Romanian Roots – She Risked Everything for a Chance at a Better Life

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Bucharest, Romania

There is a line of nearly 600 people in the capital’s square. The night before, it was announced that oranges would be available in the market – first come, first serve. Ioana and her grandmother (nicknamed Gizu) have been waiting in the cold for several hours, and the eight-year-old little girl can’t help but continue to peak towards the front of the line for a glimpse of someone walking away with a few pieces of the coveted fruit. It’s a grey winter day, and the wind is biting at her face, but the adrenaline is keeping her warm. She can’t remember the last time she tasted an orange.

Communism is all Ioana has known. Each household is provided with a ration of food designed to last all month. It helps if you have the right connections and are able to trade goods, though. America might as well be the moon. It is a foreign place she cannot imagine traveling to. Gizu, however, has known Romania since before communism took hold and oranges and other fruit were readily available. Natural resources and food were plentiful then. Education and meaningful careers were encouraged before communist indoctrination took over in schools, newspapers, and television. Still, she manages to make her granddaughter feel that they have everything they need and life is to be celebrated, no matter the circumstances.

Gizu designed clothes and won several literary contests in Romania. She was known for her storytelling and kept the kids entertained for hours. It was only a few years after this memorable day in line waiting for oranges that Gizu and her husband Giani would flee Romania in the middle of the night as the revolution against communism was nearing and it was becoming dangerous. They told no one in their family and none of their friends. They simply disappeared.

Years later, Ioana and her mom were afforded the opportunity to leave Romania and were able to reunite with Gizu and Giani on the outskirts of Boston. Ever industrious and now in her 70s, Gizu had started a burgeoning business designing and altering wedding gowns while writing children’s stories in her spare time. She later sold several wedding gown designs to Pricilla, a high-end wedding dress shop in downtown Boston.

In 2022, Gizu celebrated her 100th birthday. She still walks every day and has a garden filled with blueberries, apples, and various herbs. Her great-grandchildren now visit and pick blueberries in the summer, laughing with Gizu. To say she is a remarkable woman is an understatement – to her granddaughter Ioana, she is Wonder Woman. And so, every year around the holidays, Ioana sends her the largest basket of oranges she can find.

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