5th November 1939 – 31st March 2016
Yiayia’s life story by Eve Cogan
Stavroula Mavrogeorgis was my grandmother and she inspires me still, every day. She is the kindest person I’ve known and what is even more amazing is she has had one on the hardest lives I’ve known. Today we celebrate the life of my Yiayia and I’m honoured to tell you her story priced together from our conversation.
Stavroula was born in 1939 on a small Greek island, Limnos, amongst the pandemonium of WWII. She always liked to tell me she was an excellent student and that her writing would often get published in the island newspaper and told me
“I wish I had of kept a copy of one of those newspapers, Evaki mou,”
Education was something that had immense value to my Yiayia, something she would later toil hard to give to her children. However, she had to end her education at Grade 6 as her family was poor and needed her help. She was only 14 years old when she stopped her formal education and told me that was one of her biggest regrets.
At the age of 17, she left everything she had known and loved, to travel across the globe from Athens to Australia to marry a man she had never met. She instantly knew her new husband was not the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with, so within that first week she went to the priest to have the marriage annulled.
In 1969 she met Kon, from the Greek Navy who had “jumped ship” in Sydney, searching for a new life in Australia. She married Kon and soon had two children. Education was a gift that eluded Stavroula, but she was determined her children would be given that opportunity. Now Papou worked at a factory and she as a cleaner. Of course she had friends with children who choose the local public school, but she was determined to toil long hours and allow her children Mina (Thea Mina to me) and Anastasia (my mum) to go to the catholic school. Of course homework was extremely important to my Yiayia. As motivation for doing their homework my mum tells me that Yiayia, would remind her almost daily that all her money was going towards school. Nothing like a little guilt to get the job done.
All who knew my grandma knew she had a kind and humble heart. There were many examples of this but I will tell you about the old lady. She met an old lady with no husband or family and living alone. Every month she invited her over for lunch. This little old lady loved coming over and was just so happy to be eat with a family. When my mum Anastasia asked “why do we always have this old lady over?” Stavroula replied
“My heart aches when I see her”.
For a few years, Stavroula worked in an aged care facility as a cleaner. She noticed that the residents would have very few visitors, so on Stavroula’s day’s off, she would visit the residents and bring them home cooked meals or freshly squeezed juices, bring socks and blankets for them in winter and sit with them and listen to their stories. She would massage their limbs and move their frail bodies to stop the painful bed sores. She already had one of the hardest jobs you could find, but her heart ached with sadness, not for herself but for them.
Her children grew up (this is the part where I come in!). Her youngest, Anastasia, met a boy called Adam and decided to get married. There was a problem: this boy was an Australian J She wasn’t too thrilled but she accepted him into the family when he took the six month catechism course and turned Greek Orthodox under the watchful eye of Father Leslie, approved by Yiayia.
2002 came around with her first grandchild. She was very excited and explainably so. Like any good Greek girl, Anastasia named me after my grandmother – not Stavroula but the Aussie one, Eve. This didn’t mean her love for me was any less. 4 days after I was born my mum when back to work with my dad and I was left in the care of my loving Yiayia and Papou. Each morning Mamma would drop a basket of dirty washing with me on top. In the evening Mamma would pick me up – now I was clean and fed, or over fed if you ask my dad.
Now I was sitting on top of the same basket of clothes but now the washing was clean and ironed. Back at home each night I got to play with mum and dad and practice my new sentence of Greek. Dad was keeping up with me too… for a while.
2003 and the second grandchild came about. This one named after Stavroula – or in English – Ruby. Ruby and I were two very loved grandchildren, since mum and dad worked long hours we spent most hours at Yiayia and Papou’s house until we came to school age.
Once we were in school, Yiayia’s load did anything but lighten. Keep in mind she was still working as a cleaner and had to cook for the whole family, clean the clothes, iron the uniforms, fix the ripped shorts and sow on the missing buttons. She was also our chiro, physio and GP – massaging out the knots in our backs and legs, cleaning our cuts with metho, looking after us when we were sick and applying metho to all other problems. She thought mentholated spirits had special healing powers.
Most of all Yiayia was a fountain of endless love for Ruby and I. If we came home from a bad day or we had a fight with mum, we could always count on Yiayia siding with us. Listening to our problems and telling mum we were right. Dinner was served hot and fresh every night at Yiayia’s house, it was always different (spanakopita, moussaka, yemista) but the core ingredient was the same, love. And the more we could eat – the more they loved us.
Years later dad would run Ruby and I to school saying he was trying to run off the fat Yiayia left on us.
Yiayia and Papou came on a lot of our family holidays. That says a lot, because my dad is Australian and he wouldn’t have wanted to put up with his in-laws coming on his family holidays, unless they were really special. And Yiayia was.
12 months ago we found out Yiayia had cancer. Mum dropped everything from that point forward. She subsequently found out that the cancer was Stage 3 Pancreatic cancer and the doctors predicted she had 1 – 3 months left. That was this time last year. She did chemo and thankfully we got more time with her. Chemo was quite successful and even when Yiayia lost her hair – it grew back very cute, white at fluffy. We were very sad when she dyed it brown again. Recently she tried radiation but that was brutal and didn’t help much.
Yiayia was so strong she continued cooking and cleaning for her whole family and remained well enough to travel. So we took her to Hamilton Island and The Sunshine Coast. To be honest she didn’t care where she went as long as it had a buffet J
We thought she was so well. None of us even doubted she would make it to the end of the year. We told ourselves “We still have time”: to learn her recipes, to hear her stories and take her the Greece again maybe. 2 weeks ago we were in for the shock of our lives when she went to hospital and never came back. The day before she had gone grocery shopping… looking for specials.
We were shocked when she got to the hospital. We had no idea how sick she was. We hired a hospital bed and put it in in our house, hoping she could be cared for there. Last week we took her home twice but never stayed the night. The high levels of morphine she was on, left her just beneath the surface of consciousness, only coming up for visitors or doctors. Cancer is awful. It was truly terrible to watch Yiayia’s final days. I think we can all be in peace, knowing she now out of that physical pain.
Having a role model like her opened my heart to injustices. She loved hearing my ideas. She loved me reading my blog articles to her. She loved my search of recognition for people I thought were dealt an injustice.
There is a Greek saying “your grandchildren are twice your children”. I sure I am twice the person because of Yiayia.
Thank you Yiayia.