-Δε θα νάρτου αύριγιου στν’ κκλησιά, the old lady, of northern Greek extraction informed her friend after the Saturday liturgy.

– Γιατί καλέ; Αύριο έχει μνημόσυνο, her Peloponnesian friend replied.

– Αύριγιου είνι τσ’ μάδας κι θα μι βγάν’νι όξου.

-Τι; Θα σε μαδήσουν και θα σε βγάλουν έξω; her friend asked, in complete shock.

All the secular holidays of our adopted homeland generally leave us indifferent, save for the Melbourne Cup holiday and Mother’s Day, which although celebrated on a different date than the rest of the world, has been adopted most enthusiastically by our entire tribe.

All of my close friends are called George and this is deliberate, because I have a very poor memory and uniformity creates ease of reference. George the elder, who is most devout, opines that our adulation of our Mothers is not an adopted Australian custom but one that has its roots deep in our people’s psyche, somehow connected to our deep reverence for the Panayia, and before that, of the various Mother Goddesses of times ancient and obscure. Mother’s Day, in his household, commences in this fashion:

George to his wife: “Happy Mother’s Day love. Thanks for our beautiful family.”

George’s wife to George: “Thanks. Where is my present?”

George: “What present? The kids have got you presents.”

George’s wife: “Yeah, but what about you? Where is your present?”

George: “But you’re not my mother.”

George’s wife (triumphantly): “Finally, after so many years, you’ve got it.”

George the second hails from the shady groves of Elis and he is the apple of his mother’s eye. When stereotyping Greek mothers, he points to stock phrases such as: “Have you eaten? Eat, you are too skinny, Πάρε το μπουφάν γιατί θα κρυώσεις αγόρι μου, and of course «μη σηκώνεσαι, θα σου το φέρω εγώ” to illustrate just how in thrall to their male progeny, they are. He employs these phrases also to indicate that this level of self-negating devotion could never be obtained from a romantic partner, because there is nothing like a Greek mother’s love. George, now approaching his fifth decade, is unmarried and though his mother periodically falls upon her octogenarian feet begging him to find a wife, this pursuit is fraught with danger, for after rising from the floor to sit upon the couch, she informs him that the modern woman is only interested in spending his hard earned money on getting her nails done and will “eat” his, or rather his parents’ periousia. Despite his close relationship with his mother, George is independent. He lives two houses away in a brick veneer home that his father built as an investment and visits his mother only in the evenings in order to eat and provide her with clothes to wash, which is very important for her mental health as she is retired and it is important to remain active. George’s mother is also respectful of boundaries, and will only go over to his once a day to clean, while he is at work.

George the third comes from Northern Greece and laughs derisively at George the second’s description of his filial relationship, considering those from the south soft and dangerously sentimental. In place of the martyr mother, he postulates the monocrat matriarch whose steely visage inspires terror and whose word is law. To this effect, he has compiled a stock decalogue of classic maternal phrases that suggest to us that in terms of parenting, it is the thought, not the delivery, that counts.

1. Ωχ να σ’ είχα κάν’ σκατά καλύτερα.

2.Ω ξυλιάσου και ξερώσου.

3. Θα σ’ δώκω τα δόντια σ’ να τα φας για στραγάλια.

4. Σήκω μη σε σαβανώσω.

5. Ουι νά κλεινα τα πόδια’μ την ώρα που σι γένναγα.

6. Φάε μη σε φάει η λέπρα.

7. Ντερλίκωνε, μη σι πάρ κι σι σκώς νεφταρσμένο.

8. -Θα το ξανακάνεις; -Όχι. -Οχιά να σε φάει.

9. (Spoken during a Greek dance when there was «ντίσκο για την νεολαία») Τι τουρλώνς τον κώλο σ’ κι τανιέσαι σαν τσιουπροθήλυκο;

10. Πώς θες να την φας; Απ’ την ανάποδ’ για απ’ την καλή;

Mother’s Day was always a perennial source of dread for George the third as try as he might, he could never get the requisite gift, quite right, which is a problem as it is his mother’s considered opinion that a son should know exactly what his mother wants, otherwise he either does not care, does not take the maternal bond seriously or is just plain stupid. Many is the time where visiting his mother on Mother’s Day in order to offer moral support, I have seen her fling the proffered present across the other side of the room, only to invariably land in a pot plant, screeching:

-Σε πήρε πολλή ώρα να σκεφτείς να μου αγοράσεις αυτή την βλακεία;

Then turning to me, the inevitable question:

– Συ τι πήρες τσ’ μάνα’ς.

– Τίποτα θεια. Της έσκαψα τον κήπο, I would lie, shamelessly.

– Μπράβο εσύ είσι άνθρουπους, όχι σαν αυτόν το χαϊβάν’ εδώ.

George refuses to go attend therapy, ostensibly because he holds that therapy is a western construct that does not lend itself to an adequate correspondence with the eastern mind. Funnily enough, his mother absolutely loves the presents his wife gets her for Mother’s Day. Unwrapping them, she always exclaims: «Α νάις, νάις» before turning to George, impaling him with her gaze and then muttering under her breath: «Αυτή το διάλεξε; Καλά το κατάλαβα», before filing them away in the drawer where all her Mother’s Day presents are archived, unused and which she takes out once in a while when she thinks no one is looking, touches them lovingly, before putting them back in their places.

Sojourning in a shopping area frequented by Greeks, I have been privileged to overhear these conversations evidencing preparations for Greek Australian Mother’s Day

– Mum what do you want for Mother’s day?


– Εγώ; Τι θέλω εγώ; Εγώ που σου τα έδωσα όλα; Πού θυσίασα τα νειάτα μου για να σε μεγαλώσω, να σε σπουδάσω, Τι θα μπορούσες να μου έδινες εσύ που σου πλένω ακόμη τα σώβρακα; Τίποτα. Να ακούς τη μάνα σου θέλω. Να σταματήσεις να είσαι γάιδαρος θέλω. Να γίνεις άνθρωπος. Αλλά σε ποιον τα λέω; Σε κάνα γηροκομείο θα καταλήξω…..αχαΐρευτε, αχάριστε, άσπλαχνε, άει χάσου από τα μάτια μου που θες και μαδεσντέι. Να ξεμαδεστώ να ησυχάσω..

Then there is this:

– Mum we are going out to Brunetti’s for Mother’s Day.

– Τι θα πει Ουι; Με ποιους;

– With Giovanni’s mum, she is coming as well.

– Τι δουλειά έχω εγώ με τους μακαρονάδες στο Πουρνέτι. Για δε καθόμαστε στο σπίτι να φάμε το πουρνό;

– Come on mum, it’s Mother’s Day. I’ll get you a chai latte.

– Τι μάδες ντάι και μαδέρια, που να με μαδήσουν οι τέσσερις; Ένα τσαί του βουνού δωσ’ μου με δηλητήριο να φύγω μιαν ώρα νωρίτερα που με ποτίζεις φαρμάκι από τα γεννοφάσκια σου. Άσε με εδώ να βρωμίσω. Για δε μου λες, το ταγιέρ το μπλε να φορέσω;

And of course this:

-Μαμά, είμαστε καλεσμένοι όλοι στης πεθεράς μου για το Mother’s Day.

-Γιατί; Δεν έχεις εσύ μάνα και πρέπει να πας αλλού;

-Come on mum, we came to you last year. Now it’s Soula’s turn. She has a mum to you know. Come with us. I’m sure she will not mind.

– Καλύτερα να φάω σκατά, παρά από την κουζίνα αυτής της βρώμας που καθαρίζει κάθε δεύτερο Πάσχα η χολεριασμένη. Αλλά καλά να πάθω που γέννησα τον έχθρο μου. Σύρε στην πεθερά σου βρε άχρηστε. Τον πατέρα σου έμοιασες. Δεν είσαι άντρας….

In past years my own children were not convinced that we celebrate Mother’s Day. Their opinion was that we actually celebrated Grandmother’s Day since we tended to place all our emphasis upon them. This changed only on last year’s Mother’s Day. Lying on the couch, emaciated and thoroughly ill while enmeshed in the throes of chemotherapy, my youngest daughter regarded her mother in silence for what seemed an age. Then turning to me, she whispered: «Μπαμπά, θα πεθάνει η μαμά;»

At that moment all the lives of all the important women in my life coalesced and flowed as one, a viscous current of sacrifice, generosity and overwhelming love, through my entire being. As my wife smiled at us, I could not tell whether that smiled belonged to my great-grandmother, my grandmother, my mother, my mother-in-law, or her. What I did know however, is that as omnipresent as the sun as mothers are, there will come a time when we will have to live in the shadow of their passing, and try to find meaning in a life lived without those who granted it to us. There is nothing I fear more in the world.

«Σιγά μη μας αφήσει ήσυχους,» I snorted, turning my face away in order to hide my tears.

Rather than permitting us to take her out on Mother’s Day, my mother insists on inviting us all to lunch at her house instead, for in her mind a commemoration so intimate only belongs to the initiated. What always ensues in the family hearth, for her culinary skills cannot be surpassed, is a feast elaborate and intricate, involving an innumerable number of courses all of which have symbolic and thematic meaning and an interminable recounting of the memories of all the mother figures who occupy our ancestral pantheon. It was my sister’s first Mother’s Day this year and as I watched my wife, her face beaming, scoop up my niece in her arms and twirl her around the room, causing her to squeal with delight, and my daughters brace in anticipation of avoiding ensuing projectiles, I was granted a vision of seeing them, when I am long gone, seated at the head of their own tables, whispering as my mother was doing to my father in sheer triumph, something my great-grandmother had whispered to her on her hundredth birthday: «Αυτοί όλοι που κάθονται σ’αυτό το τραπέζι είναι δικοί μου».

For that is exactly who we are.