Linda Hefferman

writing (& editing): technical books & manuals, essays, articles, stories

 

Special Delivery

cover of Greece, A Love StoryExcerpted from the travel essay "Special Delivery" in Greece, A Love Story (Seal Press, March 2007).

A week before I left for Greece, George Files pressed an envelope fat with American dollars, photographs, and letters into my hand. “Visit my cousin,” he said. “He lives a short distance from Athens. Please give him this.” He pointed to the address scrawled on the outside of the envelope. “He doesn’t have a phone, so you’ll have to write to let him know you’re coming.” Then he taught me a few words and phrases, sounds imprinted on his childhood brain from his mother and the Greeks he’d grown up around. Yasoo. Ti kanees. Kala. Parakalo. Efharisto. Nai. Oxi. (Hello. How are you? Good. Please. Thank you. Yes. No.) The words rolled around in my mouth like some delectable but unfamiliar food, tasting of freedom and adventure.

I had been accepted to the American Field Service foreign exchange program months earlier; but my assignment to Greece and the paperwork on my host family had arrived just a few weeks before I was to leave. I couldn’t believe my luck. Though I’d been hoping for a Spanish-speaking country (the only language offered in my rural high school), Greece evoked images of crumbling relics of an ancient civilization, mythology, beaches, and quaint villages perched on sun-washed islands.

George Files, the father of one of my high school friends, was the undertaker in my small, rural Northern California hometown, a community of barely three thousand, left behind when gold fever swept the area in the mid-1800s. A first-generation American-born Greek, George possessed a genetic makeup that harkened back to the Mediterranean civilization and generations of skin made smooth, supple, and ever-so-slightly greenish brown by olive oil. Like a Greek Santa, George was round and plump with kind eyes, a button nose, and a rollicking voice that always seemed on the brink of full-belly laughter. You could more easily imagine him passing his days under a generous sun than in the parlor of the silent dead. But I can think of no one more suited to fulfill that role in my town, a place where the death of a loved one brought casseroles and jelly donuts to mourners’ doorsteps just as often as fresh-caught trout and home-grown zucchini.

Just graduated and eighteen years old that summer of 1979, I wanted out. Away from the minutia of small-town life, where a trip to the grocery store for a forgotten item could take an hour, trapped in the produce section by a neighbor’s long-winded description of every ministration to her diabetic cat. I felt as if I’d grown up in a petri dish, every movement observed and recorded, from what I did at high school (I had my own father as a math and science teacher) to my meandering around town with my friends in my family’s dented 1957 VW Beetle, garishly painted with red and white zebra stripes years earlier by my hippy cousins. That summer, my high school girlfriends were exchanging their boyfriends’ letter jackets for diamond rings and misty visions of happily ever after, or partying in the woods in the backs of pickup trucks, drinking canned beer and watching boys hold tobacco-spitting contests. None of that held any appeal for me. The story of my life was about to be written, and I wanted it to contain the world! Greece seemed a perfect place to begin.

Copyright © 2007 Seal Press

For your reading pleasure...

Read the "The Soundtrack of Motherhood," (PDF) published in Mothering magazine, July/August 2006. (Have patience; this version contains photos, so the PDF may take a moment to load).

Love chocolate? Read Sweet Completion. (Appeared in slightly different form in ByLine magazine, March 2006).