– About the Book

A Breeze in Bulgaria, book cover

A fresh breeze blowing through a classroom window on a sweltering summer day.

“Bulgaria? Uh, yeah, sure. I met a girl from Bulgaria once. Or was it Bolivia? Nice girl…”

Eastern Europe. Bulgaria. Can you find it on a map? Easy, right there above Greece. But what’s it like there? That’s more complex. Beautiful mountains, fertile fields and old Soviet-era apartment bloks. Ancient ruins, tired cities, intricate music and folk dances. Scattered remnants of the old industry struggle for survival, glimmers of hope among rusty abandoned factories.

“Grim, huh?”

No, that’s not it! More like awakening. Exciting. Big changes going on. Stirring, sweeping changes. New ways of thinking, new opportunities. School hallways ring with the laughter of bright-eyed, eager children, and young people go to discos and wear fashionable clothes, drinking coffee in sidewalk cafés for hours, exploring ideas. Baba selling corn from street cart in Pazardjik, BulgariaAll around them, politically and economically there is tumult and change. Everywhere there are entrepreneurs in a newly free society with apples and cabbages for sale from a cart or a table by the sidewalk. Democracy too, with whatever that will bring. Determination and hard work define what is needed in everyday life.

“So, what’s in the book?”

This Peace Corps memoir is about people. Strange customs, unfamiliar assumptions and ways of thinking, austerity and living close to the earth, sure, but really about people. Friends and neighbors who loved their country and its proud heritage, and were sometimes a little sensitive about its place in the world. Warm-hearted, generous, curious, practical people.

Bulgarian revolutionary hero Hristo BotevHardy and resilient, the Bulgarians traced their history back to the fair Thracians, then through the Roman and Byzantine empires, and the powerful Slavs. Then the Ottoman Empire, “five hundred years under the Turkish yoke,” finally ended by Heroes of the Revolution, reverently remembered.

And it’s a love story. The volunteers’ own story had a dramatic turn of events, one that took determination and hard work to overcome. The heroes of this story are many, and courage is proved in adversity.

A Breeze in Bulgaria is available as an eBook. The print edition is sold out but is sometimes available from resellers (see Print Edition).

Historical location Assenova, Bulgaria Horse-drawn carts are still a common sight in Bulgaria. This one is in Panagyurishte. View of Panagurishte, Bulgaria from soviet-era monument on hilltop View of sunflower fields from train to Straldja, Bulgaria 020710 Panagurishte (11).jpg Soviet-era monument to Bulgarian revolutionary heroes in 1876 Uprising, Panagyurishte, Bulgaria Bulgaria, winter: stork's nest waiting for spring Bulgaria, Roman amphitheater in Plovdiv. Plovdiv was known as Philippopolis in the Byzantine era.

About the Author:

Bruce McDonald was an Air Force pilot, then an international subcontract negotiator for an aircraft manufacturer. After his years in industry he asked the question, “What next?” The answer, for him and his wife together, was the Peace Corps. As it always does, the Peace Corps enriched their lives beyond measure.

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Owed to My Mother

Happy Mothers Day! If you are one, you deserve more than a day. That goes for all mothers — ones who gave birth themselves, adopters, steps, grannies and aunts and big sisters who took over to fill a void, “bonus moms” of all kinds.

I once misunderstood something a friend said, talking about appreciation of mothers, and after a moment I realized she meant a poem, an ode. But I was off on my own thought. Ode to my mother! No, owed. To my mother? OK…

My life, for starters.

Something of a dry sense of humor, if I flatter myself. I owe that to her.

Reaching way back, I remember her reading at bedtime, those old stories. She took me into the pages, walking me into the soft golden pictures with her voice and all its many personalities. Sometimes I still go back there, when I think of those stories, or when I read them to my grandchildren.

Anna, about 1944Bacon and eggs before school on dark cold winter mornings, in long-ago days when these were good for you. Fried chicken on Sundays, potatoes and gravy and greens, meals together every night. It wasn’t just eating though; it was a family communion.

I owe to my mother the way I think about life. Attitude. “You decide how you feel. You don’t let things run you.” If the worst thing happens, you get up in the morning and you do what you have to do for the day. It doesn’t change you; you know who you are. You change it.

Confidence, doing things I didn’t think I could. She gave me that. The bicycle I rode for the first time was her old bike, handlebars tall as my shoulders. It was taken down from the rafters and fixed up for me when I was ready. Mom held me up and pushed, running behind. “Don’t let go!” I called out. She didn’t answer. Pedaling hard, I didn’t see her turn me loose. I don’t know that she ever did.

Respect for women. It came in jagged little bits sometimes. When I was older, once after a few beers with my brother in the kitchen, he talked of being afraid to do some fool thing or other and I called him a pussy. Mom stopped me cold. Not just that the word was vulgar and crude, and shouldn’t have been said in her presence. It offended her more than that. “Does that word mean weak? Women are weak? Or afraid? Women don’t have courage?” 

That thing about giving me my life, though, that’s the big one. She didn’t just give it to me and leave me to figure it out. She shaped it and gave it color and form.

“Try it, see if it works.”

“Just look at that sky. Isn’t that beautiful?”

Yes, that’s it, my life. Owed to my mother.

 


I wrote this essay when I was younger so you may have seen it before. It still rings true to me and brings back warm memories and appreciation. I miss my mom. 

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