The old documentary was being played once more on the Sea Star’s outdated screens. Some words about mythology and the origin of the name Tilos. Some snapshots of the island’s peaceful life and the traditional feasts. Some touristic information about the dwarf elephants and Saint Panteleimon monastery. I was watching mechanically the video, while I discerned a familiar figure. My grandfather was sitting on a plain wooden stool and was fishing at the crystal clear water with a straw hat and his distinctive thick moustache. My thoughts traveled at my grandfather, who had six children, my father included, and adored the sea. My anticipation grew bigger and I wished Sea Star arrived at the destination faster.
There is a strange energy at this island, that always makes me dreaming of its past and the people, who once lived there. After a refreshing swim at Livadia’s beach my exploration to the island and its hidden past secrets started. I had decided to be a little nosy and ask my various relatives about interesting family stories. You know; the ones that as kids we kept avoiding systematically. At the narrow pedestrian streets a lot of curious heads turned to see who the newcomer was and what she was doing at Vasiliki’s and Antonis’ house. One elderly woman recognised me as Spyros’ daughter and expressed her love to my grandparents. She happened to be the stepsister of my grandfather. She explained to me that he led a very difficult life as a young boy, because his father died in a factory accident in France, where he worked as an immigrant. At that time his mother, Maria, was very young and had a significant fortune, that rendered her a desirable bride. After a while, pushed by the public opinion, who could not tolerate a young unmarried woman, she decided to marry a fisherman from Simi who courted her for quite a while. She had four more children with him. The one was standing in front of me.
Later, at my uncle’s house I was still asking questions, when the youngest brother of my grandmother arrived on his bicycle eager to satisfy my curiosity. Uncle Zafiris has a very kind face and a rare musical Tilian accent. He continued the story of my grandfather’s troubled youth and added some important details. My granddad’s stepfather was an evil man and never liked the first son of his wife. He made him work constantly at the fields and forbade him from attending school. Maria, though, was a considerate woman, who would not discriminate between her kids and came up with a plan everyday to send her older son to school without her husband to notice. Later on, when the island was occupied by the german troops, the stepfather lied to the conquerors about my granddad who had supposedly stolen a sack of flour, which he personally had hidden at my grandfather’s room in order to incriminate him. A neighbour who happened to be close to the incident informed him and he got rid of the incriminating clue.
Luckily, my grandfather survived the vicious plots of his stepfather and met my grandma after whom I was named, Vasiliki. Uncle Zafiris, was in an excellent mood and went on with the narration of the life of his beloved older sister. He explained to his captivated mini audience, that she originally gave birth to seven children, but the one was not breathing immediately after birth, when a brutal midwife attempted to make the newborn cry by hitting her to death. The six children and two parents shared a tiny two room house. My father and auntie Sofia were sleeping above the kitchen in a little cellar and had a small window view to the yard of the house. Every new year’s they observed from their privileged window the village’s band paying a musical visit to my grandma, due to her name day. How magical could small things like these seem to kid’s zealous eyes!
Half a century ago, this little island in the Aegean sea was even more remote than it is now and amenities was an unknown word. No washing machine was available and women except for working at the fields and cooking at home, had to struggle with washing manually the big bulk of unclean clothes and diapers everyday. A lot of women were illiterate and had to invent new ways to keep track of business. Uncle Zafiris told us about an ingenious woman, who was assigned to maintain the field work, when the husband was away, probably fishing. Because she did not know neither how to count nor how to write, she kept a seed in a small jar for every sack of crop, that was produced. In the end, when her husband returned, she had proudly a full jar of seeds representing each sack she had produced and sold. After uncle Zafiris departed on his vintage bicycle, all of these characters, the hardworking women, the vicious stepfather, the mischievous barefoot kids, were particularly vivid in my imagination. That night we visited the bar at Mikro Chorio, which was the original village of the Tilians, before they descended to Livadia in the forties. Ruins have replaced the small houses and goats the inhabitants of the once lively village. I closed my eyes and thought of Maria, Antonis, Vasiliki preparing the kids for sleep after a hard day before they turn off the candle. Then the village would stay quite and only vague mysterious figure would move under the dim candle light.