By Alvin Alexsi Currier
Years ago when I was a college Chaplain, a young girl eagerly sought me out at the end of the summer vacation. During the vacation she had traveled to Greece. Her grandparents had come from Greece. In the spring as she was planning the trip she had confided in me that she wanted to visit the village of her grandparents. Her parents discouraged her from traveling alone so far up into the remote mountains of northern Greece. She asked my advice. I encouraged her. After she returned this is the story she had to tell.
“After getting off the bus I spent most of the morning trudging up a dusty, winding, dirt road, past isolated farmhouses until in the blazing noonday sun the cluster of squat blindingly white buildings that made up the village appeared. I lost all my courage. I had to force myself to move. I couldn’t see a soul. I finally made it right into the midst of the buildings and only then did a young man about my age appear. In astonishment he studied me, my little backpack, and my western clothes. He addressed me with a blast of Greek. His eyes widened as he realized that I didn’t speak Greek. I pointed a finger at myself and announced the name of my grandparents. Again his eyes widened even further in astonishment. He repeated my grandparents name in a voice that sounded like a thunderclap. In a sudden flood of Greek, punctuated with the repeated mentions of my grandparents name, he indicated that I was to wait right there.
He ran away. I stood in the middle of the road in the middle of the village. Curious villagers began to appear, at a distance, but in a circle all around me. I could hear a murmur of conversation. “I stood there and waited and waited. I was terrified. I wanted to cry. I wanted to faint but I couldn’t. Then, at the far end of the street, a dozen or so people appeared with the young man. I can’t describe them all but in the center was an old man in a wrinkled suit. He was obviously an important person. His face was weathered and his eyes were intense. He walked right up to me and the crowd folded in around me. He spoke in a commanding voice and from somewhere an English translation appeared.
I showed him my passport and explained to the translator that my grandparents had come from this village. A great buzz of excitement passed through the crowd. He asked my grandfathers name and when I answered there were gasps. When he asked about my grandmother it was the same, but when he asked about my father and mother my answers were met with stony silence. Next the old man walked to within inches of my face, and spoke in short strong sentences of Greek that hit me in translation as follows.
“Your grandfather and your grandmother were born in this village.”
He took a long pause before saying deliberately and emphatically: “But they left this village and never came back.”
It seemed to me that he shouted the words: ’never came back.’
His flashing eyes stared at me as he continued.
“Your father was born to a father and to a mother that came from this village, but he never came back.”
Again he seemed to shout the last words: ‘never came back.’
Then everything happened all at once. He started to speak again. His voice was low and soft. I heard a murmur in the crowd. People started to cross themselves. Then a wailing began. I was terrified. Then I noticed that the old man’s eyes were filled with tears. The English translation drifted into my consciousness as he embraced me and kissed me on both cheeks.
“But you, my child, you have come back, you have come back, we are your family, this is your village, this is your home, you belong here, welcome, welcome, welcome home.”
The young woman ended her story with vivid vignettes of the days that followed as she experienced the village that would now be hers forever.