, red cheeks, smiling soul, the first flowers. Granny is laughing, happy for my happiness. Takes a flower, puts it on the back of my ear. Big hug. On her chest, there’s a red-white string. First “Martisor”.
A small parenthesis. In Romania, the joy of spring starts with “Martisor”. On the 1-st of March, men, boys offer women and girls a small, symbolic pendant with a red-white string attached. Can be a snowdrop, a clover, a chimney sweep, a butterfly, a flower, a small animal, and so many more. The tradition comes from ancient times – “Martisor” is a symbol of nature’s rebirth, once the spring comes, and is worn like a talisman. White from the red-white string symbolizes purity and energy, and red protects you from bad luck. Women and girls wear it on their chest the whole month of March. With so much joy!
I’m in the elementary school, I’m going with my father to buy “Martisoare” – we have a list of names, ladies from our family friends, teachers, work colleagues of my father. We pick carefully, then put each on a small envelope and write on it the name of the lady who will get it. I’m writing this text with that image – “Martisoare” on the table, small envelopes, my childish writing. At first, we buy from book-store – then there’s a small area in town where sellers come directly.
“I remember when I came home, from work, on the 1-st of March. I had worn two that were the most special, from you and your father, and had the rest in a bag. You also had yours, got from your colleagues, at school. And we took them one by one, each of us, and tell each other look, this is from that colleague, and we admired them and were so happy about them together. Do you remember?” I’m in Norway, mamma is in Romania, phone is on speaker, between us there are 2.500 kilometers and we are wearing the same huge smile on our hearts. And identical “Martisoare”, this year. And, of course, there’s Granny – wearing hers on her angel wings.
“But when I was at school we had also worn them tied to our hand watches, or on our chest, of course. And we were sending post-cards with Martisoare to our relatives from other cities. At work, we received from our men colleagues, and we had offered them cookies, but on the 8-th of March”, mamma remembers. And I have the image of her office, back then – it’s amazing how many and what kind of memories we keep.
“And you made handmade “Martisoare” at the kindergarten, and post-cards for us. And, on the 8-th of March, on Women’s Day, you had an artistic program, a celebration. There was a song – It’s your birthday, mommy/As a gift I had brought you my heart….” Do you remember? Of course I do, it’s good she can’t see the tears in my eyes while talking. I remember also that white dress, with small flowers, and orange leggings – and in an old album I find a picture from that moment. It’s more than 30 years ever since. And, without even thinking, I go on with the old song mamma started – “And believe me mommy/A much beautiful gift couldn’t have been”. Heart-beat break, yes. Ok, one more. “And with the pocket-money received from me you used to buy flowers, not something for you – flowers all the time, for me, for your teacher”, mamma says.
“I’m taking notes, you know, I’m going to write an article about this” – she does, of course, but what was supposed to be a kind of documentary talk or something turned into a story of heart, of life and of us. Because with these symbols it’s all my childhood and her youth, our memories, Granny with us, our country yard from Haiesti, “fat” snowdrops and times when we shared hugs and “Martisoare” and memories directly, not with 2.500 kilometers between us.
We laugh remembering silver symbols, or zodiac symbols, or “those years when models were so kitsch that we preferred to offer flowers only”, or the big box where we used to keep them from one year to another. “Martisoare” offered to our neighbors from the block. Those safety pins we used to catch them with – “bigger than Martisor” mamma remembers, laughing. I do remember those too – laugh together in hoots.
And I feel spring coming with every millimeter of my body, with every small corner of my heart. We promise we’ll both wear “Ia” on Sunday – it’s the traditional Romanian shirt, like those we wear in the main picture of this article. On it, Martisoare – and there’s a story, also. Because this year I asked Sis – my best friend for ages – to buy handmade “Martisoare” from Adina and send them to my mother first. She had kept two for her and my aunt, and had sent the rest to me, in Norway. So we’ll wear an identical model – shared as the huge smile over the heart, also.
I have snowdrops in my Norwegian garden – not “fat”, but so beautiful. Between them, a bucket of smiles, pieces of heart and a red-white “Martisor” string. And that moment of a huge smile gently covering a heart that’s beating faster. Because that’s the first and most beautiful place to wear it – with memories, with our beloved, small children, big children, old songs, sunshine, Haiesti, little hands looking for “fat” snowdrops under the snow. The heart tied with “Martisor” string.
Granny, I put one snowdrop on the back of my ear, hope that huge hug had got to you in time.