Stories behind my stories II: Long gone summer

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Call me a nostalgic, but when I think of summer, the first thing that comes to my mind is the summer time of my childhood. I still remember the freedom, the endless joy I was feeling when school was over. I had so much to do, so many new things to discover and try, that the summer simply wasn’t enough for all I had in mind.

I will never forget the games I was playing with my sisters and brother. Hide-and-seek in the garden, when night was falling, seemed so exciting and thrilling back then. And then there were the animals, the orchard, the river flowing right there, in my back garden, the swing, the cherry tree, the abandoned little garden in the valley… All those simple things that made my life full.

And the people. Happy, careless people. Who loved their simple life. Sitting on small benches in front of their houses, at sunset. Talking about nothing and everything. Some of them so gifted with storytelling, that made even the most restless child stay still and listen without blinking.

One of those people was Auntie Mary. She was living just a few houses away and since she was good friend with my aunt, we used to pay her visits quite regularly. I don’t remember what was she doing for living. She was around sixty, not married, but with a son. Her son was not her natural child, for she was never married. She has found him in front of her home when he was an infant. Abandoned. And the most natural thing that came to her mind was to adopt him. To begin with, the story of her life was the most intriguing.

She was retired and owned a beautiful, tall house which looked like a mansion. The kind of house that you can’t not notice. With a garden of roses in front and an orchard in the back.

We were heading to her home at sunset, when day was mingling with night, and the trembling air was full of flower scent. She was waiting for us, a cigar in her mouth. She would open her arms and give us a warm hug. She was a corpulent, big woman, but contrary to her look, her heart was even bigger.

Then, as we were entering her garden, it was like stepping in another realm. In the middle of the roses, there was an iron table and chairs, guarded by the fragile light of a gas lamp. It was put there to chase the mosquitoes away, she was saying. But that light seemed to us, children, the light of fairies, guiding us towards their home. We could almost see gnomes, and elves, and pixie dust sparkling in the evening air. On the iron table there was always a giant basket full of the juiciest fruits: peaches, apricots, plumbs, and pears. We were always eating on the hurry, since there so many amazing things to discover in that magical garden.

But from time to time, we would stop and listen. Auntie Mary had the gift of reading in coffee mugs, and that gift was almost just as amazing as the gift of story telling. That is how I first found out the stories  about the Iele (Yehleh), the evil fairies in Romanian folklore.

There are many stories about the Iele. Mythical, wonderful, frightening stories. One of Auntie Mary’s stories was about a woman who, many years ago, had lost her husband into the woods. He was gathering wood for the winter and was never to be found again. The man was in his early thirties. Handsome, strong and full of life, the man simply vanished one dreadful autumn day, living no trace behind. The police, friends and family have searched for him for weeks, but he was nowhere to be found. That is when an old woman in the village came up with a crazy idea: that the Iele had taken him into their world because somehow he might have seen them dancing. And no one escapes alive after seeing them dancing. The man’s wife was the only one to believe that old woman. She was the only one to still look for him, rummaging the forest inch by inch. And sometimes, when day was intertwined with night, she could even hear him calling her name, right there, in the middle of the forest. She never stopped looking for her husband, hoping that some day the Iele will bring him back.

That very story, whispered so many years ago in the windy summer evening, was to be the inspiration of one of my favorite stories: Forest of the Wind, which I would hopefully publish this year.

While the memory of that long gone summer will stay with me forever…

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