It’s been about two years now since I became vegan. Gosh I can’t believe how much time has flown. Making the compassionate choice when it comes to eating is something I wish I’d done sooner.
When I started this blog, I meant to veganise many of the family meals I grew up with. My grandparents all came to Australia from Greece in the 1950s. I used to help my grandmothers with preparing food and they were very much hands-on when it came to teaching the grandchildren how to make things like filled pita and desserts. When I was ten, my grandmother’s non-Greek neighbour decided to try and make a Greek kolokithopita, which is pumpkin filling inside filo style pastry. She brought it over to my grandmother, who accepted it with many thanks. After the neighbour left, my grandmother (bless her), looked at this pie, looked at me and said in her Greek-English “san ta baby’s ta kaka”. Which translates to…”like a baby’s shit”. But hey, the baby kaka comment was still a lesson– she told me you had to grate the pumpkin, not boil and mash it like the neighbour had done!
My paternal grandmother made filo pastry by hand. How I wish I had photos of the process. She would roll out the pasty with a shortened broom handle and it would cover a six-seater round kitchen table. Then she would ask her granddaughters to help her gently pull the pastry until it was hanging over the edge of the table, all around. She made the flakiest, most delicate pastry ever. My other grandmother’s pastry was much thicker and hearty. I loved both versions equally!
My grandparents all died roughly around four to five years ago. I never thought to ask my grandmothers how to prepare their meals, or how to crochet. My maternal grandmother used to crochet with the thinnest hook and finest thread while watching tv. She would sit there crocheting but never taking her eyes of The Young and the Restless. I don’t think I ever asked them anything about meals, or their lives, or anything like that. I guess I always thought there would be plenty of time and they’d be around forever, but I knew their childhoods weren’t exactly brimming with happy memories.
My maternal grandfather had to leave school at age ten when his father died. He always regretted not getting an education after that, though he was a quiet intelligent man with a wicked wit and sharp comebacks. He would teach my sister and I Pontian Greek words and give us ten cents if we could kiss our big toe. As an adult looking up Wikipedia stuff,I discovered what my grandfather and his family had lived through: massacres and ethnic cleansing. He never spoke of his childhood (I don’t blame him, his earliest memories involved his family literally running for their lives) or life as a soldier, but after arriving in Australia he vowed never to return to Greece as there were nothing but bad memories there for him. My grandfather was in a nursing home for quite a few years before he died as he had dementia and it was during these times we’d hear more of his life story. He would sometimes stand at the large windows of the dining room, overlooking the creek and the trees and when he’d be told to go and have his dinner, he’d reply that he couldn’t because he was standing guard and he thought the enemy were hiding behind the trees.
My paternal grandfather was a very quiet, gentle man who never spoke much about his life. In his last months, we saw the reason why. He too was in a nursing home and dementia had set in and when we’d visit he would sob and talk about another solider somewhere who had hidden them both in a swamp and that is how this man saved my grandfather’s life. He had a very hard life growing up, his stepmother seemed very much the evil witch of old fairy tales. As kids we heard those stories, about how he would be given a lettuce leaf to eat and water, though we always thought he was saying that story to get us to behave!
All my grandparents had a very hard life growing up. They all lost their mothers as young children. It was such a tough life for them all and they welcomed their new life in Australia, though it was very difficult for them when they all arrived. Fortunately they had other family here, which made things easier, once they got out of the migrant camps. My dad was about seven and from the ship journey he recalls that he nearly fell overboard and was grabbed at the last second. My mum was four and only recalls the smell of the breakfast eggs. My grandmother had a story about the Germans on the ship wearing their bathers (swimsuits) to go in the ship pool. Some Greek and Italian men, who had never seen the coast or a pool before, stripped down to their underwear, thinking that’s what the Germans were wearing. The ship staff made them get out of the pool after that!
The house of my maternal grandparents will be up for sale soon. My mum has been renting it out but now it’s time to let it go. We went there on the weekend to take one last look around as there are tenants still living in the house while the selling process is in effect. It was weird, uncomfortable and to be honest a little depressing, to walk in to my grandma and grandpa’s house and see other peoples’ stuff there and peeling wallpaper. But the same old smell was still there and that was comfort enough. The glass front door is still the same:
The front yard is massive. My grandparents had so many fruit trees when I was young. Pretty much all gone now. The olive tree is still there. Lots of memories of my grandparents up on ladders picking olives:
The neighbours had a fig tree and we would climb up on the fence to pick the figs. These days, the branches come over the fence, making the job easier. My grandmother would put small boiled unripe figs in a sugar syrup and they would eventually soften and be served as a sweet alongside Turkish coffee. It’s a popular Greek fruit sweet and you can do the same with quince, orange peel and lots of other stuff:
I have lots of regrets about not spending more time with my grandparents in their later years. It seemed life was so busy for me with young children, Husband’s work and so on. Not having a drivers license didn’t help matters much! I wish I’d gone to the nursing home and hospitals more. I fell in to the trap of finding it uncomfortable and not going out of my way to see them when I should have made a greater effort to shift my priorities. I did visit, but I should have visited more. Some of my cousins refused to visit my grandfather in the nursing home, saying it was too hard to see him like that, wondering who we were or being confused or asking when my grandma would visit (she died a few years before). I felt mad at my cousins for making it about themselves, though I see now I could have done far more myself. Seriously folks, if you have elderly relatives and you think to yourself hmm geee, I really should visit them but I can’t this week because work/school/life is busy… drop whatever you can and DO IT. Make whatever effort you can. If you can’t visit them, pick up the phone. Make more memories 🙂