by Princess Ileana
with the help of Dorothy Kuenzli Hinckley
Ladies’ Home Journal, December 1951
Now, in New England kitchen, Ileana—daughter of a king and queen, great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria—cooks, does washing and gives prayerful thanks that her six children have found security and schooling in U.S.
Wearing tiara of sapphires and diamonds (brought to U.S. wrapped in nightgown because she was too poor to insure it), Princess Ileana of Romania was photographed in 1946. Tiara, made for Russian Empress, was worn by Ileana’s mother, Queen Marie, at her coronation in 1922. Three gems (about size of man’s watch) are star sapphires. Tiara was wedding gift to Ileana. It was sold to pay debts, make payment on house in Newton, Mass., and bring children to U. S.
Sinaia Castle in Carpathians where Ileana and Archduke Anton were married. “The great forest… and rocky peaks, against a Mediterranean-blue sky… It is indescribable.”
Thrifty shopper, the princess talks over best buys with Newton food dealer. Family moved into new home with only seven chairs, seven beds and magnificent Oriental rug made for Czar Alexander III. They ate in kitchen until, with $25 earned giving lecture, Ileana bought secondhand dining-room table. Another thrifty purchase: her wool suit, $7 in Filene’s basement. All six children have scholarships. Besides English they speak Romanian, German, Spanish.
Small fry of household are Magi, 12 (left); whose full name is Maria Magdalene, and Elizabeth, 10 (right), called Herzi, “Little Heart.” First task for Princess each day is to wash and hang out clothes—which she finds easier than doing week’s laundry at once, since she suffers from arthritis and bursitis. Little girls help by bringing in clothes, setting table, stacking dishes in dishwasher. Both go to Tenacre School, Wellesley, where Magi is in sixth grade. Herzi in fourth. They are good students.
Like other housewives in U.S., the Princess finds beef stew welcome answer to high cost of meat. Stew was first dish she cooked when “with no earthly idea how to prepare a meal” she undertook to feed her hungry children in new home. Servantless Ileana marvels at electric range which cooks dinner unwatched. At Sonnberg Castle in Austria she had staff which included housekeeper, cook, kitchenmaid, nursemaid, laundress, three housemaids and chauffeur.
Youngest daughter of Queen Marie and King Ferdinand, Ileana was “loved and happy little girl” who shared mother’s fondness for romantic dress as well as serious interest in social welfare. With King she avidly read Bulldog Drummond. Her two sisters—both married before Ileana was 13—became Queens of Greece and Yugoslavia.
As royal “Glamour Girl,” rumor had Princess engaged to dozens of suitors, including Prince of Wales. In 1926 she toured United States with brother, Prince Nicholas, and mother, pictured above on palace terrace at Sinaia. Talented artist, sculptor, Ileana was also good at sports. She loves ocean, had her own yacht. All that remains are some dishes bearing its name, Isprava (“The Fortunate Adventure”).
In five-spanned coach, wearing silver-embroidered wedding gown, Ileana rode to become bride of Anton, Archduke of Austria, July 21, 1931. King Carol, brother, beside her above, led her to altar. (Father died in 1927.) Among wedding gifts were inkwell made by Crown Prince Michael, airplane from King Carol, and two snow-white pigeons, symbolizing love and fidelity in peasant tradition.
“Everything is ‘Once upon a time—'” objects 10-year-old Herzi, perched on chair arm while mother reads from book written by children’s grandmother, Queen Marie. Book’s title is Magic Doll of Romania. At Queen Marie’s death she left request that her heart should be placed in humble church to be ever near her people. Casket containing heart was later placed in shrine at Bran Castle. In memory of her mother, Princess Ileana established Hospital of the Queen’s Heart.
First home of Archduke and Archduchess was in Munich. Later they bought Castle of Sonnberg, built in sixteenth century, romantic but badly in need of repairs. Anton, experienced airplane pilot, was able to direct installing electricity and plumbing in the castle. Anton’s brother, Carlos, is Habsburg pretender to the throne of Spain.
First-born Stefan was five when father was conscripted for German army. Six children were born in first ten years of marriage. They are third cousins of Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose of England. During war Ileana worked at canteens and in Red Cross hospital where she aided in delousing combat casualties, and—in emergency—did operations. Royal Association of Surgeons made her an honorary member.
Crossing to New World. In 1948, after communists had taken over Romanian government they first arrested Archduke’s family, then confiscated property but permitted them to leave. Photo, right, of Ileana was made on voyage to Argentina, where business venture proved disastrous. To pay debts, she came to U.S. to sell tiara.
Greatest treasure—When communist guards, searching to keep valuables from leaving country, called this a “gold vanity case,” Princess Ileana replied, “It is not gold and it is not a vanity case. It means nothing to you but everything to me.” The metal box contains a handful of Romanian soil.
Christmas Eve this year, as last, before the gifts are distributed and the packages unwrapped, the family will gather to light candle in silent prayer for those behind Iron Curtain who cannot celebrate the birth of Christ. At right, Princess Ileana holds one of three cooking pots bought at five-and-ten-cent store, gifts from Stefan, 19, freshman at M.I.T. Others, from left to right: Minola, 18, Vassar student; Herzi; Magi; Niki, 14, Fessenden School; and Sandi, 16, Dana Hall senior.
I Was a Princess – Part 1
I AM alone in my peaceful white kitchen. The pots and pans shine brightly. The curtains are gay. I who have lived behind an Iron Curtain, who have faced the accidental death of war and the purposeful death of assassination, have found sanctuary. The peaceful shadows are gathering in the silent house; for I am alone, though not lonely; so many thoughts keep me company. In this big, old New England house there are two rooms I would like to show you; two rooms which hold my present and my past, the substance from which I must create my future. Which will surprise you more—my shining kitchen with every device for American housekeeping, or my bedroom upstairs with its unrelated collection of things front another life? I do not know. I cannot judge how these things will seem to you.
When at seventeen I visited the United States with my mother, reporters used to ask me, “What is it like—to be a princess?” and I could never think of anything to say in answer. How could I compare it with something else when I. had never been anything except a princess? One is what one is; and it is not so simple to describe oneself as it is to describe one’s surroundings! In Romania, for example, there was a trumpeter who blew a lovely call—a succession of quick, golden notes—when any of us entered or left the palace. Here I come quietly into my own drive; a passing neighbor may nod pleasantly; my key unlocks the door into my silent hall. In Austria a very formal and official letter to me would be addressed, “Ihre Kaiserliche und Königliche Hoheit die Durchlauchtigste Erzherzogin und Frau”—”Her Im perial and Royal Highness the Most Illustrious Archduchess and Lady.” Here the delivery boy says briskly when I open the door to his ring, “Habsburg here?”
What is it like—to be a princess? Shall we find the answer in these two rooms I ant inviting you to look at? Let us suppose that quite suddenly you are told that in twenty-four hours you must leave your home forever. You can take hardly more than you can literally carry—a few boxes perhaps. And even so, some things you are forbidden to touch. Meanwhile a few of your neighbors quietly try to spirit away some of your possessions which they can hide until you come for them. When you have finally assembled again these treasures selected under the pressure of anxiety and grief, you will sometimes wish that a few of the choices had been different ones!
It is so with me. On one wall of my kitchen is a picture of mamma in Romanian dress amongst her flowers. For the background of the picture stands Bran, our fairy castle upon a rock, where once I lived. On another wall I have an old icon of Christ, the symbol of that faith which has carried me through all my troubles, and has landed me here on my feet in New England, with the strength to hive again.. Yes, to live again; because after I left home, which for me has always been Romania, I was as one dead. It was not that for a moment I doubted the physical necessity of my presence for my six children: my love for them was as strong and potent as ever. But inside, the “me” that was me independently of the mother, the wife, the friend—the essential “me” upon which all the rest is built—suffered a mortal shock when my life was severed from my people. So I had to start again, not only outwardly but especially inwardly. Getting down to brass tacks in my kitchen helped me greatly. The need to busy my hands quieted my mind. The effort to cope with simple things and to do them welt helped me to overcome.
How shall I ever forget that first day, when I stood in my grand, new kitchen with no idea of how to cook a meal! I had no inkling of how things were stewed, boiled, broiled, roasted or baked. “Ah!” you say. “That is what it is like to be a princess! Not to learn any useful work! What a life of leisure that must be.” It was some such feeling, doubtless, that made one of my recent American acquaintances say to me, “But how good it must feel to you—to know that you are at last leading a really useful life.”
It is difficult to think of words positive enough to explain how wrong such a view point is in my case! I was born, to the sound of the twenty-one-gun royal salute, to the daughter of a long line of kings and emperors; therefore it is true that I started life in one sense from above—from the top, you would say. But the twenty-one-gun salute meant also that I was born into an occupation already established for me. “Duty” was the key word of my childhood and youth. I was trained to do my duty to my country in all things, to be respectful and loving to my parents, loyal to family and friends. “Princes are born in public and die in public”—and between those two occasions they live in public. It is only now, when I have lived in other countries, that I can look at all objectively at my training; that I can see how anyone might think it odd that I would feel I must attend a scheduled state banquet on one special evening when, as a young girl, I thought my heart was broken, or that I would drive across the city of Ploesti during a bombing raid to keep an appointment at an important school function where I had promised to preside. These things were duties, but housekeeping was not included in those duties. It would have been egotism on my part to take the time that belonged to the country in order to learn to do things which were already being done efficiently and well by others. Royalty has always gotten into difficulties when it insisted on leaving its prescribed duties for something it chose to do for its own pleasure!
It is true that I had some leisure time—not much, but a little—which I could spend as I liked. My older sisters had toyed with cooking. I smile when I think of the paraphernalia brought up to their rooms upon silver trays carried by liveried footmen: the spirit lamp, the dishes, spoons and utensils; the collection of ingredients properly washed and prepared. But it was only a game, and one that did not happen to interest me. I spent my own leisure in other occupations: learning something about painting and sculpturing, and beginning those activities which led later to my serious training in nursing. Even after my marriage, when I found it difficult to cope with the cook and servants of a strange country, my duty seemed to lie with my children and with my infirmary, which served the neighboring villages. I solved my housekeeping problem then by bringing in Romanian servants to help me—and that is why, in spite of a disciplined and busy life, I could stand in my shining Massachusetts kitchen, utterly ignorant of cooking, Fate had brought me into a new situation. “Duty” had completely changed its face. Lunch for six hungry children had to be served.
PERHAPS because as a child I always had a governess near me to remind me of my duty if I forgot it, I have the habit of talking to myself —of encouraging or reproving myself in what I am doing.
“Well, Ileana, my girl,” I said to myself, “what now? Let’s see what you can do! There was a time when you might not have believed you could face bombardment—but I you learned! When you first studied nursing it would have seemed incredible that one day you would desperately but quite calmly operate on patients in need—but you did. And the patients lived too! Come! Surely you are not stumped by a kitchen stove!”
A kind friend had left me ingredients. I had an old cookbook, and I made a stew and it was good. The family• approved. Thus I embarked upon my career as a cook. Old memories of appetizing dishes served from my mother’s kitchen came to my mind. By dint of thought and other recipes, these slowly took shape. At first I was overwhelmed by all I had to do. Fatigue took possession of my body and my mind. A hundred times I ran up and down stairs. I made the wrong gestures, I burned my hands and arms.
This sounds as if no one had wished to help me, but many did. The kindness that was shown me, the presents I received to start with, were heartening indeed. But I felt I had to stand on my own and learn the hard way, for the hard way is the only way. I know from bitter experience where it leads to, to lean on others. It is only when one has learned to stand on one’s own feet, when one has found a solid foundation, that it is wise or good to accept help. So I declined much of the kind assistance offered me, determined to make a home for my children by myself with my own efforts. I learned the ways of the white stove, and then I dared to tackle the automatic laundry machine and the electric mangle.
Yes, I have spent a lot on this kitchen. It may perhaps surprise you to find such complete equipment in a house for which I had at first had no other furniture outside the kitchen except seven beds and seven chairs. (And—which seems to amuse some of my new friends—a large Oriental rug which was a wedding gift to my mother from her uncle, Czar Alexander III.) But in making my new life I meant to have the best tools from the start, and to wait patiently until I could get other things less essential. Did not your pioneer ancestors do the same when they began their new life in a new world? Tools were the important things for them too. Indeed, in many ways I think they would more easily understand my problems than you do. For they left a civilization dear and familiar to them in order to find something still more precious—the freedom which men down through the ages have discovered must always be pursued, attained and then defended. Those men and women who stood on the shore at Plymouth, watching the Mayflower disappear over the horizon on her return trip to Old England, would understand how one may love the present while still cherishing the past. They who with unaccustomed hands used strange tools to conquer a new land would understand my white and shining kitchen! I feel very close to the spirits of these ancestors of yours, who also learned to, live again, as I gaze upon this cheerful, practical room. Soon I shall gather up and wash the dishes of my frugal meal and go to that other room to which I have invited you.
There, too, I feel close in spirit to your ancestors—those who brought across an unknown ocean a cherished bit of china, a piece of silver, a family miniature—for there I have gathered a few precious belongings from my other life. Come and look at it with me, for the bedroom with its white walls is my castle, and it is also the whole Story of my life.
OVER my bed hangs a beautiful Spanish crucifix my mother left me in her will. It had remained in Sonnberg, my home in Austria. A Russian soldier during the occupation threw it out the window; a peasant child found and hid it for me, and finally it came back to me.
Here I have also the icon my mother was given at the time of my youngest brother’s death. She carried it always with her, and since her death it has never left me—although only through the unexpected sympathy of one of my communist guards was I finally permitted to take it with me when I left Romania.
In this room I draw the curtains, which are yellow with large blue-brown designs. How strange to look out between them on twilight in an American town! They come from the very first house I ever arranged—a hunting lodge in faraway Moldavia which was left me twenty-four years ago by my father. How it shocked the old caretaker to have the heavy plush draperies replaced with such bright ones! The little rug on my floor is an old Chinese one—a soft, perfect blue—which used to lie on the floor of my mother’s room in the castle at Bran. From the wall, looking down on her rug, is a water color of tulips painted by my mother, who loved flowers; and there is also a wonderful print of the sea. This is both old and new. I once had the same picture, and found a print of it here in the house of one whom today I call friend, and who gave it to me; and thus it is a tie with what was and what is.
GUARDIAN of my days and nights stands a carved statue of St. Benedict, bent in reverent and dignified prayer. Once he stood in a blue-tiled room in the castle at Sinaia beside a marble fountain gushing mountain waters. The windows behind him looked out upon the Carpathians. As a little girl, after bidding my parents good night I always paid a visit to St. Benedict, whose perfect, impassive face fascinated me. Did he know that the child who with awe-.filled love kissed him good night would one day wrap him in window draperies and desperately win permission from the Russian invaders to take him across an ocean, to a strange continent? So he came here with me, and is as a living presence in my room.
On the mantelpiece are a few beautiful jades—hidden from the Russians in a chimney in Austria for four years. Beside them is a round, flat, gilded box. This holds my greatest treasure—a handful of Romanian soil brought over the Romanian frontier past Romanian guards who had betrayed their country, and who turned away and could not face me when I showed them what the little box contained.
Around me tonight there is peace, content: so much to look- back on, so much to be grateful for, so much to look forward to. I am not, then, lonely, even though I am alone in this house I have invited you to visit. Besides, tomorrow the children come back from school. There will be happy cries, rushing and stamping up and down stairs, radio and phonograph going, questions and demands, arms entwined around my neck, laughter—and probably a little scolding. It will be home and a happy family life. And there are friends old and new within reach. I can call them if I choose, or they may call me.
But tonight I’d rather be still and pause a moment, before I look forward to the future or backward to the past. Like Brother Lawrence, “I have need to busy my heart with quietude.”
There is one thing I cannot show you, one very important thing which I was allowed to bring with me from my old life, and which made the foundation of my new one. You can see it in a photograph of my mother there on the table [a photograph of Princess Ileana wearing this tiara appears on Page 44—ED.], but no picture can give you any idea of the living glow and the rainbow fires in the sapphire-and-diamond tiara she is wearing.
“A tiara!” you say. “Now that is what one expects of a princess!”
Yes, I can agree with you. This was truly a royal diadem. Nicholas I of Russia had it made for his wife when he became emperor in 1825. Through his granddaughter, my mother’s mother, it descended eventually to me. My mother wore it at her coronation in 1922. She chose it, also, to wear on state occasions during the visit she made to this country. And so the tiara and I both entered the United States twice, and together. My mother had given it to me when I was married in 1931. I lent it to her to wear at the Jubilee of King George V of England, and she left it in her bank in London because of unsettled conditions at home. After her death I had no small trouble in claiming it, but I got it away from England just before World War II actually began. I kept it in Austria until 1943, when I smuggled it into Romania, and from there I saved it from the communists when I left in 1948. It went to Switzerland with me, and then to Argentina, where I pawned it to put money into an unfortunate business that failed. Its adventures as a single piece of jewelry were then almost over, for it became evident that I must try to sell it in order to pay our debts.
Because by this time I was suffering severely from arthritis, I received permission in May, 1950, to come to the United States for medical treatment. As I gathered all my forces, physical and financial, to make this trip, I felt desperately that I was nearing the end of my endurance. I pawned everything I had of value in order to leave my family in Buenos Aires the money to live on, and in order to redeem the tiara. I could not afford to insure something whose “breakup” value had once been appraised at $80,000, so I decided to wrap it in my nightgown and keep it with me in a small bag. Thus with $300, a ticket to Boston and a hidden tiara, I prepared to enter the United States for the second time.
It was a thirty-hour trip by air—over the Andes and finally over the Caribbean—and I had plenty of time to think. Bursitis in my left arm made me barely able to move it, and my back and feet were one continual ache from arthritis.
SIX months earlier my two older children had received scholarships in preparatory schools—one in Pennsylvania and one in Massachusetts—and their letters had been showing a growing confidence and contentment. For most of their lives they had been the victims of war and its accompanying anxieties, first in their father’s homeland and then in mine, and the younger children could not remember any other conditions. My husband and I had sought security and a new life for them in Switzerland and then in Argentina, but we had not found it. Could it be that somehow, in the friendly country I had visited as a girl, I might find a new home for them? What princess who is also a mother would not give up a diadem to gain a home for her children!
Anxious, weary, in pain but strangely hopeful, I finally arrived in Miami, where the long flight was interrupted. I lined up for customs inspection. When it was my turn and I answered that I had something to declare, I asked if I could unpack my bag in private. The officer was good-humored, but a little impatient with my hesitation. When I insisted, he made it clear that he thought I was being a nuisance.
“What have you got there, anyway—a corpse?” he asked.
However, when he finally led me to an office it was obvious that he did not know quite what to do when a tiara turned up in the luggage he inspected. He touched the central sapphire a little gingerly. Since it weighed 125 carats, it was nearly the size of a man’s pocket watch. Was it real? he wanted to know. When I assured him that it was, he looked still more harassed, but finally he decided that he would send it to Boston “in bond.” Together we wrapped it in a newspaper and put it into a box, which he duly sealed and ticketed. It was with a qualm, I confess, that I watched it put into the luggage compartment of the plane for Boston before I myself embarked. If it should somehow be lost, I was losing everything I had, and it was now out of my hands!
ARRIVING in Boston, I was told that since it was Sunday, all offices were closed, and I would have to wait to claim my “package.” I knew no one in Boston except the friend who, with her husband’s help, had arranged for me to come to this country. Since she could not be sure of the time of my arrival, I was to let her know when I got to the airport. I found a telephone and stood looking at it stupidly, giddy from my thirty hours’ flight and full of pain: I had no idea how to use a dial telephone, but I was in the United States, where people are kind. A friendly gentleman found the Number for me and called my friend. While I waited for her to come and fetch Ins I tried to forget my anxiety by looking back across the years since I had seen her—twenty-five, to be exact.
I had been fifteen years old then, learning my way in social work, and an enthusiastic member of the Romanian Girl Reserves. Helen Jackson—dark-haired, with a gay, round face and twinkling eyes—had come to Bucarest to help start the industrial section of the Y.W.C.A. there. Her song§ and fun put us all at ease, and I loved the opportunities to be with her group of girls. Helen, her job completed, left Bucarest to carry on elsewhere; I grew up; the years passed with their joys and griefs. She was now Mrs. John Beale, with hair turned gray, but kindness still unchanged.
Helen and Jack Beale opened the doors of their home to me until I found a home of my own. They drove me to Newton along the Charles River, and I found it beautiful—so green and sunny, so clean and free. Then and there I fell in love with New England.
In the joy of seeing my two older children again—so changed and grown in the months they had been away—in the need of rest and immediate medical care at the Lahey Clinic (once I had found a temporary haven, I seemed for a time almost to collapse from the long anxiety I had suffered), the diadem was temporarily pushed to the back of my mind. When I did think of it, I felt confident of its safety in this friendly country.
Ten days of rest and hospital treatment made me able to find my way to the customhouse and inquire for my “parcel.” It took some time for the officials to trace it, and I felt some stabs of alarm until it was finally located in a safe in another building.
Everyone was very matter-of-fact about the whole thing, both then and the next day, when we all met by appointment in an office of the customhouse. Everyone was very matter-of-fact until the parcel was opened, and the officials saw what had been lying about the office for ten days—for even I, who was so familiar with it, felt always a thrill of delight at the radiance of blue-and-white fire when the tiara was suddenly brought into the light.
The faces of the men revealed their shocked amazement. They gasped. Then one smiled, relieved.
“But of course you have this insured!” he said.
“No,” I told him calmly. “Why should I? It has escaped the Nazis and the communists. Naturally I did not expect to lose it here!”
They were evidently uncertain whether to laugh or to scold me; but from that moment we were friends! One of the men asked me to autograph a visitors’ register he kept—”with all your titles and things!” he explained; and I was tempted to draw him a little sketch of the tiara as a souvenir. The age of the jewel was found to make it free of customs, so eventually I walked off with it under my arm—still in its somewhat battered cardboard box—and I mailed the package to a jeweler in New York. Finally, it was sold for a sum much below its value. It was both beautiful and splendid, but my children were in need. As it stood, it neither fed nor clothed nor warmed us. I could not even wear it’
SO I was grateful on the day when it was gone, even though I felt a traitor to the past and all the proud heads that had worn it. I wondered if my ancestors were turning in their graves—and then I remembered that ‘ hardly any of them have graves any more. Does this sound strange to you? It is because the communist and the revolutionist fear the dead and destroy their bodies. Those graves of heroes which have been shrines for the people, those tombs of rulers which bear testimony to the proud history of a nation—all of them are violated. The remains of bodies are dug up and burned, their ashes are scattered and the ground is leveled. So it may well be with the graves of my parents, although when I was exiled in 1948 theirs had not yet been touched.
Even then, however, there had begun a violation of which this destruction of graves is but a symbol.
Before I left Romania I talked about this with Emil Bodnaras, then communist Secretary of the Cabinet. I asked him why the communists were circulating slanders which they knew to be false.
“But surely you can see why this must be,” he told me calmly. “You and your class must go. The past must go. As we destroy the very ashes of the dead so that nothing remains, so we must destroy every vestige of love and respect for their memory in the hearts and minds of the people. What your mother did for the people—what you have done for them—must first be tarnished and then blotted out.”
Well, the graves have been destroyed. It remains to be seen if the past can be wiped out so simply and completely. Perhaps it will be like my tiara, lost to me in one form, but still helping and protecting me in another. It had been a gift from my mother, and what it enabled me to do I consider also her gifts: to pay my debts of two years’ standing; to make a first payment on a home in New England; to go back to Buenos Aires and bring the four other children to the United States; to put them in school; to take a respite in which I could regain my health and find a way of earning my livelihood.
“Il faut faire face a la vie car la vie aime les braves”—It is necessary to turn around and confront life, for life loves the brave: so my mother once wrote in a book she dedicated to a friend. Many years later, in a time of great trouble for me, I found and opened that book—and the message was as if my mother had spoken to me in that hour.
(To be Continued)
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