For the last few years of her life, I took Mom to her little house in Greece, where she was born, every summer. There came a point when she was no longer able to travel on her own and needed someone to do shopping, cooking and cleaning. My sister was the main caregiver during the school year as my mom lived physically close to her in a Greek retirement home in Toronto. I would take over in the summer, which worked well because I am a teacher.
Those summers are etched into my mind. I knew my mom had struggled in life and I was happy to help her. I also wanted to spend more time with her and taking her to Greece was an opportunity to do that. My mom was always a generous giving person. She helped me out when I needed help and she helped out a lot of her friends. The people that knew her on the island really loved her. All the nieces used to say she was their favourite auntie because she was so gentle and so loving.
She always had me buy extra food and drop it off to people who were having a hard time financially. My dad, who had immigrated to Canada from Romania, worked extremely hard and created a successful drilling company, and my mom never took her financial comfort for granted.
As a person, I like doing things for people, so it was my pleasure to step up and help mom. I was also happy to meet and spend time with our relatives in Greece. It was a pretty easy transition really. I think my mom liked being taken care of and in the Greek culture, it’s what is expected. Her sisters looked after their mother, with no questions asked. It’s just what they did, and do, in Greece -look after people who are older.
We got along very well except when it came to religion. She was very religious-orthodox- in her belief system. She even had a little shrine at her home for daily prayers. She would become annoyed and sad that I didn’t hold the same beliefs. I didn’t follow an orthodox belief system. I was, and am, spiritual, but that didn’t count in her books. It didn’t come up often, but it was hard when it did. It did come up during our time together in Greece because I would walk her up the road to the Church but not stay to attend the service myself.
Religious differences aside, I hold many loving moments and memories of our time together in Greece. I would see her swimming and singing in the sea with her friends. She had a couple of friends on the island (a little fishing island an hour or so from Athens), and one friend in particular could really make her laugh. It was so lovely to see my mom deeply laugh because she didn’t do it often. It did make me wonder she was just generally happier and felt more at ease in Greece.
I found out through relatives that she didn’t choose to come to Canada. She was forced to leave because they couldn’t afford to keep her there. Mom came from a large family that farmed, and my mother was not a physically strong woman so farming wasn’t a good fit. And her family was poor and couldn’t afford what was essentially a dowry for her to be married. The family found out that Canada was accepting seamstresses so they sent her to school in Athens and then off to Canada at the age of 24. That has always struck me as incredibly brave, and probably scary for my mom.
My mom became a phenomenal seamstress. My sister and I would be in awe, watching her make clothes without a pattern. She even made my best friend’s wedding dress without a pattern. I loved to watch her hands -she moved them like she was in a ballet. Even in the kitchen, when she would make her Greek cookies, it was like watching her fingers do a ballet. I will always remember her hands.
The only thing, when I look back now, is I wish we had had even more time together in Greece. I haven’t been back yet, but know it will be hard, and it makes me sad thinking about it. So glad I have good memories to balance out my sadness.
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