I was so fortunate to have had an opportunity to visit with relatives in Canada recently. Thanks in part to social media, annual Christmas cards and phone calls, I have been able to stay connected throughout the years to my Uncle Jack and Aunt Voula. This trip was an emotional one, and reminded me of my parents, especially my mom.
My mom had the gift of storytelling. Storytelling is truly an art form and apparently, runs in my family. I was always amazed at how well she could tell a story and describe events so vividly. I would close my eyes and turn her words into a movie in my mind. I can remember asking her questions about her childhood, curious to learn about this amazing woman I called Mama. Through her stories I learned about her life on a small farm in Greece. I remember her stories of determination and defiance, when her father, my Papou, wouldn’t let his girls go to school and learn. My mama would sneak and learn anyway, only to be punished for it later. The harsh punishment didn’t matter to her, she continued to go. Yes, my mama was a tough lady, a true pioneer of her time. I learned history through her storytelling too. Like how the Nazis didn’t find her farm, nestled in the hills and outskirts of the small town of Analipsi, Greece during WWII, but how the Greek communist rebels (andartithes) did. I remember her crying as she told me how they hit my Yiayia (grandma) with the butt end of their rifles, as they took over their farm. I learned important life lessons, many of which I remember and can visualize today. This trip to Canada fed some of my curiosity about my mom’s family, and gave me a better understanding of my roots.
My Uncle- Theo- Jack, is a simple man, with gentle blue eyes. He tells me blue eyes run in our family. I am certainly the odd ball out, for I have green eyes. He wakes up early and works out at the local gym with his youngest son, John. Theo usually beats John there, arriving at 5am if not earlier most days. He comes back home, washes up and then he is out the door again. He spends most of his mornings at his garden, weeding and pruning. Today he is collecting zucchini flowers, cucumbers and green beans for our afternoon lunch. He greatly enjoys gardening and will often plant various bushes and flowers to adorn Bill’s, his eldest son’s, dentistry practice. Like most men, Theo Jack enjoys cars. He likes to drive his “big car”, the largest BMW I’ve ever seen, loaded with all the bells and whistles you can think of, very fast around the block. He smiles as he hugs the corners of various avenues. He laughs as I slide across the leather seats and grab the “oh shoot!” handle above the window. The need for speed must run in our family.
Sitting on his deck, overlooking the city of London, Ontario, drinking a beer together, I felt the urge to ask him a question. If you know anything about me, you know that I always ask questions. I have this innate ability, to think out loud and question things. It has gotten me “in trouble” as a child, and even more so as an adult. I’m not sure why others think I am challenging them, in all honesty, I am not. I just like to question and will question most things for my own benefit and better understanding. I asked Theo Jack why he chose to live in Canada, and not the US like the other members of our family. His response intrigued me. He said “I had visited the States but, it didn’t hold my interest. Sure there were some nice areas, but I was looking for something more. Canada really felt like home. It is beautiful here, wide and open. I came to Canada and stayed here for my children. I wanted them to have opportunities and to have a better life. My heart though, is in Analipsis” (his small hometown in Greece). “Why Theo?” I asked. He proceeded to tell me about his education, traveling to his small school, an hour walk, one way, in all types of weather, barefoot. He told me how poor his family and all the families in their town were, and how they would send him to school with one slice of bread and a piece of feta cheese, that was breakfast, lunch and dinner. He told me about the one time…one time…he was punished by his teacher. He told me how he held out his hand and the teacher whipped his palm with a thin tree branch. Over and over. He never misbehaved in class again. As the story telling continued, I pictured my mom and Theo Jack together. Her childhood stories and his intertwining, weaving them into a family quilt, that presents with me with a better understanding of their life. Noticing my gaze, and how I am drifting off into my own thoughts about my mother, he says…
“Your mama was a very smart woman, one of the smartest women I knew.” He brought me back into the moment. I looked at him, then looked away as tears welled up in my eyes. My mom died quite some years ago, and her passing is still hard for me to discuss. I sat there biting my lip, another habit of mine, trying to keep my emotions at bay, he continued on.
“She was strong, a hard worker. She had a vision. Your mama wanted a better life and would not settle. Many women and men misunderstood her. Back then, women didn’t do what she did. They didn’t question things, they didn’t question authority like she did. She always pushed forward.”
I will remember his words for as long as I live. I sat there, letting his words linger in my mind, as my Thea Voula, Theo Jack’s wife, joined us with a plate full of her homemade spanakopita and some fresh fruit. She placed forks and napkins on the table by each of us, and urged us to eat. She is a mama to me; we are very similar. We share a passion for learning and a love of literature; our favorite, Anne of Green Gables. She too, is a strong lady, very honest with a gentle smile. She is refined and elegant, as many women from her generation are. When she looks at you, her cheeks plump up and her eyes sparkle. Her love for you shines from them. My Thea, had christened me with the nick name of “Cute”. As a child, she would call my parent’s house and ask how “the cute” was doing. Even now, when I call her I always say “It’s “the cute” calling “.
Still curious about my family, I asked how she and Theo Jack met, hoping for another story. She looks admiringly to him and asks if he would like to tell the story. He shakes his head no, and she begins…only to be interrupted by him a moment later. She raises her hand and says, “I offered for you to tell it, you declined. Please let me talk, don’t interrupt me”. He shakes his head, smiles slowly and listens in. Story telling at its finest.