My paternal grandmother, Demetra, was one of nine children. I believe she was the seventh of nine. She died when I was a baby, so I do not have any memory of her, other than photographs. People have often said that I look like her, and every time I am here, the older people of the village, who remember her, can identify who I am right away because of my resemblance to her. Demetra’s younger sister, Alithani, and younger brother, George, both remained in Karavostamo, and I met them on previous trips to the island. They have both since passed, but their children and grandchildren still live here.
Roula is my father’s first cousin, and every time she sees me her eyes light up. She is genuinely happy to see me, and she is thrilled beyond words that I have chosen to bring my children to live here for the year. When we were vacationing here last year, every morning I would take a walk. I would walk up the mountain to the main road and pass by her house. She would see me and invite me in. I never stayed long, but she always gave me something from their farm to bring back down the hill. One of the reasons I never stayed is because she doesn’t know a word of English, and my Greek last year was very rusty. She would look at me and talk a mile a minute, shaking her head, waving her hands, convinced I knew exactly what she was saying!
Tonight I walked up to Thea Alithani’s house, where Roula spends the summer. Roula’s brother, Sid, and his family live above her, and her other brother, Peter, lives next door. I had brought kitchen towels and Wilbur chocolates as a small gift of thanks for the three families, for all that they had given me last summer. After a 10 minute walk straight up a hill, I knocked on the kitchen door and Roula welcomed me in. I sat on her couch, my heart was still pounding, sweat was dripping down my forehead, and my shirt was sticking to my back. I was really hoping for a drink of water.
I gave her my gifts and she thanked me, and I felt embarrassed they were so small. I wished I could have brought them items for America that they might have wanted, but the truth is, I don’t know them that well. Immediately Roula got up from the couch and went outside. She came in with three shirts for Elias. We don’t need them, but I didn’t want to offend her, so I said thank you. She then walked out of the room and came back with a jar. Then to the kitchen cabinet. Then back outside. Then she went into the freezer. And then back outside. Each trip, she brought back something else for me to taste and then to have. First it was marmalade she had made from figs. Then glika (glee-ka) a sweet made from grapes that is reserved for guests only. More marmalade–tangerine and orange, and another made from apricots, I believe. With each sweet she opened, I was given another spoonful to taste. The fig marmalade left seeds in my teeth. The glika had caramelized sugar that felt like sandpaper on my tongue. The flavors all began to meld together and my palate and stomach were anxious for it to come to an end. Every time she came back with another jar, I’d say, “Oxi, oxi. Stamata, stamata.–No, no, stop, stop.” But I had to keep eating, because that is what is expected. The final treat she broke out was a cold sweet–one was made from peaches, the other from figs. It was sweet like the glika, but cold like a frozen treat. With every taste, she asked me if I liked it. And with every bite I said, yes. (But the truth is, it was too sweet for me!) With each jar she’d tell me that I needed to take this and feed it to my kids. “They are much too skinny,” she said. I laughed and nodded my head in agreement, but told her it was too much. She settled on two jars of marmalade, lemons, walnuts, and dried figs. She apologized she had no eggs to give me this year, but the chickens weren’t laying eggs yet–they were too young. I hugged her, thanked her, picked up my two bags–one with the shirts and one with the loot, and headed back down in search of the–now desperately needed–glass of water.