Grief and Loss, Grief features, In Search of Home(s)
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They” say there are certain things a Greek woman “should” be able to do. You know, “before she gets married.” Make good Greek coffee [or, as it is more commonly known, Turkish coffee, but do not say that if your grandmother is listening]. Cook the perfect pastitsio. *Insert other quite gendered expectations here.*

My father had a slightly different idea about the capabilities his daughter should develop. He deemed it essential that I know how to roast lamb on a spit, lest I ever go without a Greek Easter in any corner of the world. He also thought his girl should know how to get the fireplace running, starting at age 10. I watched him roll up newspapers for kindling, strategically placing them between the bigger pieces of wood. I giggled as he blew air into the fireplace. I heard it howl.

Towards the end of his life, my father lost his vision to complications arising from glaucoma. He had only a foggy impression of the woman I was slowly becoming. We could no longer start the fire together, as the doctor counseled that he shelter his eye from the heat and the glare. So he sat at the table where three generations of us did our homework and rolled up newspapers. It was his makeshift kindling. My father was a firestarter, even as he slipped away.

This morning, I blew into the fireplace. Silence. I blew harder, only for smoke to come out and fill my eyes with tears. There was nobody sitting at the table and nobody doing homework. I am now the one feeling around this land with closed eyes and hands outstretched, seeking familiarity. I got up and took a sooty walk around the living room, acknowledging that somewhere between Sudan and the Middle East, between distance and loneliness, between endless miles logged and premature departures, starting fires has stopped coming easily to me.

I resorted to the dwindling stack of his rolled-up newspapers. The paper still smells like cigarettes and his hands. If I were to unroll the kindling, it would be a glimpse into the news in Greece circa 2000. Before the recession, before the Olympics, before we won the Euro, before we joined the other Euro, before I ever fell in love, before…..

Another deep breath and an exhale into the fireplace. And finally, a spark.


  1. noelrozny says

    Holy crap, this is beautiful. I love how your posts have so many layers to them and so many emotions swelling under the surface … just like life is every day. Big hugs to you. XOXO

  2. Tracy Mangold says

    Thank you, Roxanne, for reminding me of the fathers out there who are wonderful. I can hear the crinkling of newspaper, the crackling of fire as it spits and sputters into life. And it makes me smile.

  3. Every time you talk about your Dad, my heart swells. This time was no different.  A beautiful and poignant tribute, Roxanne.

  4. Michael Douglas Jones says

    A poignant story of smoke, sparks, and memory of spirit. You are the breath of all that came before; the breath that finally makes that tiny spark.

  5. This warmed my heart – and at -10c right now here it would take nothing but a fireplace and a heartfelt piece like this to achieve that. And, something tells me that, when the time comes for you to start a fire for someone else (or make pastitsio for that matter) it will come easily, naturally even. 

    • Ioanna, thank you for the faith. If and when the time comes for pastitsio, I may need your help. I browsed your food photos on your site the other day and I have so much to learn from you!

  6. Ahh, the spark. You find that spark in everything you see. It’s refreshing and beautiful. 

    May that fire continue to burn, keeping you warm, dear friend. 

    • The spark has been hiding from me, dear Mary. For a moment this morning, it came back. It’s good to know it’s still there. Thank you for your lovely wishes and kind words.

  7. You start fires across miles and wires with such stories.  Your passion for stories has sparked my inner visions to see more around me as signals for stories, that spark has opened my eyes and thoughts to myriad possibilities.

    I am sure that somewhere your father has a good idea of the woman you’re becoming and will continue to become.  And he would suggest that while looking backwards is a good way to keep memories alive and well, it is also a good idea to keep looking forward.

    Your writings, as always, give me hope.  For that, I thank you.

    • Mark, this is such a generous comment… Thank you. I hope my father is watching and that he knows I carry him in my heart. I am trying my best to look forward these days: one foot in front of the other, one fire at a time. We find hope together and for that, I am grateful.

      • It isn’t always easy to do.  I struggle mightily with it.  It seems I see more sign posts of the past as I move forward.  Some are brighter and more illuminating than others, but such is life.

        Your father lives through you, your stories, your memories, even the paper kindling.  Tangible and intangible, all at once.   Like so many relationships both past and present.

  8. Lovely and true. I lost my grandmother this week and I’ve been thinking about the fireplace at their house, which burned all winter. Such good memories.

    • I am keeping you in my thoughts, Katie. May your grandmother rest in peace and may you find peace in remembrance.

    • I’m so glad it made you smile. You and PIF have been making me smile all week with the updates from Haiti.

  9. Nadine says

    I remember that kindling. Beautiful. I hope you realize that everything I know about lighting fires and kindling I know from camp and from an evening in your Greek living room.
    Be careful, though, I have known you to get your arm hairs singed off by sticking your face too close to a not-yet-lit fire :).

    • Cairo has a unique way of singing and lighting, no? I am so happy you got to experience this, Nadine. And I hope you celebrated World Nutella Day for us both.

  10. May the fire warm your heart. What a beautiful treasure your father has left behind. It’s the stuff of time capsules. When in Greece there was still hope of things to come… It’s hard to keep that fire burning these days…

    • Niki mou, that’s been a big realization and take-away for me these days: It’s hard to keep the fire burning. All that means for now is that, even in the time capsule of Greece, we have to try a little bit harder…

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