This is a conversation my mother and I had last week. What started as a conversation about the current economic climate in Greece, soon turned into reflection for my mother who was born in rural Greece in 1935. As a small child she would walk to primary school with her older brother.
“The Italian soldiers who occupied Greece at the time were kind enough to give us some food as we walked to school. But when the Germans came to Greece, they weren’t so kind.”
I sit listening to my mother speak and cannot fathom what it must have been like.
I ask why she decided to move to Australia in 1958, especially when the chances of ever returning to Greece were slim.
“Opportunities,” she answers. “Europe after the war was hard. I may not have had a high school education, but we were taught to have a good work ethic. The expectation to get married and have children was still there, which is why I couldn’t migrate to Australia until my father knew there was a potential husband waiting for me.”
My mother explains that she knew of my father who lived in the neighbouring village but he had migrated to Australia four years earlier. He was looking for a wife; my mother was looking for a way out.
“But even then,” she said, “I couldn’t travel all the way to Australia without a chaperone; that’s why my older brother came with me.”
My life is a far cry from my mother’s. Even though I was brought up in a strict, traditional Greek family, my mother was constantly whispering in my ear to study.
“You must do well in school. You must,” she implored. “You should go to University.”
My father wondered about the merits of spending three years doing a degree when I could be out working, because, after all, why would a housewife and stay-at-home mother need a degree if it were never put to use? Even though my father had a very narrow view of the world, my mother’s aim wasn’t to show him the error of his ways; it was to show me the error of his ways. Although her opportunities as a girl were limited, she ensured that mine were not.
“You should learn to manage your own money. And always be employable. Keep your skills up. You never know when you’ll need to get a job. Create your own opportunities. Don’t rely on others,” she would tell me, as I neared the end of my high school career.
Practical advice? Yes. But it runs deeper than that.
It was these constant whisperings and affirmations from my mother that planted a seed that grew over time, let me believe in myself, and eventually realise that my life didn’t necessarily have to follow the same path as hers.