Habits That Do Not Go Away
She was a teenager when the Germans had reached her sea-side township of Poulithra in Greece. A fair number of soldiers were stationed in the upper township and they had chosen her family’s home as their base. The officers had set up their command control centre with the radio and other equipment in their sitting room. The family continued to live there as well, as it was a two storey house, and the heavy doors afforded them some sense of security, even though it must have felt like house arrest.
Being young, Metaxia felt protected by her strong father who knew how to navigate dangerous situations. When the Germans had first come to the township it was “Barba Gianni”, her father, who spoke on behalf of the community. He had spent his younger years in America and was fluent in English, so he was well positioned to negotiate certain terms whereby the villagers would not be harmed. At the time, Metaxia’s brother had just begun high school in the nearby town of Leonidion. She was older than he was and so she would often go to visit him and take him clean clothes as well as food supplies from her father’s store.
She recalls, years later, the time she had left Leonidion by foot to go back home to Poulithra. It was a fresh sunny day and life felt good, despite the ever present threat of strangers occupying her house. Mid-way home she heard bomb blasts that were being hurled from boats offshore and directed towards Poulithra. She continued to walk the tree-lined, protected path, frightened but also resolute that she had to go home. After a while the bombing ceased and she ascended the exposed steep incline that was the last leg of her seven kilometre journey. Having finally arrived, she thanked God that she had made it safely home.
These kinds of encounters were an everyday event during the occupation. Fear, as well as a certain sense of stoicism, accompanied the people’s everyday tasks. The children needed to be fed, the animals looked after and the supplies sent to those in the neighbouring town who were dependent on the older siblings. Metaxia, like so many other young women at the time took these duties in her stride.
Now, in her declining years and in her nineties, she lives in her daughter’s home and she still has an obsession with closing doors. The doors are not heavy like those she had in her childhood home, and there are no enemy-occupying Germans in the living room, yet those memories linger still. When her children were growing up they did not understand why she was so emotional when any family member was late coming home. They could not fathom her sense of insecurity when her spouse would be sick and unable to work for certain periods because of his ulcerated stomach. They did, however, know that Metaxia often prayed on her knees for them. Prayer was what her father had shown her. He would pray every night for a long time, no matter what was happening around him. It sustained him, just as he had sustained her and his community throughout those difficult years. Now, before Metaxia goes to sleep, she may have forgotten many things, but she continues to do the sign of the cross and to bless and thank her carers with that sweet smile of gratitude.
Source: Lychnos June 2018 / July 2018