LIFE IN KYTHERA....BACK IN THE DAY
by Maria Whyte
Remembering my days in Kythera brings only memories of happiness, laughter and joy. However, such was not always the case. Kytherian life was not in any way expected to be perfect without any disputes within the family. This would be the idyllic life I was wishing for and as I wrote, I realized I was describing a life which did not exist.
Reading my journal, I found that the idyllic life I had written of before was not as life really was. There were days of boredom, staying inside our family home in Louradianika, as I listened to the rain. This was so difficult for a 15 year old girl with a life so restricted, knitting a jumper and matching cardigan and wishing for the days to pass. How I wished that the weather would clear as this would mean that I would be allowed to go hunting with my rifle. I would never return home without several quails, which made for a wonderful meal. I loved the thrill of competition with my father and was proud when my kill was greater than his.
It was an unspoken matter with me thinking that my grandfather, whom I adored, had founded Louradianika. However, the truth was that his father before him, a Greek Orthodox Priest, had built the first home further up the hill, where finally 7 homes were built, all to be occupied by family members. Looking back now, it was such a small sacrifice to give my wonderful grandparents the gift of allowing them to return to the home that they had built, loved and raised their family.
The house, which barely stands to this day and so close to the Church of Agio Georgios, was the first house built. A cousin, Uncle Andreas, also a priest and known as Papa Mihali, gave the first sermons at the family Church. Seeing this shell today brings to mind when I walked inside the ruins, sensing a life long past and what stories it could tell. How important it is for us to attempt to maintain these old ruins, as they make Kythera what it is… an island full of history.
A little known fact was that at times, the father, a Priest, would be sent to a village far from his home to give sermons and religious guidance. Speaking to a close relative, I was searching for answers to unanswered questions. It was explained to me that the occurrence where the father was required to work in a village far from his own, meant that a child would be placed with close family or friends, so as not to disrupt their education. Such sacrifices were made out of necessity, not want. This is a subject not spoken of freely, but the family unit remained strong at all times.
As I turn to my journal to assist me with memories of so many years gone by, I find many memories shattering like a piece of glass. I do not understand why I have chosen to remember only happy times, when in reality, all families face problems. Why would I expect that our families would not experience the same problems which all families faced?
Living in Louradianika was not an easy experience. Sanitation was a matter which had to be faced. My father had sent funds to erect a toilet at his family home in Kato Livadi, but this luxury was not available at Louradianika. We would need to go to a stone hut built well away from the house, armed with a small shovel when nature called. We would have to dig a trench along the inside walls and then use the dirt from the ground to complete the task. I do not consider this to be in bad taste as it was part of life long ago.
My mother took my sister and myself to a school where girls worked on looms, making beautiful blankets, runners and so many other items for sale. Girls would enter the school for three years. During that time, as they worked, they were paid by being given one dress and two pairs of shoes each year. No money was ever paid. They were permitted to leave the school twice a year.
Two blankets were made of different textures for my sister and me …. a gift from my grandmother and my beautiful blue-eyed blond aunt, whom I adored. An aunt who cared for her parents in her home when it was no longer a consideration that they continue living in Louradianika, as their village was too isolated. They required to live in a home where their needs could be addressed. In the 10 months I spent with her, not once did I hear her raise her voice or utter one word not spoken with love.
Olive-picking season was upon us. My Aunt Katina who was my father’s sister, was such a gentle soul. My father wanted so badly to bring her to Australia to live with us. One day, she decided not wait for the truck which was to pick up everyone to be taken to the Vroulea. It was delayed and so she set off on foot, putting her ladder over her shoulder and marching off to begin her work, as she felt time was being wasted. Seeing this little lady, with her scarf on her head, braving the cold and the winds and marching off alone, is a memory which I will always treasure. What an exceptional person she was! Within my father’s family, she was my favourite aunt and I, in return, was her favourite niece.
I watched all my aunts on their ladders, clearing the heavily laden branches of their olives, many falling onto the sheets spread on the ground to collect them. Always the mischief maker, I could not resist going around to where my aunts were on their ladders. I saw that their stockings were held by garters below their knees. I would pull down their stockings and as I ran away, laughed at their expressions. When they scolded me, I would laugh even more. I could see from their expressions that they were also having great difficulty not to laugh. They would scold me, telling me not to do this again, but as quickly as they fixed their stockings, I would go and pull them down again. It was then decided that I should climb a ladder and work also, as this was the only way they could keep an eye on me.
I preferred to play with my lamb which had adopted me after its mother rejected it, having given birth to twin lambs. From then on, I was always seen walking with my lamb beside me. Having seen the slaughter of the sheep on the island, I kept a very close eye on my lamb so that she would not face the same fate as many before her.
Reflecting on the hardships I personally experienced in daily living, has allowed me to speak openly of the life faced by our Kytherian families all those years ago. My experience may be confined to Kato Livadi, Upper Livadi and Louradianika, but I do feel it is important that we speak of such hardships. For me, however, nothing will ever change my deep passion for Kythera. That love came from living on an untouched island of such beauty. Today, we have moved forward into a world of technology which is still relatively new to Kythera.
My words come from my heart and for me, the changes taking place, do not make it any less idyllic. The island is where my heart belongs and its beauty will never fade.