No Place Like Home: Nostalgia Apparent During Trip

Jones, Rene'e Beasley. "No Place Like Home: Nostalgia Apparent During Trip." Bismarck Tribune, 17 October 1993.

Maria Galster holds a photo of her former home in the Ukraine. Maria and her husband visited her former homeland in the fall of 1993.
Hazen -- She breathed deeply before crossing over the weathered threshold. Then, her arm brushed against the door for the first time in more than half a century. As she entered, each step brought her closer to the past she's cherished all these years.

Maria Galster's childhood memories took shape this autumn when she and her husband, Al, flew to the Ukraine.

They made the trip so Maria could step over the doorsill where she and her brothers ran in and out as children. Just so she could retrace the steps to her beloved grandma's bedroom.

"It was a happy feeling," Maria says of standing on the stoop of her childhood home, "mostly a joyous feeling. I was actually standing in the doorway where I was a child. It was something I've been waiting for."

The Galsters' odyssey took them to old-time Rohrbach, Bessarabien, which is now Moldova, the Ukraine. Maria turned 8 years old there, but World War II uprooted her family in 1940. Since then, the modest clay house with a thatched roof kept its grip on her mind's eye.

Although the years had not been kind, the house was much the same. Now painted teal blue instead of her dad's favorite shade of brown, the hinged double doors still guard the entryway. The living room's wooden floor wore the same paint, only much faded. And Grandma's room remained. "I can still hear her black skirt rustle," Maria says with her blue eyes flashing.

Walking through the house conjured up other wonderful sights and sounds. Around one wall, the apparition of her mama stood tying a coin in Maria's hanky before sending her to the store. Maria could almost smell round loaves of bread cooling on the kitchen table in heavy, fluted pans. And the rooms brought back make-believe noise from five playful brothers.

Outside, her safe childhood haven was different than Maria remembered. Fields -- which once flourished with grape arbors, fruit trees and melon patches -- sat naked. There was no church, no school, no cemetery. Even Odessa, the faraway capital, showed signs of neglect. Decades of poverty and hardship have rocked her homeland.

Still, the trip was worth it. And Maria hopes to return someday, "There's just something about the place where you were a child," she says. "You always have a longing to return."

Reprinted with permission of the Bismarck Tribune.

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