The Cost of Peace
This issue, and the article I wrote about the military service of my papoudes and my father (“War and Remembrance”), remind me of the perilous times they lived in and how courageous they were to plunge into the abyss when they were barely in their twenties and had practically never left their mountain villages.
Suddenly they were in the nightmare of war, up in mountains, down in ditches, with no comfort except the letters from home, which reminded them of a world that must have seemed like a mirage. I remember my grandfather’s foot locker from the Balkan war, with all its rusted hinges and its canvas strap still intact, and the smell inside of rusted metal and old correspondence, and the occasional battle ribbon, all blue, or green, or red, with its lurid festiveness.
Or, as I mentioned in the article, the housing of the cannon shells that my father brought back from the front, beautiful and gleaming-gold: instruments of death that now housed instruments of life: wheat stalks.
I remember him telling me a story about a woman in Thessaloniki that all the university students liked him loved, because she was pretty, of course, but also vivacious, and flirty, and dressed well. And how she was reduced to the pitiful woman in the street with her hair shaved and her clothes torn as she fled from a mob in the street that had attacked her because she had conspired with the Germans.
“I’ll never forget sights like that,” my father said.
Or the master sergeant who served under him, who was also his friend, and “sinomilikos,” Dimitris Touloumides, who lost his life on the front on the very night he was due to visit his wife and infant daughter after my father got him his first leave.
“We talked that night like we had all the time in the world,” my father said. “He told me he wasn’t afraid of death. But, of course, he was, and so was I. You were afraid every hour you were up there. And when you came back, you could never forget that feeling.”
My father talked about his war experiences, but never glorified them: he had endured a civil war, where friends and family and foes were intermingled. You never knew who might kill you. He remembers the village priest who betrayed them. He remembers the young “antarta” girl with the cartridge belts strapped proudly across her chest. He remembers the hunt, that became a joke, when they chased after a chicken for food. He remembers the bodies of the young men after a firefight, with their cheeks still pink, and their chins sprouting their first “moustahia.”
“And all the photographs in their pockets,” he said.
He carried photographs of his parents and my mother and my sister in his knapsack.
“And every night when I came back from patrol, I looked at them again,” he said. “Just like I saw them for the first time.”
Let’s remember the courage, this month of OXI, of all fighting men and women, who risked their lives to save this country and mother Greece.