As soon as I walked into this house, I knew there was a ghost in it. How silly of me to feel this way, is what I thought until my grandpa called me into the Rain Room and I saw that he had turned it into a shrine. A beautiful shrine, with a wall full of hanging pictures of my grandmother, and a plaque that he had carved and made himself. I’d been disappointed by the apparent under-abundance of Pappou’s rose bushes that lined the driveway, but the overflowing vase on the table explained it. He pointed to the table in the middle, and I recognized with a feeling of dread that the box in the center was Yiayia’s urn.
He opened the lid; I was terrified. He took out the bag full of ashes and held it in his large, overworked hands like a baby. When he tried to hand me the remains of my grandmother, ice shot from my heart to the tips of my fingers and toes. I was ashamed and embarrassed in front of him because I could feel him judging my reactions. But I couldn’t do it.
When he left the room, I got to look around less carefully. I read the beautiful inscription engraved on the lid of the box, above a picture of the two of them together. It was a little too much for me; I had a sudden urge to wash my hands.
This is what real live people do when they are overcome with loss.
I knew Pappou wasn’t the same from the minute I saw him waiting at the baggage claim. And as we drove to his house, I was preparing myself for more differences. Amongst all the familiar things – the streets named after fruits, flowers, and lesser-known presidents, the vintage Volkswagen beetles, the dozens of wind chimes leading up to the front door, there was a feeling of divergence. Something had been separated from all my memories of California, and I was looking at what was left.
I glanced at my grandpa and realized that for some people, like retired old Greeks who have been married for 50 years, one thing can be the complete source of their happiness.
Rain had been one of my grandma’s “things.” Like knitting and cats and crossword puzzles are for some old folks. Some of my treasured memories of Yiayia are of us sitting outside my house underneath the porch Pappou built, listening to thunder and waiting for the rain to come. One of the things she always missed in this dry California valley was thunderstorms. So much so that once her children moved out, the small bedroom became her “Rain Room,” where she would sometimes lie down in the dark and listen to thunderstorms on CD. I always saw it as Yiayia’s sanctuary. She lined the walls with shelves of books that my grandpa would never read, cluttered it with toy elephants, and filled the drawers with office supplies. Those were some of her other “things.”
Pappou’s things are wood working, nautical themes, fruit trees and roses, and the swap meet. And making sure everyone has eaten too much food, but that’s just the Greek in him.
He fed me eggs with avocado this morning, and I ate them off the same dining set he and Yiayia picked out decades ago. I still don’t know if he realizes how much he scared me in the Rain Room; maybe that’s what he’s thinking about now as he drives to the YMCA to distract himself with laps in the pool, but I doubt it. For the past four months all his thoughts have been tied to memories of my grandma, and how could they not be? Especially in this house.
“My Beloved Sweetheart,
Across the Oceans I searched for you. I found you. I profoundly fell in love with you. I married you. We stood faithfully be each other for 50 years in calm and rough seas. We had 3 wonderful children and 7 grandchildren. Honey, I built this little house for you, my love and I can’t wait to get in to be with you forever.
Your bleeding heart… Costas”