Here's the speech I delivered at my in-laws 50th anniversary party a couple of weeks ago. It's anecdotal, but I think social science fans will enjoy it.
On New Year's Day, 1968, a young couple married in
Bucharest, Romania.Their names were
Corneliu Dumitru Mateescu and Maria Teodora Ghitza.I wasn't there, but I hear it was a three-day
Old World extravaganza of feasting and dancing.Despite disapproval from the Romanian Communist Party, Cornel and Maria celebrated
an old-fashioned church wedding.At the
time, I suspect that loyal Communists were saying, "Well, it's only a
wedding.It's not like they're going to
reject everything we stand for."
But let's back up.Corneliu, the groom, was born in the mid-1930s.He was the cherished only child of two loving
parents who worked hard to give him an idyllic childhood.But then the war came.Daily life was a struggle.By the war's end, young Corneliu was a
refugee - fleeing the city to escape the bombing.When peace finally came, it was the peace of
the Red Army.The Communists soon closed
Corneliu's school, where he had been educated by German monks - "the Brüder."When he reached adulthood, Corneliu was
drafted and sent away from home.But he
persevered, eventually earning a top job with the electric authority - about as
high as anyone in Romania could rise without joining the Communist Party.
Maria, the bride, was born in 1948.She missed the war - and had no memories of
pre-Communist Romania.She grew up with
her mom, a schoolteacher, and her little brother Alecu.They didn't have their own television set,
but a relative did.When Maria was in
her late teens, that t.v. malfunctioned.Now, you may ask, where in Communist Romania do you go to get your t.v.
repaired?Well, it turns out that a
charming young man with the electric authority repaired t.v. sets after
hours.He showed up and went to
work.And who happened to be visiting
her relatives that day?Young Maria
Cornel's electrical skills must have been awesome, because they
were soon the stars of a three-day wedding.Three years later, they were parents of a lively, adventuresome,
determined, adorable little girl, Corina Ruxandra.Cornel's parents were on site to help raise
her in the family home.Cornel, Maria,
and Corina hiked together through the beautiful Carpathian Mountains.But as their daughter enjoyed the great
outdoors, her parents couldn't help but realize that as long as they remained
in Communist Romania, most of the world's beauty and opportunity would remain
beyond her reach.
So in 1974, Maria made one of the hardest sacrifices a
mother can make.When she received
permission from the Communist government to visit the West, she saw a once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity to give her daughter a better life.The Communists assumed that a mother of a young girl would return.Instead, Maria reached America - and Cornel
began stubbornly asking permission to follow her.
It was a sad time for the Mateescu family.Maria had to make her solitary way in the
United States by the sweat of her brow.While learning English, she worked as a nanny.She worked on a lunch truck.And she kept sending money and gifts home to
her family. Cornel and his parents had
to raise Corina alone.Corina spent
years without her mother to guide and comfort her.She was even sent home from school for
wearing one of Maria's gifts - a lovely but forbidden "capitalist dress."
Communist officials felt sure that Cornel would eventually
stop asking to reunite his family.But
there was one thing they didn't count on: the stubbornness of a Mateescu.Despite years of bureaucratic abuse, Cornel
kept asking to leave. He refused to give up.He wouldn't take no for an answer.In 1978, he won.Cornel left
Communist Romania with his daughter.After six more months as refugees in Italy, Cornel, Maria, and Corina
were reunited right here, in Southern California.
The Mateescus were now a family of immigrants - and lived
the full immigrant experience.Finding
work.Learning English.Exploring a magical new country.Teaching their daughter to excel in life -
and to blend the best of two sharply contrasting worlds.Corneliu eventually reentered his chosen
profession - electrician - for JPL.Maria became a skilled draftswoman in the prosthetics industry.Corneliu's parents were finally able to join
them as well.All four elders poured
their love and encouragement into young Corina Mateescu.And that little girl from Bucharest, who
didn't speak a word of English when she arrived at LAX in 1978, became the
valedictorian of her high school - and a student at UC Berkeley.Dreams do come true.
When Corina went off to college, her father made some dire
predictions about the first boyfriend she'd bring to meet the parents.Though she'd given him little cause for
pessimism, he announced that she'd fall for a Communist... Berkeley... hippie.Imagine his delight, then, when I showed
up!I did live in Berkeley, but my hair
was short - and my anti-Communist credentials were rock solid.Well, he may not have been absolutely
delighted at first, but Maria reminded him that things could be worse.And when Corina and I got engaged in late
1993, today's honored guests gave us their blessing.
Much has happened since then.Cornel and Maria are now grandparents four
times over.Their grandchildren are all
here today.Aidan and Tristan, the twins.Simon, our younger son.And Valeria, named after Corneliu's beloved
mother.And of course, Cornel and
Maria's daughter Corina, their most precious jewel and the organizer of
tonight's festivities, is here by their side.This party won't last three days like it did fifty years ago, so please
try to squeeze three days worth of revelry into the next couple of hours.But first, friends and family, let's all
raise our glasses to a special couple and the courageous and bountiful life
they have made together.