Conversations from the Inside Out

Writing is like photography. When you cannot think of a composition use one of the topics the camera clubs use to make a picture. Or tell a story. Today’s choice is “from the inside out”.

I cannot imagine what my father would have thought about this idea. For me sitting at the typewriter (I wish) it means that what you are inside will reflect on the outside. Sometimes when extreme emotions rule inside then it is the ability to control what appears outside that distinguishes us.

In his younger days when my father was angry inside it all escaped unchannelled into the outside world, and had us filled with fear if we had done something wrong, or confusion if we did not know the reason. Later on in his life when we had an adult relationship I would challenge him if he was angry for what I thought was no reason.

He would speak little and frown, his bushy eyebrows knitting above his darkened brown eyes. I could see his face flush as his blood pressure rose. I would look at him and ask:

“Is anyone really sick? Is anyone going to die?”

He hated talking irreverently about death. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, the way you’re carrying on looks to me that it is serious. You always tell us to worry only about health. Proto ygeas, remember? So who is so sick, or who is going to die?”

“No, it’s not like that. But..” he would be disarmed and defused, and start thinking again. I suppose I could have been easier on him, but asking him what the situation would yield in five years time would not have disarmed him. Talking about death and health did.

I was angry with myself when I got to the village in 2009 and realised I had lost my passport. I left it at the Hertz car hire counter and it had disappeared. I called them, and drove two hours back to the airport to check, but no luck. The next day I drove back to Athens and fought the traffic in Kifisia to get to the South African Embassy to apply for an emergency passport. Two days later I drove back to collect it and on the fifth day I left Athens for home. My father would have been very angry if he knew I had misplaced and lost my passport. So I had to ask myself the question:

“Is this going to make any difference in five years time?

From the inside out

Conversations about Calendars

Greeks live their life mapped out by a calendar that lists the saint’s days and other religious holidays. To this gets added some national holidays in remembrance of independence from the Ottomans or the rebuffing of the invasion by Mussolini’s troops. The calendars dot homes in three shapes. One is a  pad the size of two matchboxes one on top of the other, where each small page is a day. The other is a small booklet, with a double page feature for each month and some liturgical devotion for the remaining pages. This may be printed by a church. The last form of calendar is a busy year planner type with all the days listed in small ancient script.

The 9th of November is Agios Nectarios, Saint Nectarios Day. In 1992 on that day my mother returned home after going for her constitutional walk with her sister Marina. The fridge had been giving problems and when she saw two strange men she thought they were appliance repairman, and was unperturbed. Until they pulled out a gun, pushed her around and threatened to shoot her unless she opened the safe for them. My mother did not have the keys, so the thugs forced the maid to call my father’s office.

“Baas”, she spoke formally, “come quickly. The madam is sick. I don’t know what happened.”

I cannot imagine she gave any clue of what was going on, and with health foremost on his mind my father grabbed his brother and they rushed home from the office on the main road of the suburb. My father always said “proto ygeas – first health” then everything would fall into place.

But when the front door was opened by the maid they were ambushed by the thugs, guns pointing at my mother and my father. They knocked my mother to the ground and a welt appeared on her cheek. “Open the safe or we kill her” they shouted, gun at her head.

My father opened the safe. The thick steel walled Chubb safe door swung open on its well oiled barrel hinges. They took two guns from the lower drawer. One my father’s .38 special and the other my grandfather’s pistol. Heirlooms in the least. Then they took whatever gold coins my father had stored and all my mother’s jewellery. Greeks in Greece and the Diaspora have this thing about gold. If you look at the price of gold from when you were born to now you would understand. And for the engagement the bride to be would have been showered with gold jewellery, bracelets and necklaces, to portend wealth and fertility in the future. All that gold was stolen.

My mother, father and uncle survived the attack. They were scarred for life, and it took my mother months to go out into the garden again. I even gave them a new dog, Skye, a blue eyed border collie that loved swimming. Skye brought a sparkle to my parent’s eyes again.

But I should have called Skye Nectarios. That was the name of the church my father built to honour God for saving the family that terrible day. The small stone church lies behind our house on a small road that leads to the village of Levidi.

Agios Nectarios,Arcadia, Greece