Video: My Yiayia

Many people have unique and beautiful stories, but the one that I am about to tell you is very special to me.

Stavroula Mavrogeorgis is the grandmother (or Yiayia in Greek) of two children, Eve my older sister and me, Ruby Cogan. Stavroula, my Yiayia, had always wanted to be a godmother but no-one had her given her that opportunity. To her surprise in 2004, her daughter gave her the honour of being the godmother to her second grandchild, me! Which is funny, because that made my mother, my god sister.

Stavroula took her faith seriously. Although she did not go to church often, she prayed every day and taught me about the importance of God. She spent much effort and made the major Christian celebrations of Easter and Christmas, amazing. As part of the christening sacrament, in Greek tradition, the godparents give their godchild a crucifix, that is to last for the rest of their life. I still wear that crucifix to church today and it is the most beautiful and meaningful possession I have.

When my sister and I were little, my mum went back to work almost instantly, just four days after giving birth. This meant that Yiayia did the majority of the raising of Eve and I. She told us how she grew up in Greece with little food and money. Therefore as an adult, she was always very careful with her money but never let her children or grandchildren go hungry. So we learnt the important tenets in life, food, spending money carefully and education.

My Yiayia spent the first part of her life working in a factory and the second part as a cleaner. She used all her money to pay for my mum and auntie’s Catholic school education and unfortunately because of the long hours she spent working, she was unable to attend any school events. So when my sister and I came along, she loved us more than anything in this world, she thought of us as a second chance to raise children.

When I turned 5, I started my schooling education. My Yiayia had ended her education at the age of 14, in year 6, because her parents were no longer able to afford it and needed her help. She told us she wished that she could have finished her education. She expected that everyone would take their education opportunity seriously and not just try, but succeed.

As we grew up Yiayia told Eve and I stories about her life, how she had met Papou and about her garden when my mum was growing up. She was very proud of her green thumb and always loved gardening. When my mum was young she told me of her great garden with tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, the different varieties of colourful flowers and much more. With all those vegetables, she used them to make the most delicious dinners. When I grew up I helped her with her garden. Often she would create a whole new dish purely because there was an abundance of a vegetable in her garden. I still remember getting pumpkin soup every night for a month!

After starting from the bottom, Yiayia was now financially secure, although she still lived like she was poor. Spending money on a holiday seemed ludicrous, but if her grandchildren were going and my dad was paying for it, she would love to come. She especially loved the buffets and to spend the day by the pool or ocean. Essentially she just liked having a relaxing time with us.

Yiayia kept us fed with only healthy food. She always kept us dressed well too. She sewed our uniforms back together, fixed the hems and covered up the holes we made. But most importantly, she loved us. Yiayia was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer (stage three) in March last year and the doctors predicted she had one to three months left. Yiayia was very brave and decided to try Chemotherapy because the doctors advised it could buy her more time. She made it all the way until March this year. Nine precious extra months.

I am grateful to have had my grandmother in my life, she was a beautiful, kind and talented person. I am missing you already Yiayia, I love you.

RIP my beautiful Yiayia

5 November 1939 – 31 March 2016. 76 years old

My sister also blogged about our Yiayia 

The Disastrous Drought

Everlasting fields of green grass.

The perfect home, gone.

All I have ever wished for, gone.

I blame it all on the malicious drought. The drought struck last January on our multi-talented cotton, wool, dairy and beef farm. It was a perfect home for farming. The horrible drought had made the previously overflowing lake filled with fresh water and fish disappear, so all that was left was the stink of rotting fish. This gave us no choice but to move.

We had everything we wanted there, my family and the farm. My mum, well she is the most beautiful and kind mum in the whole world. My dad was the strongest man in town and he always gave me a kiss good night unlike all my friends’ farmer dads at school. We always had the newest machinery. That machinery, like our farm has now atrophied.

We packed up our belongings and precious possessions ready to leave the farm and hopefully come back. We set out past the everlasting brown fields, past, what we called ‘the bush’. From a place, that I called home, to ‘the city’. Everything was different and at first, bad. We slowly came to like this place, the place we called ‘the big smoke’, but more often ‘the city’.

Everything was different, especially school. I thought it was ‘bad different’ although my parents were ecstatic at the high quality of schooling. There were also good things about ‘the city’ like the amazing beaches, great cafes or even better the newly opened Casino buffet. At the buffet we saw an exciting piece of technology that we did not have on the farm called a ‘TV’. I’ve only been there once for my birthday but I really enjoyed the experience.

We finally saved up enough money to buy ourselves a TV, so we went to the shops and bought the cheapest one. We set up the TV and turned it onto the news. The first thing we heard was that the drought on the farm was finally over after 3 long years. We thought that the decision would be so easy but now it was hard. We sat around the dinner table talking for hours but we couldn’t decide.

We didn’t know whether to leave the city and its beautiful coast, where we were making money and doing well or go back to the relaxing and exciting farm. My parents had become attached to their new mechanic shop where my dad runs the mechanic part and my mum runs the adjacent café.

After everlasting lists of pros and cons, we chose to make the most courageous decision…

Ruby Tuesday Cogan
Year 5 at Claremont College, 10 years old

I entered this in the Lionel Bowen writing competition.