The last chapter of the family's migration to Poros
After two years on the island of Salamina the Navy moved us on again, this time to Poros where I vowed we would stay even though it meant living enclosed in a family compound with my inlaws and my sister in law. Far too close for my comfort but just what the children needed. They grew up in a close family atmosphere and their two male cousins next door became like the older brothers they had missed out on.
At first my mother-in-law expected us to live as a family unit, cooking together in the outside kitchen and eating together around her dining table. She was so proud of her united family, boasting to friends that we all 'ate out of one pot'. Poor K was sitting right in the middle of this pot which was ready to blow. For a while we did cook and eat all together but the foreign daughter-in-law soon rebelled.
I wanted my own cuisine. Shephards pie, chicken cooked without lemon juice and no extra oil, curry, savoury rice, coleslaw, chutney, all totally unknown to greeks then. I just started doing my own cooking and for a while K would eat downstairs and then come up to eat with us. It all came to a head one day when we prepared to eat downstairs with all the family and I took down a dish of rice. M-in-law complained that the rice was undercooked (not mushy) and she got the plate thrown at her. From then on we were on our own.
We all got over that as families should and she continued feeding the girls when she could and would often send up some delicacy for K. My father-in-law suffered a stroke and had to be looked after by all of us. We came together as a family and I was immersed in the lore of the island.
My father-in-law died soon after we settled in. Death was 'hands on' and an occasion for all of the family to mourn together. The open coffin stayed in the house overnight, the coffin lid outside on the road for all to know that inside was a place of mourning. All the family, friends and neighbours gathered from far and wide. The courtyard was full all night as people came and went. We served them coffee, wine, ouzo, and hard tack till the sun rose again.
Inside the house the old aunts wailed and cried until the sun went down. The dead had to be buried within 24 hours and everyone came to say goodbye, tell an anecdote, fall weeping on the corpse, this completely covered in strong smelling flowers. Outside they told tall tales, mostly about the deceased and many a time the mourners had to be hushed for laughing too loudly or becoming too passionate about politics or football.
I should have dressed in black for a year after the death, but I didn't.
I learnt what was appropriate to do on a saints day, cook, clean and serve. No ironing, sewing, knitting, washing or bathing. I climbed up to small churches and stood piously outside while the priest droned on, but didn't join the line afterwards to kiss his hand and receive a piece of blessed loaf. I tried crossing myself and kissing icons but felt that was going a tad too far. Lighting a candle or two is more my style and now I disappear outside to some comfortable wall and settle down to await the end of the service.
I helped mother-in-law take the sourdough loaves to the local bakery and haul them home again. She always made enough for a couple of weeks. The first day the bread was fragrant and soft and we would dip slices in olive oil. Baking day was also the day for a pot of yellow split peas (pease pudding). We used the bread as a shovel to eat this soft mushy 'soup'.
The first press of the year's oil meant 'tiganites' (greek pancakes) fried in the fresh oil with sugar or honey and my mother-in-law made the best fried potatoes I have ever eaten. She had a battered little pot filled with olive oil and fried the chips on a little gas burner outside in the cooking shed. They were always, crispy, full of flavour and in great demand by the grandchildren.
I wasn't expected to pick olives thank goodness. I had two children to look after.
Of course it wasn't all rosey and I dug my heels in where I could. The house was far too small for a family of four. Two bedrooms and a balcony we covered over to make into a small 'sitting' room.The extended family wandered in and out.
Mother-in-law was still anxious that her only son had not married a bride with an appropriate dowry and would call us in now and again telling me that she had found a wonderful piece of land, with olive trees, a bargain, and I must phone my brothers immediately and tell them to buy it for me.
I survived forty years in this country and am no longer quite a foreigner but am definitely not a local. Which is why my blog is called local-alien. When that song came out my daughters delightedly dedicated it to me and we sang it together with gusto
'I don't drink coffee, I take tea my dear
I like my toast done on one side
and you can hear it in my accent when I talk
I'm an englishman in New York
I'm an alien
I'm a legal alien'