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Magic Happened This Summer

Plums by Alma'ch

Plums by Alma'ch

My mother-in-law, Maria, and my husband’s Uncle George, welcomed us to Greece on a perfect June morning this past summer. Two full weeks of family relaxation in their childhood village of Xirokabi lay ahead.

Dry breezes and bright blue skies beckoned my husband, our two young sons, and me outdoors for the better part of our days. We walked the dirt roads of the village, cooed to the farm animals, and examined the twisted bark of ancient olive trees. Our sons climbed the fruit trees—mostly plum—in search of their juiciest jewels. A bounty of seasonal vegetables and fruits, local meats and breads, and handmade village wine covered the table daily for our mesimeriano, “midday meal.” Afternoons gave us hours of lounging on the black, white, and gray pebble beach of the Gulf of Lakonia. My children squealed with delight as little fish darted around their legs.

Conversations in the evening came easily. Funny memories, sad times, and the choices we made in our pasts peppered the hot evening air. Something was different, though. This year, the nervousness I once felt as the xeni, “foreigner,” with my husband’s family floated away with every story shared.

I connected with Maria in ways I never had. As the first generation in her family to leave the homeland because of an arranged marriage, Maria recounted the most fascinating stories. She talked about arriving in the United States only knowing five words of English; about how she had to cook, clean, and care for her mother-in-law; about her now ex-husband; about their two-week engagement, and about getting to know her groom at sixteen years old. Until then, they were practically strangers. Maria told me about having her first child, surrounded by this new family, barely a year after she moved to the States. She shared with me the time she came home to her father at age twenty-one with her three-year-old in tow, overcome with depression because she didn’t want to stay married. Her plea fell on deaf ears.

“It is your fate,” her father said that summer evening in 1972. “Your fate to be in this marriage with this man and your three-year-old son. There isn’t another option for you. You must stay with him.” Fourteen abusive years would pass before her divorce was finalized.

My compassion for her bloomed. How painful to have the power of choice sucked from you, and then kept out of reach?

The next morning, the sky was a deep shade of Aegean blue as Maria gathered us around the sunny table for a breakfast of hard-boiled eggs, sliced tomatoes from the garden, and homemade feta cheese. She and I glanced at one another across the table, and I knew; something that had been out of sync for so many years had finally been set right.

After the children went to bed that night, I was washing a plum my five-year-old had picked for me. Maria joined me in the kitchen and rested her hand on my shoulder.

“Christinaki, there is something I need to say.”

My skin tingled. I took a breath. “Sure, Mom, what is it?”

“Remember that night, a long time ago, when I gave you and Pete a hard time about getting married?”

Time stood still. Was this the moment I had prayed for? Acknowledgement of the evening when she had said no, that Pete could not get married, not to me?

“Yes, I remember.”

“I . . . I want to apologize for putting you through that. It wasn’t right.” Her eyes pleaded with mine in a suspended moment of silence. Tears moistened my face.

“Of course, Mom. You know, I forgave you long ago. You don’t have to apologize.” I said this, even as I tucked away every word into my heart.

“But I do. And I need you to know I acted that way because I was worried. Worried about you being too young. Worried about Pete not being able to support you on his salary. Tomorrow, you know, I will say this in front of him. I want him to hear this, too.”

“Mom, I know you are sincere. I know you have come to love me just as I have come to love you.”

We shared a long embrace. We whispered real I-love-yous into each other’s ears. We blinked back tears. And in the kitchen that night, our hearts joined in a new, magical way.

“Goodnight, Christinaki. Sleep well.”

“I will. ‘Night, Mom.”

Twenty years of interactions with Maria flashed before my eyes. It occurred to me that the necessary combination of her apology and my forgiveness held a gentle, binding quality. This acknowledgement of our humanity, recognition of our strengths and weaknesses, created space for us to be authentic with and around one another. Now, more than ever before, I am comfortable nourishing the roots of my authenticity.

I bit into the plum, and juice streamed down my chin. Blotting the sweet liquid, I whispered, “Magic happened this summer.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Christina Marie Speed

Author Bio: CHRISTINA MARIE SPEED taught overseas and in the US for several years before admitting to herself that she needed to give in and just write. She has written a short column for The Lahontan Valley News, and is currently a Literary Reflections Editorial Assistant at LiteraryMama.com. A full-time wife and stay at home mother, and part-time literacy coach for children, she writes creative non-fiction, poetry and books for children.

Contact Christina at christinamariespeed@gmail.com.

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