The summer after I graduated from university and my brother from high school, my parents realizing that a time of transition like this would likely never be repeated, took us on a three week family trip to Greece.
In the early 1950’s my grandparents emigrated from southern Greece to Toronto. It is a typical immigrant story: leaving behind family and familiarity, with an infant in arms and a few coins in pocket, to escape a war-ravaged country for peace and opportunity.
Returning to Greece with my father, a first generation Greek-Canadian, and my grandparents proved to be a homecoming of sorts. My grandmother proudly pointed out significant places of interest. Interest to me, but nothing you’d find in a guidebook.
There was the church my grandparents were married, the rustic four-walls that housed them their first few years as newlyweds and the dirt-floor kitchen where my grandmother spent her childhood. There was the main street that was once lined with German soldiers and the fields abundant with food that proved crucial for their survival in the years after the war when famine devastated the entire country, killing hundreds of thousands. Elderly men and women carefully navigated their porch steps to greet my grandparents and share stories from yesteryear.
But most welcoming was seeing my last name, nothing close to common in Toronto, on storefronts! Butcher shops!
The trip was magical. Sharing their early lives with me proved to be more revealing than I could have imagined. My grandmother’s bossiness, unfaltering persistence coupled with her strong sense of family no longer seemed exasperating but formidable. My grandfather’s shy, quiet demeanour was no sign of indifference but rather a testament to him being both assiduous and kind.
There was a sense of clarity after that trip. I had a better sense of where I’d come from and who my family really was.
I will forever fondly remember that trip and spending time with my parents, my brother and grandparents. Before life changed forever and jobs, weddings and children wove into the fabric of our family. Before life itself ended for my grandfather.
My dream trip would be take my boys to Greece with their grandparents to learn about their family, experience their culture, be surrounded by their history and if nothing else, share a special moment in time with their grandparents.