Thursday, September 27, 2007

How it All Happened

A woman from across the street (Gambetta Street), whose balcony is directly opposite ours, struck up a conversation with Demetrios yesterday. After only a few words, it turned out she was the same person Demetrios remembers as a little girl, Maria, who lived in the same place! We even have a photograph of her at about age 6. It’s an interesting story, so I’ll tell it.

Demetrios grew up in the nearby town of Kilkis. (I’ll add a placemark to that map of Greece; Kilkis is almost due north of Thessaloniki.) His father had been executed by the Communist insurgents as a spy (which he was) when Demetrios was only four years old. The result was, his family was dirt poor, literally never sure where the next day’s food would come from. However, when Demetrios was ten years old, he won the national lottery. The ticket his grandmother had bought him came in first place. The prize was a bag full of gold coins, Swiss francs.

Demetrios’ mother thought long and hard how to make best use of this money. Finally she hit upon what I consider an ingenious plan. It would benefit Demetrios directly (as was only fair) but the whole family indirectly. The money must be used to move to Thessaloniki, where the university was, and the boy, being exceptionally bright, must be educated there. He must become a doctor and earn enough money to make the whole family secure forever after.

So it came about that when he was in high school, Demetrios and his family moved here. The gold coins, plus what they had received from the sale of their house in Kilkis, was almost enough money for the house they purchased here. They only had to borrow a little. Demetrios went to the Aristotelian University and became a doctor, although he would have preferred to be a professor of humanities.

And that is how he met many of his best friends, the people with whom we hang out to this day. And that is how Demetrios came to America (where he had to repeat most of his medical training) and how I eventually met him, and, in short, that is what made his life what it has been and still is -- including why he is rather poor, as doctors go; he did faithfully support his family and still does to this day.

It was a house his mother bought, not a condominium, a traditional Greek house. Then in the ‘Sixties, the developers came around. They wanted to build big buildings. They promised Demetrios’ family two apartments, each larger than the house, if they could tear the house down and put an apartment building in its place. So that is what the family did, and the family next door. This building occupies the spot where those two houses once stood. And that is why we have a place in Greece to come to when we are able, a place we feel able to leave for months or years at a time if we like (which would not be the case with a regular house at ground level). All because Demetrios won the lottery and because his mother used the money wisely.

Maria’s house, across the street, suffered the same fate, with the same deal. Thus, she still lives on that corner, but in a condo on one storey of it. It was not until years later people realized how this kind of "development", with plain, rather ugly, modern buildings, had spoiled their fair city.

And by the way, medicine, specifically psychiatry, turned out to be Demetrios’ true calling after all, as is evidenced by the near-miraculous cures he achieves. This year, he worked at the hospital from January through mid-September. He had 20 patients at a time, all long-term, “hopeless” cases. He had to work until midnight for the two weeks before we came here to write all their discharge summaries. Turns out there were 14 of them! He still didn’t finish one of them, and has brought it with him to finish up at some point while we’re here.


DebD said...

What a lovely story. And what a wise woman Demetrios' mother was.