A Different Kind Of Island Life

The photos with this story are the ones that keep me reminded of one of the happiest times of my life.

They were taken in Greece. Our daughter had just been born in Vietnam to my wife Denby Fawcett. The war had come to a halt because of the Paris cease-fire agreement – which didn’t hold – and we decided on a Greek island residence to live out the U.S. tax year abroad.


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The author and daughter in Greece

We picked Kalymnos, not far from Turkey. We briefly stayed on Kos. But that gritty, touristic isle didn’t fit us. So I left Denby and Brett and took a fishing boat to Kalymnos, an island that got few tourists and had no ferry service.

I found a real estate agent who took me to see a cottage overlooking the island of Telendos. I told her I couldn’t afford much rent. “Three hundred,” she said. I wanted to bargain. “Well, $300 a month is more than I can handle.”

“No, no, $300 a year,” she said.

I took it, of course, and brought Denby and baby Brett over by the next fishing boat.

Those were fantastic months! Our minimal-English-speaking neighbors ran a small store in town. A mountain man came down periodically and brought us yoghurt. I bummed rides into town to shop because Denby was nursing.

Rarely, I’d get lucky and an arriving boat had some meat. But mostly it was fish and canned goods. Not one head of lettuce or one orange! But we lived right on the water and I once snorkeled to nearby Telendos (never gave a thought to sharks) and drank ouzo with retired sponge fishermen from Tarpon Springs, Fla.

I learned “yes,” “no,” “maybe” and “thank you” in Greek. My skin was turning black. Retsina, an acquired-taste wine, arrived regularly at our cottage by a cart-bicyclist who also brought beer and a few vegetables. Does life get any better?

We were removed from the politics. Greece, like Italy, lives on the perpetual edge of failure. It was a military dictatorship when we were there, but we didn’t see a single soldier in Kalymnos. Plenty of “the generals are taking care of you” signs, however.

We left when winter set in and everybody in our north-side community moved into the huddled warmth of the south-side harbor town.

I left a little piece of myself there because I loved the barren beauty, our generous neighbors, the retsina and that homemade yoghurt that mountain man delivered by donkey.

I still hate the kid who stole a hard-to-get piece of steak off our outdoor hibachi the moment I’d gone back into the cottage for something.

We ate barbecued canned wieners that night, drank retsina and sang a popular barbounia (Greek red mullet) song to the night stars.