one million words

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XXIII: Romanian Romance

“I am going to Romania this summer.” I inform my 8th grade friends with slight embarrassment. “Romania?!” Big gasp. “Why??” I loved travelling to Romania in 1986 with my family but it’s no destination to brag about now. My classmates are heading for Italy and Spain, France, even Africa. Our family has too many kids to get on an airplane. Germany is very beautiful, my dad repeats emphatically every time we discuss travel plans.

I want to at least leave the country. Youth group friends are heading to Romania to deliver two large trucks filled with relief supplies. Any youth group member is welcome to join but it’s not an officially church sponsored or staff supervised trip. A couple responsible guys in their early twenties will be in charge. It sounds fun and I am thrilled when my folks say yes. My best friend, perpetually on a shorter leash than me, is not allowed to join this potentially dangerous adventure without “real adult supervision”.

I am not the least bit scared as we caravan south in blazing heat without air-conditioning. It’s 15 hours to Brasov but the trucks are old and slow. We pray they don’t break down too many times. Traffic is heavy, there are detours and pothole roads. Border patrol is super-low, makes us unpack part of our load. Nevertheless we’re in high spirits, taking turns chatting non-sense via our two way radios.

At night we sleep in tents. We buy fruit from roadside stands and swim in Lake Balaton, a prime tourist destination in Hungary before the wall came down. At last we arrive in Brasov, where church folk are thrilled to receive our stuff, trucks included.

After mission completed we backpack high into the beautiful Carpathian mountain wilderness. We pitch our tents in a large meadow above tree line and the bravest among us dip in the ice cold mountain lake. A shepherd passes by with his herd. Wildflowers dance in the wind. We huddle together while winds blow hard as the sun sets. Next we cruise down to the Black Sea. In poor villages we toss hard candy out our car window, delighting and scaring huddles of children. It’s about 5 hours to Constanta, a popular beach town. You can pitch your tent right on the beach here or just sleep under the stars.

Somewhere between mountain and sea, I fall in love. I hadn’t planned on this although harbor a tiny crush on one of our chaperons. He is 21 and would never consider dating me because of my age. At least that’s what I am telling myself.

When we hiked through the high country we talked a lot. Then he picked me a wildflower. I didn’t dare hope for more but then he invites me to ride in his car. I am beginning to think he likes me back. Boys don’t typically pursue me, especially not those I adore. We walk along the beach for hours, swim in the Black Sea, watch the sunset over the water. One night, while the moon glows over the beach, he kisses me. Waves keep crashing onto the beach and no one hears my heart pound wildly. First love turns into first boyfriend.

For the long ride home, our group drives separately. There are four of us in first love’s car which breaks down not terribly far from the beach in a small town. No one speaks German. There aren’t car shops or stores. We’re running out of ideas when meeting a mechanic who speaks a little German. A part needs to be ordered which will take at least a day, perhaps two. We need to spend the night but there are no hotels nearby, no good place to pitch a tent. The mechanic invites us to his apartment for overnight. Apparently he has a wife. Nervously we accept. Their apartment is small but clean. The wife makes us dinner while her husband tries to tell us to avoid travelling remote places after dark. The Romanian Mafia likes to barricades roads to stop foreign cars to rob them. We promise to stay safe. I am hoping first love will turn out more reliable than his vehicle.

Three days later we’re back on the road. We tried to call home but somehow it didn’t work. Our parents may worry if we arrive 3 days late but probably not too much. By the time we reach the Czech Republic, we might as well just keep going. Back home, when dropping off our first friend, his parents look furious. Three days late!!! What were we thinking?! How could we not have called? I worry my friend will be grounded for life and silently hope my parents won’t freak out like this.

My parents are thrilled to see me. They’d been praying and felt slightly worried but not terrified. I vow to never arrive three days late without calling. It seems sensible to hold off on officially introducing first love until next time.

My family embraces first love pretty well. They even allow us to travel again. First love and I explore Venice and Paris, Switzerland and Crete. We end up dating for 2 ½ years. And if I hadn’t taken off for the States on a whim, I’d probably be married to first love.


This is part XXIII of “Behind the Wall & Under the Steeple”, a collection of personal essays about growing up Christian in former East Germany.  If you are receiving this post by email, any reply goes straight to my inbox.  Thanks for reading! 


8 Replies

  1. Tara

    I’ve never heard much about “first love.” Oh where our whims can take us! 🙂

    1. Astrid Melton

      He was a good guy, I just wasn’t ready to settle so broke up w/ him over Christmas break 3 months after being in the US.

  2. Enjoyed it Astrid. Adventure was your middle name! Is it still?
    Writing to you from Brazil. Will be back in Portland in about 10 days.
    May be moving to Georgia in June. Sending hugs your way. Voni

    1. Astrid Melton

      I still love adventure… seems like parenting the younger years is not very adventure friendly. We are leaving for Germany in 2 weeks. I’d like to see you before you move. ❤️

      1. Oh? Maybe. Normal life can seem boring, but there is adventure in one’s soul.

  3. Kathy Davis

    So enjoy hearing about your life Astrid. Keep it up.

  4. What’s the date you leave???? when will you get back? who all is going?
    sending hugs! lots of them! Voni

    1. Astrid Melton

      I’ll text you ❤️

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