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Excerpt from book “Yes and Pigs might Fly”

In the village at the side of the square near the graveyard stood the old school house, there was a gnarled old olive tree which had always been known as the lovers’ tree’.

One day Janis was talking to the twins as they were playing under the old olive tree in the square one afternoon.

“Come pedthia, come here children,” he called offering them some hiro carpo, nuts, and dried fruit that he had just received from his nephew in Kalambaka. “Do you know how the old olive tree became known as the lovers’ tree,” he asked the twins.

“No Great Gramps,” they replied in unison.

“Do tell us,” said James, jumping to try to touch a branch of the tree.

“Yes great granddad, please do tell,” said Jeana scrambling onto his lap.

“Do you see that the branches of this tree are curled and entwined around each other?”

“Yes,” said James.

Gazing up in to the branches of the old tree and then making himself comfortable on the grass leaning and against his great granddad’s legs.

“They are bent and twisted, inseparable, but lovingly so, like an embrace. Children play under this old tree, but often they become subdued, less boisterous. Their games more gentle more sensitive – boys less rough with each other and kinder to the village girls and less likely to pinch and tease, more likely to try and snatch a kiss?”

“Yuck,” said James. “Who would want to steal a kiss from a girl?”

“In time you will,” replied Janis laughing down as the children sprawled on the grass next to him. “Very young children do not like this place or if they go there they are inclined to be restless or gripy. But after awhile they will sleep, but soft moans and sighs will punctuate their rest. They would awaken reaching for their mothers, restless and grumpy and needing reassurance. The elderly kept away from this place, it made them restless and uncomfortable and awakened long lost feelings from their youth.”

“But you like it here great granddad?” said Jeana.

“Yes child I like it here… But do let me get on with the story,” he said.

“Sorry. Please continue,” she said politely.

“In the evening lovers will meet here and many a stolen embrace has taken place and illicit love affair blossomed under the branches of the old olive tree.”

The children laughed and Janis glared down at them. But his glare changed to a smile of affection as he continued with the story. “The lover’s tree they call it, but not because lovers meet there, but because it was named after two sad lovers many years ago.

Diana was the beautiful young daughter of the taverna owner, rich and proud he was, vain and austere, harsh with his daughter. Diana was a good girl who wanted to please her father. Her mother had passed away a long time ago. For many years Diana had not understood that. Passed? Passed what?”

“It means dead like Great Uncle Frederick, he died last year, mummy said he had passed,” James said.

“Yes that’s right,” Janis said.

“Well Diana could not reason why her mother had passed her by. All the other children had a mother and a father, she had only a father. Who she loved dearly, but he was often very remote and strict with her. If Diana asked about her mother he would clam up and refuse to talk. Then more often than not he would drink a lot of beer with the men in the bar. The following morning he would have a terrible headache and be very contrite. He loved his daughter very much and he would try to make it up to her. He would buy her pretty things and call her his little nightingale, for Diana loved to sing and she had a beautiful voice…”

“Did he have a hang over?” James asked.

“Yes, he had a hang over,” Janis replied.

“Like what you had after Aunty Betty’s birthday party last Easter?” James asked, with a cheeky grin as he looked up at Janis.

“You are a cheeky monkey and I have half a mind not to tell you the rest of the story.”

“Oh please finish the story,” Jeana pleaded.

“Yes finish the story. I will be quiet,” James said quickly.

“Working at the taverna was Ali. He had just turned up one day dirty and ragged, aged about eleven, unable to say from where he had come. But what was evident was that he was starved and beaten and had no memory, or he had deliberately blocked out where he had come from.

“Like Uncle Omi?” Jeana said.

“Well yes. I never thought of it that way very like our Omi,” Janis said with a smile.

“So Diana’s father gave the poor misplaced boy a job as a stable lad. Very like the way my father, Old Christos, gave Omi a job on the farm all those years ago. Ali had worked there ever since and he worked very hard and tried to please his boss. Diana’s father used to say that ‘Ali ate so much that first year he came to them, that he thought that he would burst or send them into ruin’. But the skinny boy had turned into a fine looking teenager. Ali and Diana became friends right from the beginning. The brown eyed lonely girl and the forlorn lost boy, who had no history. Diana’s father did not encourage this relationship, but he was often busy and distracted in the taverna. Diana and Ali became very close. Eventually the inevitable happened and they fell in love. They met in secret. Diana would invent errands and Ali would walk out with one of the horses. When they did meet, it was quite innocent, holding hands, quick furtive kisses. They were like two puppies desperate for some affection.

One night they decided to meet in the stable. But it was busy in the taverna that night and Diana’s father was rushed off his feet and short handed. He decided that Diana, now fifteen, was old enough to help out, collecting plates and empty glasses to be washed. So he called up to her in her room. But he got no reply.

‘Where are you girl,’ he yelled. When he went to find her she was not there, he panicked and a search party was formed.

They found them, Diana and Ali, curled up in each others arms in one of the stables, fast asleep. Diana’s father was furious, he dragged Diana back to the house and then went back to the stable and beat poor Ali with a horse bridle and then he told him to get out.

‘I never want to see you here again,’ he said. ‘You keep away from my daughter.’

Ali could hardly walk but he stumbled out of the stable and down the road towards the village square. When Diana’s father returned to the house he checked on Diana who was crying piteously on her bed.

‘You will never see Ali again,’ he said.

‘What,’ she gasped. ‘But dad where is he?’

‘He has gone; I have thrown him out.’ With that Diana’s father stomped out of the room leaving Diana distraught and alone.

She cried for a while but then she put of her coat and left the house.

‘I will find him,’ she said to herself. It did not take her long, for Diana found Ali in the garden of the school house near the village square. They clung to each other in the chilly night air. The only cover they could find was a sapling olive tree that had been planted next to the grave yard. The pair huddled together shivering and desperate all the long cold night but in the morning they were dead. And that was when they found them there entwined under the olive tree and that is where they buried them. The olive tree grew, blossomed and bore fruit. It is said that the olives from that tree tasted so good it would bring tears to the eyes of those who ate them. In the spring the blossoms were perfect and each year the limbs of the tree entwined more and more around each other. In the lover’s tree a nightingale sang every night, and it’s said that the sound it made was so beautiful that it almost stops the beating of your heart.” Janis concluded.

“What a sad story,” said Jeana.

“I don’t like olives,” said James.

“Don’t let your mother and father hear you say that.” Janis said with a smile. “Talk of the devil here she comes I expect it is time for your tea.”

“Hallo Janis,” Carla said. “Would you like a piece of spinach pie with us? I have just made a batch and there is plenty to spare,” Carla said. “And there’s loads of salad enough for an army.”

Janis smiled, he remembered Carla’s first attempts at making spinach pie when she first married his grandson Marcos, and they had been disastrous.

“Spinach pie?” Sure would,” he replied, with a twinkle in his eye.

Carla looked back at Janis as if to say, I have learned a lot since then. So don’t you dare say anything? She thought glancing warily at him.

“Shall I tell you about when your mum first came to live in Greece?” he asked the twins.

“Do you want some pie or not?” Carla said quickly.