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What I did in my holidays

Gillian Bouras |  16 January 2017


When it comes to setting composition topics, teachers often get stuck in a rut. At their Greek village school, my three sons were in turn driven mad by the subject The Almond Tree In Winter, which seemed to be a particular favourite. The most common Australian topic was similarly dreaded: What I Did In My Holidays.

Idiosyncratic snowmanIt so happens that I've just returned from winter holidays, and am thinking about them. It seems to me now that in childhood I never pondered holidays, so that recall was often a difficult chore. My siblings and I took the long breaks for granted, and I'm sure most of our friends did the same. Those summer weeks were an idyllic interlude that would be unfailingly repeated: that was simply the way things were.

It seems incredible that there were ten of those summers, consecutive ones when three generations coexisted happily. My siblings and I had an idyllic Ocean Road beach practically all to ourselves, the men went fishing every afternoon, except when, to Grandfather's annoyance, an easterly was blowing, and the women, in time-honoured fashion, kept everybody fed.

It was basic living in a rough fishing shack, with a wood stove, Tilley lamps, and a shower made out of a kerosene tin and a hose nozzle. And there was always a lot of interaction between grandparents and grandchildren.

There were rules: butter was kept under a tank tap and draped in hessian, no sand was to be tracked into the kitchen, and men had always to clean the fish they caught. We children were expected to help with the setting of the table and the washing-up. Nine o'clock was the time set for the last cup of tea, after which we trailed off to bed, youngest first. Of course change was inevitable, although I didn't really believe it, and started with my grandmother's death. I was 19.

Decades later, I am now the grandmother. Three generations visited Crete, my daughter-in-law Nina's ancestral place, towards the end of the old year. The morning of our departure, northern Athens lay under a thick blanket of snow, resembled nothing so much as a German Christmas card, and was eerily silent. There was more snow near Heraklion, with an estimated four metres on Mt Ida. This break, I told myself, was as different from my early Antipodean ones as it could be.

But then I wondered. Nina's mother was the cook, and there was never any threat of starvation. Nina's father kept the supplies of wood up to the stove, and both of them entertained their grandchildren endlessly.

At only five months, my granddaughter Natalia will remember nothing; yet I like to think of the atmosphere somehow becoming part of her accumulating experience. But big brother Orestes is nearly four, and thus may recall all sorts of things.


"At first Orestes was inclined to be daunted by the first really long beard he had ever seen, and by the accompanying mane of hair, but the musician paid him a lot of attention, so that the feeling was only fleeting."


Eventually he may remember his grandfather bringing plastic bags full of snow into the garden so that they could make an admittedly idiosyncratic snowman (pictured). Then there were the visits made by Psarantonis, a family friend who is also an internationally famous exponent of the Cretan lyra.

At first Orestes was inclined to be daunted by the first really long beard he had ever seen, and by the accompanying mane of hair, but the musician paid him a lot of attention, so that the feeling was only fleeting, and before long Orestes was scraping away at the mandolino and the lyra himself. I had a sudden memory of Grandfather, his violin, and my first efforts.

And one evening a relative brought a ten-day old lamb into the kitchen, where it gambolled about, and made itself very much at home. City boy Orestes was able to bottle-feed it, and grinned delightedly as he did so. Again the memories came back. As a child I had visited the nearby cow yard, and had helped bottle-feed calves. Both my grandson and I have made connections with some of the essentials of country life. And we have both experienced the uncomplicated love of doting grandparents.

Despite wide gaps in both time and space, our respective holidays were not so different, after all.


Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an expatriate Australian writer who has written several books, stories and articles, many of them dealing with her experiences as an Australian woman in Greece.



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Submitted comments

Thanks for your homely article Gillian. It is comforting to reflect on, knowing that we also live in a world that is increasingly of 'blood chilling' events.

John Whitehead 18 January 2017

What golden memories, Gillian! Thank you for sharing.

Jena Woodhouse 18 January 2017

The continuities of what is and what makes us human - that intergenerational exchange based around the times of annual festivals - Gillian you have teased out/pointed out the cycles of experience - whether hot summer southern hemisphere Australia or icy, snowy-vista-ed northern hemisphere Crete - the feeding of the farm creatures - the tenderness of grand-parents to those a generation removed. My own Christmases to the coast were rare - and then there were three sets of grand-parents - and only with the step-grands was there anything temporary - their coastal Port Stephens week-ender - five bedrooms - water lapping directly at the front - no fence even between us and the water. My mother's tentativeness with the relationship with her parents-in-law made my brother and I feel very much on the edge and wary. I once (unfortunately) heard a rather scathing (and unfair - I thought) judgement of myself from my step-aunt - which once heard could not be unheard. So though the location was brilliant - it was not filled with the cosiness or closeness you describe. I wish it had been!

Jim KABLE 18 January 2017

I wish i was i fly on the wall to see your grand children in the same space as Psarantonis!!! The description of Orestis playing the Mandolin & feeding the baby goat was lovely. Thank you for sharing...

Stathis T 19 January 2017

Thank you, Gillian. You transport us effortlessly to the heart of things. Extraordinary memories are, at their source, ordinary moments populated by loving people.

Anne Kostaras 19 January 2017

Two places half a world apart, two different cultures and separated in time by 50 or 60 years and yet such similar sweet and simple holiday experiences. Thanks for reminding us what holidays are about.

Stephen 19 January 2017

Lovely memories Gillian and a timely reminder of the wonderful everyday experiences that connect us over time and distance.

Maggie 19 January 2017

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