SOME YEARS BEFORE her death at the age of eighty-eight, Aphrodite, my Greek mother-in-law, gave up walking. There was no physical or medical reason for this; she simply decided that she didn’t want to walk any more and so developed a pattern of moving between chair and bed. Her family was slow to realise that this was one of the first signs of the cloaking dementia that settled on her incrementally but inexorably. I myself came late to the understanding that she associated walking with work. But I did know she had certainly had more than enough of the latter.
One of the things that struck me in rural Greece, which I first visited on holiday in 1975, was the general appearance of the old village women. It was difficult to define or estimate ‘old’, for so many were simply worn out before their time – too many children, too often, along with too much worry, and a great deal of deprivation. Wrinkles had multiplied quickly on faces that had never known makeup; backs were most often bent from the effects of carrying heaps of olive branches and sacks of potatoes from the gardens that were usually miles away; and many apparently old women had peculiarly bowed legs from the effects of rickets, a disease that affects the bones and is usually caused by lack of vitamin D or by malnutrition. In Greece it always had to be caused by malnutrition. All this added up to work. And work that had very little reward beyond survival at a level that initially shocked me.
Already a subscriber? Sign in here
If you are an educator or student wishing to access content for study purposes please contact us at email@example.com