In his 16th summer my father left Greece and moved, with his father, to a city here in Connecticut, and life changed for him.
My father came from people who worked their olive orchards -- orchards that had passed from generation to generation. He grew up in a small Greek town nestled in the Taygetos mountainside, with a population of scarcely 8,000. He told me stories of how he learned to care for the land from his grandfather and of his wonderful boyhood steeped in resourcefulness and hard work.
In my 16th summer, my father took me to his childhood home where we spent the warm days walking through his memories. I saw the olive trees he planted in his boyhood, their small branches now fully grown; and the river he learned to swim in, on the banks of which he and his grandfather would sit to eat lunch and cool off from a morning in the orchards. I watched his face, in awe of time that went on without him in these mountains.
We went to the schoolhouse where he took his lessons, now all boarded up and forgotten. It was odd looking at this little dollop of timber alongside a dirt road, protected by trees and overgrown grass -- and weeds so tall you could almost hear children's laughter in their rustle against the wooden frame.
It was startling to see through my father's eyes a piece of his life that existed before me and to put him in the context of that life. At 16, I saw for the first time that my father was a person, not just Daddy. And this person had his own identity. He was a humble man with a ready smile and great faith. And his strength became a beacon.
When we came back to America I told myself that someday I would like to be able to give my father the mountains back, to let him hear babbling water, see hawks overhead, and smell the sweet hay. I wanted to take him out of the city that grew nothing but cement and steel. These were my noble, quixotic, adolescent promises.
Now, these many years later, I live in a small town nestled in the New England hills with scarcely 8,000 people. A few years ago I brought my father up to live with me. A promise is a promise. Life has given me no greater joy than to enable me to give my father back what he has missed all these years and to see his eyes shine again.
New England welcomed this man, and he returned her love with his dedication and respect.
Having my father with me, I can see how beautiful the land is. I take pleasure in hearing the rooster's crow, in the smell of the moist earth, in the feel of rain on my back. I enjoy the resourcefulness and the hard work.
From him, I learned how to look to the earth as teacher, guide, and example. And I learned that life in this world is one of mutual respect. You cannot take without giving back.
Out of my window there is an apple tree that my father and I planted. It is my benchmark. Every spring I watch this tree's buds burst open, triumphant over winter. I'm drawn to the white blossoms, blushed with rose, whose delicious scent has become a form of sustenance. And I keep a protective watch over its fruit, knowing full well the birds and the deer will eat as much as I do.
For this tree reminds me to give back. It shows me life's progression. It represents all my father gave me, all he taught me, and all that was important to him -- a tender and precious legacy.