You are like a machine, a powerhouse. Every morning you wear your invisible cape and charge through the day. I remember you always wearing a cape with pride; your apron. Tattered at the edges you finally get around to mending it with your golden hands. I look up to you high on your pedestal, like a Greek statue chiseled in marble, there where I placed you. Because everything you touch turns to gold.
You make the most majestic moussaka and to this day I still don’t know your secret ingredient.
Since you were a young girl in the remote Macedonian village of Avgi you were taught how to be a good house wife. That’s what life was like in your day. You patiently honed your craft in traditional Greek needlework, you became the most celebrated seamstress since the age of 15, you took on the family tradition of baking bread from your heritage of Bakers, you sat polishing Hellenic silverware handed down from the generations depicting ancient Greek mythical designs. And, in all this, you managed to care for your children.
You brought up three children though you lost one to whooping cough. You mourned for what felt like forever, though on the outside you put on a brave face. Even as you sit there in your rocking chair which grandfather Niko crafted for you in his workshop, you think about your little Katerina who died so young at just five. Five Years, enough time to fall in love with her, to get to know her personality, her little temper tantrums, her love for animals, her need to always help other children, to mend their bleeding knee or elbow when they fell. But, not long enough to enjoy her.
You stop the rocking as soon as the last needle thread is done. No dilly dallying for you. You hold your apron up to examine it in the light of the Mediterranean sunshine. What delicate intricacies!
You always believed in wearing your best, living life to the full.
“What’s the point of keeping beautiful things in the cupboard where they never see the light?”, you say to me.
It’s a warm and welcoming sunlight here in Thebes, the city that gave birth to Oedipus, Dionysus and Hercules, and is now your home for the last 60 years where you opened up shop as a Baker-woman. Sometimes I wonder whether your mother was Semele or Alcmene, for surely you were born of myth and legend too! As a geeky comic book fan I compare you to Wonder Woman born of the powerful Amazonian women and think of you being the 13th Olympian goddess that nobody knew. A goddess sent to earth. For only a golden-handed goddess could make such a beautiful apron, the golden thread shimmering on the pure, freshly washed linen fabric, in the elegant formations of the Acanthus leaf often used in ancient Greek decorations.
You have an eye for detail and a creative mind. You once told me the story of when uncle Demetri brought back a replica of a terracotta hydria from an archaeology convention, and you became inspired to draw the intricate design which now sits on your apron.
‘Where is Demeter?’ you say every time you misplace her.
You named her, and I can see why. She is your lifelong companion, always with you, protecting you like a shield, aging beautifully with time just like you. I look at your face, aged with signs of experience, wisdom and knowledge you acquired over your 88 years on this earth. To me, you are always beautiful, a wonder to look at.
You aren’t just a beautiful face though are you? Like many women overlooked over time in a world enthralled by patriarchal achievement, you hold your own secrets. I assumed you named your apron after uncle Demetri until I found out it was after the goddess Demeter depicted on the replica from the museum. You saw it as a sign since Demeter is the goddess of agriculture and you come from a family of farmers and bread-makers. You read books about all your interests relating to signs and symbolisms, wanting to learn about Philosophy, Mythology and even Theology.
Sometimes I wonder whether you are a decedent from Socrates. You are always on the lookout for signs. When you met Niko you saw it as a sign because he was named after St Nicholas, the only church in your village. A strange thought, though turns out you were right since you married and live happily ever after.
To mend the frayed edges of your apron you use thick gold thread to crochet an intricate looped design as a border. Even after so many years you are still weaving gold, like Clotho the Moira from the Homeric poems, you sit there spinning looms of destiny. You often speak of destiny and other such philosophical notions. And like Clotho you sit by me today speaking to me of things that ‘are’, as I come to you for consolation and cry in your lap.
“You have spunk, and determination! You are a strong Greek woman and are destined for greatness”, you speak with valour as if you are a scholar standing in the congregation at the ancient Heliaea pleading my case to the courts.
You hold my chin, ‘Your character is your destiny. And you have plenty of it!’, and place your hand on my heart, ‘and your destiny is in your soul”. I roll my eyes knowing you just quoted Heraclitus and Herodotus all in one sentence.
“I need advice grandmother, not quotes from philosophers!”, I cry impatiently.
“O ye, of little faith”, she quotes Christ this time and smiles. “My dear, whatever is not in your control, just leave it in the hands of God”.
You really are the sunrise that lights my life, aren’t you grandmother? You hail from the village of Avgi which means ‘Dawn’. It’s a symbol of where you were born, a testament of who you have become, and what you have done in your life to the souls you have touched with your golden hands.
You get up off your rocking chair and lift me off my knees from the cold granite floor. You pat your apron shaking off any leftover tears. You draw me a chair as grandfather Niko enters the front door like clockwork retiring from his workshop.
You bring to the table a dish of your famous moussaka and as usual like the excellent housewife you have always been you place it on a wooden platter to protect the tablecloth your mother before you crocheted for you as a dowry for your wedding day. I take a deep breath and close my eyes with a smile to savour the aroma. As I open my eyes, I smile and look to you and grandfather sitting in your usual places next to each other at the dining table.
An adoring couple of 60 years’ marriage. A Baker-woman and a Carpenter. Both holding deep wonderful secret powers, like magical wizards sitting at their alters conjuring spells to create beautiful things for the world to gaze upon in wonder. Both with a sunshine in their souls, like the village of ‘The Dawn’ where they first met. The village Nick stopped off for a spot of lunch from his travels to Mount Athos where a monk foretold your destinies: that he would meet the love of his life upon his return home.
“My secret ingredient”, you finally disclose to me as you hold my hand “is cinnamon and clove. Because everything in life needs a touch of spice!”
Those Three Words
“Tears are words that need to be written.”