- Maria Heckinger
Beyond The Third Door
Guest Post by Maria Heckinger
Excerpt from her book, Beyond the Third Door
My Small Window on the Sea
A WARM BREEZE BLOWS ACROSS THE GREEK ISLAND OF Lefkada as I dry the morning dishes. Staring out of the tiny kitchen window of the house that had been in my family for generations, I know I will never tire of that view. Geraniums in pink, white, and red bask in the sun as they spill over the old olive cans and red clay pots bordering the patio. Grape vines twist and snake overhead to form a cool, shady cover over the arbor next to the house. Garlic braids drape the beams and oregano dries on the fence nearby. The music for the day comes from an ancient olive tree that stands guard like a sentinel and is home to hundreds of cicadas. With the last dish from the morning meal on the drying rack, I move into the living room to dust. This family area is my favorite because it brings back memories of Zoe, my Mama. Icons and photos sit on the mantle above the fireplace. Hand embroidered doilies and a table runner added the finishing touches to the table and sofa. Mama and I had spent many hours cooking meals in the stone fireplace and warming our toes on the hearth. The brightly colored, woven rug completed the room. Hand-woven by Mama, I think of her every time I see it.
The world has long read of Greek tragedies, but I, Hariklea Voukelatos, have lived one. My Mama, Zoe, was killed in a senseless act of rage by my Baba, Efstathios, when I was just six-years old. In those days, marriages were arranged, dowries were paid, and men owned their wives. Husbands were free to punish them as they saw fit, even if it resulted in death. The following year, 1945, brought more heartache. I contracted polio and spent weeks in bed. The women of the village nursed me back to health, but I was left with a withered ankle that rendered my foot useless. Now I limp and hobble around on a three-inch thick rubber-soled shoe and use a wooden cane. I was shocked and dismayed over what the disease had done to me. There was nothing easy about living in a mountain village with polio. Like most of the poorest village girls, I was not allowed to attend school, so I never learned to read or write. The men were afraid if we learned those skills, we would spend our time writing to boys. It was a ridiculous and unfair custom, but I could do nothing. I am now 15 years old with no girlfriends, only my two cousins. I spend most of my time alone and know nothing of the world beyond my island of Lefkada, and my small window on the sea. I run the household for four men: Baba, and three brothers, Thodoris, Nikos and Dimitri.
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I am one of 3,200 Greek orphans adopted to the U.S. between 1950 and 1962. I spent three years in the Patras orphanage before I arrived at my new home on July 1st, 1956, under the Refugee Relief Act (1953). Raised in San Diego, California, by Richard and Ellen Pace, I enjoyed a middle-class American childhood. Dad was a History professor and Mom worked as a secretary for a large mortgage company. As a youngster, I was 100% tomboy. Mom was so worried, she enrolled me in a class called, The Cultured Young Lady.
I attacked every activity with energy and excitement. I was a good student, a competitive gymnast, and sang in every choir I could find. I attended San Diego State for my undergraduate degree and Lewis and Clark College in Oregon for graduate school. In 1981 I moved to Vancouver WA., where I quickly learned 100 new words for rain, and began a 31-year teaching career. It was in Vancouver WA where I also met my husband, Matthew.
In 1984 I traveled to Greece and found my birthmother and a half-sister in the large coastal city of Patras. I also became acquainted with my large extended family. We spent the next 34 years gathering as a family as often as possible. I have chronicled the unlikely tale of my mother-and-child reunion in a recently published book: Beyond the Third Door: Based on a True Story (Vancouver, WA 2019)
I am enjoying retirement and getting my “kid-fix” as a substitute teacher. I feel thoroughly blessed in my search for my family and now assist other adoptees in finding theirs.