Friday, April 1, 2016

A Little Village

My mother is from a place called Malone. It's a small village, or so it seemed to us Long Island kids when we spent summers there, just along the Adirondack Mountains near the Canadian border. To us it was a quaint little place with a main street, fair grounds and a recreational park where a small river was cordoned off for swimming. I remember it fondly, but to mom it was a place from which she needed to escape, so in the early 1950s she made a journey to New York City to live with her sister. That's where she met the I-talian, as Grandpa Omer used to call my dad--the foreigner. Though dad was born in the Bronx, I suppose that was like a foreign country to my Adirondack grandparents. I wonder what Grandpa Omer would have thought of my Greek husband, had he lived long enough to meet him.

My mother's mother, Grandma Anne, came from a tiny speck of a village called Owl's Head. She resented having to keep house after her father died in a logging accident and her mother had to run the general store. She married Grandpa Omer to get away from her little village and to live in a large town like Malone, as she put it.

My Italian grandmother, Nanny Giovanna, and her husband, Chelso who died long before I was born, came from two small villages whose names escape me. Nanny always identified them as being near the Italian city of Piacenza. She came through Ellis Island to the U.S. in the early 1900s, and according to her, the one and only reason she left was so that she wouldn't have to work on the farm. She always said that she never regretted leaving. Village life was just not for her. She met her husband in the Bronx and yes, life there was quite a distance from the family farm on the Italian countryside.

And yet, here I am living my entire life in a never-ending sprawl of suburbia outside of New York City--always longing to be part of a village. The irony is palpable.

The first time I saw my husband's small village of Margariti, in Epirus Greece, if we can ignore the mind-numbing culture shock, I do believe I fell in love at first sight . . . or maybe second.  I was especially  attracted to the closeness of the people and their symbiotic lifestyle.

So maybe my ancestors put forth great effort to remove the little villages from their past, in the belief that they were creating a better life for their descendant in the future. But I'm pretty sure the little-village-gene got passed down and their good intentions were overthrown by nature.

And with that, I give you the three small villages in the novel,  Your Own Kind as they are fictionalizations of places I've known and loved and longed to be!

It is 1974. Sarah is a young girl from the mountains of New York:

        The general store was housed on the ground floor of a two-story blue house, which sat on the corner at the end of First Street in the sleepy town of Owl's Head, a town tucked deep inside the Adirondack Mountains of New York. It was a place where old-style homes cluttered together near Main Street and then slowly dispersed into random dots as they reached the foot of Owl's Head Mountain and disappeared under the blanket of pines.
        The porch on the blue house still had the brace in the ceiling where the swing had hung generations before, and the neighbors would come to sit and chat with the owner, Anne Petit, Sarah's great-grandmother. It was the house where she raised her children after her husband was killed in the logging accident in the North Woods. The store on the first floor had ensured her survival through the hungry years and her sanity through the lonely ones. But it was also a beacon of light for the townspeople who were paralyzed by snow in the winter months and tranquilized by boredom in the summer. It was the heart that pumped life to the body.
        Slowly though, like a light mist drifting over the mountains, the valley was dusted with droplets of change. Grandma Anne watched some of the boys leave for the war in Vietnam while others headed to the Canadian border a few miles north on Route 21. 

Sarah goes to East End, Long Island which it the fictionalization of a place called Montauk Point and happens to be the first place I lived away from home after graduating from high school in the mid 1970s: 

        Blinding white light. That was the town of East End, a huge blank canvas of bright white flatness on all sides of the car. Thick rays of sun, without anything to stop them--no hills or trees--shot light into the back seat as the car moved forward. They easily bounced off the white sand of the dunes, and the ocean that lay just over those dunes should have been a sea color but the sun's reflection on the rolling brightness, reflected more white into the car.
        Sara and her family were at the furthest end of Long Island and she decided, as she looked out the windows of the station wagon, that Owl's Head was actually bigger. The car crawled down what appeared to be a main street, past a drugstore on the corner, past the parking lot of a long two-story hotel, and Sarah noted that instead of the surrounding Adirondack Mountains, this town was encased by inescapable water. The Atlandic Ocean roiled its white foamy waves into the dunes on one side of the car while the sparkling water of a large lake blinked on the other side. Ron steered the car and turned left at a small square building with front windows sporting pink curtains and a hand-painted sign that said, "Pancake House." They were following the only road in town, making their way to the bay at the north end, the ocean and lake disappearing behind them.
       Sarah watched a small motel pass by her window. Six little doors were embedded in a brick facade close to the road, just behind a sign that blinked in neon: vacancy, but the first three letters were unlit. A larger sign affixed to its roof had Romance Motel painted in faded black letters. It was the kind of place that had been built long before there were other choices for vacationers, long before vacationers thought to go out that far. It was a motel that was neither on the ocean nor on the bay, in a town so small that it was hard to find such a piece of land and undoubtedly had been built by someone who feared the water but feared leaving East End even more. 

Alexandros is a young Greek immigrant, new to East End but yearning to be back in his village of Exohorio which is a fictionalization of Xechoro, a small village I fell in love with in the mountains of Northern Greece, population 8. It is the village where my brother-in-law, Sauteris, grew up. The video shows an evening celebration for his Name Day and gives a sense of that little-village-hood I love and internalized before conjuring up the fictional village of Exohorio in Your Own Kind:

        He wanted to show her how the sunlight pierced the rocks of the mountains, how the wild rosemary and oregano grew randomly along the path filling the air with their fragrance. He wanted to open the gate in the stone wall and welcome her into his yard with the enchanting scent of lemon and orange blossoms. He wanted to sit with her on the ridge above the well and show her the valley below--to walk with her along the river, its running waters mixing with the melody of the songbirds overhead. And when the snow begins to fall, to sit within the warmth of the little house, adding wood to the fire. He wanted  to feed  her warm bread from the oven and olives he collected from the trees and slices of soft cheese made from the milk of his father's goats. He wanted to sip the red wine made from the grapes that hung on the vine in the summer months--so plump with sweetness that their weight would pull the vine low enough for her to reach up and grab a bunch as they sat at the table in the courtyard.
        But he would settle for showing her Astoria, in Queen, New York instead. It was the place he had stayed while he was waiting for Minos to finish with his immigration papers--very unlike his own village but it could give Sarah a tiny glimpse of Greece, and he so wanted to share his world with her, to coax her across the bridge that remained between them.


  1. Great writing! I didn't know you wrote about the Adirondacks as well. Will buy it now!

  2. Thank you for the compliment, Sheila! I'm not sure I would say I write "about" the Adirondacks but I spent some time in my childhood there and really loved it's beauty. That's probably why I enjoyed IMAGINERY BRIGHTNESS so much.

  3. I mean 'its beauty' NOT it's . . . Editing! [Heavy sigh]