This essay has been shared with The Pappas Post with permission by the author, Mrs. Tess Lekas from Seven Hills, Ohio, outside Cleveland. It first appeared on cleveland.com and is part of a series of essays by readers and their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. We thank Mrs. Lekas for sharing her story with our readers.
(SEVEN HILLS, Ohio) This morning, I awoke in my comfortable bed, used my remote control to turn on the TV, walked a few feet to my bathroom, got dressed, walked a few feet to my kitchen, turned a knob and got instant flame.
I walked over to my sink, where water ran into my cup for my tea. I put a load of laundry in the washing machine with soap out of a bottle. The phone is ringing; a nice visit with my daughter. Later on, I will be taking my car for a drive and when I return, I will walk outside for a while. My groceries will arrive later in the day from the supermarket. I read the morning Plain Dealer on my computer. This is April 7, 2020, in Cleveland, Ohio — a day that I will be self-isolating for a different age in my time.
This morning, my 9-year-old self awoke to the sound of the Nazi soldiers walking up and down the dirt road in my small village in the city of Chania on the island of Crete, Greece. Neither I, nor my parents and brothers, got much sleep last night, as most nights.
Around midnight, we are awakened by the drone sound, first slight, then louder and louder, as the Allied planes approach. We all get out of our beds, which are situated at the four corners of the one large, dirt-floor room. Every door in the village opens as all inhabitants are running to the caves, hoping to arrive before the bombs begin their whistling descent.
We wait for the sound of the explosion; it comes, the noise of the planes subsides. We do our cross and thank God. This night, the moon is bright as it guides us back to our homes to live another day.
Breakfast will be spare. Dandelion juice from last night’s supper; perhaps an egg that was boiled the previous evening. Today, my brothers and I proceed to another village to go to school. School is hardly ever at the same place too long.
The Nazis’ attempt to keep the villagers unsettled so as to not cause any uprisings, or, in many cases, to take over small schoolhouses, has led to the use of very unorthodox places, churches, barns and even grassy knolls, to receive an education. I clutch my piece of slate and a chalk, or, if not chalk, then a soft pebble to use in the classroom. There are no school supplies and certainly no books. Only the teacher has a book that she passes around to us to read.
My mother will be going to the fields to do menial work in the hope that a farmer will be giving her vegetables or even a potato for our supper. She will be picking dandelions, or artichokes to bring home, but first stopping to go to the well to bring water home.
My father will be bringing firewood home to light in our little hearth to make supper. From the flame, a small oil lamp will be lit for our evening light and the coals from the fire will keep us warm until bedtime. Mom will take our clothes down to the creek to wash them with a bar of home-made soap that a neighbor has given her.
She will drape them over bushes to dry. Many days, when the Nazis are menacing us in the villages, we have to self-isolate so as to not be seen as a menace, to not to let them see that we are Americans (unable to return to the United States, once the war broke out). We have no communication with the outside world. Today is June 12, 1942.
Editor’s note: Tess Lekas was born in Cleveland but moved with her family to Greece, where they endured wartime conditions for “four years, not just months, which I hope and pray the coronavirus will be.” She had to work to overcome the language barrier when they returned to Cleveland, but, “once conquered, The Plain Dealer became and still is my daily reading.” These days, in non-coronavirus times, Lekas enjoys time with her large family and volunteering at her church.
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