It’s been 9 years since I penned my first article on the OHI Day (some of which is reported below). This is a special day in Greek history as it regards Greece’s heroic involvement in WWII. Our family’s recent visit to Greece was yet two reminders of this day.
As noted in earlier articles, I was baptized Elias Theodorakos since it is the Greek custom to name the first son after the paternal Papou (grandfather). Within a few years, the name Elias (our first grandson is also named Elias) was displaced by Louis, its American counterpart. I know our children and grandchildren would have preferred that our last name had not been changed. They are also disappointed – along with Mary (who is not Greek) – that I did not insist that they go to Greek school. Although I am an American first, I still remain proud of my Hellenic roots.
On to one of the themes of this article. My ancestors have a long history of battling and suffering with evil elements and opponents. Unfortunately, history repeated itself in 1939, as documented below. The 80th anniversary of the resistance of fascist forces by the Greek Armed Forces was recently celebrated several days ago on October 28. (The day came and went without a whimper here in the United States.) OHI (an emphatic no!) was Prime Minister Metaxas’s response to Hitler’s order to peacefully surrender. What followed Metaxas’s response was 219 days of fierce battles. That in turn was followed by intense guerrilla warfare that resulted in a brutal occupational that included executions, sufferings, famine, and severe inflation. The rest is now history for some people and all Greeks. Here are some comments immediately following the war.
Winston Churchill: “The word heroism, I’m afraid, does not reflect in the least the Hellenes’ acts of self-sacrifice that were the defining factor of the victorious ending of all the nations’ common struggle during the 2nd WW for human freedom and dignity. If it were not for the bravery of the Hellenes and their courageous hearts, the ending of the 2nd WW would not have been clear.”
Franklin Roosevelt: “When the entire world had lost all hope, the Hellenic people dared to doubt the German monster’s invincibility fighting back with the proud spirit of freedom. The heroic struggle of the Hellenic people against the German hurricane filled the American hearts with enthusiasm and won their sympathy.”
The second reminder of this special day was a recent paper submitted by our 13-year old grandson for his English class. It was titled VACHOS 1,5. VACHOS is a essentially small deserted town built on a rocky terrain half way up a mountain with no apparent means of sustenance itself. Vachos is a located in Mani – the middle member of the Peloponnese peninsula – surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea on the south, the Messenian Gulf on the west, and the Laconian Gulf on the east. Elias’s passage follows:
“I opened the car door and the blazing sun came right at me, forcing me to quickly cover my eyes. It was pushing 100 degrees late that afternoon, a dry, windy, burning heat. We had started our journey in Athens, and we were now in Mani, the region of the Peloponnese my great grandfather emigrated from. We were staying in Limeni, a small town on the Mediterranean Sea, with turquoise and emerald blue water and vibrantly colored fish that eluded my grasp. Limeni was five minutes away from Vachos, my great grandfather’s hilltop town. Excited and curious, my whole family had all been waiting for this part of the trip. As we drove into the hills, the sea disappeared from our sight. A sign ‘Vachos 1,5’ told us to turn right and drive 1.5 kilometers to Vachos. In our little stick-shift Toyota, we started along a bumpy road with tall grass that surrounded us. Ascending the steep hill, the car rolled back every time we began again after a stop. Houses that had looked like dots from afar came into view, and we pulled into what looked like the town square.
The square was a flat expanse among the hills, empty except for an older man in a run-down pickup truck. He got out to introduce himself as the mayor. He was a third cousin of my grandfathers, and an important person who lived in the town. Much to my surprise, this otherwise bleak town square had a basketball hoop that hung from the patio of a shuttered restaurant. It amazed me that my ancestors left this town for more opportunities in America, but a basketball hoop had traveled in the opposite direction.
Our cousin, Kiriakos Theodorakos, who could only speak Greek, and a dialect at that, toured us around the town. We walked up a curving path and around abandoned stone houses in search of my great-grandfather’s house. My grandfather stopped in front of an old house “This is the one,” he said, pointing. We all started toward it. Nestled into a steep hill, the house was made of stone, most of it still intact, with a dilapidated clay roof. Trees obscured the view of the house so we walked down the hill to see it from another angle. Long, prickly brush scratched against my legs as I surveyed the place my Spartan family had lived in a century before. We could see the door where this family entered and the dirt floor they walked. The sound of cicadas and the smell of oregano overwhelmed me. I wonder what it would have been like to live in these remote Greek hills.
The town’s population is about sixty and probably wasn’t much more in the early 1900s. How different would New York City have seemed to my Great Papou when he sailed into the harbor? I asked my grandfather if we could go inside and he translated the question. Our cousin kept saying “fidia,” but my grandfather either couldn’t understand his accent or didn’t know the word. Finally, our cousin wiggled his hand and we understood that the house was now filled with snakes.
On our way back to the town square, we wandered into the town cemetery, where we were greeted by marble stones with engravings, vibrant flowers, and food and drinks placed on graves. I share blood with all of these people. The mountains surrounded us, but we could not see any water nearby. Why did people build a town here? As we were leaving the town square, our cousin went to his truck and brought us a jar of oregano. As we drove away I opened the jar and crumbled the leaves between my fingers, the smell of oregano filling the air.”
Thank you Elias for keeping the memories alive.
Visit the author at:
Basketball Coaching 101 (Facebook)
DECEMBER 1: On Hofstra Men’s Upcoming Basketball 2019-20 Season
JANUARY 1: One the Ultimate Quiz II
FEBRUARY 1: On Four Issues I: NYRA
MARCH 1: On Purely Chaste, Pristine, and Random Thoughts XXIX
APRIL 1: On the Hofstra 2018-19 Basketball Season
MAY 1: On the 2020 East Williston School District Budget Vote
JUNE 1: On Memorial Day V
JULY 1: On Four Issues II: Climate Change