South Charlotte

Charlottean is thankful for ‘where we are today’

On Thanksgiving, most will give thanks for family and friends, food and shelter, freedom and liberty – things we often take for granted.

Peter Marmureanu, a tennis coach at Ballantyne Resort, will do the same.

However, his early memories do not include the aroma of roasting turkey and pumpkin pie, or family gatherings.

Etched in the memory of this 73-year-old Charlotte resident are the sounds of bombs exploding in Bucharest, Romania, and being awakened at night to rush to the basement where he, his mother and grandmother would pray for their survival.

It was the early 1940s, and World War II was raging.

Two days before Marmureanu was born, in 1941, his father left Romania to fight in the war. Marmureanu’s mother worked and his grandmother cared for him during the day.

“My grandmother was a remarkable woman who possessed a great deal of strength and courage,” Marmureanu said recently. “I was very close with her, even through my adult years.”

He said daytime in Romania was OK; it was at night that the sirens wailed and people worried about bombs. Still, Marmureanu said he has some fond memories.

“I was 5 years old when my grandmother took me to kindergarten. I had a lot of toys and children to play with,” he said.

He said that during that winter, Bucharest was hit by a snowstorm. Like any child, Marmureanu said, he was excited. He also was proud because he was the only child with a sled.

Marmureanu’s father returned from the war and returned to his old job as an architect, and things were good for a while.

Then came 1947.

“It was one of the worst years in the history of Romania, and as a child my life encountered tremendous change,” Marmureanu said. “The regime was changed overnight.”

In the summer of 1948, Marmureanu said, Romania became a communist country. People lost their homes, businesses and most possessions.

Marmureanu was not allowed to register for school; only Communist Party members had the right to send their children to school.

Marmureanu’s father gave up his architecture job and went to work in the oil fields, making one-third the salary. He promised to join the Communist Party so that Marmureanu could go to school.

“Like everyone else, we lost our house and were forced to move into one bedroom and share the house with two other families,” he said.

Marmureanu said he had no shoes in the winter and slept on the floor on a very thin mattress. His job was to make sure there was enough firewood to keep the family warm. He said he searched for wood at 5 a.m. each day in minus-15-degree weather.

“Sometimes I had to break off a part of a fence from a neighbor. My family never asked me where the wood came from. I was embarrassed, but we had to survive,” he said.

“We had no kitchen. My grandmother cooked on the landing of stairs with a propane gas tank. Once a month, I had to walk quite far and stay in line for an hour to get a new tank.”

Marmureanu said he and his family moved seven times in about six years, always having one bedroom for four people. He spent many summers with his paternal grandparents in Moldova. They had a large farm with acres of vegetables, horses and two German shepherd dogs that Peter loved.

His grandfather became ill and sent Marmureanu a message: “Petrisor (the name Marmureanu’s grandmother gave him on his summer vacations in Moldova), I hope this dog will become your best friend.”

It was a black German shepherd puppy with a bit of yellow on his belly. Marmureanu named the dog Ruffy. The dog grew to 100 pounds and slept with Marmureanu on the floor on the thin mattress. They tried to keep each other warm in cold weather.

Marmureanu would stand at the kitchen door of restaurants and beg for bones and leftovers to feed Ruffy, but often the dog went to bed as hungry as Marmureanu.

The family moved again when Marmureanu was 11, this time to a new neighborhood with a sports complex at the end of the street.

Barefoot and bold, Marmureanu jumped the fence and asked the maintenance man for a job. The next day he was picking up tennis balls, making 10 pennies a day plus tips, enough to buy bread and milk for the family and occasionally a cookie for himself.

The next summer, Marmureanu learned the club offered tennis lessons.

“I was so grateful to be included in the group,” said Marmareanu, who practiced two hours every day using a wooden paddle to hit balls. That was the start of his tennis career.

Marmureanu went on to be selected to Romania’s Davis Cup team, where he played for 15 years.

There was pressure working under the Communist regime: If he did not meet expectations, they could take his passport. If he defected, they would put his family in jail.

Marmureanu traveled to more than 50 countries. He trained famous players and met notable world figures, even playing, he said, with then-President Gerald Ford.

In 1975, after retiring from the Davis Cup team, Marmareanu was stripped of his passport. For what he described as a great deal of money, he obtained a 72-hour tourist passport and defected to the United States, where he made his home in New York.

Only his grandmother remained in Romania, and after a discussion between President Ford and the Romanian ambassador, the Communists left her alone.

Marmureanu moved to Charlotte in 1996.

Today you will find him coaching children and advanced players at the Ballantyne Resort. He lives in Quail Hollow Estates, off Park Road in southeast Charlotte.

“I want the new generation to understand what we went through to get where we are today,” he said.