He’s no longer with us. Waves of nostalgia crash over me leaving me reeling, staggering through the memories, hoping to grasp something to hold onto.
Today my Uncle Stavros died. My surrogate father in Greece. The man who helped me settle in when I travelled back to my homeland to find my roots at 29. I found him. The trunk of our patriachal family tree. Strong, sturdy and supportive.
He took me in and ensconced me in my father’s family home. The house my father was born in. Rooms of uneven walls, blackened corners of soot-stained peeling paint, wood fired stove smoke clinging to the walls. Rooms full of lumpy, straw-filled, day beds, crocheted lace curtains, walls adorned with elaborate tapestries, old family portraits staring down sombrely. Rooms that held memories of children, chickens, Greek mountain tea, old Greek records, simple pleasures from long ago.
The old house still stands, abandoned now, the crows taking residence. My father left long ago with his family, making a nest in Australia.My Uncle stayed behind and built a new house above the Kelli Cafe he has always run proudly. A place where men would come to drink coffee, ouzo, play cards and backgammon, discuss politics, philosophy and laugh after a hard day on the fields or shepherding.
I loved the constant chatter of companionship wafting up from below as I sat on the balcony looking out across the rocky mountain ranges.
I loved waking to the tinkling of goat bells, mountain views and smoky, sage permeating the air.
I loved the sense of family, community and life interwoven in this tightly knit village.
I loved the strong leadership and sense of security that emanated from my Uncle.
Today I felt the loss of him acutely, the loss of family painfully, the loss of connection, history; the heartbreak of long distance lamentation of a heart divided between two cultures. Today yet another link with the homeland was broken, another heartstring severed.
My uncle held me and carried me as a two year old to the ship Nea Patrida when we migrated to Australia, he welcomed me back as a 13 year old and then settled me in when I returned to live at 29. He was the one constant in many trips back and forth. He was my rock.
Finally he gave me away at my wedding when my father could not travel to Greece.
He travelled from the village for three hours in a bus convoy filled with my relatives to a beautiful Byzantine church in Thessaloniki and was there for me in every sense of the word. And then I never saw him again.
Today I lost my Uncle Stavros, my second Dad, the host of my Greek life, the caretaker of my journeys, the keeper of my memories. And it will never be the same going back to Greece again.