I am using an excerpt on Mother from my book : REACHING FOR THE SKY : Childhood Recollections “ prompted , after a posting on FB on my mother’s philosophy, by my friend , Cathy Siampos Gofis, who asked to elaborate on my mother’s life’s philosophy. I also, had found myself almost a year ago, when two of my sons were gravely ill, along with my prayers asking my mother, from up there where she was, to lend me some of her strength, courage and resilience to weather those stormy times. I don’t know if she heard me…..however, something happened! With the grace of God, modern medicine and a miracle called: Maureen (my son’s wife,) both recovered well!
Therefore, I dedicate this on Mother’s day to her, to all the mothers that have left us and I implore all the ones ( lucky to still have their mother ) with strong, domineering, resilient, brave and altruistic mothers to enjoy this story & hopefully, understand their mothers better, appreciate them and try to draw from their abundant wisdom, inner strength and optimism & feel their uniqueness!!!
Happy Mother’S Day To All!!!
Mother ________The Dreamer
Mother was a constant contradiction; one moment very serious and harsh, yet later tender, compassionate and loving. She was judicious and fair, but ready to humiliate you for an insignificant bit of mischief. Often critical, disapproving, and discouraging, but also the first to exalt your actions and achievements and encourage you on. She was of the school that stated: “Children should be seen but not heard,” and made it a point when company was present to signal us (most of the times ) to leave the room so we won’t hear and participate in adult conversations.
It took us years to understand and appreciate that her actions were guided by her love and devotion to her family. In her own way of thinking, she believed that was the best way to make her children work their hardest, be diligent and consistent in order to achieve their very best. She had her family’s welfare at heart, therefore, her behavior was justified.
Circumstances that forced her to adulthood and inducted her into society, at a very tender age, had made her a unique, complicated and strong-willed personality. She was the youngest child, conceived during her father’s brief visit from America. A girl coming to a family of three brothers, during a time when the male was the breadwinner, the protector of the weaker sex (especially sisters,) and the pillar of family and society, was a very special event. The lone girl was much loved and shielded from every difficult situation and any hardship.
Things changed, however. One of the brothers immigrated to the US to join their father, whom our mother never knew. The other two brothers were drafted and sent to fight during the Balkan wars in Asia Minor, and only by the grace of God, much later they safely returned home. To top all of that, the only remaining male, her father’s brother, a pharmacist by profession, died unexpectedly, so the only person to keep the family pharmacy going was Mother.
The ten-year-old girl was taken out of elementary school and with the help of a kind doctor, undertook the responsibilities of an adult. The rural doctor would prepare all prescriptions, give detailed instructions to his young assistant, and supervise all her moves three or four times a day. He would check to see if she had followed his instructions, while getting his appointments for the next house visit, (remember, there were no telephone lines available in small towns, and the messages were received at the drugstore.) Satisfied with her work, the doctor would praise the young girl and continue with his rounds………..
The elderly doctor became her mentor, Apparently sympathizing with her situation, tried to be father, brother and teacher to her. He taught her well indeed! He would substitute the schoolbooks she had left behind with more advanced, literary works that would incite in the young girl’s mind a desire to learn, and learn she did. She was a self-taught individual With the help of her mentor and other educated friends, she accomplished more than any of her peers who had attended school regularly.
She became an avid reader and read everything worthwhile that came her way. Mother absorbed all she read like a sponge. We were all extremely surprised while in high school that she could recite excerpts of Homer’s works or quote ancient philosophers. She reeled off accurate dates of historical events and minute details for which even our teachers had to consult their scholarly references. My older sister, hearing about my book and the chapter on Mother, urged me to include the fact that mom even dictated Latin to us which she claimed had learned from the prescriptions she had to fill at the pharmacy.
We fondly remember how our father, a well-educated man, often talked about mother’s sharp mind. His favorite quip was, “Imagine where you would have gone had you completed the fourth grade!”
Her mania to learn never let her relax. She was constantly asking questions. One particular query that I remember had to do with the television, when she read that it had appeared in the US . “What is a television and what does it do?” mother asked. The answer of a young girl like me could not satisfy her curiosity, therefore, she kept asking until she was satisfied and had understood what that new technological phenomenon was all about, and what changes would bring to our lives.
Due to her inquisitive mind and hard work, she was able to keep up with progress and even in her nineties we often teased her that she is adept at working the computer and surfing the internet (with which she is fascinated, especially when she receives e-mails from her grandchildren.)
To appreciate the significance of the achievements of an individual like Mother, one must consider the life of those of her generation growing up in a small Greek town. Making a phone call was considered a major undertaking. To call long distance, and in her case calling her father and brother overseas, one had to use the local telephone company, which would have taken days. To go to the city, by horse and buggy or even by automobile (when they appeared , with limited horsepower) was a very tedious process and was taking many hours to reach their destination……………
It is, therefore, mind – bugging that a person of that era, without much formal education would be able to cope with all the changes and adjust to our technologically – advanced society.
While Mother was visiting, one of her grandsons was trying to read the instructions to the first cordless phone he got for Christmas. Immediately his grandmother grabbed it and made a phone call to her sister-in-law. The 13 year old exclaimed in astonishment: “OMG, Yiayia, is taking technology for granted!” The familiarity with the new instrument was explained easily: she had used it earlier at my sister’s house. Her grandson, not knowing that, was impressed………..
All her grandchildren (seven of them) admired her spunk and wit. They loved to tease her because they knew she would get back with a great line. I vividly remember when my nine-year- old son asked her:
“Were all the people in your family geniuses?” without missing a beat replied, “If they were they would not have had a silly boy like you.” I knew then that the silly boy had tired her with his teasing! Another one I liked was when she was asked : “Yiayia, did you know Moses?” Her instant reply, “Of course, we were classmates.” The children still remember her many clever responses, and considered their grandmother as being very smart, extremely witty and funny. I am certain if they had understood everything she was telling them in Greek, she would have become their greatest adviser and counsel.
Mother had tremendous endurance and fortitude. Having been tested so many times, she learned to be stoic about misfortune. I suppose all the adversities taught her to be strong and face life’s difficulties with courage and perseverance. She was endowed with an inner strength that she would often lend to other people struck by misfortune. Her daughters often admired the way she would comfort mothers ,who had lost children. As for us, I think for the first time we profoundly understood her pain for the loss of her first born and only son, when we ourselves became mothers!
She was in her early thirties when her seven-year -old child, a bright, handsome boy died due to the negligence and inaccurate diagnosis of a well=known doctor. As this was not enough, her father who had recently returned from the States became overly depressed, over the little boy’s death, and died within three days of his grandson’s passing. Mother’s inner strength and perseverance would be even further tested. Her husband, who was devastated by his son’s death, and was less resilient than his more formidable wife, was unable to offer any comfort and help to himself let alone anyone else. Therefore, the grief-stricken mother, mourning the deaths of her son and father, had to be doubly strong, try to sustain her husband’s sanity and deal with her little girl’s illness.
While all of these were happening, I was almost two years old and deathly ill with acute pleurisy. Mother, who by then mistrusted the local doctors as a result of my brother’s inaccurate diagnosis, she hastily arrange a family conference from which she drew extra strength from her inexhaustible reserves and took me to Athens to secure better medical care. It is indeed inconceivable this woman was able to endure such pain and grief and still be in a position to act decisively and rationally. We left after her father’s funeral!
The only thing, I thought I remembered, writing this book, that Mother took me into a small, all white room, crowded by uniformed doctors and nurses. She handed me over to one of them, and. through my screams and tears, I squeezed and held onto her as tightly as I possibly could and begged her not to leave me there. When I asked her, years later, if that had happened, she confirmed it was so , and that scene was her most difficult moment of the entire experience!
She also conveyed to me that her emotional, psychological and physical exhaustion almost disappeared when she heard the doctor say : “I was out of danger.” Her only complaint at that time was that they had cut off her little girl’s beautiful blond locks. That was typical of Mother! Through all her sorrow she found something insignificant to whine about! An analyst , naturally, would say that was the only way she could find a balance and sustain some kind of normalcy!
Mother’s greatest asset was her love for her fellowman, and throughout her life she tried to instill that type of love to her children. She was always ready to comfort and help someone in need. She sympathized with someone’s pain, grieved for a stranger’s adversity, and cried for someone’s untimely death. During the German occupation, people were dying of hunger, especially in the larger cities. Many people would attempt to trade whatever valuables they possessed for flour, a loaf of bread, beans, dried fruit, olive oil, etc. Numerous people took advantage and became wealthy with that type of trade -the Black Market. Mother would never think of doing something like that. She would give the desperate people whatever she could and never once accepted anything not even a small gift.
Many mentioned to me an instance that remembered a lady from Athens who had removed a valuable ring from her finger and was offering it to Mother, she did not take it, of course, and the lady overwhelmed by her kindness, fell to her knees and thanked God that charitable people still existed in the war-torn land. People still talk about Mother’s benevolence. They relate stories either about emotional comfort she offered them, in a unique way, when they had experienced great loss or illness, or how she provided a helping hand at a time when they truly needed a friendly gesture.
We, of course, always knew her altruistic character, and that was one of her traits we admired the most.
Although, at times, we did not appreciate the extreme expression of humanism and the sadness she felt for other people’s suffering. We truly felt that the entire family oftentimes shared and experienced the pain and grief of people that we hardly knew. We went through periods of resentment that the mourning of others had become ours as well. In a final analysis, however, those lessons made us better human beings, concerned citizens and good parents.
At ninety-five, she still strong -willed and ready to relate stories and events, even though, we had heard most of them a million times before. She wants to be the center of attention and she will not be ignored. She will demand and expect to get what is her due . We often argue, on one hand, because she does not realize, nor does she want to admit that her mental and physical capacities are not as they used to be, and on the other hand, because, we the children forget that we are no longer dealing with the vibrant, quick-witted, domineering, dynamic, resilient woman of the past. I think that we definitely refuse to accept that now we are dealing with a frail little old lady who has outlived most of her contemporaries. She was strong enough to endure a very long and challenging life, which she tried always to live with zest.
In conclusion, I believe her inner strength and facility to always detect something positive out of adversity; good in the ashes of evil; joy in the screams of tears; riches in the ruins of poverty; strength out of weakness; peace in the midst of war; and last but not least, love out of abhorrence of hate! These were the qualities that helped her bear her cross bravely. She is indeed a very powerful example of a survivor!
Mother passed away two months after her ninety-sixth birthday, and a few months prior to the publication of this book (which is dedicated to her and her invincible spirit!) Her desire to be buried where most of her family is laid to rest, was fulfilled! May her memory be eternal!