So talking about those grandparents, this is what I am made of.
A refugee grandma who came by boat over the Aegean fleeing the 1922 war in Asia Minor. Nine-year-old girl who didn’t speak any Greek. She marries my grandfather, some kind of Casablanca Rick’s café guy, his casino set on fire twice by corrupt policemen during the WWII Nazi occupation.
His father and uncles had fled the mountains after a crime of honor, “don’t mess with my sister” thing. They flee the village after the crime, and nobody ever mentions the village, because the vendetta may be resurrected two centuries later if we do. They land in a new place, near the swamps, but don’t die of malaria. Genes or something? My doctor claims that’s why my blood exams always come up with such high iron levels. I am the real iron man.
Anyway, back to the great grandfathers, they become very entrepreneurial, export business pioneers and such. Stealing eagle eggs from the cliff nests and selling them to the Italians. The youngest brother, George, is the one they lower in the basket down the cliff to reach the nest and steal the eggs. The youngest brother, George, is skinny as a cane but not for long. The Italians pay good money. He gains weight. The boy grows. One day the rope won’t hold his weight. He will have many nephews named George after him, but he will never see any of them. I have an uncle George, descending from that side. He called me to wish all the best of luck with my move to the US last month. When he speaks his nose is so convincing, like an eagle’s beak.
The other grandfather, my namesake, a tailor, is considered dead for three years during WWII. He descends from the mountains one day with a full Tom Hanks “Wilson! I am sorry Wilson!” beard. He belongs to some moderate communist group so he is hunted by the right wingers and the hardline communist resistance forces. And the Nazi occupation forces of course. Talk about picking the wrong side. The “true” communists had taken him away for execution but he escapes by a miracle. A miracle in small familistic countries is always a relative appearing as deus ex machina. Nobody goes to jail in small familistic (Fukuyama term) societies. Either the policeman, or the judge, or the warden is your cousin. Guaranteed. And your aunt is going to crack his head open with an olive branch if she hears that you didn’t help your cousin.
So, (Trotskyist?) Grandpa descends from the mountains, my seven-year-old dad remembers him approaching with a long beard and rags, and he reunites with my grandma. She has an even better story. Later. The war ends. Celebration. He tailors a new suit for himself. He dies a year later, at the age of 42, during a “routine” appendicitis operation. Freaking appendicitis. No cancer, no TB, no bullet. Buried in his new suit. I never met him.
My great-grandfather from my mother’s story. At age 34, (30something to be exact) he already has four children in Crete. He is sent to Asia Minor to fight the Turks. He defects, finds a Turkish girl, falls in love, stays with her for twenty years. In hiding. Did she die, did love die? He’ll never tell. He reappears in his village, having been considered dead for decades. Unlike my Grandpa, I’ve met that great grandpa. Smoker. Drinks a white liquid that braves methanol. Dies at 96, after a fall in the new marble bathroom. Prosperity and progress come at a high price.
His daughter, my grandmother. Married to the tailor, widowed at age 39, she will live to 79. I saw her for the last time at the hospital bed when she was 78.999 years old. She died the next day. My last words were “see you tomorrow”, though I knew. I just wanted her to hear something good for the last time. She was struggling to remain alive to her last breath. Didn’t want to go. So much bs all this dying happily with a smile.
She’ll raise my father scrubbing floors. My grandpa was her second marriage. She fled her village and the first arranged marriage before her twentieth year. Knowing the traditions of those villages, she is probably the bravest of all the ancestors. Falls in love with my tailor grandfather.
I wish I knew more, I could make the rest up and cook up the whole story. But I didn’t want to write this story. I wanted to write a fairy-tale, fiction, something about the others, learning about them. The barbarians. Because as you can see I descend from pure nobility.
And I still have no freaking idea what the Italians needed the eagle eggs for.
How on the ducking earth could we ever complain about our lives? It took a million of miracles for any of us to be born. Make that a billion. We are not supposed to be alive.
I wish I could go further back. I’d find brave Thespians (the inhabitants of Thespiae, not the actors) who fought in Thermopylae (that’s the original tailor’s village), bloodthirsty pirates who raided the islands and slaughtered the virgins, people of “the faith” and infidel “dogs”. I am sure I’d find most of them fleeing some other land, invading a new one, peacefully or forcefully with the best or worst intentions. All mixed up together in my mind, my blood, and my DNA.
Who do you think barbarians are?
Who do you think refugees are? #refugenes.