Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Walking the stones of my Grandfather

In 1999, my wife and I along with one of our daughters went to Turkey to search for the village my parents came from, looking for my roots. Their village was on the Peramos peninsula, a mushroom like appendage on the Sea of Marmara. Then the village was called Mixaniona.

The Turkish name now is Charcoucoy (probably misspelled).

We went from Istanbul by private plane to Bursa where we had arranged to be picked up in a Mercedes accompanied by a translator.

We went like ugly Americans, the works, rented planes, a chauffer driven car and I was even wearing a white suit.

We arrived at the village and stopped at the coffee shop. No women. My wife and daughter waited outside. Very polite but suspicious patrons directed us to the house of an old man.

The present inhabitants of the village were Muslims from Northern Greece who had come there during the exchange of populations in 1923, after the original inhabitants, the Greeks, had been moved out.

The old man was a child when they arrived at this village. He was told of us by his son and was led out of his house by his granddaughter. Old, frail and in his 90’s he appeared eager, curious, as he approached us.

After his son explained who we were, he apologized for his lack of Greek and told me through our translator that his parents only spoke Greek, and he had forgotten his.

He took my hands in his and kissed them in greeting and said “Welcome to your village, Effendi, I am sorry we did not take care of it as we found it”. Truly, it was amazing, and touching. The hairs still rise on the back of my arms after that greeting.

He led us around and showed us where the Greek houses used to be, as well as the Greek bakery and the Church. He then took us to the Turkish bakery where the baker, a woman, offered us freshly baked bread from a large round loaf. She wanted to share it with us even though there were not many loaves. We couldn’t refuse her as she brought it out of her shop into the street for us.

All this time a large group of women in ethnic dress had slowly, quietly begun to join us. They formed a colorful semi-circle behind us and were fascinated by my wife and daughter and of course my white suit. It was obvious this village didn’t get many visitors from the outside.

We strolled around the village with him holding on to my arm. We walked towards the seashore where the fishing boats were. He then disengaged from me and gestured for me to walk alone by the sea and said, ”Everyman should walk the stones of his Grandfather”.

I am still amazed by his gentleness and sensitivity, a truly elegant man.

As I looked at the poverty of that village, I thought how unfortunate and yet how lucky my parents were to get out of there.

What would I have become if they’d remained? God knows.

It was a trip I will remember forever. The kindness and wisdom of that old Turk, who had been born in Greece, that welcomed us so warmly.

If you haven’t “walked the stones of your Grandfather” as yet, you should.


  1. Great story. So well done it can only come from the heart. You have inspired me to do the same thing.

  2. Remember how when we arrived at one of the local cafes and flashed our map of the town which we had taken from an old drawing of the peninsula with an ancient sea vessel on it, all the men thought we had come looking for treasure?

  3. The old man told us that only one other person had come looking for his Greek roots in their little town. An Australian. Just him and us. A long way to travel... and worth all of it. And that bread we ate came from an amazing oven that was dug in a hole in the earth in front of the baker's home. The sea was beautiful in front of us but, behind us, the town felt as though it would barely last another day. I'll never forget it.

  4. Thank you Greg, I`ve heard you tell that story before. But by reading it and how beautiful you wrote it.I felt the pride and joy you must have felt. It Brought a shiver up my spine and a pounding in my heart. Bravo! I can`t wait to walk in the footsteps of my Grandfather! Vinnie