Hold my hand! Tight!" demanded Kerasina of her older cousin, Amber, as they peered determinedly between the rows of statues and ornamented stonework standing silently in memory of the dead.
"Keri, we're going to see our ancestors today," she whispers excitedly to the decidedly less excited child. Kerasina answers not one word in reply. Her mouth curves way down under her chin as she stares her wide-eyed stare, "Why me, Amber?" up into Amber's chocolaty soft eyes.
Every summer when Amber lives with her Greek family, she convinces Kerasina to take part in wild adventures that sound great in theory, but often take strange, scary twists and turns in practice. When they find themselves with long luxurious days spent in the family village in Crete the children have greater freedom than anywhere on earth; allowing Amber's imagination to formulate ever more daring scenarios. Yet even as the cousins grow older, Kerasina never gains the determination to remain unconvinced by Amber's plans. Amber's infectious curiosity always sweeps Kerasina into its tow!
Amber hooks arms with her cousin so they can walk more closely together. She squeezes her cousin's still child-chubby little hand.
"Don't worry, Silly Head! They love you! And they are going to love the food your Nona brought them. You watch around her and I'll watch for them around the graves. Isn't that a good plan?"
«Ναι, εντάξει, » Kerasina warily agrees while breathing a long drawn-out sigh; in hopes of convincingly displaying a sophisticated lack of enthusiasm. But before she can stop herself a most pertinent question pops out of her mouth, "Do they look like ghosts?"
"I don't know," Amber replies slowly as she considers the question. "I've thought about it a lot, but I just don't know. I think Γιαγια (Grandma) probably looks like that picture of her on the fireplace. She'll look all black and white and she might look young or she might look old. I've been looking at millions of books! Maybe the ancestors look like guardian angels with shining white robes and big huge wings with great big feathers," she pauses for a minute to think. "They might seem sort of see-through or floaty."
"Ooh, like an angel! I want to see an angel!" Now Kerasina was back in the mood for adventure.
Ahead of them Nona Dimitra pays no attention to the children as she follows the trampled path through the cemetery to her family's grouping of sculptures and markers. Her mind fills with overlaying memories; not only of her own experiences but also those of "παλίο χρόνο," the olden days, shared with her through the years by her parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and neighbors. The past filled the daily conversations of the adults when she was growing up in Crete. Crete was like a country unto itself with a past stretching as far back as the future stretched forward.
". . . so many deaths in the war!" Nona Dimitra voices her thought out loud from mid-sentence. Unnoticed, her lovely silk scarf slips to the ground as she bows her head and clicks her tongue, "It started a bad time, the family, like dominoes falling in a row but never standing up again."
Her mind keeps wandering to the photos of lost family members lining the stairs of her country home. She doesn't want to think of the war or history, not really, but finally it was easier than thinking of her mother's death; a death that she feels will always remain fresh in her memory.
She willed her brain to think of nothing but happy times. Ah, but it was impossible. She stopped at her father's grave which was guarded by a soldier holding his gun eternally at the ready. At the soldier's feet a plaque declares "unwavering bravery" in "protecting the soil of Crete" displayed by Lieutenant D. Nikiforakis. Dimitra leans heavily against the soldier, crossing herself as she sinks to the ground.
Amber and Keri find her sobbing with big wet tears dripping between her fingers onto the marble below. The young girls rush to Nona Dimitra, pulling her hands down away from her face so they can pat her cheeks. They didn't notice but here were two protective angels, small but effective, one at each shoulder of Nona Dimitra, gently coaxing her to think of something happy.
Witnessing this deep sadness in Nona, her Godmother, Amber feels a twinge of homesickness for her family in the States. Feeling this was a sign of childishness, she told herself, "As soon as we go back to the village, I'll sit on the lap of Γιαγιά. She'll pet my hair and tell me all the good things we have to eat and see in Greece. Then I'll feel better."
But in a few moments she remembers that Γιαγιά won't be waiting for them in the cozy little house next to the Aegean Sea. "Γιαγιά," the grownups had explained, "has passed to her paradise." Some mysterious place that she and Keri could go one day, not now, but one day far away from now.
Keri pats her mother's shoulder and like the big girl she really was explained, "Don't cry cause Grandma's on the paradise beach now." On television Greece's beaches are always called paradise so Keri assumes paradise is a Greek beach somewhere on a little island in the sea.
"When I grow up I'm going to visit every island in our sea. I'll go to every beach until I find the one where Γιαγια sits and waits for me. She's happy waiting cause she knows I'm not grown up yet." Listening to these sweet words, Dimitra calms down a bit.
Keri kisses her cheek and tells her. "I'm pretty sure she's sitting on the red rug we lost that one year. It was her favorite."
Dimitra looks at her daughter and manages a little smile, "Yes, I remember we looked a million times in the house and car and could never find it anywhere!"
Amber pats her Nona's shoulder and chimes in, "Maybe the angels took it to paradise so it would be there for Γιαγιά! And I think she's sitting under a big pink beach umbrella," she adds with great emphasis on the "I" to be sure of no confusion, it was her thought alone.
"Oh, yes, her favorite color! I believe you girls must be right." Dimitra hugs the girls, one under each arm, until she feels calm enough to distribute the food she has ready for a picnic with their ancestors.
"Little ones, leave me alone now so I can prepare our lunch," she watched as holding hands, the children slowly walked through the cemetery, taking surreptitious glances back to make sure she would be okay.
Mama Dimitra carefully throws a worn quilt on the grass. She sets out delicacies that her Mother used to enjoy along with the traditional foods offered to souls to offer them nourishment this Day of Souls.
In an appetizing way she places single servings of galactobouriko, sweetened cherries and halva on small porcelain desert plates from her mother's hutch. Amber's Nona took no shortcuts with adding elegance to ritual. Dimitra places the miniature sized dessert spoons and forks on cloth napkins, carefully tucking the point of the napkin close to the edge. After words the retrieved the small portable propane gas burner, the βρίκι, and the ground coffee from the basket, carefully attending to the low boiling water as she adds an accurately measured amount of coffee. When the coffee was just right she sweetens it exactly to her mother's taste.
After all of these offerings were attractively arranged next to her mother's tombstone Νona Dimitra calls to the girls playing among the rows of graves, "Keri! Amber! ‘Ελα ‘θω! Φάμε μαζί τώρα!"
The girls scampered to the picnic quilt and sat cross legged as they accept big chunks of τηρόπιτα bulging with feta cheese from Nona Dimitra. Before they took any bites though they shared some of the pita with their Grandmother Kerasina by placing it on her empty plate decorated with lavender blue periwinkles. Because they were hungry they hurriedly prayed in a murmur to all the ancestors, then to their own ancestors, asking for their company on this special day and expressing the hope that the food will be pleasing to them.
Afterwards the two girls cuddled next to Nona Dimitra as they slept in the shade of a huge rare cedar tree in the center of the cemetery. When they woke from their nap they played τάβλι. Amber and Keri made one team against Nona and Υιαίια, like so many times in the past. They puzzled a little over the fact of that Γιαγιά was invisible and her food was still on her plate. The girls watched for any sign that Nona thought Γιαγιά was sitting with them. Last year Nona Dimitra had spent a lot of time talking to Γιαγιά at the cemetery.
Keri still found it all confusing. She questioned her Theia Angelika endlessly about it when they were home and getting ready for bed.
"No more questions about death! We have a baptism to go to this weekend! It's a happy time when babies are born isn't it? Don't you want to hear about the most beautiful city that was every built, in the whole world!" coaxed Angelika as she encourages the girls to snuggle together in their bed.
Metropolis, the capital city of Kallisti, is considered the most flourishing seaport of the True Ocean. Not only trade and business, also the exchange of knowledge, religion and adventure draw travelers to the uniquely designed harbor.
The curious are drawn to Kallisti by their dream of what the fruits of love between a god and a virgin might look like, those godly gifts with which Kallisti has been blessed, unattainable in a human lifetime without heavenly intervention.
Not only are many drawn by their interest in the harbor's unique organization bestowed by Poseidon but also the additional layers of beautification and innovation which generations since the rule of Atlas have lovingly lavished on the island. Kallistians that have left to colonize other shores return to pay tribute to their island of origin. They are amazed to find their motherland even lovelier than they remember.
The suspense and excitement of experiencing something new and unknown attracts all types of people to Kallisti. The varied sights, sounds and ideas at this cosmopolitan hub of the True Ocean offer visitors a guaranteed adventure.
The fame of Kallisti's beauty and richness reaches to Keiftu, the large land that in clear weather and a calm sea can be seen hovering on the southern horizon. The Cycladic islands scattered to the north send flocks of traders to her seaports. Naxos, Ios, Kos and others, trade their own unique products and art, in exchange for honey, olive oil and wine, art and the expertise of her technicians.
Kallisti's fame reaches northeast to Smyrna, to sacred Epheseus and throughout West Anatolia. Worshippers want to pay homage to the Creatress, and to the Poseidon, and even to the virgin mother who has known no mortal man's touch, Kleito, in her beauteous temple situated in the center island. From there descriptions of the unique island travel across southern Asia via nomadic people's stories told over nighttime campfires.
To the east adventurers from Palestine, Lebanos and Syria, hearing stories told by their trading partner Kypros, decide to set sail for Kallisti's shore in order to see with their own eyes if all they hear is true.
Traders come from the southern lands of the Pharaohs where religious beliefs are similar enough to cause a great passing back and forth of religious teachers, artists and goods. Nubian iron is traded for sprout lichen, oak moss and pine resin and for cedar wood planks.
Kallisti's fame reaches further to the western lands of the True Ocean. To the great enjoyment and wonder of the people on the island, sailors and entrepreneurs from the west-lying Kumae bring strange, fantastical foods and herbs. Their descendants, the Etruscan sailors will have their own name for Kallisti, ‘Strongule' meaning the circular island; because of the island's circular shape which is emphasized by its three Poseidon-created circular harbors radiating into the True Ocean.
(to be continued)