Hospital of the Queen's Heart by Ileana, Princess of Romania
In 1946, Ioana, our pretty young midwife, married one of our soldier convalescents, Vasile Stan, and the wedding took place, not in the little Bran church, but in the extraordinary little town from which both bride and bridegroom came, a suburb of Brasov called the Schei (pronounced Shkā).
The Schei is a tight little valley, its population of about one thousand peasants crowded together into an area so long and narrow that it seems but a crevice between two upthrusting mountains, their sides rising sheer and darkly forested. The unpaved streets are narrow, and the little whitewashed houses huddle together along them as if pressed ever more and more close by the overhanging mountains on either side. Because the valley is so sheltered, it is a veritable paradise of little gardens and fruit trees that are seemingly pushed up against the houses for lack of space. In the spring blue scilla, daffodils, and narcissus come early through the snow and carpet the warm little valley, and, later, clouds of plum and apple, apricot and cherry blossoms seem to float low over the whole town, drenching it with perfume, shaking down their soft rain of pink and white petals over tiled and shingled roofs, onto the ground. There is no room for growing things to expand, so they flourish and blossom beyond belief.
In winter, the town is still and somnolent, buried beneath deep snowdrifts. Paths are trod out, snowed over again, and retrodden from house to house, to shop and church and school. Life goes at a slower pace until the long rays of the returning sun, penetrating the depths of the valley, quicken the people's lives as they do the green growing things.
The people of the Schei are intensely Romanian, profoundly Orthodox and reactionary. They resented the Communists with all the fervor of their long and loyal past. In 1945, they refused to take part in the celebrations and demonstrations on May first, the first Communist Labor Day since the new regime had taken over the country. For a half mile they deliberately tore up the road leading into the town and then barricaded the valley. They put up a huge sign on the barricade:
UP TO HERE, COMMUNISM
The Russian soldiers never dared go into the Schei—they would have been skinned. They were afraid of these people.
(What has become of this patriotic ardor, this fine independence and integrity, this noble refusal to accept evil? Who knows? Who knows? . . .)
I was persona grata in the Schei, not only because they were ardent Royalists, but because in the summer of 1944 I had transported large numbers of their lightly wounded men back to them to be cared for at home, when we evacuated the Brasov Red Cross hospital during the bombardment. Also, Spitalul Inima Reginei had had two of their children as patients, and we had done successful orthopedic surgery on them.
Both loana and Vasile had been born and brought up in the Schei, although they had not known each other. Vasile was taken prisoner by the Russians in 1940, and was in Russia for four years. Those Romanian prisoners who allowed themselves to be indoctrinated by Communism were formed into a regiment of their own, called Tudor Vladimirescu, and this regiment returned to Romania with the Russian troops in the invasion of 1944. Vasile was one of these returning Romanians. Manifestly, they were traitors, but I know through conversations with many of them, that a large majority of these "traitors" were simply homesick boys who would do anything, agree to anything, to get back to their homes again.
The tragedy of it all for them, however, was in the trickery of the Russians, who used that regiment to take the brunt of the battle of Debrecen in Hungary, in the fall of 1944. The regiment had been almost destroyed. The survivors came back; most of them were wounded and some of these were sent to the Brasov hospital, and thence a number of them to Bran.
These men were a great problem to us and were the source of much disturbance and high feeling in the wards. No matter what underlying reasons made them choose as they did, they were traitors to their country and were bitterly resented by our soldiers. While some were, as I have said, homesick boys who wanted to get back to their mountain and valley homes at all costs, others had been indoctrinated with Communism quite successfully. These men fomented trouble for us. One could easily surmise that they had been instructed what to do and how to do it—to throw food on the floor and mess things up, to brawl, to be insubordinate and abusive, to make themselves objectionable to the hospital ladies in every annoying and shocking way they could, in order to impress thoroughly upon them that they and their Party were now the masters. But after a while, lacking the proper incentive and coaching, these commotions of our TV soldiers seemed to be less and less convincing. Apparently they became tired of their new masterly role and forgot to exert themselves to maintain it. After all, a few years' teaching cannot undo a lifetime's pattern of thought and behavior or wipe out inherited desire for leadership and acknowledgment of authority. They were Romanians, and the estate of being Romanian is deeply inherent, prideful, and is not to be simply erased.
Needless to say, Vasile never was a troublemaker. Like Ioana, he was a well-educated peasant; he was always gentlemanly and reasonable. He lay in his bed, composed and obedient. He was agreeable, and thanked us politely for whatever we did for him or brought him. His dark, deep-set eyes watched us pleasantly as we moved about the ward or changed his dressings. He smiled quietly and often.
Ioana was engaged to a man, also from the Schei, who had disappeared in the fortunes of war. She had remained faithful to him for two years, always hoping for word from him or that he would reappear. When she learned that there was a Schei man in our wards who had formerly served in her fiancé's regiment, she went eagerly to see him, hoping that he would be able to give her news of her fiancé.
She told him his name. Yes, Vasile knew him—but certainly, of course he knew where he was! He was married—Vasile had been his sponsor, in fact—and he was serving now with another regiment.
Poor Ioana was shocked and struck down, and Vasile was desolated when he learned that he had been the innocent conveyor of such crushing news. For a few days tragedy clung about us like a pall. But as time went on, Vasile became more and more Ioana's friend, and she lost the gaunt, wide-eyed look of despair that her face wore for a long time. They became engaged.
They were married in the riotous beauty of a Schei spring, in 1946. I was Ioana's sponsor, and I have never attended a more beautiful, more joyous peasant wedding. The day was perfect, and the stage was lavishly set by nature herself. The marriage ceremony was performed in the beautiful little Schei church, which stands in its own quiet graveyard, and the pear tree at the door shook its white petals down on the path as a carpet for us to walk upon. As we came out into the sunshine after the ceremony, the wedding bells in the church belfry overhead rang out in a silver-toned frenzy, ricocheting back and forth from the mountainsides, echoing and re-echoing our rejoicing. Ioana and Vasile, both beautiful young people of fine character, glowed with their happiness, and their friends rejoiced with them, wholeheartedly and long. The wedding feast was spread out-of-doors under the flowering fruit trees. There were speeches, the gift presentations, the endless doina and the hora, beloved and traditional, all throughout the afternoon and into the night.
It is a memory I have tucked away in my mind and cherish. Sometimes I take it out to relive again and to savor it, here in the midst of my New England surroundings, decorous, sometimes a little gray, however dear and secure and quite natural they have become to me. That joyous springtime wedding in the Schei is a memory of my Romania at its most idyllic, its traditional, happiest best.
After their wedding in the Schei, Ioana and Vasile came back to us at the hospital, for it had become as dear to them as it was to all of us.
As Spitalul Inima Reginei grew larger, the problem of administration had grown more complicated and burdensome. We had our own funds—that is, from my own personal money, and money that had been donated to us—we had the funds from the Ministry of Health and from the army, and we had also the funds from social insurance. All these moneys had to be carefully accounted for, disbursements recorded and reported, official papers kept straight and in order. When we first started, I had done the administrative work myself, together with everything else, but my duties had increased with the growth of the hospital, and after two years I knew I could not carry the administrative responsibilities further. I was far more strongly attracted to the operating room and the wards than to ledgers and their complicated, frightening columns of figures.
So in the summer of 1946 we had added another member to our staff, a Naval officer, Captain Boeru, whom I had met and liked when he was a teacher at Predeal, Stefan's school. The Captain had been purged from the Romanian Navy by the Communists. He was dark and rugged, tactless and alarmingly outspoken on risky political subjects. But he was a gentleman exceptionally talented in keeping things in shipshape order. He reorganized my methods of accounts and bookkeeping into a system so adequate and yet so simple that even I could have dealt with them successfully, should I have had to do so.
Vasile, at heart completely one with us, became Captain Boeru's assistant and secretary. In this, he was a great asset, for the hospital's having a member of the celebrated Communist Tudor Vladimirescu regiment as assistant administrator assuredly took the curse off us for nurturing a purged officer in our organization. Also, being from the Schei as well as having served with the TV, Vasile was invaluable to us as receptionist and liaison officer. Adherents of all political factions trusted him, and his skill with people, his knowledge of both sides, his diplomacy and kindness counteracting Captain Boeru's bluff candor, smoothed many ruffled waters before they became stormy and checked many malcontent patients' vexations before they grew into disturbances.