My papa was an avid reader of Greek history and mythology. In Simi, when it was under Italian occupation, from the end of WWI until 1945, he read Greek history whenever a book was available.
And he was proud and glad to discuss those stories with a willing listener – me! He told me about Zeus, the god of all gods, whose helpers consisted of six goddesses and six gods. Gee! Zeus was an equal opportunity employer. He was ahead of his time!{48828}
Then, he told me what duties each was responsible for: Apollo, son of Jupiter, was God of the sun; Venus was goddess of love and beauty. But, he saved the best for last – he loved and admired a real hero – one that once lived. Alexander, the Great.
Of course, he told me all those stories in Greek. After all, when you make ice cream or bake a cake you don’t substitute the ingredients with second-hand stuff, do you?
So it was that I, at ten years old, sitting in fourth grade, felt thoroughly educated. After all, what more was there to know? That was before the teacher, a heavy- set German woman with icy blue/grey eyes told the class that she would give any student two extra points if they could answer the question, “What was the name of the horse owned by Alexander, the Great?”
I was filled with excitement! I knew that answer! I raised my hand. But, the two Greek kids, Gregory and Marika, raised their hands, too. I needed those two points, badly. So, I waved my hand, wildly, as if trying to cool a burn. Miss Penner looked around, saw those hands, her eyes zooming in on me. I was not teacher’s pet – not by a longshot! I don’t know why but she wasn’t fond of me. Yet, with a smile that was a mixture of sneer and curiosity, she pointed at me. I was so surprised that I almost lost my train of thought. Did she really choose me? Or, the kid behind me?
“Well? If you really know…tell the class! I’m waiting!”
In my mind flashed a scene in which a young, blond, handsome, muscular man, pulled his horse’s reins back, causing the horse to rise up on his hind hooves, neighing as the warrior called out at me, “Speak! Tell that brazen woman what my horse’s name is! I’m waiting!” he spoke in Greek! I shook my head to erase the vision. Straightening my shoulders I found my voice and announced, with pride and emphasis, “Vu-kefalas!” accenting the ‘Vu.’
Her stern grin vanished and was replaced by a grin much like a cat having discovered the secret hiding place of a mouse. “NO!” was her resounding response. No? I was shocked! Had my father lied? No, he couldn’t have!
“Yes, it is!” I said, shyly, not meaning to sound arrogant. But, somehow, she took it that way, giving me a stare that said, “you’ll burn at the stake!”
“I…said…NO!” Miss Penner’s voice thundered. She looked around the room as if looking through a submarine’s periscope. The other kids put their hands down. Their response was, obviously, like mine, I surmised. I waited to hear what she thought the horse’s name was. I mean, what else could it be? Was she talking about a jockey named, Alexander?
“Alexander, the Great’s horse was called, Boo –cee –fa –loze,” she announced with an Anglo-Saxon accent. She turned her head in my direction as if that was supposed to put me in my place.
My father’s face came to mind; how he’d object to the response; how he’d expect me to defend Greek history. Reigning in my courage, my face reflecting disappointment and dissatisfaction, I said, forgetting to raise my hand, “His name was Vukephalas.” My voice didn’t sound like my own. Her eyes spread open, like two ink blots, zeroing in at me before narrowing into slits.
“And, why are you so sure of that, Miss?” her hands went to her wide hips as if reaching for her guns.
“Because!” I said, my knees trembling a little. “… because his horse was Greek and so am I!”
With studied nonchalance, Miss Penner went to her desk and spoke in almost a whisper, “That will cost you… two points.”
When I went home I could hardly wait until Papa came home. I had to tell him! And, I did! He was, at first, taken aback. Then, he thought more about it and told me he’d come to school with me the next day. He did! I watched as the two spoke in the privacy of the hallway while the kids watched and waited in suspense – wondering if they’d seen the last of me or would the sheriff come to arrest Papa.
The meeting ended and my papa winked, briefly, at me before going away. Miss Penner’s brows, assuming the pose of the valiant, rose high as she took her place, silently, at her desk. I watched her take up her pen and, a throaty groan – almost like a neigh, emanated as she made some kind of correction next to, what I believed, was my name before she commenced to the next subject.
Ancient Greek history or myths were never brought up again. I found out that the two points were restored to my final grade and she chose my hand when I chanced to raise it. I was promoted to the next class even though I wasn’t the greatest student. Papa came to bat for me! But, looking up, I rubbed my eyes. Standing behind Ms. Penner’s desk was a dazzling, golden-haired warrior beside a horse, smiling across at me, his fingers making a “V.”


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