A wilful remembering

My paternal grandmother, Vassiliki Chrysikou Sveronis died 75 years ago on the 18th of August, 1944.  She died well before it was her time. She was 44 years old and 7 months pregnant with her 12th child when she was violently murdered. This was just as World War II was ending and the Greek Civil War was starting. She got caught up in left/right wing hate acts. I know the details of the politics of the time. But I don’t want to focus on them. The focus here is remembering my grandmother.

I was 16 when I found out how she had died. I had nightmares for weeks.

My grandmother’s body has never been found. She was never given a funeral. She has no resting place that is known to her family.

Details of her town square lynching slowly reached different members of her family. I piece together the bits that my aunts and uncles have told me to the pieces that my dad knew. The events are so complex. There are many twists and turns, gasps and shock that would be incredulous even in a family saga. I will only write of a few.

A month ago, my older sister visited my dad’s oldest sister. She is 97 years old. She still gets distraught when she speaks of her “Manoula’s” death. My sister had to change the subject to calm my distraught aunt. My sister told me a new detail a few weeks ago that shocked and horrified me even more. It is worse that you can imagine. I have flinched at least once a day at the thought of her torture.

25 years and a month after my paternal grandmother was killed, I was born and named after her. I have 3 other cousins who were also named for her.

On the 50th anniversary of my grandmother’s murder, I travelled to the monastery where my grandmother had been the cleaner and from where she had left to walk home, a trek of over 31 kilometres through mountains. It was her last walk. My father had given me money to hold a memorial service for my grandmother at the monastery. Two of my aunts and several of my cousins attended. I then travelled to my Dad’s village up in the Agrafa mountains.

I was unable to go to Greece for the 75th anniversary, as I had always planned for this date. So instead, I will commemorate her in writing.

I am unable to find any evidence of my grandmother in any institutional or archived records that I have searched. We have no material reminders of her. She was so poor that there were no clothes, no jewels, not even one photograph of her. But my grandmother lives on in her offspring. Her 8 children who survived to adulthood (2 who passed away – my uncle in 1980 and my dad in 1994), 28 grandchildren (two deceased), 48 great-grandchildren and numerous great-great-grandchildren. My grandmother’s DNA lives in teachers, accountants, nurses, researchers, corporates, readers, dancers, photographers, engineers, football fans and so many other wonderful hard-working progeny living in both Greece and Australia.

In his unpublished memoirs, my dad wrote that he was driven to survive his cancer by his need to keep alive the stories his mother told him. He said that it was his mother that taught him how to lose himself in prayer, and his love for religion. He loved his mother so much, that when his parents would argue over who should cook – my grandmother feeling ashamed to be the only woman in the village with a husband who regularly cooked – my father sided with his mum, much to his father’s despair. My dad described his mother as a tall woman, with dark hair and dark eyes, she had skin tags her neck. She had high cheekbones, a distinctive look that all her daughters have, and many of her grand-daughters and great-granddaughters.Those glorious cheekbones! I may carry her name, I may have some skin tags, but I do not have those coveted cheekbones! In a village where the women where known by the feminine version of their husband’s name, my grandmother was the only woman to be called by her own name. I imagine that only a strong and fierce woman could stand up to a tradition that turned women into a man’s possession once she married, never to hear her name again. Only my grandmother kept her identity.

My father and his father tried to get take the man who committed my grandmother’s murder to court. My father told me that the judge at the preliminary hearing stated that she was not a war crime but that she was a victim of war. The man was not tried. The evidence my father had was that my dad had gone in search of his mother. He was 16. He approached the home of a distant relative to ask if they knew where she was. Instead of replying, the man and his wife took to my dad with a fence paling. As they were beating my dad up, villagers ran up to him, dragged dad away and  he heard someone shout “You killed his mother, we will not let you kill him too”. My father then passed out from the pain. This was his only proof.

Years later, my father discovered that the man and his wife had also migrated to Australia. They also lived in our suburb. When I found out that my dad would unfortunately occasionally see this man, I asked him how he coped. Dad shrugged. “We lost the court case. So I had to decide. Do I lead my life with hate. Or do I memorialise my mum with love.” I remember him pausing.

“I chose love.”

I do too.

 

 

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Observations: Notes 31-52

These latest Observations have been written sporadically over the last five months. When I started blogging over 10 years ago, I had decided to place strict boundaries on my posts. I felt comfortable to express my feelings towards my work, my reading with the occasional discussion of family but those have mostly been of the happiness in my life. I decided I didn’t want to talk about my worries. But I’m putting it all out there with this post. I am aware of all my mixed tenses which I have chosen to not correct as each Note is an indication of how I felt at the time I was writing.

The TLDR is my asthma got bad, I cried, I stopped going to uni. My asthma got better. Continue reading

Reading: Notes 1-7

As SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge topic for this month is Series, I have decided to list a series of reading notes on romances and other reading that has been sitting on my TBR shelf for many months.

Reading Note 1: Impulse Reading. There is too much impulse reading in the world. Just because a book is a new release, or has just hit the bestsellers list, this is no reason to dive straight into reading it. Sometimes, a book needs to wait. This is why I love SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge. I don’t think of books that have been on my TBR as languishing, as much as they are maturing while I get to them. There are many books that I have read long after their publishing date that have not aged well due to their time on the TBR, or due to the long wait until I have come to the end of a reservations list. I have become accustomed to waiting for books. As a librarian, I never feel that I can read a book that has reservations on it before the actual borrowers who have been waiting in line. This inevitably means that I need to wait until the reservation list diminishes (not a particularly easy thing). I also do not like the pressure of reading to a deadline. This also means that I miss the review flood, and I often find myself writing about books long after they have been released. The subsequent notes are all of books that have been waiting on my shelves, or that I have waited for patiently through library reservations.

Reading Note 2: Cry laugh. Over the years, I have found myself moving further and further away from reading male authors. They don’t appeal to me. I love my fiction to be filled with heartfelt emotion and somehow – and this will be a gross generalisation – men’s novels feel cold and observant, removed from the joy and exhilaration of emotional writing that I love reading. The authors whose works I have tried to read in the past year seem to be more about how clever they are as a writer rather than how well they can tell a story and I feel as though I am being talked down to as a reader. Is this the author as mansplainer perhaps? The exception though is David Sedaris. His writing fills me with emotions. I don’t know if it is partly due to our shared 2nd generation Greek diaspora experiences, his absurd sense of life, elves, language, family and Summer. All contribute to my love for his writing. After 42 weeks on reserve, I finally got Sedaris’s Calypso on audiobook from the library. The first time I listened to Sedaris on audiobook, I was laughing so hard that I had to pull over from driving as I couldn’t see the road from my tears. With Calypso, I had to pull over and park the car as once again, I was crying. But this time, it was in sorrow. Sedaris’s slow revealing of his sister Tiffany’s life and suicide and his own relationship with her, cut me deeply. Calypso. Such an innocuous story in his series of essays of life unravelling with his surviving four siblings. To quote him upon discovering the turtle he would feed was being fed by many others: Continue reading

Observations: Notes 18-30

Every few months, I will post a series of observations that I have collected during that time.  I work 4 days a week, study 2 days a week and faceplant every Saturday so it has taken me a while to write . It is unrelated to my previous Observations post. 

Note 18: Mum. My mum was ill for most of 2018. The first half of the year she was constantly in hospital, so in the second half of the year we were all on edge. She wasn’t ill enough to return to hospital, however pneumonia in octogenarians is quite serious. As mum says, every other funeral she attends is due to older people succumbing to pneumonia.

Note 19: Photographs and Mum. I would spend the occasional weekend with my mum, whenever my sister who lives with her was away, as I didn’t want to leave her alone. Mum would just cough uncontrollably for the majority of the time that I was with her. The more she coughed, the more she became distressed. To distract her, I would pull out her albums. Her photographs have aged over the years, but going through them calmed her coughing. She would tell me of her friends, her aunts, the young children in the photos. Continue reading

The Wedding Date: Same(ish) titles; different books

I was a slacker last year for the TBR Challenge and only posted the one time. This year, I plan to post monthly even if my posts are short. So seeing that the topic for January is We Love Short Shorts  I have added two short(ish) reviews rich with spoilers of two books with The Wedding Date  in their title for my first SuperWendy 2019 TBR Challenge.

2 people standing on either side of a door.The Wedding Date Bargain by Mira Lyn Kelly

When Sarah Cole finds herself in Chicago with two months to kill before her New York promotion goes through, she decides it’s time to take care of a few things—like the inconvenient issue of her virginity. Sarah knows the right guy for the job too: Max, the notorious lady’s man she’s been crushing on since college.

Max Brandt is all for a fling, just not with Sarah. She’s way too good for him. He walked away from her once, but it wasn’t easy.

Things are different now, and the plan is so simple. There’s no way either of them would do something as silly as fall in love…

I read/listened to this book 2 months ago. It was pleasant but infinitely forgettable. I can’t remember that much about the plot (other than what is outlined in the blurb above). It was very much a “The one that got away” plotline with the heroine regretting not having her chance at the hero long ago. She makes a decision to sleep with him before she leaves Chicago for a job in New York. There is a whole lot of navel gazing with questions of “should I” , “do I”, “does my career matter or love matter” etc etc. Continue reading

My 2018 year of reading

It is a sad state of reading affairs when the books that stand out the most for 2018 are the ones that annoyed me. I may have waxed lyrical in my previous post, unfortunately they were but 12 books out of my total reading. Unlike most annual wrap up, this is not a “Best of” list, instead I am going to write about the standout books that left a mark on me.

But first my annual reading statistics:

Books read: 94

Fiction: 37  including Romance fiction: 21

Books DNFd but counted: 10 (this means I threw in the towel after tolerating 100 pages of shite)

Audiobooks:  31

Children’s: 9 (this is abysmal as I usually will read 30+ picture books in a year)

Graphic Novels: 4

Non-fiction: 53  including Memoir: 13  Design: 15  Library/Reading Theory: 20

This last stat, my theory reading, is an indication of where my time was spent this past year. I am finding it harder and harder to sit and read print for leisure as I am so tired after leaving work and/or the study cave. Audiobooks saved my reading year as I listened on my commutes. Continue reading