Friday, May 17, 2013

Yiayia's Secret Door

A touchstone is a standard or criterion by which something is judged or recognized.  In many ways, Yiayia Sarris is my touchstone -- and she, like all of us, had a few secrets. 

When in her hometown of Koroni recently, I retraced her steps as best I could -- and wanted to verify that the stairs near the Eleistria Church leading up to the kastro were how she got in to visit her beloved St. Prothromos convent. No, I was told, after blithely posing a question that I thought I knew the answer to. There was another way up, via a door close by her brother's family home leading to inside stairs -- also how the nuns came down into the town for provisions.  If I had known that another door existed, I had forgotten. On the other hand, I may have never asked the right question. In any case, let's call it Yiayia's secret door.

Ubiquitous whitewashed steps lead from the road, past a small shrine where you can light a votive candle, and up to an ominous, black iron double-door fronted by 2 white crosses -- just a few steps from where I  had been sitting and chatting with my relatives when the subject arose.  The door had been totally hidden by the dark evening shadows. Cousin Eleftheria showed me the way, but the door was locked and it was pitch black inside.  I could not see a thing...until I snapped a picture on my cellphone. And there they were: worn stone stairs leading upward!

How many times had my Yiayia gone up those stairs before emigrating to America in 1923, and what had she been thinking? She had wanted to be a nun and live in the convent established by a cousin.* At one point she had actually run away from home to join, but her brother took her back.  If she had prevailed, she would now be buried up in the kastro and I would not be here. Instead, she took her faith, resilience, work ethic, generosity and love of family to Stockton..Some 90 years later I walked up that very same path in Koroni, but could not get through Yiayia's secret door.  Yet. 

*The founding monk is buried next to the convent's St. Sophia Church. He is memorialized by a room left exactly as it was when he passed in 1966. His perfectly preserved yellow bones were exhumed 30 years later and and are now kept in a box inside the church. Some say he is a saint...

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