Greek Easter...painted eggs and raw hands

Sunday 15 April 2012

Now with a name like Cato, you may suspect that I’m not Greek but of Italian descent…and you’d be right.  And if you’re a student of History you may well know how fiercely combative were my Roman forebears.  But it’s Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday today…so of course I’m going to tell you about my little elderly neighbour.

I really only moved into this funny old house in Port Melbourne because there was a yard for Gilly and they said he would be welcome.  It’s expensive to move so I was not entirely thrilled…no, let’s be honest, I was furious when the Application for Planning Permit (for 3-storey apartments x 3) went up on the gate the next day.

My neighbours over the back were also furious but for a different reason; they hated the thought of losing their sunlight.  I didn’t know what my little neighbour on our left thought because she is a Greek yiayia and speaks two words of English, ‘Hello’ and ‘Greek’.

 I’ll call her ‘Iona’.

I’d only been in the house for two days before I noticed that although ‘Iona’ was into her nineties and quite bent over, she was extremely active in her garden.  She grabbed my attention on the second day as I was passing her house by frantically waving her walking stick at me.  With amazing agility, she pantomimed that she’d like me to remove the vigorous bush that hung over her side of our adjoining fence.  Apparently it was obstructing the position for her garbage bin.

The bush was ‘operated on’ when my son came over the next day and ‘Iona’ and I became firm friends - often walking to the South Melbourne Market together or nearby Bay Street.  Our ‘conversations’ could only be described as hysterical; a ninety-something Greek woman with no English talking to a seventy-two year old Australian with no hearing!

But we understood each other perfectly.

Not only was OUR relationship cemented when she banged on my door on Christmas morning, a parcel under her arm - but International Relations took a turn for the better when the parcel from this dear little elderly Greek woman turned out to be Turkish Delight.

When ‘Iona’ needs to attract my attention, she realizes that she has to do one of two things; either be extremely visual or do something so loud it creates a vibration I can feel. She uses her walking stick and either waggles it comically at me or bangs it ferociously on my front door.  I call it ‘Walking Stick Intervention’ and I’m always prepared for it.

But nothing prepared me for the scream!

It was a Saturday morning just a few weeks ago when I’d arranged with friends to see the ‘Love and Devotion’ Exhibition at our State Library of Victoria - a gorgeous collection of ‘Persian manuscripts and their stories of human and divine love’.  

Just as I was getting into my car, the vibration of what could only be a scream rattled me to the core.  Rushing into my friend’s house I could see instantly what had happened…the steaming water from the kettle on the floor beside ‘Iona’ had badly burnt both her hands…she was writhing in pain.

 A Hospital Emergency Ward was not where I expected to be on this bright Saturday morning but I was grateful that after several hours, some unbelievable and hopefully forgettable sights, kindness from a Greek translator and much bravery from my little friend, we returned home – ‘Iona’s’ tiny hands transformed by boxing-glove-size bandages.

I was not worried about ‘Iona’s’ rehabilitation; whilst she lives alone, she has a loving family that constantly checks on her and can communicate with me in perfect English.

Yesterday as I was quietly watching an AFL football match (yes, my beloved Tigers WON) Gilly (my hearing-ears pooch) leapt off the couch to warn me of an impending commotion at my front door.

In readiness for her traditional celebration of Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday, there was ‘Iona’, her little hands - un-bandaged but still red and tender - bravely holding out a plate of red-painted eggs and Easter bread.

Woe betide anyone who decries Multiculturalism in Australia to me…or ‘Iona’.


  1. This is such a heart-warming story. You are such a kind soul, Nancy. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  2. It is so easy to be 'a kind soul' when you are faced with such need, Kerry. I'm grateful that as a non-hearing person I was able to pick up on her distress call. I am very blessed to have such a dear little neighbour.