Thursday, July 11, 2013

Voula Saris, April 15, 1926 - July 8, 2013

I visited Voula in the hospital last Saturday.

My mom was sitting in a chair, one of her feet propped up on the end of Voula's bed.  They were both resting, both so very tired.

Hearing me walk in, my mom opened her eyes.  We talked, quietly, while nurses came in and out.  One took Voula's blood pressure - wrapping the sleeve around Voula's arm, pumping that sleeve up, recording the reading in pencil.  Finished up by taking her temperature, all without Voula waking.

All while Voula slept.

Voula?  Officially her name was Paraskevi, but all called her Voula.  Voula was one of my mom's closest friends.  Both of them helping at the church so often.  If I think of Voula I see her in the kitchen, at the Greek Orthodox Church on Tokay, with her hair net on and hands buttering phyllo for baklava or stirring rice as it bubbled in one of the church's huge pots, tossing salad.  Cooking, so often cooking.

Voula was one of the people you could take for granted - like so many of the women and men who donate their time to the church.  So much happens under the guidance of Father Jon, but it wouldn't happen - couldn't happen - without Voula or Paul or Des or Greg.

Working, always working - cooking with my mom, cleaning, boxing pastries.  Ah, Voula.

You and my mom.  Ah, Voula.  Wrapping grape leaves for dolmathes, you and my mom.  Twisting koulourakia, you and my mom.  Frying kalitsounia, you and my mom.

You and my mom.

My earliest memory of Voula is from one of our many visits when I was a kid - she lived in South Modesto, over on Marshall.  Little house on a big plot - big at least to me, then.  On this occasion, Voula greeted us outside her house, now painted bright yellow.  Her smile could've stopped a truck as she pointed to herself and said in Greek:

I did this.

So happy to have accomplished this thing by herself since no one else was going to.  So happy.  Such a bright yellow over the dark, weathered wood.

Voula had a wonderful garden there behind her little yellow house - her grapes?  Her white grapes?  Her tomatoes?  One year she planted pumpkins for me and my brothers.  I don't know if any other kids received this wonderful present from her - probably they did.  When it came to kids, Voula was shameless.  The gleam she'd get in her eye if a kid came into the room? Twinkle twinkle.

But on Saturday Voula slept - tired from life, right?  Looking to rest.  I stood up after the nurse left and leaned over.  I can't say much in Greek, but I can say I love you.  So I told Voula that.  Told her we all loved her.

Voula opened her eyes - and while the twinkle wasn't as bright as it has been, it was still there.  I love you too, Voula said.  All of you.  Especially the children.

This is what I want my daughters to remember about Voula - that the last thing she said to me was how much she loved the children.  Mine, certainly - but their cousins, too.  And all the children lucky enough to have met Voula.

Especially the children, Voula said.

When I left her hospital room after Voula fell back asleep, my mom said Voula woke back up.  Kristina was just here, Voula said - Kristina my daughter - but I think she left because I don't see her.

My mom stood up and walked closer.  What's that, Voula? my mom said.  What are you saying?

The children, Voula said.  The children.  The children.  And then nothing after that.

Voula ate dinner that night - fed to her by Mary Zak, on the Saturday.  Ate with an appetite she hadn't shown in a long time.  Ate everything on her plate and then raised her hand.  Raised her hand firmly, indicating - I'm done.

I'm done.

Voula Saris passed away around the midnight hour on Monday morning.  Passed away in the comfort of the Hospice House in Hughson.  We love you, Voula.  We love you a lot.  And we'll miss you.  My mom especially.  My mom and the kids, especially.  Eternal be your memory, Voula.  Eternal.

Elizabeth and Kristina will remember.  With sadness now - but not later, hopefully.  They didn't take the news well.  What child would?  They were sad, bereft - and mad they hadn't visited more.  But mainly sad and bereft.  And what I want them to know is, what I want them to remember is--

I love you, too, Voula said.  Especially the children.

The children.  The children.  The children.

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