My mother tells me that the first snow of the year started covering the city as she was leaving the birthing ward to walk back home, carrying me in her arms, still wrapped in a blanket she’d borrowed from the hospital. A nurse, horrified by the sight of my mother stepping into the storm with a baby, called my grandpa, who drove the streets, seeking us through the falling snow in his big white Opel car – a rare sight those days where walking and buses were the means of moving about. My father, who was studying for his university degree, could not make himself available that day.
My grandpa would swear that no sooner had I entered the heated car I opened my eyes and smiled when I saw him. That was the moment he knew that I’d be the son he’d never had, and insisted that my mother and I would live with him and my grandma until my father finished his exams. Their apartment became my second home, and for years my mother would drop me there a few times a week, on her way to work.
My very first memory is from their living room. Clenching the crib’s bars, barely standing, I’m rocking my crib backward and forward. It has metal hinges that squeak when the crib slides, inch by inch along the smooth stone-tiled floor towards the window. This is my favorite spot in the house. Through the glass, I see the monastery in the valley beneath me. Shadow-like bearded figures, wearing black from head to toe, are walking on the monastery’s roof; others are strolling amongst the olive trees that surround its fortified walls.
It was a fortress of mystery where talking bears and wolves, witches and bandits, kings and princesses lived their adventures; adventures that grandma fed me at meal time, while I was sitting in my highchair facing the window. Whenever I got excited and begged to hear more, she’d pause her story and force a few more spoonfuls into my open mouth. Because for her, having grown up hungry, there was nothing more sacred than not leaving any food on the plate.
At the end of the day, before taking me back home, grandma would place a large crystal bowl of fresh fruit and some smaller serving plates piled with nuts and pretzels on Batten-lace mats on the living room table. “You never know who might visit when we are away, and how far they’ve walked.” She’d say, leaning a welcome card against the fruit bowl. Under the big printed golden ‘Welcome’ she wrote, ‘We are sorry we were not home to greet you. Please take some refreshments and come again soon.’ Then she checked that the door did not accidently lock and pushed me in my stroller back home, half the city away.