I Remember

by Lale Odekon

I remember my four years old feet sinking into the warm, soft sand, my toes disappearing in it. I remember the cool waves and how they sent shivers up my spine as I ventured in over the pebbles and small fragments of sea- shells crunching under my feet…how the lapping waves caressed the moss-splotched rocks and left them glistening under the mid-summer sun. I remember running into the seaside hotel with bare feet over the carpets, leaving flecks of sand in my trail and how the tall spacious hallways felt so cool even in the  blistering heat outside….I remember the smell of toast wafting from the nearby kitchen on our way to breakfast on the terrace where tables were set up with white tablecloths and kind waiters would smear jam on tall narrow mouthed water bottles to attract the many bees so we would not get stung…I remember behind the hotel the cool reddish soiled patch surrounded by tall pine trees which was our playground where we the children played all sorts of pretend games and collected and exchanged pine cones and nuts…our fingers would  get all black and sticky.

The afternoons would be languid …. at the gate, on a large tray of block ice an old man would sell shelled almonds and fresh walnuts…. I remember one afternoon when my mother, as was her custom, dressed me in a nice white linen dress to welcome my father when he returned from work. I remember the older children deciding to go cherry picking on the grounds and asking me to come along. I felt so proud to be included as I hopped along among the purplish wisterias on my way to cherry picking…I helped them by holding my skirt up to catch the cherries they were throwing from above the trees. Then we shared them. I remember my mother’s fury when she laid eyes on me.

I remember the Maître D’, Anton, a roundish, jolly man who on most days would take the time to construct a stork for me out of metallic paper found in cigarette packs at the time…I loved them and collected all.

I remember the sadness when summer was over, and we returned to our apartment in the city. We always enjoyed the remaining sunny, and warm days by spending time in the balcony facing the back of the building overlooking the rose garden…I remember the roar I heard during lunch on the balcony on one such September day. A commotion followed with rowdy crowds looting stores and pots and pans and yards of jewel-colored fabrics being dragged through the streets and my friend Aline Melikian’s piano being thrown out from their third-floor apartment across the street…I remember the stillness and the sorrow that engulfed us afterwards.

I remember my first day of school…black pinafores…heavy school bags, a high-ceilinged old building with creaky floors, a stove in the center for heating…and an angry looking, old and not a very attractive teacher. In art class she had us color- a favorite activity of mine. A little while later I was bolted out of my pleasant immersion by an acute burning pain in my right ear…I look up and the teacher lets go of my burning ear…My crime? I was softly singing to myself as I colored…Then there was the time when at the end of the day we were all released into the courtyard running around and jostling…gradually the crowd thinned as each kid got picked up by an adult until I was the only one sitting on a bank, clutching my red bag…the air got chilly and the sky turned darker…and my mother finally showed up…no apology…just a misunderstanding between her and my grandfather as to who had to pick me up. 

The last day of the fifth grade we were to go to school wearing nice clothes. One was picked for me and was ready in my closet. I woke up early to a bright and sunny May day, happily anticipating putting on my new dress and having a good time with friends before we all dispersed for the summer and then later to different middle schools of our parents’ choice. I remember my father, still in his pajamas, dashing out of my parents’ room, the small red Grundig transistor radio attached to his ear and screaming, “coup, coup.” Then other radios were turned on, phone calls were made to friends and family…stealth look onto the avenue in front of our building…soldiers marching up and down…the radio blaring that there will be a curfew until otherwise announced.

In the all girls’ British middle school situated in an old dark building on a steep cobbled street in Beyoglu district of Istanbul, I remember the marble staircase and the creaking floors and the unhappy, stern British teachers all single and in their 30’s and 40’s…rules were plentiful…we wore  frumpy uniforms and a cap with a Latin inscription…we were the laughing stock of the boys and girls of the German High School a few blocks down the street who had no restrictions on their attire…we had to pray at lunch for ”what we had received,” which was nothing to speak of and on Monday morning assembly we had to cheer ”hip, hip hurray for the Queen!”  Worst of all we were forbidden to speak Turkish. If caught speaking in our native language we were given a key which we had to get rid of by spotting another twelve-year old classmate with the same infraction and pass the key. Whoever ended with the key at the end of the school day had to show up for Saturday detention and write pages of “I will speak only English” until their fingers cramped. I remember organizing a secret soccer game in the gallery of the assembly hall and getting caught when the ball hit a window.

I remember in the Spring of that year my father announced that we were going to a new restaurant on the Bosphorus. Its owner was Anton, the former Maître D’ of the now defunct summer resort of my early childhood. The resort’s former employees had all dispersed to other hotels in Istanbul and some had returned to their ancestral home, Greece. Which outfit to wear? How to style my hair? It was bad enough to be seen by anyone while out with parents but at least I could be absolutely cool if caught. Finally pleased with myself, I joined everyone in the car and we drove to Anton’s restaurant. After warm greeting and hugs all around we got settled and delicious dishes started arriving one after the other…at last Anton reappeared with a plate on which stood his signature stork made out of metallic paper…my cool and composure went out of the window…misty eyes and hugs…more hugs around the table…we mourned and rejoiced for the wonderful summers we all had shared.

I was born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey. I trained and practiced as an anesthesiologist in the US. When I retired a few years ago I joined IRP/LP2 and have been having the time of my life since.