“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.