Chevi once said to me, "Two children are not enough. You need more." Nikki and Thomas were still very young at that time. I wanted to tell her about our life in the U.S. -- about our struggles and the reason two children would be best. But how could I have dared to even think of saying such things to a woman who knew only hardship. Luckily, I didn’t speak much Greek back then, so I just smiled.
She persisted. “Children are a blessing. More are better.”
“It’s expensive,” I said in broken Greek. “We'd never be able to visit you again if we had more.”
“That’s okay,” she answered. “Have more.”
It gave Chevi great pleasure to see each of her children succeed. It was more important to her than having them stay behind in the village, as was customary. Anastasia and Eftihia, the two younger daughters, remained somewhat close, in towns that were a short car ride away, though neither of them drove. But Nick in America and Fotis and Vaso in Crete, would be a full day's journey.
I cannot pretend to know what it was like for her, but I am at an age where I wonder at the locations in which my own children will settle. Specifically how far away will they be? Chevi must have felt great anxiety about not seeing those other children for long periods of time. America or Crete, to her they were the same -- another world, too far to contemplate.
So, I remember when we broke ground for our new house across the courtyard. The photo on the right shows the original little house before it was absorbed into the new.
Chevi was very happy, as the construction was her proof that we would be back. And I know that was a great comfort. She really wanted her children to be nearby. What parent doesn't ? Each time we left, she'd produce a stoic smile but the good-bye hug would linger for a few minutes. It would be many years later, that I'd hear from her cousin, Toula, how Chevi cried for days each time we left Margariti for the U.S.
The house was a project that took years and provided insurance that she would at least see Nick, her eldest son, one more time. For why would he build such a permanent structure, if not to return again and again?
And when the roof was constructed she heaved a sign of relief. "Okay," she said, "now it is a home!" Back in those days, there were so many cement slabs dotting the Margariti landscape. They were unfinished buildings, like ours, and they would take years to be finished, some never at all. Chevi worried relentlessly at the unfinished structure. In her mind the house represented all of her children. She'd done her best to raise them in the worst conditions and now she sought to see evidence of success.
Like all parents, she suffered a common fear: Have I done a good job? Was it enough?
Chevi supervising the construction. You can see it in her eyes: relief.
The roof was an ordeal that stands out in my memory above all other aspects of the construction. The original roofer proved to be very dishonest and we scrambled toward the end of the summer to find a solution.
Following is an excerpt from the memoir, The Nifi
Eftihia told her brothers of a quality roofer she knew in Igoumenitsa, but he didn't drive. He would need a ride back and forth every day.
There were only eleven days left and although The Igoumenitsa Roofer had a son-in-law who worked with him, two single workers would not be able to finish in that time. Nick and Fotis would have to help. Eventually, we would all help by carrying the roof tiles up the ladder, handing them tools, and bringing them water. The work was started early every morning. Chevi would cook a large midday meal which we all would stop to eat, but no one would take a siesta, including the neighbors--though they had no choice in the matter--and after ten days, the roof was finished, one day before our departure.
Chevi, in keeping with the old tradition, insisted on affixing a wooden cross to the finished roof with a clean towel hanging from one end and some apples from the other. The cross, a symbol of a Christian home, was something of importance to a woman who rarely visited her church but was ingrained with memories of a time when one's religion determined survival. The towel was a message to all who viewed it that this was a family who respected its workers, thus providing a towel for their use. And the apples symbolized a fruitful future for the inhabitants of the home.
The Nifi and Your Own Kind are available in paperback and ebook. And they're free with Kindle Unlimited. I hope you will give one of them a try!