It was an impromptu two-month visit to Greece that forced me to truly realise how much I value the presence of my mother.
My parents had been umming and ahhing about whether or not to go to Greece that year, and made the snap decision to go while I was on a mini getaway to Vietnam. By the time I returned they were already in mountainous Thrace, lunching in the sun with relatives and childhood friends.
Despite having lived out of home for the past 10 years or so, I still have a key to their house, the landline still saved as ‘home’ in my phone, so one day I decided to head on over. Truth be told, I was missing them, but I came up with an excuse to myself of ‘checking on the plants, and airing the house’, or something along those lines.
I will forever remember the feeling of walking into that empty house; devoid of all signs of life, cold – admittedly it was July in Melbourne – but not only in the sense of temperature.
You see, mum and dad have essentially been living ‘childless’ for many years, but you’d never know it. The fridge is always full to the brim, as though mum is hosting a banquet for guests daily, and I can’t remember a time when delicious aromas, no matter the time of day, weren’t wafting through the house, whether it be a freshly-baked revani or a batch of kourabiedes.
A good friend of mine will never forget that one time when we were 18 and got home in the wee hours after a night out to find my mum awake in the kitchen, and her offer to cook chicken schnitzels, with all the trimmings.
“Thelete na sas ftiaxo kati? You have to eat something! You can’t go to bed on an empty stomach.”
She couldn’t imagine her own mum doing that, and still recalls the gesture to this day – something that I took for granted as the norm.
So on that cold Melbourne day, I wandered through the empty house, up the stairs to my parents’ bedroom, and was surprised by the feeling of loss, and nostalgia, that overcame me.
Despite having willingly left home (to my parent’s horror) at the age of 18 to pursue my bohemian dream, here I was, for the first time, the one left behind. I am known to be dramatic at the best of times, but this is honestly how it felt.
I wasn’t entirely alone of course. I am the youngest of three siblings. But it was dawning on me; one lives abroad, and while the other lives locally, we had not made the effort to see one another. A text here and there, but it just wasn’t the same.
Is this what it would be like once my parents pass on?
I realised that they are the glue, and as in the case of many households, mainly mum. She is our main meeting point. And not just because she is a mum. It’s her character, her way of being, that attracts us.
Her life story is one that is fairly common among Greek migrants to Australia.
Stavroula Tsirtsakis (nee Gialamatzis) was born in 1958, and was forced to leave little of monetary wealth behind, but so much of sentimental value in her beloved village of Kotronia to migrate to Australia during the 70s with her parents and siblings in tow at the tender age of 12.
Enrolled in school, she recalls a culture shock of epic proportions, thrust into a foreign environment, not speaking a word of English. But she managed to make it through, going on to study at a technical college, before entering the workforce to work in retail, factories, or both simultaneously. Her work ethic was typical of the time; she worked hard, and gave herself to the job no matter what it was – she’s not one for ego. But whatever she has done in life, she has done it so well. I remember seeing her at work one day, watching her from afar, in her element, a professional at customer service, when such things were valued in the industry, and before people and that human touch were replaced by technology and dwindling budgets.
By 18 she was a wife and a mother, going on to have three children.
Now at 59, she is a proud grandmother of three, and her days are filled with her passions: cooking, and looking after those she loves most; while her children may be grown up, she says we will always be her ‘babies’.
She has a way of making those who come into her life feel comfort, at ease, always up for a chat, reserving judgement wherever possible (mind you, she always ends up being right), and now looks after the next generation, and the one before her, her father aged 90.
With Mother’s Day coming up, I thought this year it would be nice to do something special, proposing the idea of taking her out for a nice breakfast or lunch. She was, unsurprisingly, apprehensive.
“Oh Anastasia, you know how I am … I’d prefer you all come here! Why don’t I cook something? What would you like? I can make your favourites.”
Inclined to argue, this time I took a step back, and realised that that’s what has always made her mum.
We live in an age where women are made to feel guilty; if you are too giving, too self-less, when it comes to your children you’re coddling them. Take some time for yourself they say. But not too much time that it borders on selfishness.
I grew up with all the opportunities imaginable afforded to me thanks to my working-class parents; mum always encouraged me to develop grand dreams about what I could achieve in life. But I misinterpreted that, leading myself to have little appreciation for things like having a partner, a family, a decent job – all that wouldn’t be enough; surely there was more.
But as time goes on, my eyes have been opened to what is before me.
While my mother may have lived an unremarkable life, she is the embodiment of the adage that “people will never forget how you made them feel”. There is something to be taken away from her pursuit of meaning in the simple, everyday gestures – alas even her love of cooking for another on what is meant to be her special day.
Soon after my mum’s own mother Anastasia passed away, I remember her saying “H mana einai mono mia“. You can say that again.
Happy Mother’s Day to my mum, and all the other strong women out there, who hold an equally special place in someone’s life.