“They were clustered in groups of four or five, usually around a child. “Families,” he said.”
That sentence from the New York Times, “In Aftermath of Greek Fires…” by Jason Horowitz, spoke not only of a devastating fire that wiped out entire villages. It tells the untold story of families, generations of families, and the pain that will remain as long as the scars of history and wars remain in Greece.
Every day as we sit in front of our screens swiping through Facebook posts and Google news we encounter tragedy far removed from our Vancouver life, and we are almost immune to the reality of the people in these tragedies.
Had I not spent five weeks in Greece I would not feel this pain that I feel right now. Not until we have walked on the same soil, hiked the trails and trekked the paths of a local Greek within the culture, not until we have fallen in love with a people and their land could we understand, truly understand this diabolical devastation.
Greeks love from their very soul, loyal to the core, generous and kind like no other people I know. Family is the foundation and the crowning glory of the people of Greece.
I have learned so many life’s lessons from spending time with my Greek friends and families and from what I have learned and what I have gained I will tell a little story of a quintessential Greek family tradition…
Maria and Iosif
Maria and Iosif met in their first year of studies at the university of Athens in 1958. Maria a shy dark haired, elegant beauty, raised by her strict father and full-of-laughter mother felt lost in the city so different from her life in the village. Iosif a 12th generation Athenian with his bold blue eyes and confident smile captured Maria’s heartbeat, he in turn was captivated by her quiet grace.
In July of 1960, they went to the little seaside village not too far from Athens for their honeymoon. Maria and Iosif chose here for their summer place, for their future children and grandchildren, and godwilling, their great grandchildren.
1964 they celebrated little Prokopi’s third birthday and while Iosif taught the toddler to swim in the sea, Maria sat on a blanket on the beach with chubby infant Eleni.
1980 while the country was struggling to right itself, they came as usual for their July holidays. This year was special, for 19 year old Prokopi and his younger sister Eleni would be celebrating their parents 20th wedding anniversary with them.
They celebrated at the Yiorgos kafeneío where pappoús Yiorgos had celebrated their wedding anniversary with them in 1961 and every year since until his passing in 2016. The celebration like all others ended late into the night with glasses of raki littering the table alongside the plates of picked over tapas, some crumbled feta here, a sardine in a pool of garlicky oil there, two strips of peppers left beside a cube of cucumber, bread crumbs on blue and white checkered tablecloth, gentle sea breeze cooling the warm evening, waves glittering like diamonds caught in silk.
1986, Prokopi and this new wife, Angeliki, arrived cradling Maria’s and Prokopi’s precious new granddaughter, one year later a grandson was added.
By 1990, Eleni and her family of four, newborn twins in tow, joined the expanding family for their annual holidays.
Year after year, Maria’s and Prokopi’s summer house hosted their family and all the new additions, their children and grandchildren, friends and relatives came too.
Every July was a family reunion, the time of the year when Maria and Iosif nurtured their family unconditionally, unabashedly.
This year, 2018, as god willed it they lived to see their great grandson, Iosif, the one who will carry on their names and their traditions. They found peace in their little bundle of great joy, they know he will watch out for his sister Maria, care for his parents and grandparents, continue what they started in 1958. Maria and Iosif knew with pure conviction that 20 or 30 years from now he too will bring his infant child to this summer house in July.
As the fire raged through the village, razing history and memories and dreams to the ground, as Yiorgos kafeneío, Costa’s kiosk, Vangeli bakery, Fotini Boutique all disappeared in the hot smoke, as cars melted and Maria and Iosif’ and the family ran blindly seeking safety, all they could think of was protecting their precious cargo, their history their family their future, from the danger of the uncontrollable fire. Their frail bodies tried in vain to escape, their children and children’s children never left their side.
I know their Orthodox faith took their souls away to that beautiful and safe place long before the fire touched their bodies. I pray they never felt pain, I hope they are with their ancestors in a beautiful square under a plane tree.
One day the village will rise up, like a phoenix from the ashes, but what was before will never be again, and that we must take a moment to mourn.
To all my Greek friends and family, I may not be Greek but I do understand, I know this pain you feel is for the senseless ending of beautiful lives. I know this pain you feel is also for the loss of a place you all know and love, the obliteration of history is difficult to absorb.
I know all Greeks mourn for the families and friends of the lost ones, they mourn because they know that without family there is no living to be done.
They will always remember this tragedy…because like all things in Greece the history will never let itself be forgotten.
Αναπαύσου εν ειρήνη – Rest in peace.
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