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What I learned from my grandfather

By Aikaterini Sylla

My maternal grandfather passed away on 10 September 2016 at the age of 82. Born in 1934, descendant of World War II, he left his village in the Peloponnese (southern Greece) at the age of seven and came to Athens in the quest of a better life. He never had any of the commodities of our modern society, never went on a fancy vacation, never ate in a nice restaurant, never asked for any of the aforementioned. He was not used to them anyway.

Always proud of his grandchildren (my brother and myself), who were the first ones in our family to receive university education, my grandfather was always seizing the opportunity to speak big about us (παινεύεται in Greek) to friends, family, neighbours, vendors at the market, literally to everyone he would cross roads with and have a chat. That was the biggest joy in his life: speaking big about my brother and myself and feeling that he contributed somehow to our success.

My grandfather was the sole father figure I had, since my father passed away when I was thirteen years old. I was raised in a house of a traditional Greek γειτονιά (Greek word for neighbourhood), where my grandparents lived on the groudfloor and my mother, brother and myself lived on the first floor. My grandfather was always there for my brother, my mother and myself supporting us in every possible way and instilling in us values which later on became my Bible.

Following his death, I acknowledge how much he has shaped who I am, both personally and professionally, but most importantly I comprehend how similar pathways we had, of course taking into consideration the generation gap and the different circumstances. Both of us are self-made in the sense that we both left our comfort zone moving to new places, starting from zero without having any connections or financial support from our families.

·       My grandfather taught me that I should be a σωστός άνθρωπος στην κοινωνία(Greek phrase which would roughly translate to being a good, moral member of the society). This could be interpreted as being decent, honest, fair and having good manners towards people. Education does not make you a σωστό άνθρωπο στην κοινωνία. Education is secondary to this.

·       Να μάθεις γράμματα (Greek phrase which would literally translate to learn words, interpreted to study) he was preaching me. Having received only primary education, he struggled a lot throughout his life and undertook any job to make ends meet. Therefore, he envisaged a brighter future for my brother and myself.

·       In addition, he made his κουμάντο (Greek word which would roughly translate to manage financial resources) when still in the working force so that he would be financially independent when he would retire, even with a shrunk Greek pension.

·       Μου χρωστάνε, δε χρωστάω (Greek phrase which would literally translate to I do not owe to anybody, others owe to me). He never had any debts. If he could afford, he would buy that pair of shoes or table he needed. Otherwise he would first make money by working hard and then purchase.

·       Να είστε αγαπημένοι (Greek phrase roughly translated to love each other) referring to my brother and myself. Your brother is the sole person who will always be there for you, the one who will take you out for coffee (Greek habit) whenever you need company and support you whenever you need help.

·       Την Κατερίνα και τα μάτια σου, I recall he used to tell me, translated to take care of yourself (Katerina) like your eyes.

I will always remember my grandfather as a fighter, provider, winner of life. I developed myself further than he could ever imagine but would not have accomplished this, if it was not for his courage and thirst for life, values which have set an example for me. I will always cherish him and speak fond of him to friends, family and colleagues.

If your grandparents are still alive, spend time with them, take them out for a walk, keep them company, let them narrate you stories from their past (grandparents love to do that!), let them know how they have shaped who you are, make them aware that you value them. It will make them feel that they have accomplished something important in their lives. It will make them feel proud of themselves. If you are a parent, teach your children how to care for their grandparents and listen to them; they are a great source of wisdom and knowledge.

Aikaterini Sylla is Skills Taxonomist at the European Commission

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