Friday blues

June 06,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Next week is the last week of this summer school class, and then the second round starts. I am half-hoping enrollment will be too low for the second section to run and that the course will be canceled. I'm tired and there just aren't enough hours in the day to get work done. And--can it be possible already? I'm feeling a tad burned out.

This morning I was slicing bread for the kids while my coffee brewed, gurgling away, and I looked up and saw the dried bunch of Greek oregano my parents bring back for us every summer. I had it out last night, to add some flavor to a pasta dish I made (FYI--quick summer dinner: cook a little chopped garlic in olive oil, squeeze a lemon over it, saute some more, then add cooked pasta and toss. I sprinkle dried oregano over it all and lots of grated cheese, but fresh or dried basil work well, too. If you're feeling really ambitious and want to impress grown-up people, add toasted walnuts, or feta or goat cheese), and I left it on the counter all night. I reached out and touched a sprig and crumbled it between my fingers. Driving into work this morning, my fingertips still smelled like oregano--evocative instantly of the little sun-baked village square in the mountain village of Alexandros, in Greece, where my parents have a house.

Mornings like this one, when it's unbearably hot in that thick, sticky way of the South, and when my colleagues at work are bailing like rats on a sinking ship--one headed off somewhere exotic and faraway so she can write (oh, I'm drooling with envy, let me tell you) others vanished into the summer with scarcely a backward glance, I wish myself thousands of miles away, back to Greece, back to a country steeped in my blood and bones, to my grandparents' empty apartment, and to the things that once meant so much to me when I was a child.

"I wish I could close my eyes and find myself instantly transported back to Greece," I told L. wistfully over cereal this morning, the smell of the oregano mixing in a not-very-appetizing way with our Trader Joe's Os. "I would wish myself back on the beach, with the water pooling around my ankles and the pebbles under my feet."

L. was quiet for a few minutes, and then we chatted back and forth about what we missed: the little village dog T. had named Pup-pup; the tiny newborn kittens that fit into the palm of my hand; the sea, of course--purple-blue, and so rich and intoxicating you wanted to drink it (well, that was my metaphor; L. said the water was like paint); the ruined mills that dot the outskirts of the village, their tops exposed to the sky; even the rattletrap rental car that faithfully took us up and down the mountain every day.

"Oh I wish I were there again RIGHT NOW!" I repeated, thumping my hands down on the kitchen table at the thought of the hot commute into work. "But," I sighed, reality intruding on fantasy, "I guess that wish can't really come true."

"Yeah," L. said with sad practicality. "I tried to wish that already and NOTHING happened."