A Pan-Hellenic trinket, designed to mollify the curious, was given to me by a shadowy agency of relatives of the unknown passing in the night.
The trinket is a translucent diorama of my grandfathers’ Diner, 2’’ long, 1’’ wide, to fit on a key chain or small novelty display shelf.
As if under a microscope, the chronological history of Panayiotis Konstantinos Stratigakis is visible through the roof of the miniature diner. Doric pillars on rows of coffee cups vanish in the horizon of countertop covered with displays of spanakopita, kalamata olive feta cheese salads and baklava.
When I shake the diner in my fist, tiny figurines of my grandfather light up, linking arms in a sirtaki dance accompanied by the sounds of a tiny red bazouki player. Valiantly flashing neon lights of blue and white striped patterns of the Greek flag move up and down. The diner, highlighting his personal and national history.
At the front entrance of the diner, stands the rocky terrain Of the Pelloponnesian peninsula where my ancestors have lived for thousands of years. There’s 400 years of Ottoman rule, subjugation and bloodshed between Greek and Turk. A Greek ancestors’ gold sword slashing the carotid artery of an Ottoman overlord glows like a beacon of hope, heralding the victory of the Greek war of Independence. The port of Piraeus, from where my grandfather sailed to America is then visible, followed by a heroic image of my grandfather as a tall handsome young man setting foot on American soil for the first time. His rapid rise in socioeconomic class represented by the the elite prep schools where he sent his promising sons. An honorable image of Panayiotis in middle age as a pillar of the community, a leader in the Greek Orthodox
Church glows, emitting rays of light in the middle of the diner.
Suddenly I notice there’s evidence of tampering in the diner diorama. Tiny diagonal fissures crisscross the clear lucite windows and roof, where significant parts of my grandfathers’ history had been removed. Paid off micro vandals with precision saws cut out slices of his life, hushed up buried secrets were blurred, then erased. Walls of shame pancaked on top of each other, horrid character flaws were sugar coated and thus rendered innocuous. The inflamed canker sores jutting from my grandfathers’ conscience, were filed down with chisels then surgically excised. The crater scars remaining were spackled over with dreamy blue tourist’ brochure views of the Aegean Sea.
I attempt to return my pan Hellenic trinket to the agency of unknown relatives, to show them the evidence of tampering, to retrieve the missing slices of my grandfathers’ life, to get a refund or replacement diner diorama, however the agency of unknown relatives were nowhere to be found.
But soon in the gray dawn of an early spring morning, the missing slices of my grandfathers’ life were revealed. Over the cooing of a sandalwood morning dove, could be heard the voice of my grandfather anglicizing his last name to Sherwood because Stratigakis sounded too much like Streptococcus. “Streptogakis” had associations which were not good for business. Or he was hiding, and wanted to vanish without a trace. Elusive and transient as the wind. In the lucidity of the first light of the day, floating on the breeze, was a vision of my grandfathers’ swarthy muscular body enveloping my pale 15 year old grandmother, a non-Greek girl. It was mere sport to take the girls’ virginity, but when she got pregnant, my grandfather vanished and was never heard from ever again. My teenaged grandmother was burdened with an illegitimate child she never wanted. My mother had Greek features, swarthy skin, dark eyes and hair, like her father. She grew up fatherless in poverty.
Then it occurred to me to ask Panayiotis Stratigakis
“where was your democracy then?”
And to ask
“how do you reconcile being a pillar of your community with being a deadbeat and statutory rapist?”
But my grandfather was long gone like my mother into the eternal beyond.
Someone had to bear witness for my mother, because no-one else cared or remembered. And I realized that I was Greek by ill gotten gains. A grandfather who didn’t acknowledge his own daughter, my mother.
As I was the grandson of a statutory rapist, son of a bastard, the dishonor Panayiotis cast on my mother was too much to bear. In a misguided attempt at rectification, I got between many macho Greeks and their wives and daughters, provoking them to “fight me like a man”
But the dishonor Panayiotis cast on my mother and her memory, still lingered.
The Pan-Hellenic trinket felt infinitely light on my key chain. But it was heavy with my mothers’ unresolved conflicts. I felt burdened by the weight of it.
The trinket was a family heirloom, something as rare as a comet that passes by only every 10,000 years. But I had the need to be rid of it, it didn’t mollify my curiosity as the agency of unknown relatives had intended.
To break free of the curse afflicting my family, restore my mothers’ honor and undo the defilement of my own blood, I cupped the trinket in my left hand and cast it with all my might, high into the sky, the trinket traveling far, vanishing from sight over the Peloponnesian peninsula in Greece where my ancestors have lived for thousands of years.
“Greek in the wind” (C) 2020
By Richard Gessner
Richard Gessner’s fiction has been published in Air Fish: an anthology of speculative work, Rampike, Ice River, Coe Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Happy, The Act, Sein und Werden, Skidrow Penthouse, The Pannus Index, Fiction International and many other magazines. A collection, Excerpts from the Diary of a Neanderthal Dilettante & The Man in the Couch was published by Bomb Shelter Props. Gessner’s drawings and paintings have appeared in Raw Vision, Courier News, Asbury Park Press, Rampike, Skidrow Penthouse, and exhibited at Pleiades Gallery, Hamilton Street Gallery, Cry Baby Gallery, The Court Gallery and the Donald B. Palmer Museum. Richard wrote The Conduit and Other Visionary Tales of Morphing Whimsy. He lives in Montclair, New Jersey.
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