In the search for deeper meanings of interpersonal relationships, we have discovered the life stories of simple, dignified people, willing to share from the abundance of their joy. Thus, these are the seasons of friendship, through the eyes of special grandparents.

I was at the corner grocery store when I inadvertently overheard the conversation the cashier was having with an acquaintance on the phone. This lady was eagerly anticipating the visit of her daughter, who had given birth to a baby boy four months before. Due to the protective measures in place during the pandemic, Aunt Viorica had only seen her grandson in video calls, through her phone.

I asked her what she would tell her grandson when he reaches the age where they could have conversations. “I would tell him about childhood; the good and the bad,” she almost automatically replied. “Let me tell you.”

The spring of barefoot steps

“I’m a young grandmother, but I still lived through part of the communist era, and I would tell him the story of my life with my parents. Communism leaves me with a bitter taste: until I was 12, I didn’t see my father because he was a political prisoner for 13 years. He was accused of sympathising with an anti-communist movement. Honestly, everyone had a job and everyone had a house. The problem was that we weren’t allowed access to information. We weren’t allowed to read writers who didn’t have Ceaușescu’s approval. We weren’t allowed to travel abroad or have friends from abroad. On some days, you weren’t allowed to drive, following an odd and even day convention. Well, that’s if you had a car. And then there were food rations: no more than half a loaf of bread a day, not much meat or sugar, and so on. Forty years ago, if you cooked at 7 p.m., you cooked by candlelight. Because between 6 and 8 p.m., the electricity was cut off. But here comes the beautiful part. During that time, we would almost always play with friends. When the electricity came back on, we would go to our homes to watch TV in the only two hours of TV programming. We, the kids, watched ‘Mihaela’,” she says, filling the store with a natural, hearty laugh. “First, we had to listen to a song about our great leader, and then came the cartoons, ‘Mihaela.’

“However, people were more profound. They were scared, and many of them may have been traitors, but it seems to me that there wasn’t as much superficiality as there is now. They generally had respect for their country, for their nationality, and for their kin. That’s what I would like to tell Christopher, my grandson. Look, even the names are no longer Romanian.

“What would I tell him about friendship you ask? I would tell him to fully enjoy his childhood, not to spend all day glued to phones and tablets, to make lots of friends to play and learn with. As you grow up, friendships become scarce, you don’t trust people as easily, other priorities emerge, stress creeps in, stealing away some of the joy and ease of striking up a conversation with those around you. But this isn’t a reason not to surround yourself with people, because we all need each other. And one more thing: to be proud to be Romanian.”


In 2018, Metropolitan Life initiated an exercise involving four people called to a casting, a phone call, and a challenge.

‘If you were to name one person to help you in any situation, who would you choose?”

The four participants in this social experiment chose the people they were going to call, dialled their phone number, and asked the kind of questions that often make us think twice, regardless of which end of the line we’re on:

Could you take care of my dog this weekend?

Could you cover my rent this month?

Do you think you could take care of my kids this weekend?

Could you take care of my family for a while?

“There should be a sort of game—we all pause for a few seconds and ask ourselves which friend we would call in a life-or-death situation and how far we would go with our demands” (Alex Livadaru, founding author of “Republica”)

When summer is in full swing

Mister Marinel is surrounded by books. He has six beautifully arranged and maintained libraries at home, from which he carefully selects a book, as if it were an archival document. “Professional flaw,” he tells me. I agree with him because even his antique shop presents itself impeccably.

I asked him to answer one question for me: What is friendship?

“Will you buy a book if you like the answer?” He invites me to a trade.

“I will, I’ll play along,” I reply.

“Look, I’ve been mischievous ever since I was little, about 76 years ago. I remember when I was five years old, playing with this huge suitcase. At one point, my mom packed up some stuff from our garden—vegetables, fruits, produce—to send to her brother, because he and his wife didn’t have much. I crawled into the suitcase and hid there for a few minutes. Mom noticed the bulge inside the suitcase and pretended she did not. She closed one of the suitcase straps and called dad, telling him that the ‘suitcase for the Russians is ready,’ and that it can be sent. That’s when I screamed and immediately popped out of the suitcase, leaving mom in fits of laughter. We had a beautiful family, always open to guests. Funny thing is, we didn’t have much, but we were a family of resourceful people who shared what little we had. I made friends very easily with the kids. Even though times were tough, like they usually are after a war, I was blessed with a good upbringing from my parents.

“Once, while I was studying at the university in Bucharest in the 70s, I was waiting for the tram and I noticed a distressed girl who had lost her money and couldn’t afford a ticket. It was freezing cold outside, real winter. So, I gave her 40 or 50 bani, and she thanked me with tears in her eyes. In the trams, there were ticket collectors, women who had a small booth and sold tickets according to the distance and the class of the wagon. The tram arrived, I got on, and when it came time to pay, I realised that the money I had given the girl was the last I had. I got off and walked. I didn’t feel the cold at all then, even though I’m usually rather sensitive. It was a brutal winter outside, but inside me, summer was in full swing. If you want to have true friends, you have to be there for them, you have to help and sacrifice, and it all starts with a small gesture at the right moment. All you have to do is open your eyes. So, friendship is about giving.”

I left the bookstore richer, with a new life story and four books I had purchased.

Year after year and every autumn

I have to admit, it caught my attention. I passed by him every day, and when the traffic got heavy and I waited in the car, I watched him closely. He sat quietly on a bench in a tastefully landscaped courtyard, observing people, then pulled out a blue-painted wooden flute and began to play. I witnessed this scene several times. However, as the temperature dropped, I didn’t see him anymore, so I went up to him. Mister Costache no longer has anyone from his family by his side. His wife passed away four years ago, and his only daughter died in a car accident when she was 29. Both grandchildren, the 6-year-old girl and the 3-and-a-half-year-old boy, died in the same accident. Now he bears the marks of unstoppable longing to hold his loved ones in his arms once again. He lives in a nursing home, where he has everything, yet nothing, as he himself puts it.

A lifelong friend gave him the flute as a gift, in memory of their friendship of over half a century. That friend is ill and cannot afford to visit him more than twice a year. What’s certain is that each September, the two good friends meet at the nursing home and have a long conversation to last them for a year. It’s a tradition that has endured from their youth to this day.

“What is friendship? It’s that thing that fills a void, a suffering. It’s also some fun sometimes. You know the proverb: a friend in need is a friend indeed. Friendship in old age, especially in a nursing home, is like a forest of leafless trees. We don’t have much, but we have each other.” And, from time to time, you can still hear the tunes of a blue flute.

Winter settles in

It’s quiet and beautiful. Not because there’s anything particularly striking about the landscape outside, but because this winter, I’ve seen black and white portraits of grandparents who have moved on. They’ve seen the best in life, laughed and played, shed tears, and been crushed under the weight of harsh news. But they all had one thing in common: kindness.

There’s a saying: “If you don’t have grandparents, buy them,” because they’re ready to give so much. They’re even more beautiful when time leaves its mark on them, tracing small lines on faces that were once serene and are now blanketed by winter.