And Then There Were Eight...?
Stan was in Bucharest at a Patriarchal Christian Conference and was talking to Isabel on the 'phone.
"I've met a woman called Andreea Pascu who's keen to meet you all and discover some more about our family with a view to maybe joining it. She's very sweet, intelligent and is a Baptist of sorts. Her father was imprisoned during the communist régime. I think you'll find her very interesting."
Stan was full of enthusiasm. He talked with Isabel a while longer, summarising the events of the conference, and asked her to talk to the rest of us. He would call back the next day and bring her home with him if we agreed.
I remembered all the trouble I had had when it appeared that Molly would join the family, and wondered how I would handle the possibility of a new arrival. Andreea was a Romanian and I knew nothing about Romanians except that they weren't Slav's and more like the French and Italians. The discussion we had that evening was intense.
"What else did Stan say about her?" asked Suszana.
Isabel filled us in. "She's thirty-two, dark hair, medium height, speaks English and some French and Russian, comes from a town called Giurgiu by the River Danube on the Bulgarian border, and has a twelve-year old daughter whose name I didn't catch."
"Whose daughter is she?" asked Kasia, slightly concerned.
"I don't know too much about that, only that her husband left her about ten years ago. She's divorced now."
We knew there might be problems if Andreea tried to take her daughter to another country as she would probably need the child's father's permission, though we weren't too sure.
"Does anyone know anything about Romania?" quizzed Sarah-Jane, looking at me. I couldn't help her.
Anna offered to help us. "We're about 200 kilometres from the border but you have to drive through the Ukraine to get there, or through Slovakia and Hungary. It's a lovely drive through the mountains though I've never done it myself. It's easier to fly."
Kasia went to the library to fetch an atlas and we all pored over it.
"Look," she said, "there's Giurgiu, just south of Bucharest." We all tried to imagine what it would be like.
The thought of a new wife made us both excited and apprehensive. Would we like her? Could we afford to take care of her? How could she help with the economy? How could she get a permit to live in Poland? Poland was due to join the EU in about three years time but it didn't look as though Romania would be ready for a long time because of its bad economy. But we knew that applicatants for EU membership, which would allow free emmigration for Andreea, had treaties with the EU lands to smooth the way for full membership. We felt sure Stan would look into everything while he was there.
"How sure did Stan feel about Andreea?" I asked. "I mean, does he think there's a good chance she's one of us?"
Isabel hesitated. "I don't know. He didn't say too much, but he's never been this enthusiastic before, and he's never brought someone home from a trip. Usually they exchange mail for a while." I remembered how it had been with me.
"What if she's a spy or a news reporter?" Kryztina was always worried about such things.
We laughed. "I guess we'll just have to trust Stan on that one," said Anna. "He doesn't usually stick his neck out this far."
"What if he's fallen in love with her and has lost his discernment?" wondered Kryztina again. She was always such a worrier, was our Kryztina!
"Like he did with you?" teased Sarah-Jane. Kryztina snorted but took it in good humour.
As we knew so little there wasn't that much we could really discuss except to idly speculate. And whenever we'd done that in the past we'd usually been completely off beam.
"I think we're just going to have to trust Stan on this one," continued Suszana. "We can pray about it now, sleep on it, and talk about it again tomorrow before he calls back. When, incidentally, is he calling?"
"Same time," replied Isabel.
We prayed for Stan, for the leading of the Holy Spirit, and for Andreea., and went to bed.
Nobody had anything new to report the next day. We discussed it briefly at breakfast. Noone felt either concerned or particularly inspired over the Andreea question. Isabel went on the Internet to find out some more about Giurgiu but without very much success. Kasia had better luck in our library and reported back at lunchtime.
"It was founded by sailors from Genoa in Italy who built a citadel there called San Giorgio on the island in front of the harbour. I guess that means St.George as that an Eastern Orthodox Patron Saint of several nations in that area."
We were all fascinated. How I loved these journeys into history - I loved Europe because of that - there was such a rich and diverse cultural heritage.
"Kasia continued: "We first hear about Giurgiu in 1403 where a treaty was signed between Prince Mircea the Old and the Polish King Wladyslaw II Jagiello".
The Poles amongst us were pleased and chuckled.
"In 1417 the town was conquered by the Turks and occupied it until 1829 when it was returned to Walachia."
Suszana cleared her throat, just a tiny bit embarrassed because of her Turkish blood, for the Turks had oppressed the Balkans for centuries.
"I don't think Andreea will like you," teased Anna, but Suszana paid no attention to her and asked Kasia to read on. Anna felt a little stupid.
"The St.Nicholas Church built by Russian Tsar Nicholas I of Russia there commemorates this treaty."
Kasia smiled, evidently satisfied by the Russian contribution.
"One of the earliest railway lines in Romania was laid from Bucharest to Giurgiu in 1869. A bilevel, highway-railway over the Danube, connecting the town to Ruse, in Bulgaria, was completed in 1954. Giurgiu has a modern shipyard and its industries include a refinery, a cannary, and a carpet and rug factory. The population is about 50,000."
Kasia closed the book.
"Oooh," said Anna, being silly again, "we could do with a new carpet in the living room."
"Oh, do be serious, Anna," said Sarah-Jane slightly irritated.
Anna scowled back at her but we were used to her. She could be very immature at times. Kryztina, always the reconciler, jumped to her defence and agreed that we needed a new carpet, and the conversation went off on a tangent. Anna later showed off all the information that Kasia had read us, but got a few things mixed up, saying that the Polish King had built the church and that the Turks had burned the bridge down. We all had a good laugh, except the older wives who just ignored all the silliness.
When Stan 'phoned in the evening Isabel told him that it was our opinion that he should do whatever he judged to be right and asked him if he had anything more to tell us. She turned the speaker on so that we could all hear:
"Thank you, my dears. I think you will agree with me that this is one very special lady whom you'll like a lot. She's a 100% committed Christian and we've talked a lot about our beliefs which she's very interested in. She's here with me now, and would like to talk to you....."
His voice faded and we heard him talking to a women in the background. Our hearts raced.
"Hello," came the timid and highly accented voice through the speaker. "I'm Andreea Pascu. I am so happy to meet you when I come. You have a very special husband" and we nodded in agreement. "We are flying back in two days. God bless you all!" and she was gone before Isabel could answer. We guessed she was a little shy.
Stan's voice came though again. "OK, girls, I'll be seeing you in two days, on Thursday, in the evening. We're taking a flight to Kraków and will take the train to Lublin. Can someone pick us up?"
Isabel talked with him a little while, we all sent our love, and she put the receiver down.
Kasia was almost hopping with excitement. "Well, this is going to be fun. It's been two years since Hélène came and we need some more exitement!" We all giggled a bit, even Isabel.
"Who's going to get the room ready?" asked Sarah-Jane.
Several volunteered, and then we organised the meal and transport home from the railway station.
"What time to they get in, Isabel?" asked Kryztina.
"6.30 p.m." was the reply.
"That means a late supper - better make it 7.15 p.m," volunteered Suszana who was on kitchen duty that evening with me.
"I'll pick her up from the station," suggested Kryztina, and all were agreed.
The house was a bee hive of activity the next day - an extra spring-clean, getting the backlog of laundry away, and clearing the yard.
There was something completely different about Andreea Pascu, almost other-worldly, and though unknown to us at the time, she was to change all of our lives beyond recognition.
Pretty by worldly standards, what made her special was an almost shining inner quality, a purity the likes of which I had never seen before. One could not help but be enthralled by her. Even Anna grew serious and I detected not a few pangs of jealosy amongst some of the wives, though this was swallowed up in the shere spirituality of this woman. She had won us over within a matter of days.
Stan was different. We all noticed it, for he too had come under her spell. But this was no worldly charisma, no sensual fixation. What made Andreea special was her undoubted spirituality. I had never seen Stan so silent before, as though mesmerised by her inner beauty. It was as though he had discovered something he had been searching for all his life and had simply thrown away his old spiritual clothing.
We knew, of course, that with each new wife that both we and Stan would change, but never dreamed that Stan would change so dramatically. It frightened me at first because my husband seemed almost to be a complete stranger. Oh, he was still the same "Stan" in appearance, and it was clearly the same "Stan" in personality, but it was though he had entered a completely different dimension which had utterly replaced his old world.
I wouldn't describe him as being "in love" either, though full of love he obviously was for this special lady. And when we were not worrying about ourselves and the consequences of this new woman entering our family, we, like Stan, were enwrapped. It was not her words that caught us, because her English was not that good although it was more than comprehensible. It wasn't her theology either, for we sensed how much further ahead up that road we were than her, and it wasn't her natural beauty either, for she was certainly no prettier than any of us (though admit I may be biased in that area). No, what was so utterly special about her was her PURITY - she seemed to be completely uncontaminated by the world. And no wonder, considering what she had been through.
She had grown up a Christian in an unregistered Baptist Church in one of the worst communist régimes in Europe, under the Stalinist dictator Ceaucescu, who was subsequently executed after a violent uprising.
Andreea knew what real persecution was. Her father had been imprisoned many times as well as tortured. Her family had been ostracised by neighbours because of their non-communist beliefs and the family had at times come close to starvation.
The Baptist Church in Giurgiu had been small and its few members very poor. Black-listed by the régime, making a living had been very difficult. Mobbed at school, with no friends, she had had no recourse but to throw herself into the arms of Christ. She had married young, to a man who had turned out to be a communist plant, and who had betrayed their little underground church to the authorities. The few leaders, including her father, had been arrested, and the remaining members either recanted their faith under extreme provocation or were imprisoned or lost their jobs.
Her husband had put on a good act and deceived her young, inexperienced and impressionable mind, and once his true colours had been revealed, had treated her abominably. Mention of the name Nicolae would send shivers of fear down her back. Just before the communists had been overthrown, he had left and divorced her, knowing what his fate would be as an agent of the secret police. She had had one or two threatening letters from him but had not encountered him again. She had had to tread warily because Romania was still partly run by people from the old régime with all their various connections.
There was nothing pretentious about Andreea. She had been through hell and emerged at the other end with a deep, resonating faith in Christ. She had been single for almost ten years, often very lonely, and in neeed of companionship. Her father had miraculously survived his privations but was a broken man physically and incapable of supporting his family in his former trade as a machinist. Her mother's income had supported them both when her father was in prison and afterwards. Andreea and Nicolae had lived under the same roof and though he had had quite a good salary from the police, this he had stashed away in a secret back account, drawing only the small pay he received in his undercover job in the refinery as a clerk where he also spied on the workers. When Nicolae had deserted her, the economic situation had become critical and she had been forced to work in the county offices as a cleaner. Only her faith had kept her going, and her love for her family.
Kryztina was surprised upon picking the couple up at the station to find that Andreea's 12 year old daughter, Dorcas, was with them also, for Stan had not mentioned this to Isabel on the 'phone. Indeed, it was a last minute decision, a precaution in case her ex-husband tried to anything drastic while she was out of the country. Dorcas was well-named for she was a sweet-natured child like her mother and soon fitted in well with the other children once she had gotten a better grip of English.
Andreea was introduced to the family at the dinner table and turned in early with Dorcas. Stan had been unsually quiet and seemed content to let Andreea and us talk away together. We found her approachable, polite and accutely aware of everything that was going on around her. Stan retired early too, evidently tired after his eight day stay in Bucharest.
We were all curious to know what had happened in Bucharest but it was difficult to question him when the object of our enquiry was right there with us all the time. Usually, if he was interested in another wife, he would return home alone and we would discuss her for many days, and then share in correspondence as we got to know the new woman before meeting her in the flesh. But Andreea was here amongst us and we all felt unprepared and therefore disarmed.
Anna tried to impress her with what she had misheard Kasia tell us about Giurgiu which Andreea had politely corrected, telling us all a little more about her home town and about Romanian life in general. Stan must have felt out of his element because he again left us girls to talk while he went off to his room. He seemed both delighted to have Andreea here as well as disturbed, and it was his disturbance which so unnerved us because we really didn't have an opportunity to talk with him privately for a good day after he had returned. Indeed, we saw very little of him as he semed content to leave us to take care of Andreea's needs. Stan's absence did not perturb her in the least.
"What's going on?" I whispered to Kryztina in the kitchen after lunch. "We've hardly seen Stan at all. Something's happened. You don't think he's...." I interrupted my own thoughts, too embarassed to put them into words. Kryztina understood what I was thinking.
"Well, if he has, he has every right to, but that wouldn't be like him at all. No I can't believe that."
We foolishly imagined that he had already married her and had slept with her, which he had the right to do as a patriarch but which would have shown little respect for our feelings. We dismissed the thought as being completely out of his character, and yet he was different. Stan had changed. And no-one dared go and find out.
As Andreea talked in the dining room we started filtering out to the kitchen, taking some dirty crockery with us as an excuse to hide our subterfuge. Kasia came in, Kryztina went back, and I asked her what she thought.
"I don't know," she said with a worried look in her eyes. "I don't like what I see because I feel I don't know him. It's scary."
Sarah-Jane came in soon afterwards. Andreea didn't seem to pay any attention to our movements, assuming that we were just tidying things away. When she had offered to help, we politely declined, and said she should just relax - that we would gratefully accept her help another time.
"We've got to do something," snapped Sarah-Jane. "You know we have. Who'll go and see him?"
We all wanted to but noone seemed to dare. It was like going to talk to a stranger about something very delicate. It unsettled us all. I suggested we ask Suszana to go, as she was the eldest, but she didn't pick up our signals to come and join us in the kitchen because she was so absorbed with Andreea.
In the end we drew lots out of a collender and I got the piece of paper with the "X" on it. As the most junior wife, I was even more scared. I didn't know him nearly as well as the others.
"Can't someone else come with me?" I begged.
No, they wouldn't.
I dragged my feet as I walked down to the end of the corridor to Stan's room, the others watching me. I looked over my shoulder, hoping they would change their minds, but they motioned me to go in. I knocked. No answer. I knocked again, and a very muffled "Come in" emerged from the room.
I opened the door into an almost dark room. All the curtains but one were drawn. Stan was sitting in his private armchair staring out into the garden. It was a dull, overcast day which somehow seemed to catch his mood.
"Hi, darling," I said in a half whisper, "can I come in?"
He looked up at me, with a very sad look in his eyes, and held out his arm to me, with a guarded and painfully weak smile. I went quickly over to him and sat down on his lap, put my arms around him, and kissed him.
"We're all worried about you," I whispered.
He looked wistfully into my eyes and I saw for the first time a deep, deep sadness that made by heart sink.
"What's the matter, honey?" I plead again.
He sighed and held me tight. It was Stan alright - I recognised the embrace and was assured within myself a little.
"Let's go to the sofa," he suggested, and we changed seats. I sat next to him as he changed his gaze back to the window.
"You're wondering what's going on, aren't you?"
"Mmm," I said, not wanting to interrupt him in case he was finding is hard to speak.
"Well," he continued, "I met myself in Bucharest, and I didn't like what I saw."
He fiddled with his fingers, and looked at me. I waited patiently.
"There's not much to say, really. When impurity meets purity, it just feels dirty. And when I met Andreea, that's just how I felt."
"You, impure?!" I raised my voice in protest, almost shouting it out. "You can't be serious, Stan!"
"Oh, yes I am. What you've got to realise is that there's always more....the quest for purity is a lifelong endeavour. But with so little of it incarnated in people's lives these days, you delude yourself into thinking that you're purer than you actually are because you rarely find anyone to act as a mirror for you. The cleaner the mirror, the sharper the image. And Andreea is one clean mirror. I've never met such a pure woman in my life."
I felt condemned - as though a knife had been stuck through my heart, and yet it wasn't me he was criticising, but himself.
"In a way," he continued, "I'm your human standard, Hélène, dear. Don't feel bad," he said, sensing my unease. "I'm supposed to reflect Christ to you as the male head of this family, but for the first time I see that I have failed you. You and the children all tune into my frequency, as is natural, and most of you assume that I am walking a strait path. Well, maybe I am much of the time, but last week I discovered some pretty crooked areas in my life, and I am ashamed."
I dared not think how he was "crooked".
"We are born with imperfections which we deliberately and unknowingly cultivate," he continued. "We assume some things are OK like, for example, the way we tease each other. I'm not saying that teasing is necessarily wrong but there's a suprising lack of it in the New Testament, isn't there?"
"Maybe they didn't have a sense of humour, or maybe those things just weren't recorded because they weren't essential to the Gospel message?" I suggested.
"Maybe, maybe not," said Stan, who was in no mood to pull any punches even if directed at himself. "We're all pretty good at arguing to support what we want, aren't we? Just listen to Job's friends! But I'm not talking about verbal fencing here, I'm not talking about words at all. I simply had an experience, and that's that. I met a wonderful lady who in so many areas in her life is purer than I am, and I can't deny it. She never criticised me or said a word, and probably doesn't even know what I'm telling you now, because we haven't discussed it. All I know is that when the Lord thrust Andreea in front of me I found myself looking into a crystal-clear mirror. I saw what I saw, I don't like it, and I'm trying to work through it. I want to invite her to be a member of my family but I don't feel worthy. And I've never felt that before."
I was speechless.
"And if I'm right, Hélène, we've all got to change."
I was expecting that. He squeezed my hand and looked into my eyes.
"We have to. There's no escaping it. I don't quite know how -- all I know is that I have to change and that will of necessity mean you seven will also. It doesn't mean I'm suddenly going to change the rules of the house, or make new demands of you all - it means that I'm going to change, and that to be one with me, you'll need to follow along somehow."
Though I know he wasn't condemning me, I felt condemned nonetheless. And just a little jealous, because here this strange woman had done something for Stan which none of us could. It felt as though she was about to slip in as a sort of queen wife. As usual, he picked up my mood, and resumed what he had been saying:
"Be careful, Hélène, for I sense you are thinking dangerous thoughts. Andreea is not some sort of super-woman who is going to usurp the position you seven have. Don't get that idea. She isn't perfect. Nobody is. She has her weaknesses too, to be sure, and you seven in your turn, along with me, are going to be able to bless her."
I felt reassured.
"The Gospel life has so many facets. I need all you seven as much as I know you need me. I also need Andreea, and I believe she needs me, and that you need each other. From the moment I saw her I had not the slightest doubt. I don't quite know how the changes will take place, I just know they will. You musn't worry. I'll get over this shock - your coming to see me has helped a lot."
I smiled, and kissed him. How easy it is to misjudge - how much we still needed to know about each other, I thought to myself.
"You go back, my love, and tell the others what I've told you. Invite Andreea to come into the library and I'll talk with her a while. Then we'll come and find you afterwards. OK?"
"OK!" I exclaimed happily. "Right. I'll do that. Stan, I do love you," and threw my arms around him and kissed him. "And I thank my Lord that He gave you to me."
I hurried off to the kitchen but they had all gone back into the dining room.
"Stan's in the library and wonders if you'd care to join him. We've got a few things to do and will join you later."
"That's good," said Andreea, "thank you for a wonderful lunch", and walked off towards the library while the others threw curious glances at me, wondering what had happened. It was time for our afternoon rest and the children had gone upstairs to their rooms apart from the very little ones who were pressing their mothers to follow them. We skipped the 15 minute Bible study that day.
"We can go up to my living room," suggested Suszana, "then we're less likely to be disturbed and can go straight to our beds afterwards."
There I told them all that Stan had told me to their enormous surprise. At first they were shocked, then pleasantly reassured. We talked about Andreea, agreed that we all liked her a lot, and were sure the Lord would lead us through whatever it was we needed to do, inspite of some feeling a little afraid. Anna was still smarting from getting her facts about Giurgiu all wrong and confessed that maybe she needed to do a lot of changing in her own life.
None of us went to lie down - it ended up as a confession meeting as we reviewed our respective weak points and asked each other and the Lord for forgiveness, secretly hoping, I expect, that we could sort ourselves out before Andreea did! The time had been too short and we were interrupted by the bell calling us down to our several duties. From that moment on we treated Andreea with even more respect, trusting Stan's judgment, without, we hoped, creating any distance between us and her, for we had readily opened up to her.
Our evening Bible study was really special that day. I could see that Andreea was already very fond of Stan and looking at him rather more than friends just do. And I was happy. After only 24 hours we felt that Andreea was a part of the family. It had been very different with Molly who was uneasy and had made the others uneasy as well. The one hour study turned into two, and then three, until Stan called the meeting to an end at midnight and we all trudged along to our beds. Nobody wanted much to disturb Stan that night as it was so late though I know some of the others dropped by his room for a quick cuddle and a kiss before themselves retiring.
It had all happened so quickly. And it often happened that way . Everything would be peacefully chugging along and then, hey presto, someone would pop out of the thin blue sky, and our lives would be changed forever. Andreea's marriage to Stan was to take place at lightening speed, exceeded only by Isabel's. Almost overnight, the eight of us became nine.
This page was first created in 2002
Last updated on 5 March 2009
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