When I had a mother, there was no Mother’s Day

When I had a mother, there was no Mother’s Day

But all my days were full of her. She would fill the space of our house in one of the suburbs north of Athens. She would always be around, mainly spending her time in the most active part of the house, the kitchen, cooking, smoking her filtered cigarettes, drinking her Turkish coffees one after the other, throwing the leftover food to our dog and the stray cats in the back garden, trying to feed my younger brother and keeping me under control because I would be spending most of my time in much more interesting places, namely in the garden or better on our street. 

My mother, like most of the women of her generation, had experienced the hunger in Athens during the Nazi occupation after 1941. She was then 20 years old. But she was among the luckier ones. Her family did not starve to death, as they were helped with foodstuffs brought to them by her mother’s village family. 

But she knew what hunger meant. She had seen many hungry people frozen to death while begging on the streets of Athens. With the cruelty of a child I used to rudely dismiss her repetitive and detailed stories of how she saw a municipal cart passing by and how some men from the municipality were picking up the dead bodies of the previous night and throwing them on the cart, piling them on top of others. 

Years later, I understood why she could not stand seeing street beggars, whom incidentally she always tipped generously. “There is nothing worse than being old and poor,” she used to tell me, while she had just given her last money to an old begging man with a huge coat on Panepistimiou Street in the center of Athens on a cold Christmas Eve day.

But like many, her family had lost all their savings - which they kept in banknotes in a big suitcase under the bed - overnight, during the galloping inflation under the Germans. Hence she lived with the deep frustration of not having studied medicine as she had planned and having to work minor jobs to support her widowed mother and sick brother. Those years of hunger and hardship made her tough and oversensitive, but taught her the recipe of how to survive against all odds. The fact that she spent half of her life virtually in bed from a series of debilitating illnesses did not stop her from feeling lucky that she had managed to set up a family and a household.  

Those traumatic times of the war and the civil war that followed were always present in her until the end. So were the feelings of betrayal, being the wife of a man who was sent to exile as a leftist and then kicked out of his job several times for the same reason.  Naturally she mistrusted politics of any kind, left or right, and had deep reservations about the use of religion and faith. She rarely set foot in the nearby church unless for her wedding, my baptism and the family members’ funerals. 

Of course my mother was many more things that I cannot or do not want to convert into articulated sentences, trying to communicate it to an unknown readership. This is a kind of protest against the superfluous virtual emotions (and emoticons) soaking through social media on the occasion of Mother’s Day. 

My mother left this life as the Internet was entering ours. I had just gotten my first computer with a black and white screen. No Facebook, no Twitter, no mobile phones. Mother’s Day was around but did not mean much, although it meant a lot of shopping in England where I was living. 

Would I have used social media and the occasion of Mother’s Day to express my feelings to my mother if she was alive today? Would I have posted her black and white photographs while walking on the streets of Athens wearing a striped suit of my father’s that she had converted into her own two-piece outfit to save money? I would not. Nor would I tell her that I loved her very much.

Actually, I do not remember myself telling her that I did, nor that she did. We did not need to. Only on August the 15th I used to offer her some flowers, and not every year. Her name was Maria.