The shelves are bursting at the seams with colorful merchandise. Spring is here and there is something new for everyone’s budget, no lines anywhere. I picked my favorite color, teal, and took it to the cash register. The young man, a Millennial no doubt, smiled and casually asked me if I liked bright colors.

How could I explain in a sentence or two to this child of abundance, who’s never suffered for anything in his life, who always finds stores full of delicious food and beautifully crafted merchandise from around the world, that life has not always been the same for millions and millions around the world, and it can turn ugly here too if people made bad political choices? Would this young man truly understand poverty and exploitation of the human body and spirit by a handful of elites?

I explained briefly that, to this day, I own very little navy, black, brown, or grey, the traditional colors offered to us as part of school uniforms for twelve years and as very limited choices in stores for everyday clothes.

Every family member had one outfit which he/she wore every day for the entire week and, it was laundered on Sunday if water was running that day and if we could find detergent or Cheia soap, an unpleasant-smelling and caustic soap that lasted a while and turned our hands red and cracking from the hand-scrubbing. If we were lucky, we had hot water on Saturdays for our weekly luxurious baths after hunting for days for bath soap and shampoo, eventually buying them on the black market at ten times the price.
He would not understand how much people were so starved for color, in the granite dirty grey environment built by the communist regime; he would not comprehend that people picked colorful materials and made dresses that seldom matched anything else in their scant wardrobe. It was a splash of color, of daring to live and enjoy life vicariously through brightness, the light and color that was denied and missing in our lives, suffocated by the communist regime and its totalitarian control over every aspect of our existence.

We envied our neighbors Hungary and Bulgaria, even the Russians for their more abundant lives. If we were lucky to get a permit to travel there, we felt like we arrived in the land of elegance and plenty, that’s how bad we lived by comparison. We bought color at random, pairing pink with red, purple with green, and other seemingly clashing colors. It’s not that we did not know the fine art of matching; we just wanted to have the entire color palette in our lives, not just drabness.

And I was told that, after I left in 1978, the Ceausescu regime turned so much more brutal that the 1980s were described by Dennis Deletant as a time period when Romania had been reduced “to an animal state, concerned only with the problems of day-to-day survival.”

The ideological repression was so bad that, one of my cousins, who was in line at Otopeni Airport to board a plane for a crew job in the Middle East, with passport, visa, and plane ticket in hand, was pulled minutes before boarding and told that he could not go because he had a cousin in America – guilty by association and by birth with me, the “big capitalist.”

I have a bright wardrobe today that expresses my carefree spirit. I can go for a week or so and not wear the same outfit twice. That is because I can find a job, the pay is competitive based on qualifications and skill, not a flat low and equal pay as we used to have under communism, and there is competition for goods and services that makes supply meet the demand from consumers, and prices are relatively low.

This young man would not understand the night and day difference between my life under socialism and my life today under a relatively free market economy; most Millennials are economically illiterate. They just repeat ignorant slogans they’ve been taught in school by their socialist professors with an agenda, with no reflection on truth and reality whatsoever.

I guess I am not a wardrobe minimalist and will never be. Teal, pink, bright green, bright colors, light, and sunshine will always be the center of my life. When you spend the first twenty years of your life in drab grey and dirty surroundings, pollution, and darkness of spirit, you want to live in Floridian colors for the rest of your life, in bright hues and in free spirit, basking in the sun, white sand, salty ocean surf, and the scent of freedom.

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