Their names are Tefek and Gülsüm. At the time I met them they were in their 70s, but that spark of love was still evident in their manner with one another. Tefek had built their home in a spectacular canyon (Kőprűlű) in the southern part of Turkey. Only a goat could find the way. The road was treacherous and I held my breath as Aydin (my guide) navigated through the canyon. The jeep stopped and there, before us, was a large sturdy house built of stone. A purple bougainvillea flourished in an old oil tin. No electricity, and no running water, but there was a convenient well, candles, and lanterns. Each room had a fireplace. Nine of their ten children were gone, only their youngest daughter, Fatos (Fatosh), remained. She had so far refused several suitors and lived at home with her parents, cooking and cleaning, enjoying the quiet of country life. There were two cows that Tefek milked each morning, several goats and a herd of sheep that roamed the nearby rocks. In the valley below was a roaring stream, its sound soothing in the night.
As Fatos prepared our dinner, Gülsüm took my hand and led me into her bedroom. A fire was softly glowing in the fireplace. The furnishings were simple. A small chest and a stack of the futon-like quilts they use. Several to sleep on, one to cover up with. We sat on the hearth. She held her hands to the fire and spoke softly in Turkish. Then she took my hand and held it as we sat together, two women sharing a kinship that needed no words.
We ate dinner on the deck under the Milky Way, drank strong red wine and many cups of chai while my guide Aydin told me their story.
Tefek, who has the bluest eyes I have ever seen, was born nearby in Tazi village. His father died when he was small, his mother when he was eleven. And so he was orphaned. No other family would take him in, and he had no relatives in the area and so was left to be on his own. Stubbornly he refused to go to another village, even though he was encouraged to go find “his people.” But he had decided that his people were there in that village, and so he was tolerated, given an occasional job, and treated as an oddity.
When he was fifteen he saw eighteen-year-old Gülsüm. Tefek fell in love and began to find ways to court her. It wasn’t easy, for he was poor and her father, brothers, and cousins protected her. But he found his ways. He worked tirelessly and saved his money all the while finding opportunities to see and talk to her. When he had saved enough, he approached her and asked her to marry him. Gülsüm was willing, but the customs were strict. Tefek would have to ask her father for her hand and provide proof that he could care for her. Tefek knew he could care for her, but he also knew Gülsüm’s father. He was a man of substance and had other plans for his only daughter. The father refused. So Tefek did what custom also allowed. He stole Gulsüm! And she went with him, willingly. They ran away to the place where they now live and began their life together.
Gulsüm’s father was furious and he enrolled his sons and nephews to hunt for the young people. They were advised to find them and arrest Tefek when they did. They obviously didn’t try very hard. Tefek had not gone far away, but it took three months before they were found and by then, Gulsüm was pregnant. The brothers brought the young couple back to Gulsüm’s indignant father. He scolded and fussed, but what was he to do? A grandchild was on the way, and Gulsüm looked happy and healthy. He finally embraced Tefek, called him son, and made the arrangements for a proper wedding. After a huge celebration, he sent the young couple back to their home.
Aydin finished the story and Tefek picked up his shepherd’s flute. One hundred twenty-five years old, it sounded as sweet as when it was new. Tefek announced he would play a love song for his bride. Gulsüm smiled and blushed. Sixty years of child bearing and hard work and Gulsüm would run away with Tefek again. I was sure of that.