Continued from Losing the Artist, Saving her Art Part 1.
Eugenia’s physicians finally allowed her to travel with considerable misgivings, as she was 84 and had a metallic heart valve. Transatlantic travel is stressful one way or the other, but there was no holding her back. She wanted to experience the place that her daughter had loved so much, and meet the people she had described with such animation. Her grandson didn’t want her to travel alone, but with wheelchair service and assurance that I would be with her from the moment she stepped off the plane until she got back on again, he also acquiesced.
It was a highly emotional moment when I met Evgenija at Athens Airport – such a tiny, fragile-looking woman whose spirit had endured so much and yet kept looking forward. Even after travelling for nearly 27 hours, she looked amazingly fresh. We spent that night in a hotel in Piraeus before boarding the ferry to Paros. I had booked us a room in a small central hotel – basic but convenient.
We must have looked really funny together because I’m nearly 6’2” while Evgenija is only five feet. When people I knew greeted me and asked if she was my mother, I told them “No, she’s my bodyguard!”, she got a kick out of that.
This tiny soft-spoken lady, with her frank blue eyes, who had been forced to abandon her home in Hungary and cross mine fields with her two pre-school-aged daughters; who had started her life over in the refugee camps in Serbia (then in Tito’s Yugoslavia); who was abandoned there when her husband abducted the children and fled to the US; who started her life over again at the age of 63 when Jovi finally managed to get her out of Serbia suddenly finding herself in Tucson Arizona not speaking a word of English; who had to institutionalize her oldest daughter due to paranoid schizophrenia; who was now coming to pay her final respects to her youngest daughter in a faraway land. This petite woman who had lived through so much was still possessed of an amazing sense of humor. Her secrets to longevity? Laughter and Tai Ch’i.
We visited the grave as soon as we had settled into the room. I borrowed rags and a bucket from the housekeeper, and we walked to the cemetery at the edge of town. Another expatriate resident of Paros and a lovely human being, Robert, had selected a nice spot between two pines, and it was clear that someone had been visiting the grave earlier, as there was oil in the candle. Eugenia went about clearing the marble of fallen pine needles, and I filled the bucket so we could scrub it. She worked silently, resolutely, her face set dutifully as if the task required her full concentration.
Once the grave was thoroughly dusted and washed she took stock of what was needed: oil, wicks and matches, an additional photograph, an icon, more flowers. We visited the grave every day but it wasn’t until the third visit that she finally allowed herself to weep. Each day was also full with visits from Jovi’s friends, each paying their respects in their own way and sharing stories of how they had met. On what would have been Jovi’s 60th birthday, we gathered together at her favorite tavern in the sleepy little fishing village of Alyki to have a lunch in her honor.
We also met Milan Vesely and his wife Ruth, who bought “African Queen”: another story within the story. When Jovi tracked down the builder of the Samantha39, it was a cosmic rendezvous. Not only had Specialised Mouldings LLC manufactured the boat, but “African Queen” was the one Milan had been specially outfitting to be his family’s ark should they need to flee the political upheavals in Kenya. They never got the opportunity as bogus charges were filed, his assets systematically seized, and he was imprisoned. His wife and children managed to flee the country, living in terror until he was finally allowed to join them, having lost everything.
Jovi’s heart had gone out to the vessel, long abandoned in dry-dock at the Syros shipyards. She was not much to look at, but something in the faded luster of the rosewood interior fittings, the thoughtful details in the design, cried out for restoration. Little did Jovi know her painstaking efforts would provide a healing bridge of reconciliation with the past, and sail the Veselys into a positive future.
When time came to leave Paros for Crete we were both emotionally exhausted. Evgenija craved quiet time to reflect and gather her energy for the long flight home. I had booked her into a family-owned guest house about 100 meters from our place in the quiet beachfront community called Karteros. She took her morning walk each day and did her Tai Ch’i in the garden. She taught my daughters card tricks and told them stories about the Old World that she had come from. I took her to the Minoan palace of Knossos, the Nikos Kazantzakis Museum and the village of Fodele (birthplace of “El Greco”) where Jovi and I had spent a lovely afternoon, one of my favorite places in Greece.
On the morning I was to take her to the airport, neither of us had any words. We just hugged. The ground service personnel at all the airports were brilliant, whisking Evgenija from one gate to the other in record time, getting her through the passport controls without delays. Despite worries about possibly not making her connection in Philadelphia, after 28 hours and 47 minutes on three different aircraft, a commuter bus, and a taxi, she arrived home in Tucson safe and sound.
I am gradually working with Jovi’s legacy. I will edit her manuscript, filling in the blanks left by her sudden departure. I hope to produce her verse as a theatrical monologue using her photographs as the set. Not to share such creativity would be a shameful waste.
Godspeed, Jovanka. Thank you for passing through my life like the whirlwind spirit you were, for the opportunity to know your lovely mother, and for the privilege of seeing you through her eyes.
This post is the 2nd part of a two-part post written by Victoria Andre King, a writer and editor living in Crete.
Sites That Link to this Post
- Losing the Artist, Saving Her Art (Part 1) : Women Writers, Women's Books | October 16, 2016