Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Swimming Against the Tide

My first memory of Cousin Toula, is of her sneaking a drag on a cigarette—actually several drags, I think it was my husband, Nick's cigarette—and blowing the smoke into the darkness of a warm Greek summer night. It was something similar to what I'd done with one of my friends more than ten years prior, while sitting in the wooded area near my house. Two American thirteen-year-olds experimenting. But Toula was not a teenager and she was not experimenting. It was 1983 and we were twenty-something-year-old young women in the small village of Margariti. Even I who wore short shorts and tight tube tops at home in New York but long sundresses in Margariti, knew that Toula was playing a dangerous game, this female-smoking-a-cigarette thing.  

I immediately liked her.

When I met my sister-in-law, Eftihia, for the first time, she was wearing jeans—long legged Levis. She was the only pant-wearing woman I saw in the village as well as in the small city of Igoumenitsa. Again, it was 1983 and I myself was clad in a dark colored dress of conformity. My jeans were strictly for the plane ride to and from New York. But Eftihia explained (though no explanation was necessary as logic made it obvious) that carting wood for cooking, trekking to the spring to get drinking water and the heavy laborious work in the house made dress-wearing a ridiculous idea. Those around her tried to make her see the reasoning in conforming to societal rules. But she wasn't having any of it. In fact, when a naughty male passenger had a bit of a feel on a crowded bus one day, she turned around and punched him in the face and made his advances known to all. It never happened again. Not to her anyway.

Cousin Toula, against strong and fearsome objections from her father, opened a bar in Margariti. Yes, a bar! She tended to drinks and conversation for over fifteen years—against threat of disownment and humiliation. She followed her own path—swam against the tide and made a good living for her family.

Eftihia negotiated her own marriage. The young men who were smitten with her—she was a beautiful woman—had to agree to her terms or there would be no deal. In the end her current husband listened and agreed as she laid out her expectations and objectives for married life. Whether or not it went as she expected—I’ve never met a woman whose expectations of marriage bore fruit—it didn't matter. She did the unthinkable. She laid out what she wanted in her future husband rather than accepting what was expected.

I admire these women. They both chose their own path—as much of it as could be chosen in the time and place they’d grown. And both remind me of my late mother-in-law, Chevi, whose life may have had great influence on them. Within Chevi’s arranged marriage and the confines of her small primitive village, she manipulated her surroundings to live life according to her own rules and within her realm of control. And for a Greek village woman born in the 1920s that is remarkable! 

Below is an excerpt from The Nifi showing Chevi’s determination and resourcefulness.

Tomas was at the tavern when The Man From The Bank came into the yard one afternoon as Chevi was drawing water from the well. Nikos and Vaso, with their neighborhood friends, had been running after the chickens. And within the chaos Chevi almost didn't recognize that there was a stranger among them. The Man From The Bank apologized for startling her as she scooped Eftihia off the ground, placing the toddler on her hip in a protective stance. The sudden movement shook Fotis awake in the sarmanitsa and he started to cry. The Man From The Bank tried to collect his thoughts as the chickens squawked and ran in a frenzied circle, the children laughing and screaming. 
        "Madam, I am her to inform you that," he took a deep breath and continued, his eyes darting around the yard as the children kicked up the dry dust, creating little clouds of haze along the ground.  "The Bank of Greece has not had any payment for the lien on your home for quite some time, years in fact." The Man From The Bank cleared his throat and continued his rehearsed speech, raising his voice above the mayhem, "if payment is not made within the next sixty days, your home will be put up for auction and—” He hesitated. It became apparent that although there was  more to this speech, he was changing course mid-sentence as he exhaled loudly and looked Chevi in the eyes.
        "My dear woman, are these all your children?" He softened.
        Chevi had not understood every word, but she had understood this person was a threat of some kind. So she fixed her black shawl around her shoulders, straightened her head scarf, and met the man's gaze with a smile.
        "Yes, these are all my children," she answered.
        "Listen." The Man From The Bank shook his head slowly. "I'm going to give you a piece of paper. You must give it to your husband." A thought occurred to him. "You do have a husband, don't you?"
        "Oh yes." Chevi hesitated for a moment and then added, "but he is never here." She made a fist with her thumb pointed inward toward her mouth, tilting her head back as if she were drinking. The man's face registered understanding and then disgust as he handed her the paper.
        "Give this to your husband and be sure he brings it to the town hall in Igoumenitsa as soon as he can. Do you understand?"
        Chevi nodded. She realized then that a great calamity had been averted. . . 

Independent authors often have quite a challenge in getting exposure for their work. I hope, dear reader, you will consider writing a review on Amazon or 

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