Posted by Panio Gianopoulos on Sunday, October 28, 2012
Today was my father’s one-year memorial service. After the indecipherable, triplicate Greek Orthodox service, we descended to the basement of the Athenian church, where tables and chairs had been set up for friends who had come to pay their respects. My mother, still recovering from brain surgery, sat in her wheelchair, hunched over, right hand trembling nonstop, left hand limp in her lap like some crustacean ripped from its shell.
They served little cookies and we drank thick coffee and shots of low-grade cognac. “Never fancy,” my sister explained to me. “Why? I asked. “I don’t know. Humility?” There was an old man in a light blue suit wandering around the church basement who was either mentally ill or homeless (or both) and he kept shuffling over to our table and asking for cookies. “They’re just going to throw them out,” he would say nervously, and I would nod and tell him it was fine, and he would stuff them into his suit jacket pockets, now bulging, and totter off, only to return again in ten minutes.
Earlier that morning, while my sister was parking behind the church, a young gypsy boy had darted out from behind another vehicle and she hit him with her car. My uncle, a pediatrician, rushed over to examine the boy. Luckily, he was unhurt. My sister had been edging forward slowly and the impact had been trivial. Many people insisted that it was a scam by gypsies who instruct their children to jump in front of cars and then fake an injury until a parent runs over and demands compensation. But the boy’s father simply sat on the white marble steps of the church with his six or seven-year-old son cradled on his lap, silently pressing his face to the back of the boy’s dark head.
When we got home my mother went in to the bedroom to lie down and I joined my brother-in-law on the couch to watch the parade on tv. Coincidentally, today is also a Greek national holiday celebrating another variant of independence or rebellion–this one from the Italians. It’s raining in Thessaloniki and the military bands march through wet streets while old men in suits and uniforms look on from under the eaves.