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Home Grown

My Greek Tragedy

In which a hero rises from Athens’ ashes

By Cynthia Adams

Seeking a geographic cure after my father’s sudden death, my husband and I booked tickets to Greece during spring break in graduate school. So what if we lacked money, plans and a command of Greek?

The wheels had fallen off our family wagon with Pop’s death soon after my parents’ divorce.

Pop had died of a heart attack while he and a new, visiting girlfriend (nicknamed Lucy Locket) were enjoying an energetic getting-to-know-you session. After his funeral, my brother lured her from our family home with offers of a truck — then cash as a consolation for the diamond she insisted Pop promised her. His risk tolerance left behind unpaid taxes and mortgaged properties — in short, a mess. 

We found in Greece an echoing of my internal chaos. Strolling in an Athens square, we heard a bomb explode nearby. Hotel clerks quoted rates sky high and we felt increasingly stupid and helpless. We ended up in a room with no tub and a shower with a spout at shin-height. At least our feet were immaculate.

Off on a bus to wondrous Delphi and Corinth, we were issued tickets for different rows. On return, a woman with Tourette’s shouted at her seatmate. Mentioning Oliver Sack’s book on the subject, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, a young, English-speaking passenger interrupted a conversation with me, saying, “Look, I’ve dealt with all the crazy ladies I can handle in one day.” 

(This tickled me so much I later wrote Sacks, who kindly replied.)

Booking tickets to the nearby island of Paros, we narrowly avoided being shoved off the gangplank by passengers who suddenly arrived like a Zombie horde. 

As the sea heaved that night, passengers heaved, too.

We reached Paros in gale-force winds and staggered on foot to the only open outpost. 

We booked into a convent-bare room with little heat or hot water, no blanket, no radio nor TV, only The Handmaid’s Tale to read. Downstairs we joined rowdy fishermen drinking ouzo while waiting out the storm. There was no menu and few dishes on offer. We ate (excellent, thankfully) spaghetti lunches and dinners on repeat and shivered. 

We rented a car at absurd cost just to see what else was on the island. Nothing but an abandoned marble mine. It shone in the sunlight, blinding us as we wobbled in the wind. We drove back, laughing at the instruction in the car’s dash to “return all ruined rubbers to the trunk.” (Rubbers, it happened, was their translation for tires.)

After five days in Paros, the winds calmed. As soon as we spotted the ferry approaching, we sprinted to pack our things.

But, back in Athens, peril awaited. On the way to the airport, a shrimp dinner literally left us broke after we were charged a usurious price (by the gram) for them.

How would we get to the airport?

Standing on a sidewalk with our bags, trembling with stress, I jumped when someone tapped my shoulder. A smiling woman asked in perfect English if she could help us.

We had been drained of our last cash at the restaurant, I nearly wept. Could she persuade the driver to accept our credit card — our last hope?

“Allow me to get a taxi for you,” the stranger nodded. 

When the taxi appeared, she spoke with the driver. Her voice was firm. She turned to us. “He will take you there. Do not worry.” Would he accept our credit card, I pleaded, my voice shaky.

“It is taken care of,” she said. “Do not worry.” 

We protested — how to repay her? Could we have her address? 

Shaking her head, she shooed us into the taxi.

“I don’t want your last memory of Greece to be a bad one,” she said. “So, think of me.” Flashing a brilliant smile, our benefactor turned, vanishing into the crowds.  OH

Cynthia Adam is a contributing editor to O.Henry magazine.