My Father’s Garden
This past April, the week after Easter, Dev, our chicken and I traveled to Athens to deal with family business. I own property in Greece: a two-story house, near the sea, in Paleon Faliron (Old Faliron). It’s the house where my father, his three siblings and his parents, my grandparents, lived up until the family moved to Canada in the early 1950’s. The last time I visited my father’s ancestral home was in the summer of 2001.
The first summer after my father’s passing …
Our 14-hour journey from Vancouver to Athens was uneventful. The customs agents at the Eleftherios Venizelos Airport greeted us like old friends, helping us with our mountain of luggage. Like most newly minted families, we traveled with the bare necessities: three large suitcases, two carry-ons, a car seat, a diaper bag and a travel stroller. With the help of the airport traffic cop, and after standing in the taxi line for forty-five minutes, we found a driver to take us to the Fresh Hotel located on the corner of Sophocleous and Klistenous Streets, in the historic centre of Athens.
We spent the first couple of days acclimating to the unpredictable beauty of Athens. Our boutique hotel is sandwiched between a pet-store and well-known brothel. Modern, streamlined buildings are propped against decaying ones. The jumble of ancient ruins, cell-phones, musicians, museums, motorcycles, priests, gypsies, grandmothers, kiosks, kafenions, internet cafes, churches, taxis, tourists, protestors gives the impression the city is on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
To fully enjoy Athens, one must surrender to what can only be described as organized chaos. Dev’s love affair with Athens lasted 72 hours. On the morning of our third day, the city came to a crashing halt with the massive May Day protest organized by workers at Kotzia Square, a mere half block from our hotel.
Banks can go on strike? Sympathy work stoppages will last a week?
On the day of protest we did as the Athenians did: we fled the downtown core. We easily navigated the stroller through abandoned streets, boarded the tram at Syntagma Square and slowly made our way to the house on Perikleous Street.
Much had changed in five years: most of the old homes have been replaced with high rises.
In our hurry to leave, I forgot to bring keys. The green iron doors, marked with my grandfather’s initials, barred our entry. And so we waited. I noticed that my father’s garden needed resuscitation. The back garden, once civilized, has become a jungle. Banana and lemon trees, night flowering jasmine, scented geraniums, basil, ornamental peppers, date palms and grapevines all compete for space and sun. With my father gone, there is no constant gardener.
When my father died, the task of dismantling his life, fell to my mother and I.
Of the items we decided to keep of my father’s life, his traveling trunk was the most telling. When we opened it, we discovered old blankets, Greek newspapers, his white sailor’s uniform, and a shoebox filled with old black and white photographs. Next to the shoebox, we found tiny, glass apothecary bottles, of various shapes and sizes carefully piled three rows deep. They were filled with red earth. My father may have planted his fig trees, hydrangeas, jasmine, grape and honeysuckle vines in Canadian soil, but they were nurtured using the blood and bones of his ancestors.
Our tenants were excited to meet my husband and baby girl and nervous about their upcoming lease renewal. Impressed that my non-Greek husband understood Greek, they asked if he knew when the restrictive watering conditions would be lifted.
Our next get together would take place the following Tuesday, after the ongoing May Day protests had run their course. It was then that we would renegotiate their lease. It was then, in meeting with our lawyer, my father’s childhood friend, that we would decide the future of my father’s garden on Perikleous Street.
On this first meeting, we traipsed down the block to a local eatery and broke bread together. Any awkwardness that may have existed quickly dissipated with each mouth-watering entree that arrived. After a long afternoon of storytelling and reminiscing, we made our way back to our hotel, bellies full, batteries recharged, ready to conquer an evening of shopping and sightseeing.