Tuesday, June 17
My wife and I arrived at George Bush Intercontinental Airport at 6:15am for our flight to Philadelphia, the first leg of our journey to Athens, Greece. No problems.
Our flight to Philly was delayed an hour. No problem. It was delayed another hour. No problem. It was delayed two more hours. PROBLEM!
If Opus were writing this instead of yours truly, he would describe the next 24 hours as “Catastrophe! Calamity! A considerable setback.”
But since I’m the one writing, I will skip the trauma.
Wednesday, June 18
Twenty-four hours later, we arrived in Athens – and beat our luggage there by another 24. Keeping the big picture in mind, no problem.
Thursday, June 19
In the morning, we spent two hours at the Acropolis of Athens with our guide and teacher Athena. No joke. That really was her name.
In the afternoon, we were off by plane to Ikaria, birthplace of my paternal grandparents. We had no names, no numbers, no leads. My wife Joanne said, “You think that when we get off the plane, there will be a crowd of greeters there chanting, “Vasileios! Vasileios! You have come home! Welcome!”? (“Vasileios” is a Greek male name that means “royal” or “kingly.”)
“I’d just like to meet a Glaros, have a conversation, make contact.” Jo was fine with that.
As arranged by our wonderful travel agent and friend Maria, we met Dimitri at the airport in Ikaria for our car. His instructions were very clear: When we dropped off the car the next morning, we were to leave it at the airport parking lot with the keys in the ignition – just like we found it. Okay… (We learned there’s no jail in Ikaria because there’s no need for one.)
By this time, we were famished. The closest restaurant we could find was 15 minutes away in the capital city of Agios Kirykos. After some delicious moussaka, we asked a couple at the next table where the town of Glareda was. This was where my grandmother was born and raised. He asked our name and when he heard it he yelled out, “Yiargo! Give me the telephone number for the priest in Glareda!”
The priest’s name? Evangelos Glaros.
Within 15 minutes, we were in the parking lot of the Greek Orthodox Church in Glareda. Full of hope, I dialed the number we were given. We were whelmed to hear the friendly woman’s voice answer and, without hesitation, invite us up to their home. We were overwhelmed when we got to meet, face-to-face, in the house where Evangelos had been born 86 years ago.
The friendly voice belonged to his wife Kaliopi. Both of them were gracious. Both spoke great English. A sailor in his youth, Evangelos had just retired from the priesthood a year before at the age of 85.
After a couple of delightful hours together on their hillside porch, coffee, and a few homegrown tomatoes, we feared we might be wearing our welcome a little thin. But when we started to get up, Evangelos waved his hand downward and said softly, “Sit. Sit. You stay.” After his third request that we sit, he upped the ante: “You will spend the night here.” My eyes well with tears when I recall that moment, feeling so thankful and blessed.
Graciously (we hope!), we declined, knowing that we would see them at the airport the next morning. They would be flying to Athens, too, on the same flight as us. We said good-bye until then and headed off to our hotel in Evdilos, birthplace of my grandfather (the town, not the hotel!). Maxing out our map-reading and Greek language skills, we made it safely to the hotel where we enjoyed a very nice room and a beautiful view.
Friday, June 20
Now, I’m not a believer in coincidences, but our last morning in Ikaria offered more than the usual share.
Early, I sought help from the hotel front desk with printing boarding passes for our afternoon flight back to Athens. Noticing my flight information, she looked up with a slightly surprised expression. “Glaros. You are from here.”
Quite possibly, I stood a little taller and threw my chest out a bit when I smiled and responded proudly, “Yes, I am.” (Vasileios! Vasileios!)
One other “impossible” event occurred after our harried drive to the airport. Once we had made it through all the unexpected detours, we decided to stop at a small beach town for lunch. To our delight, the closest parking space possible awaited us. We pulled in.
Two spaces to our right was the couple we had spoken with in the restaurant the day before – the very ones who had given us Evangelos’ and Kaliopi’s phone number. We thanked them profusely for their wonderful role in helping us – amazed at this “chance” meeting, but only at first. Once we’d thought more about it, we gave thanks for yet another Ikarian “coincidence.”
Reflecting on this wonderful, life-enriching experience, I can’t help but think of lines from my brother’s priest, Father Vasileios:
A great place to be, in someone’s thoughts,
A safe place to be, in someone’s prayers,
The best place to be, in the hands of God.
“Angelic” Ikarian cousins and Heavenly Father, thank you.