On my birthday, in Greece, I remember my father saying, “Athena, a sixteen year old girl should have a piece of jewelry to wear.” We lived on top of a hill surrounded by olive trees, our only source of income. I never thought of myself as poor, but I knew we never had much money. It didn’t seem to affect my parents, always content in our home, still are.
We walked three miles down a steep hill to the man who sold tourists trinkets. I can’t describe the excitement. Imagine; a piece of jewelry. On the entire way down I thought about what I should select. Since I was to have only one piece it had to be one that I could readily see and enjoy; a ring.
The shop owner placed a tray of glittering stones in front of me. There were so many, a turquoise ring caught my eye.
“Is this the ring you like Athena.”
“Good choice, it’s beautiful.” He took it to the owner. I saw him searching his pockets. I quickly selected a plain silver ring, said “Father I’ve changed my mind. I like this one.”
The owner removed the piece from my hand, placed it back in the tray. “Athena, the turquoise ring was made for you. It enhances your black dress, costs the same.” He placed the ring on my finger.
We thanked Nicholas and climbed back up the hill. My father kept asking me to hold my hand out. I never saw him so pleased, my mother also, the ring’s color made the plain black dresses she had hand-sewn for me, look chic.
All night I awoke, looked at the ring under moonlight glowing through the window. I thought how kind of Nicholas, allowing my father to buy the ring for less than its value. The next day, I climbed back down the hill and gave him a gift, a small unframed oil painting. He hung it on his wall, still there today.
The merchant thanked me and asked, “Athena, do you have more of these paintings?”
“Yes, my mother thinks I have too many of them.”
“Bring them to me. I’m sure I could sell these to tourists. We’ll share equally in the windfall.” American visitors bought all of them.
Now in the states, painting, she laughed and said to the man by her. “There were so many, I had to entice a boy who lived on the next hill, I won’t tell you how, to bring his donkey over and haul them to the shop. When I finished a painting, for years, I walked it down the mountain to the dealer, climbed back up.”
She raised golden olive legs, “See, now you know why they are so muscular and my shoulders are rather broad from carrying baskets of olives.” No mention of the sun scorched lines on her face.
The man thought ‘imperfection is often beauty’ asked, “Athena, where did you learn to paint?”
“In school, when my teacher traveled about the island he implored artists and shops to donate art supplies, came back, dumped them on a desk. We all painted like demons. He slipped the remaining supplies into a square cloth I carried my belongings in. I never owned a purse until twenty. I painted almost non-stop. My challenge, to use the colors in proportion as to how much paint left in each tube. I think that is why my paintings are so colorful.”
“Your turquoise ring, I’ve noticed, is the only piece of jewelry you wear.”
“My drawers are full of jewelry I have purchased over the years. I only look at it. Every time I’m tempted to wear a piece, I cannot, remembering my father. You are the only man who has ever asked me why I always wear black.” The discovery was the beginning of their romance. She kissed him on the cheek. They married.
There were those who whispered, ‘What does he see in her?’
The man knew what. Athena, a girl one loved when young and when not.