Every person has had a vastly different childhood which has probably shaped some part of their lives today. In this article, I shall attempt to give an honest account (give or take some stylistic flourishes) of some of the most fundamental and gripping memories of my own childhood. Writing down the anecdotes has been difficult in some cases but ultimately a transformative experience for me, as unlocking the dusty chest of those forgotten days helped me form links to more recent events in my life. Now I believe I can actually gauge with more accuracy the extent of these early experiences’ continuing relevance and importance, even if the circumstances are not as similar anymore. If you think about it, it’s therapy 101. With that in mind, I would also like to encourage you (yes, you!) to write down some of your own memories when you get a chance as it has really been a particularly constructive and insightful exercise for me. (Pro tip: a fireplace and a mug of cocoa during the Christmas break seems like the ideal setting for a trip down memory lane!)
But for now, enjoy!
CHAPTER 1: A MAGICAL AWAKENING
If you have read my previous article you will know that my mother was the bringer of books when I was young – (still is sometimes!). When I was very little then, possibly three or four and could not read on my own, she would take these huge tomes and read to me until I fell asleep. One day she was really excited about a particular book. I had never heard of it before but my mother told me that she felt it was very special. To be completely honest, I didn’t really think much of it at first, as I was too young to understand some parts and I was always tired/half asleep at the time. The book was actually part of a series and soon more books came rolling out. After a year or so I could start reading faster so I decided to read the books from the very beginning by myself. Reading them on my own I could finally get all the details and delve into the magical world of the book. I could not put it down, and in the next four to 5 years I was constantly re-reading those books, as probably many other kids around the world also did.
So yeah, reading about that boy living in the cupboard under the stairs at Privet Drive has been one of the most joyous memories of my childhood.
CHAPTER 2: THE EMPTY STOMACH
“For God’s sake, let him win for once! Why are you being so harsh?”
“He won’t learn otherwise.”
I may have been four or five years old when this conversation took place, yet it is forever instilled in my memory. I was sitting opposite my father, with a large wooden chessboard looming between the two of us. I must have been crying because I was checkmated for the hundredth time. He was ruthless, as he never let me win and my mother was at her furious best. But he wanted to teach me that I have to earn my wins, in both chess and life.
After the aforementioned exchange, I knew that the only way to win was to bide my time, work hard and get better. Chess is a game that doesn’t depend on luck, so I had no other choice. I probably unlocked the “patience” virtue on my character’s skillset as it took two or three years to finally do it; one day, after school I set the board and waited for my father to come home for lunch. I somehow persuaded him to play one game before the lunch was served and slowly but surely ended up the winner. He was kind of sore after that and he kept saying that the only reason I beat him was that I caught him on an empty stomach.
Fun fact: He has never beaten me since (not even with his belly full)!
CHAPTER 3: LIES AND AISLES
They say that every child worth its salt has gotten lost in a supermarket at least once. Or maybe I’m just salty I got lost and made that up. Anyway, mom and I were waiting to pay but we were stuck in line for what seemed like ages (no self-checkout back then) and it seemed that we would still be there for at least fifteen more minutes or so. I remember that she clearly seemed troubled and was thinking hard. Suddenly she told me that she needed to get something from the aisle around the corner and that she would be back in five minutes. She left and I waited for what seemed like an hour.
It was actually a minute and a half. Tops. And I probably hadn’t beaten my father in chess yet because my patience levels were non-existent. But the reason I took off was mostly because I was curious as to whether my mother was in that particular aisle or not. Well, she clearly wasn’t. She had just told me a white lie so that I wouldn’t make a scene and let her go. And that’s when I learned never to trust my mother again and started drinking… No, c’mon, I was five, that’s a clear lie. See? Nobody likes getting lied to. But I suppose my
mother simply didn’t want me to get anxious and start searching for her and get lost. Back to our story now, I quickly became super anxious, started searching for her and got completely lost. I was really short back then and I remember that I kept bumping into random people who didn’t see me and would then look at me suspiciously. I couldn’t see clearly, (something must have gotten in my eye…) I felt very light-headed and my heart seemed to be pumping blood faster than the great Pheidippides’ was when he ran from Marathon to Athens.
Suddenly, an older boy grabbed my hand and asked me if I was the kid who was lost. Apparently, there were constant announcements about me which were asking if I could kindly head towards the exit. The boy started guiding me through the Kafkaesque maze of freezers and shelves and the next thing I remember is seeing my mother, running towards her, being grabbed by her and raised into the air in a warm embrace.
Something had gotten in her eye too.
CHAPTER 4: THE GOLDEN CASTLE
I guess I must have been really smooth when I was young as I had my first girlfriend when I was in preschool. I mean, we were holding hands during break time and everything. It was a really serious relationship, promise.
Back then, the grand attraction of the preschool yard was a big enclosed sandbox where all the cool kids used to play. So, at break time, I would run towards the sandbox with my girlfriend and we would start building fortresses and towers with our sandcastle buckets and colourful shovels. The soft embrace of the few sun rays that managed to slip through the big net surrounding the sandbox would always give our creations a shining, golden coating. We would then proceed to make up stories where I was always a young prince who would come to the rescue of my dearly beloved princess as she always seemed to be suffering from dangerous dragons and evil barbarian kings who stole her away. I would thus save her, day after day after day, as I knew that when the school bell went I would have to start from the beginning again. (Penelope weaving Odysseus’ shroud was child play compared to this).
Unfortunately, the serene days at the Kingdom of Sandbox would not last for much longer. No, it wasn’t a green, slimy dragon or an evil emperor from lands unknown who took the princess away, but the princess herself(!) was the one who chose to take off. The young prince was utterly astonished. He had no idea that princesses could actually make their own decisions before that point. He could only watch as the young princess smashed the dark sand-tower she was supposedly taken hostage in, took her sandcastle bucket and yellow shovel and made her way towards a young, unknown village-girl who was sitting alone in the
far-east corners of the kingdom. From that day onwards, she would always run past the young prince and without batting an eye towards his direction she would head towards the eastern corner of the kingdom to play with her new companion.
There was no way that the prince could know that things would turn up like that the first time he saw the princess get up and leave. Yet, after his initial look of utter bewilderment, it was as if he already knew it, for our young prince soon became inconsolable and shed a bucketful of tears which turned his golden, glimmering sandcastle into a sad pile of mud.
CHAPTER 5: THE WEEKEND CHALLENGE
My writing career kicked off when I was six years old. I was in my first year of primary school, hungry to begin my education, naively unaware of the thousand pieces of homework waiting for me down the road. Our subject that week must have been storytelling as our teacher gave us an optional task: she said that anyone who felt brave enough during the weekend was welcome to write a story of their own and bring it to class. This was a monumental task for any six-year-old and I was sure that nobody would dare try it.
Except me that is. I still remember how happy I was while writing that story. It must not have been more than fifteen to twenty sentences, yet I was so proud of it, for it did take the entire weekend to finish it! I wrote it on a red piece of paper which I had folded in the middle, as if it was a Christmas card. I think the story was set in medieval times but it also had fantasy elements as it was about a
young boy who had to defeat an evil king. The way he defeated him was to drink a magic potion which gave him the necessary strength to KO his opponent with an extremely strong punch. (I guess I wrote that during my Asterix phase). To my immense embarrassment, my beloved teacher read it out loud in front of the whole class all the while smiling at my nonsensical scribblings and as proud as any teacher ever was. Soon after that, one by one, the other students started producing their own stories. (Now that I think about it, my ex-girlfriend – who after pre-school was in the same primary school class as me – produced the second story… Jealousy comes and goes I guess…)
But my story, being the first and all, was not only firmly secured in the wall, but in my teacher’s heart as well. Or at least that was what six-year old me thought back then. But two things are for certain now: One is that the initial push by my teacher was hugely significant for me and two, I really need to start writing more, as I really rested on my laurels since then!
CHAPTER 6: MY GUARDIAN ANGEL
Not all memories are happy ones of course. When I was eight, my godfather died, leaving behind a wife and two young children. He was also my uncle, one of my mother’s brothers. I loved him a lot and the pain felt by the family was – still is – immense. I won’t go into any more details as it is a really hard subject for me to write about. However, it is true that writing about something painful always helped me deal with it better, so I will share the first two stanzas of a poem I wrote a while ago titled “Ode to my Guardian Angel.”
O godfather, my one protector
Why in Heaven did you ever so hurriedly make?
If not for me then for the younglings, stay!
But it is late, years have passed and swayed
And you have left,
Yet my piece I’ve still not made.
If Keats to a nightingale hath sang
Then to my godfather I also can
And likewise I shall cry to thee
“thou wast not born for death, immortal Father!”
For in this ode you ‘ll always live
When time ceases your loved ones’ memory
And lets our souls approach yours, free.
CHAPTER 7: C’ EST PHINII first visited Phini, my grandmother’s village, when I was barely a year old ( or at least that’s what I’ve been told). Every summer since, I have always returned there, at least for a week or two. My grandparents built a house on a mountainside with a large veranda (I could – and did – ride a bike there!) which provides a wonderful view of the village and the surrounding mountains. However, that wasn’t always the case, as the house was only built fifteen years ago. When I was young, we would stay in my great-grandma’s anoi which in greek means the “upstairs part” of the house. I had trouble getting used to it at first because I had to sleep in the same bed as my grandma plus the bathroom was not in the house but outside, in the garden. However, Ι soon grew to love the place and the carefree way of living plus the scenery was vastly different from the grim city landscape I was used to for the rest of the year.
I remember that my grandfather would take me on walkabouts in various natural paths and waterfall trail explorations. He would also start teaching me how to play backgammon (and I would teach him the basics of chess as he never played with my father somehow). My grandmother would take me to her relatives in the village and I would play with the other children until late at night. I would even play with my great-grandparents, whose faces lighted up in the most candid way each time they saw me after months of being away as they treasured every single moment they could spend with me and their other great-grandchildren. Other days, I would spend my time wholly on reading as the calm ambience of the village gave me inner serenity and I could focus completely on the page. On weekends, my parents would visit and sometimes the extended family would as well and we would have great feasts and celebrations.
Nobody really knows how the village got its name, but there’s this urban legend – more of a joke really – that it came about when a Frenchman visited the area with the aid of some native people, in the olden days. When he arrived at the place where the village now stands he supposedly exclaimed “C’est fini” which literally means “it’s finished/done/over” but a more independent translation would be “That’s it”, so I guess he either really liked the place or it could be that he was just tired and did not want to walk anymore. Whatever the case, his saying was then misinterpreted by his band of soon-to be-the-first-Phini-villagers as him giving a name to the area. Maybe it was a mistake back then, but for me it applies perfectly, as, whenever I think about my grandma’s village I would feel that “That’s it, that’s the place.”
THE FINAL RECOUNT(DOWN)
All in all, I am proud of the juvenile boy who dreamed of one day getting the letter to Hogwarts. I’m also proud of the smart boy who checkmated his hungry father, the lost boy
who stood frozen in the frozen pizza aisle, the sad boy who started crying in the middle of the sandbox (and became the laughing stock of the whole preschool in the process), the nerdy boy who did an optional assignment in first grade, the young man who lost his godfather… (And no, I didn’t forget the scared kid who learned to love the external bathroom stall. I guess I’m proud of him too.)
There are plenty more memories I would have liked to include here, but one article will not be enough for all of them. Perhaps I will write a “Vol. II” some ways down the road, who knows! C’est fini for now.