Even in her early 70's, my grandmother, Olga, was still a handsome woman who remained elegant. She always insisted that the dressmaker had to make her dresses fitting and tight at the waist. She had let me see her pictures in her early 30s. She had been a beauty, proudly telling me that she always wore the latest models of dresses and hats imported from Paris. Grandmother Olga learned how to read and write because she was a rich man's daughter. By the late nineteen century in Greece, literacy was a privilege granted only to a few upper-class women.
She got married to my grandfather, a mild-mannered educated man. He took her to the Greek community in Turkey, where he became a public official serving the Greeks (who were many) living there. They enjoyed a high social class status, associating with the wealthy. But after some years, their happy life ended. An internal political turmoil in Turkey led to the expulsion of all Greeks.
Having lost their high status, they still had an important income from the large olive groves owned by my grandfather in Preveza, his native town. In Athens, they could also buy a large six-room apartment in an upper-middle-class neighborhood, where after several years, my mother and I also came to live with them.
The whole family came for a visit to the apartment from time to time. Among them, there was My grandmother's brother. I remember him, a handsome and elegant man who could not hear well because, they said, "he had been punished with syphilis for his youthful sins with prostitutes."
Grandmother had a lot of stamina and was happy when she had many things to do. She was a very strong and healthy person. I don't remember her ever being sick, and I could not understand why all of us got sick from time to time, mostly from colds.
One day, a village woman asked my grandmother to take her fourteen years old daughter. After the woman's husband died, she could not support her four children. Following the customs of the time, my grandmother welcomed the girl in the large apartment. In this way, the young girl came to live with us like a family member and would be granted a sizeable dowry when she married. Panayotta, the girl, performed housework, except for cooking, which remained my grandmother's domain. Panayotta shared with us all our misfortunes as well as good times and became my friend.
Besides cooking all the time, my grandmother read one book a day because she could stand having nothing to do. She had endless energy and did not have a legitimate outlet for spending it. When she got bored, she started finding fault and nagging one of us, usually my grandfather, my aunt, or me, as I was growing up.
She insisted that I should go to a Sunday religious school and to confession. Her insistence on religion was curious. Grandmother never went to church on Sunday. But she kept nagging up for so long that when I was 12 years old, my mother finally gave in and sent me to a Sunday religious school. I came back quite angry for having spent two hours singing meaningless religious songs instead of being able to read interesting Greek and European history books.
The only thing I liked about church was the confession, which in the Greek Orthodox Church is made to a priest, person to person. The one to whom I had to confess was a handsome young man. It became almost a game for me. Looking serious, I confessed that I lied several times, like telling my grandmother I was reading books required for my French school, while in fact, they were books about love. Denying I had anything else to confess, I got his blessing, and I had to leave him behind.
Meanwhile, at the end of WWII, political and social upheavals changed everybody's life. Armed partisans representing the major rightist and the leftist political parties started parading in Athens, both claiming to be responsible for fighting against the German occupation. Soon the leftist parties, being the largest, dominated the scene and began fighting against the rightists and the weak Greek police. At that point, the British interfered by strengthening the Greek police and started sending bombs to stop the leftist army. One of these bombs went ashtray and destroyed part of the house next to ours. Afraid that another misfiring could hit our house, during the day, we moved with the friendly people in the first-floor apartment. During the night, we struggled to sleep on wooden trunks stored in the dark lower basement. We were all afraid. But even when the bombs destroyed part of the next door hours, Grandmother stayed cool.
When schools opened again, I managed to make up for lost time and completed my college education. Then, I left for the United States to further my studies. After I married an American citizen, every Christmas, I could visit my grandmother, who was living with my mother in a small apartment.
On my first visit, I found my grandmother in a good mood. My aunt had married a wealthy engineer and had moved to a beautiful big apartment not far from ours. They had big parties with a small live orchestra. There I saw my grandmother dancing a slow tango with one of the participants.
However, on my next trip to Athens, after my grandfather died, the situation radically changed. My grandmother had become delusional and made my poor mother suffer. I felt that my grandfather's death had been detrimental to her. Probably it was dementia. She was very old. Nobody knew exactly how old she was, as there were no birth registers when she was born. It was estimated from her brothers' age that she must have been a hundred years old.
Well, the doctor said it was Alzheimer's, and Grandmother had to be cared for by a nurse. My mother's small apartment couldn't host my grandmother and a nurse. We had two solutions: we could place her in a nursing home or move her to another apartment with a living-in maid and a part-time nurser. However, my mother's sister strongly objected to both solutions. But she didn't want the other alternative, which was to take my grandmother to live with her. My aunt finally gave in, and we placed our grandmother in an apartment with a full-time maid and a part-time nurse.
My old grandmother did not recognize either of her daughters when they visited her and never spoke a word to the nurse or to the maid who took care of her.
I refused to visit her. I couldn't bear to see her in that situation.
She had been a remarkable woman; in another era and country, she would have been a renowned scientist, government official, or even a Prime Minister.
C. Rothschild, a former professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and consultant to the UN and other international organizations. She has written three books on Sex Roles and Sex Discrimination used American and European universities and they were translated into Swedish and Japanese. Her literary work is available in the 34thParalell Magazine and the Anthology of Quillkeepers Press.