Monday, May 25, 2015

The Two Drachma Coin

I would like to share with you some meaningful stories from my childhood years. I grew up with my older sister in the poor neighborhoods of Sykies[1]. My father's wages were not enough, and, sometimes even nonexistent. Our meals were very frugal, but blessed. We were forced to work from an early age because of our poverty. We never had our own home, and we were forced to move many times, like gypsies.

Every Sunday morning my sister and I would wait on the balcony for the koulouri [a bagel like or ring-shaped bread roll covered with sesame seeds, often sold in the street] man to pass by. We were so eager to get our beloved koulouri, which would quickly disappear in a glass of hot milk. It was such a great joy knowing I had a koulouri and not just stale bread. I wouldn’t even allow a sesame seed to go to waste.

From a young age, my mother would send me by bus to the village market to pick up a few last minute necessities. As an avid shopper, I always managed to have some spare change left, so that I could treat myself to marbles and soccer cards[2]. While returning, a little before reaching the bus terminal, I would encounter beggars on the street. There was a blind man who would play the accordion. A few meters further down, there was a little old lady in rags, further down a paralytic, and further yet, a lady who was nursing her little infant. I still remember that I would look at her somewhat perplexed. As I was waiting for the bus, I couldn’t help to think about all these poor beggars. I felt much pain and sadness in my childhood soul. Many times I wanted to cry and would tell myself, “Aren’t you ashamed to take the bus while this lady doesn’t even have money to buy milk for her little child?” So, I would go to give this lady a two drachma coin [my bus fair], when no one could see me. This gave me so much joy that the half an hour uphill walk to Sykies, didn’t bother me at all. I had so much joy in me that I would walk, often having to pull my underwear up, because as usual the band was broken, and the underwear would fall below my shorts. This didn’t even faze me because I knew that in my childhood innocence, I did what dear Christ wanted. When I arrived home, I wouldn’t say anything to anyone.

The next time I'd go down to the market, I profited again a two drachma coin from my avid shopping. I remember one day I went to a kiosk. I lifted my little legs on a stool because I couldn’t reach the counter, and I said, “Sir, can you please change this, into four half drachma coins?” After this maneuver, I felt richer because I could distribute all four half drachma coins to the four beggars, and this was a great accomplishment in my childhood soul’s innocence. The joy was fourfold. The band was still broken on my underwear. I did not care, however, as long as the girl I had a crush on would not see me on the way, so I would become the laughing stock of the neighborhood. My joy was so great that I saw the uphill walk as a level road.

I remember wearing the blue and white uniforms[3], during the first grades of elementary school. Every Wednesday morning our whole school would go to church. At the time of the Divine Liturgy, I would lift up my eyes upward to the saints and ask a different favor from each one of them. “You, my saint, go and guard my uncle with the sheep." Another saint I would tell to go to my uncle who was at the fields. Another one, I would ask to go to my grandfather and grandmother, whom I loved very much. I would ask another one to go to the poor beggars at the Sykies bus terminal because I hadn’t gone there in quite a while to leave the two drachma coin. Where wouldn’t I send the saints every Wednesday! I wouldn’t forget anyone. I would lift up my little eyes and pray. Tears would come into my eyes, and I didn’t know why. I would wipe them quickly, so my fellow students wouldn’t see me and make fun of me. Before you know it little Thanasi grew up. He started his own family, changed quite a few jobs, and for many years now, he has been making ends meet driving a taxi [around Thessaloniki as he does to this day].

[1] Sykies is located about twenty miles north of Thessaloniki.

[2] The equivalent of baseball cards in Greece since soccer is the most popular European sport.

[3] Patriotic colors of Greece.
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