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Panagiota Tsetsakos

My Family History

By: Panagiota Tsetsakos

College Now Course - BSS 1

The sun penetrates through the window making soft ripples of multi- colored light on the sheer, navy curtains of his bedroom. My grandfather slowly rises from his slumber and eagerly reaches out to stretch his aching joints and muscles. His life as a child had been difficult; it had been marked by heart wrenching torture of innumerable hardships. His heart had been stained with countless tears of pain, with excessive agony, with unbearable loss, but now he is jubilant, waking up to the smiles of his beloved children and grandchildren. However, he cannot forget his past because it has molded him into the illustrious man he is today. My grandfather Christos is a man of cunning intelligence, umpteen affection, and a zealous passion for life.

Christos had been born into a penurious family of eight children, many of which were left lifeless due to the hardships of the depression. His parents were farmers, but the crop during the years of desolation had left them in a state of melancholia. Once a week, his father went to the agora in Athens to sell whatever fruits he had cultivated with his bare, calloused hands, promising to bring the children fresh bread for supper. However, his father had failed to peddle his crop because the suffering people of Greece could no longer afford to buy the necessities for survival. Everyday was a battle, a battle with endless struggling to ascend from the plague of starvation and privation. That night father told his children that the loaf of bread he had purchased was stolen by thieves while he was waiting for the bus to arrive. Christos knew his father had lied, but he also understood the grave difficulty that overwhelmed his family. Nevertheless, he sat by the ancient fig tree and silently wept to relieve his sorrow, praying that one day his family would bask in the wonderful gifts that life had to offer.

All hope deteriorated with the outbreak of W orld War II. The Germans raided mainland Greece and burned the major cities, raping the helpless women and killing whomever they pleased. The poverty-stricken Greeks found refuge in the mountains and adopted guerilla warfare tactics in order to resist their enemy. By this time, my grandfather's mother was stricken by disease, a plague unknown to them due to the lack of knowledge in the medical field. The doctor told the children and father that he could do nothing for her, that God was the only One that could possibly cure her from her ailments. Within a matter of time, mother breathed her last warm breathe of air as her children gathered around her and father affectionately caressed her pallid, lifeless hands. Her last breathe changed my grandfather's life in many ways, both mentally and physically. To Christos, mother had been his savior, his hope, his energy in a lifeless society. With his mother gone, grandfather lost a piece of his heart as well as part of his soul. The atmosphere became morose; gloominess seemed to overwhelm the children and father as grandfather was thrown into a short period of depression, just as anyone would if they had lost a loving mother. He quickly recovered though, as he came to understand that death was only the beginning of a new life, a life with God. He understood that his loving mother was now in heaven watching over him, with the same love she gave him as a child; the gratitude was seen in his swollen eyes.

A few days later, death struck his family again - this time taking the life of his father. He did not question God or even blame him because he knew that his parent's undying love destined them to die together to be reunited in heaven. Now the children were left orphaned, without the warmth, love, support, and guidance of their parents. The boys had to assume the responsibility of putting food on the table and toiled the fallow fields, while the girls stayed home to tend to the domestic chores. My grandfather was young at the time; he was only twelve years old, but he grew into the world of maturity because he had no other choice. Together with his three brothers, my grandfather worked in the scorching sun for hours that were tedious and ceaseless. However, their efforts were fruitless for with the depression came great drought. The sky, once blue and full of fervor, had now turned lurid, sapless, and arid, in turn reflecting the mood of my grandfather.

One night while grandfather and his brothers were returning home after a wearisome day in the fields, they were shocked to find a group of German soldiers pounding the fragile, rotting doors of their home. The oldest of the brothers, Spiro, politely asked the Germans to quiet down because they had frightened his beloved sisters. The Germans scoffed at his remark and instead decided to have their "fun" with Spiro, who that night died a great martyr among his countrymen. Spiro had told his other brothers, who were significantly younger than himself, to stay out of the conflict regardless of how brutal and violent it would become. The Germans began to harass Spiro, to degrade his character, to question his manhood, but he never faltered nor succumbed to their scurrilous remarks. However, it was written, it was the will of divinity, that Spiro, barely a man of twenty years, was to lose his precious life that unforgettable sinful night. The Germans, realizing that Spiro's character was much too strong for them to beat into submission, decided that the ultimate punishment was death in order to show that the Greeks were subordinate to the war machine of Hitler. The murderers tied Spiro up and without any emotion, without any remorse, without any trace of human compassion, trampled the young man with their horses. Grandfather had witnessed the murder, had witnessed the atrocious acts of evil and greed. His heart sank; Spiro had been his role model, his best friend, his caretaker. His weakened spirit suffered three losses, one after the other, but he never gave up hope. He always believed that the deaths of his loved ones would be avenged not by him, but by a higher being. The girls were devastated; Spiro's death took them by surprise. For days they sat silently, mourning the deaths of their beloved parents and dear, older brother.

Starvation dwelled among my grandfather and his siblings. Their thin, starved faces expressed great sorrow and pain. Grandfather's sister, Stavroula, had a tough decision to make. Alas, she decided to sell her portion of the family's inheritance for one meager kilogram of oil. Instead of tearing the family apart, starvation and depression wove the family closer together as they all made sacrifices to help each other stay alive. To show his gratification and paramount love for his sister, Grandfather saved enough money within two years to send Stavroula to Paris in order to study the trade of the beautician. She placed her belongings and boarded the airplane which secured her future, which helped make her dreams reality. Grandfather was happy knowing that his beloved sister was given the opportunity to excel, to become someone worthy, to perhaps elevate the status of the family. Along with the rest of his brothers and sisters, he waited for the safe return of Stavroula. The war had finally ended now. The Allies had finally reached the mainland and the Nazis retreated. The pain, the sorrow, the despair, gradually disappeared from the weary hearts of grandfather and his siblings. The girls had reached the fruitful age of marriage and one by one she left her childhood memories behind and started a new life.

While working in the fields one lazy afternoon, grandfather happened to see a beautiful young women of about sixteen years laboring beside her father. It was love at first sight and grandfather proclaimed to his brothers that he would marry her and nourish her illuminating beauty. Her name was Angeliki, derived from the Archangel Michael - a name which suited her angelic movement and graceful manner. That same night, Christos went to her home and asked for her hand in marriage. They looked absolutely beautiful together - a breath taking union of two amazing souls. They lived in grandfather's childhood home and together they worked in a perfect balance between man and woman, between husband and wife. The love that they had was profound and they found the happiness that was kept from them within each other. Any obstacle, any hardship, any difficulty could be overcome, could be vanquished - their love the ultimate weapon to keep them alive.

Grandfather was a well-known man throughout his village. Ever since he was young, grandfather was known for his stunningly gorgeous voice, sharp wit, and extraordinary skills at a Greek dance known as zembekiko. Wherever he went a crowd followed as he revealed his inner passion, his inner thoughts through his song and dance. He was asked to sign contracts to record an album, but he refused because he believed in a humble life. Christos told the record label representative that if he sold his song he would be prostituting himself into the music business, therefore losing all the zeal and passion that thrived inside him. His sharp wit and cunning intelligence attracted even more people to him. Although he wasn't priviliged to finish his education, he always excelled, especially in mathematics. He was thus given the nickname of "the Teacher". Younger men and even older men called him "the Teacher" and treated him with the utmost respect. His home was never empty, but rather full of life, full of people who were honored to be in his presence and who sought his advice.

Now grandfather is still known as "the Teacher". Although the years have passed, the wrinkles on his face the evidence of his legendary journey, he is still the same man he was forty and fifty years ago. His smile, brighter than sun, illuminates the darkest of moods. His sharp wit can outsmart anyone who tries to fool him, but furthermore his undying love for his children and grandchildren captivates the hearts of everyone. My grandfather is my hero, my role model, my everything. May he always be healthy for many years to come because it would be an honor for him to meet my future family someday.