Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

“Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion.” Democritus

Whenever we walked the seafront or streets of Kyparissia and we’d see an abandoned building or property, my husband would tease me. There’s the Leventoyannis mansion. I daydreamed of what I could do to these beyond-hope-fixer-uppers. I fantasized about returning to Greece to live. Permanently.

As I mentioned last week, I was stymied at every turn in my search for the property I was told was abandoned years ago by my paternal great-grandparents.

But on one of those walks after our visit to the land registry office, my husband noticed a large semi trailer truck making its way down the main street. It wasn’t so much the big white rig that caught his eye, but rather the bold black letters on its cab, just above the front windshield. LEVENTOYANNIS. Granted, spelled with a G, rather than a Y, but still my name.

The truck came to a stop a block away.

My husband found the driver, asked him his name and told him that my dad and I had the same surname. We were well behind at this point, but caught up as quickly as my dad’s 86-year-old legs could manage.

I hadn’t spotted the truck myself.  Or the sign. I was talking to my dad about what we’d discovered at the land registry office. Or rather what we hadn’t. I was telling him the search was over. At least, we’d tried. There was nothing more we could do. Perhaps I was trying to convince us both.

The owner of the truck was a young man on his way to Kalamata to deliver his family’s watermelon crop. He wasn’t sure we were related, but he gave me directions to his father’s farm and his card. He said he’d be back in a few hours and suggested I call him. We’d chat then.

I called, even though my father told me not to bother the poor man.

My mother used to tell me never to talk to strangers. My father says I never listen. And I know I’ve always been a slow learner. So of course I called. I thought it impolite not to. But, that’s another story.

The next day, the trucker’s father came to our hotel. My dad spoke with him at length, while I struggled to understand every Greek word.

After a long while, he ushered us to his car. My dad and I looked at each other and I knew what he was thinking: what has she gotten me into this time?

We left Kyparissia along the coast road. Soon the number of houses dwindled and farmland stretched out on both sides, zigzagging on the right to the sea and on the left to the mountains.

As we neared a stretch of olive groves, Alekos told us the first sweep of property belonged to his brother and the second to him. Five or six kilometers of olive trees and melon patches along the seafront. Spectacularly beautiful.

We made a turn and drove down a meandering gravel road that eventually opened to his house and a number of other farm buildings. And right in front of us, several large trucks. All with that Leventoyannis name. Again.

We were invited in. His partner brought out watermelon and melon and some alcoholic drink Alekos had made. Later, a Greek salad and fried artichokes and eggs were produced. Bread. More homemade wine. We left the alcohol untouched. “My daughter and I don’t drink,” my dad explained. Alekos measured out the little glass full he took every night. “It’s good for me,” he said.

My dad and Alekos talked, each trying to find some connection to the other. I stretched my brain to understand the rattling Greek.

Alekos’s partner never sat down. Every time she came to the table, it was with another dish, she’d just prepared. Other family members came by. A son and a grandson. Others. I tried to find a resemblance without staring. They were all tall. My grandfather was tall. The rest of us, not so much.

Seven generations of Alekos’ family had lived in the area. He and his brother had bought the land years ago, but he was sure we were related. How? I didn’t know. I showed him the family tree I’d constructed from the information I knew. He didn’t seem to know my grandfather’s family.

My father told him what he knew of his own grandfather and grandmother. Alekos made some phone calls, found a cousin in Athens who said she was related to us. She knew our family, had met my aunt and uncle. She’d even heard of my dad’s aunt, one of my grandfather’s sisters.

The woman on the phone told my dad the Leventoyannis family had owned large swaths of the land at one time in Kyparissia, but it was mostly gone except the land owned by Alekos and his family.

On our way back to our hotel, Alekos pointed to a piece of land close to the sea. That section was named Garifalia (carnation). He said that he never bothered to change the name even after he took over the land.

Garifalia was my great-grandmother’s name. It was later passed down to one of my aunts, as is tradition in the Greek culture. This had to be our old property. Ok, so the land didn’t belong to my immediate family anymore, but I was so glad it was still in the Leventoyannis name. It hadn’t been lost to others. Strangers.

My head hurt. Trying to understand the Greek spoken was only part of it. How was I to make sense of this new information? These new relatives? Were they really our relatives or were they just looking, as I was, for something more? This was only the beginning of the questions, and the story.


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