My Greek grandmother, a powerful, very generous woman, who has traveled all over the world, now brought us bread and buns every morning, did not go anywhere other than from the house to the market and from the market back to home and she could not understand why we, her grandchildren, were all day “tsuk-tsuk” (her imitating the sound of the buttons), playing with those screens (meaning our mobile phones).
My grandmother, for many, many years, talked to us about the Stavros (an area in northern Greece) and we were all bored when the story of the Stavros began again and again. From the story, we remembered only two words “the Stavros” and “the guerrillas”, and nothing more.
Do you have such a grandmother in the family? Or a grandpa?…
But let me come back, because it is worth it, and tell you about the story of the Stavros. The story of the Stavros, takes place around 1948-1949, during the Greek Civil War. My grandmother was the third child, in a family of six with 4 children, and was then around 14 years old. They lived meagerly while hunger was a daily part of their lives. She describes to me that they collected dry grass and leaves from the side of the road, sawdust, tree bark and ground it to make something, almost edible, like bread. She shows me black-and-white, very old photos of her little brother, thin and hungry, and describes how she used to catch him looking for food and picking moldy bread crumbs from the empty bread case with his little finger. She describes to me the only clothing item she loved so much because she had bought it herself. It was a knitted cardigan, which she only wore on exceptional occasions.
The story of the Stavros takes place on the one day that was etched in her memory more than any other during the civil war. That day, the guerrillas knocked on the wooden door of their family house. Upon entering, they found only her and her little brother (6-7 years old) and asked her to follow them. She was old enough while her brother was still too young to endure the long journey in the mountains. After that, they started to climb the mountain and my grandmother followed them, wearing her favorite knitted cardigan over a thin dress. Suddenly, a few meters away, she heard her little brother behind her shouting her name. “His words”, she told me, “are something I will never forget”.
“What do you want;” I asked him. “I want you to give me your cardigan,” he answered. It was a cold winter morning and he was dressed lightly with open slippers on his feet, she describes.
“But I will go up to the mountains. It’s very cold. I will freeze.”, she told him.
“Yes, but either way you are going to die with them.” he said to her with tears in his eyes “Give it to me because I am cold.”
My grandmother gave him her cardigan because she felt sorry for him and continued the long walk to the mountains, in a worn, thin dress, following the guerrillas to the area of Stavros (approx. 16 km), until the night came. My grandmother describes that the night was difficult for her. However, under the pretext that she needed to go to the toilet, she managed to escape in the night and by running and stumbling upon mountain rocks, she managed to find her way back. This is the story of the Stavros (sparing some of the details). My grandmother’s eyes fill with tears when she tells this story. But, isn’t it very moving?
At one point, over the years, it came up to me that my grandmother was telling the same stories again and again but still, I never sat down to listen to them. I felt bad. So, one day I told her I would dedicate as much time as she needed to listen to everything she remembered and write it all down. Her eyes lit up. She made coffee and started telling me about her memories. And those afternoons were great. I remember them and she still remembers them. Afternoons, filled with many handwritten pages, with many historical confusions and repetitions but also truths that I would never have the chance to hear again. They would all get lost along with her.
From the story of Stavros, Koulouki and all the other stories that I ignored for years but my grandmother wanted to share so much, and the similar stories of other older adults across Europe, we formed the idea of the ReMember-Me project and the ReMember-My Story platform.
The ReMember-Me project AAL-2019-6-188-CP project, funded by the EC and the AAL programme focuses on building a brain training system at home and contains many different activities and games. You can read more about the project and follow our news here: Website and here: Facebook
However, the challenge for us was that the ReMember-Me system had to have something different to succeed. It had to be tailor-made to what older adults needed. Thus, the system was designed to include the ReMember-My Story social platform that connects people who have knowledge on different topics and want to share their experiences with reputable community members who want to learn about them. Now, my grandmother will be able to tell her stories to all the people who are interested in listening to them, recording them and preserving them as part of our history.
This is my experience. The evenings with my grandmother not only taught me things about the history of my country but also influenced me years later in my work. Our grandparents were born almost a century ago. Aging makes you poorer in muscle strength and learning speed. Thus, it may be hard for them to run with their grandchildren, learn how to use computers and video games or social networks. Most of them first saw a computer as adults and find it hard to learn how to use technology now. After all, their stories show that they are already very tired in their lives. Richer or poorer, they all experienced difficulties that often, we cannot even imagine. Now they want to live calmly and peacefully. But it is this difference with the younger ones that creates a generation gap and may, at times, make them sound outdated and boring.
But aging makes you richer too. In knowledge, free time and wisdom. Our grandparents are great. As other custodians of our history, they hold testimonies and experiences that are worth learning, as long as, we put them in our family discussions and dedicate time, patience and respect to them. And if we have these three things when we communicate with them, we will be surprised by the fact that not only do they want to but also, can learn how to use computers, social networks and mobile phones. And so, we can share even more things with them.
First published in gernaoallios.gr
Wish to learn more about children during the Greek Civil War?
Read here: http://www.encephalos.gr/pdf/50-3-02e.pdf
And here: https://www.jstor.org/stable/24919715