A Trip to the Garden

by Andreas Toupadakis

November 26, 2001

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"Androulió, get up ... get up so we can make it before sunrise." On the afternoon of the previous day, I had overheard that we would be going to Koutalá today. Now the sweet voice of my mother, and a little later that of my grandmother, told me that it was indeed true. No, it hadn't been just a dream of the night.

Sitting on the edge of my bed rubbing my eyes, I waited a little, and suddenly all the memories from the last time at our garden at Koutal" danced before my mind's eye.

I heard my grandfather's voice coming from the kitchen. "Ela, Androulió, come!" Recalling the always sweet embrace of my grandfather, I ran to hide myself within his cape.

And my annoyed mother, trying to get us ready in time to reach Koutal" before daybreak, impatiently asked, "You still haven't washed up?"

But my grandfather's giant arms still held me in a hug, and all that could be seen of me was my little head peeping out from beneath his cape. "Don't scold my little Androulió ... don't scold my good boy."

My grandfather Loukoyiannis was huge ... very tall, with hands that resembled those of the giant I had heard about in fairy tales. But my pappou was a good giant, not like the one in the fairy tales. I could never recall a time when he didn't open up his cape to let me in for one of his strong hugs. How could I ever forget my grandfather? From the opening of his cape, I could look out upon the whole world with confidence because I knew that whenever I got scared, I could always find shelter there. And many times when I did something that wasn't appreciated by my mother, something devilish, as she would say, and she would chase me around with her slipper in her hand, there would be my grandfather, my safe harbor. "Don't scold my little Androulió ... don't scold my good boy."

When I finally finished my breakfast, my father had already prepared everything we would need for the road. He had loaded our donkey with the necessary tools and our lunch. My mother and my grandmother had prepared our food the night before.

And now my father was ready to go. He had to pull the donkey next to the front steps so that my grandmother could jump up to sit on the saddle. Often before Yiayia could jump up, our donkey would move a few steps forward, a few steps backward, or a few steps to the right or left. Then my father would pull hard on the reins, and many times he had to push our donkey in order to get it back to the steps. And just when my grandmother was ready to jump up, there the donkey would go again, moving a few steps forward, a few steps backward, or a few steps to the right or left. Then my father would shout, "You're not worth the food we feed you!" And when my Yiayia finally managed to sit in the saddle, our donkey would start off immediately as if it couldn't wait to begin the day's journey.

"Where in the world do you think you're going, eh?" And again my father would pull on the reins to stop the donkey. I knew what that meant. It was my turn! "Come, Andriko." And with lightning speed, my father would lift me up to sit on the rump of the donkey. It was something I always anticipated with excitement; I knew that seat was reserved for me. It was only on days when my sister Ioanna was coming with us that we would take turns sitting there during the trip. But still I knew that seat was only for children like us. It was necessary for me to come down only when we had to go up a steep hill so the donkey wouldn't kneel down, because then my grandmother would have to come down, too, according to my father.

So, in this way we went, with me on the donkey's rump, my Yiayia in the saddle, and my father following behind whistling and with a walking stick in his hand. The birds sang continuously and the cicadas had just started their screeching, and a gentle breeze from the sea far below cooled us.

"It's going to be very hot today," my father was saying. "Do you hear the cicadas?" And he continued whistling his song. I wondered what kind of song it was that he was whistling. Was it one he knew from his youth, one he had learned at the festivals? Because everyone knew that my father had been one of the best dancers in his youth, and he was well-known in all the nearby villages for the grace and skill with which he danced at the festivals. And my father was proud of that reputation. Or could it be that he was whistling one of the war songs he had learned when he was a soldier in the mountains for four years?

The sun was just starting to peek out from behind the mountain when we finally reached the gate of our garden. "Glory be to God," my grandmother was saying, "we have arrived safely." And we were all cheerful. The adults had a lot of work do with the soil, with the fruit trees, and with the vegetables. And I had that much and even more to do! Like finding crabs in the water cistern. Like making little lakes from the stream of water coming from the well. Like picking mulberries from the mulberry trees. Like drawing water from the well with a cup. And like playing with the children of our hired worker.

And there within the eternity of my universe, my father's voice was saying, "Andriko, bring us a little water from the well because this heat is going to roast us here, but remember to keep your head outside of the well when you bend down!" And I would run with all my strength to draw the water and take it to them.

"Bless you, my Androulió," my grandmother would say as soon as she finished drinking the cupful, and then she would continue picking the vegetables.

When I had finally gotten tired of running from terrace to terrace and climbing trees and chasing cicadas, it was time to eat. We all sat down under our big pear tree and took out the food we had brought, the food my mother had prepared the night before.

"Andriko, will you go dig up some onions and cut some tomatoes? Bring some cucumbers, too." So our fresh salad was ready, and I felt proud because I too had helped prepare our lunch. Everything had a delicious aroma all its own. My grandmother put olive oil and wine vinegar on the salad. She would pour the oil by slanting the bottle a certain way, and then she would skillfully pour the vinegar from the same bottle. Her method of doing this was to cover the mouth of the bottle with her finger and then turn the bottle upside-down, letting a little vinegar trickle out of the mouth. Only the vinegar dribbled out; the oil would rise to the top of the upside-down bottle. My grandmother said that this way you could pour as much vinegar as you wanted.

When I had finally eaten my fill, Yiayia would spread out a blanket for me under the pear tree, and I was ready to take a nap. My father covered my face with his hat because he said the breeze would knock down pears and they would fall on my head and wake me up. Thus, I would fall asleep under the pear tree.

When I had rested enough, falling pears or the tickling of a passing fly would again bring me back to my beloved world. I could hear the voices of my father and of my grandmother and of our hired worker coming from the lower terraces, making plans for the rest of the week — plans for watering, plans for pruning, and plans for fertilizing the trees that needed it. I felt like the king of the whole world. Everything in my world was full of love, beauty, and security.

When the sun was finally starting to hide behind the mountains, my father again began to load up our little donkey, but now he was also loading it with the vegetables and fruits which my grandmother had picked. And my grandmother was gathering the tools and replugging the cistern so that it would collect water and fill up again. I was waiting for my Yiayia to sit on the donkey so I could then sit on its rump once again. Our good little donkey never complained. My grandmother and I with our vegetables, fruit, and tools all loaded on the donkey, and with my father following along behind, we set off for the village.

Upon reaching home, we found my mother, sister, and grandfather all waiting for us. My grandfather had just returned from the cafenio.

      "Vangelitsa, is supper ready?"

      "Yes, my Yiannako, come to eat. Ela!"

And I couldn't wait to show my sister the mother crab I had caught and all the hundreds of baby crabs that were coming out of her belly. They were so tiny and white in color. And then I wanted to show her the mulberries I had picked from the mulberry trees.

That evening at the table, everyone was talking about the work that needed to be done the following day and where we would go. Never-ending, sweet discussions. And ever-so-gently, sleep would come and take me to the new places where I would be going the next day, and it would show me what new things I would be discovering. Tonight, I heard that this time we would be going to our vineyard in the morning to pick grapes and figs.

It was within this safe and warm atmosphere that I lived the first eight years of my life, and it was during this time that the soul of Andriko, of Androulió, was shaped.


       Andreas Toupadakis, Ph.D. 1990, University of Michigan, has done research as a chemist in industry, academia and two US Government laboratories. In January 2000, Dr. Toupadakis resigned from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in protest against the further development of nuclear weapons. Since then he has been lecturing on peace and environmental issues at many universities and colleges, including Tufts University, MIT, the University of Notre Dame, San Francisco State University, Humboldt State University and Waseda University in Tokyo.

       Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Peter Phillips 2001. All rights reserved.

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Published November 26, 2001
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