Now that my grandfather has lived eighty-seven years, he chooses to remember his life in brief stories, filed under reductive headings like “Luck”.
It was luck that his wife agreed to move across the world to marry him, and luck that they had healthy children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren.
It was luck that got him his first job in Montreal. If he’d not been offered that job at the last possible moment, he would have been sent back to war-torn Greece and conscription.
It was luck that brought him to Montreal, when he was desperate to continue his education to avoid deportation. He heard a man in the lab at MIT speaking French and struck up a conversation with him. My grandfather was lucky his parents had chosen to speak French in the home, in Salonica, Greece, when he was a boy. Because he knew French he could talk to the visiting engineer, explain his urgent need to find a new sponsoring university, and eventually gain entrance to McGill.
It was luck that gave him a one-year visa to the United States and Canada, not just the three-month visa he’d originally been issued. If he hadn’t been delivering a parcel from Athens to the Greek embassy in New York City, the woman at the embassy wouldn’t have offered to extend his visa.
It was luck that a peanut seller on the streets of New York City spoke Greek, and could give him directions to the embassy.
It was luck that got him out of Greece in 1948, when the country was in civil war and all males between the ages of 18 and 50 were barred from leaving the country. He was lucky to win a scholarship for summer study at MIT, lucky someone at MIT could pull favors with the American Ambassador to Greece.
It was luck that kept him alive in Nazi-occupied Greece. His family of non-practicing Jews spent the later war years in hiding in a mountain village. Whenever they heard rumour of Nazi inspections they’d spend a few nights in the woods outside town. One morning, returning from the woods to their temporary home, they encountered two Nazi soldiers. One of the soldiers shouted at my grandfather, and my grandfather thought he’d be killed. Luckily, the soldier only fancied my grandfather’s walking stick, and took only that.
It was luck that a Nazi patrol outside Athens was disorganized. My grandfather fled Athens for the mountains in a crowded truck, but was halted on the road by that patrol. My grandfather’s mother told the soldiers they were attending a wedding in the next town. The soldiers were late, and didn’t have time to search the vehicle. They ordered the passengers to check in at the next town (they never did) and let them carry on their way.
It was luck that my grandfather’s parents fled from their home in Salonica to Athens. Very few Jews from Salonica survived the Holocaust.
Genealogically, I’m one-quarter non-practicing Lucky to be alive.
Bio: Amy Attas is a graduate of York University’s Creative Writing program. Her stories have appeared in anthologies by Summit Studios and Cumulus Press, and her reviews in The Rover and The Winnipeg Review. She grew up in Pinawa, Manitoba, and now lives on the road, paying the bills planting trees.