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Snapshot of Mama at 11

When my mother was a little girl of eleven, my grandfather became ill rather suddenly and passed away, leaving my grandmother a widow with five mouths to feed. My mother, although not the eldest, was deemed the most capable, and as such was pulled out of grammar school to help support her family.

My grandmother washed clothes while my mother worked for a British man, his wife and their two children. It was a huge household with a groundskeeper, a chauffeur and six maids. It was 1936 and Greece was kept under the watchful eye of Britain as trouble was brewing in the rest of Europe.

My mother was given three separate uniforms to wear depending on the time of day. In the morning, she wore white. Her main task was to help the older girls make the beds and keep the two younger children out of trouble by playing with them in the nursery.

In the afternoon, she changed into her gray uniform. Each day in the spring and through the end of summer she was given the task of filling about twenty different silver vases, of various shapes and sizes, with the flowers and greenery that thrived in the garden. She was given this task mainly to occupy her time. For the time being, my mother was too small to take on the more demanding domestic chores like mopping floors and carrying the large heavy buckets of water from the well to the main house.

It was there, in that enclosed garden, that she befriended a small white dog. Soon, she was sneaking it food and teaching it tricks. The dog became so tame and trusting that it followed her everywhere. And the mistress of the house, who came to love my mother as one of her own children, broke down and allowed her to bring her beloved pet into the house. The small white dog followed my mom as she went through the house completing her chores. And each night, this once-stray dog, now her beloved companion, slept at the foot of her tiny bed, keeping my mother’s feet warm in the winter.

During one of the weekly formal dinners, my mother now dressed, like a movie extra, in a black and white uniform, was serving guests in the dining room. All the while her faithful companion was between her feet, and my mother had to be extra cautious not to step on the dog’s tail, or worse, trip, and make a mess on the freshly polished marble floors.

At some point during the evening, my mother felt something wet around her ankles. The bright anklets of sudden blood were the richest, most intense hue of black-red my mother had ever seen. Using one of the pristine white serving towels, she tried to wipe her legs, but the blood had dried and her scrubbing left a pink cast. To her horror she noticed that throughout the entire dinner she had been leaving drops and patches of blood on the kitchen tiles, in the hallway and on the freshly polished marble floors. When she finally had the chance to break away and clean herself up, she discovered that it was not her body that betrayed her, but her little white companion’s. After that evening, the dog was not allowed back in the house.

As my mother grew older, her workload increased, and she no longer had the opportunity to spend hours outdoors collecting flowers and playing with her beloved pet. There came a time when she lost track of her adopted dog.

Soon enough, it was spring. And my mother was anxiously awaiting the Anastasi/Resurrection service for Greek Easter. For my mother this marked the one time of year she got to spend with her family. It was my mother, while waiting to be picked up by my grandmother, who discovered her former companion.

Seeing her small white dog, bruised, broken and with a distended belly, was enough to prevent my mother from attending the special liturgy that evening. Desperately, she tried to nurse her beloved pet back to health. The same small white dog, who used to sleep at her feet, died in my mother’s arms.

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