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The Little White House

Read this short story about the power of thoughts.

A thick layer of mist was hugging the rocks on a cliff by the ocean. On that cliff there was a small white house. The house had blue windowsills and a blue wooden door. The house sat sideways on the cliff, and looked like it would slide into the crystal-clear turquoise ocean. On a hot day in June, as the sun hit the ocean with a ray of purple and pink, a boy was born in that little white house. When his mother had looked at the boy, she knew that he would be strong and named him Mateo, meaning a gift from God.

     That little boy was Mateo Angelos. He was born on a little island called Icaria in the Northern Aegean Sea in Greece in 1902. Mateo’s father was a fisherman and his mum used to sow clothes for the little village they lived in. It wasn’t a lucrative life but it was peaceful. Whenever Mateo was stressed or exhausted, he would always visualize the little white house on the cliffside. He would smell the newly baked bread, that always seemed to seep through the village every morning, and hear the sounds of his mum humming something in Greek while fixing another hole in his pants. He had been happy there.

     All of that changed when Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28 1914. When the first world war began Mateo had only been 12 years old. He could still remember the tension, the worry and the sadness that had been around him as the news spread of the horrific actions on the front lines. The life in the village became harder and harder as more and more men were drafted to the Greek military. Mateo’s dad was one of the first men drafted from the Island and Mateo never saw him again. To survive Mateo had to learn how to fish on his own so that they could have food on the table. Sadly, he had not been very good at it and there were more days than not where all they had to eat was seaweed and whatever plants they could find growing by their house. When the Spanish flu hit Greece in 1918 his mother was so weak from hunger that she hadn’t been able to fight the disease, and

she passed away in April of that year. Grief stricken, angry, and all alone Mateo left the Island to fight with the Greek forces. He lied about his age when he volunteered and found himself in the army, at only 16 years old, at the battle of Skra-di-Legen on May 1918.

     On the morning of May 31, he was crouched in a trench waiting for the sound of the horn to signal that the enemy forces were approaching. He would remember that dull but loud sound many years later. His job was to stop the enemy from taking back their position at Skra. Mateo, who was wearing the thick dirt-green khaki uniform, was sweating so hard the rifle in his hands kept slipping out of his grip. As the shooting around him grew louder and louder the faces of the hundreds of men beside him changed from boredom to pure horror. As he contemplated his choice of volunteering, he grabbed the rifle as hard as he could and was about to launch himself over the barrier to shoot at the enemy when somebody shouted “Incoming!”. The impact of the blast had hit him before he could see what the man had been shouting about, and the world went black. He never knew exactly what had happened to him. All he could remember was the intense pain he had felt in his eyes, and the strong wish to be back home in the little white house on the cliff.

     When Mateo came through, he had been dragged to a hospice in a nearby town. He had sustained multiple fractures and burns to his legs, and his spine had been twisted so badly that he had three broken vertebras. Worst of all, he had become completely blind on his right eye. The nurses at the hospice told him later that the projectile that had blown him backwards had been a gas bomb. They had been surprised to see that his left eye was still fine. To Mateo’s relief he had been honorably discharged from the military due to his bad injuries. Knowing that his injuries could have been much worse Mateo spent the next seven months in the military hospital thinking about his future. He had no one to go home to and he wouldn’t be able to go back to fishing with his weak back. The situation in Europe looked hopeless, and although the battle of Skra-di-Legen had been a victory, they had lost so many lives in

the battle. As he realized that he had no money and no possibility for work in Greece, he decided that his only choice was to try his luck in America.

     On February 16 1919 Mateo found himself looking up at the statue of liberty on Ellis Island. The statue was bigger than anything he had ever seen before, but he couldn’t help but think about the peaceful and quite life he had lived in Greece. He promised himself that he would go back to his home on Icaria in a few years, as soon as he had made enough money and the war was over. As he was waiting in the long line through immigration, he was nervous, he didn’t know what waited for him in the land of liberty. In the next couple of months Mateo was struggling to make ends meet, until he found a job and place to stay in Jersey, New York. The job didn’t pay very well but he was thankful to finally work towards his goal of moving back to Icaria. Mateo didn’t realize it at the time, but it would be another 50 years until he would see the beautiful coast of Greece again.

     In 1920 he met a girl named Sara Johnson. She was a fiery little brunette with a passion for European cuisine, and they hit it off immediately. They got married a year later in a small church in Jersey and became Mr. and Mrs. Angelos. In 1921 Sara introduced Mateo to her uncle and he helped Mateo find a job at the Washington Naval Yard as a tradesman. They immediately moved to Washington DC, into a small house close to Mateo’s job. This new job gave them an economic stability that Mateo had never experienced before. Every year Mateo would promise himself that he would bring Sara to Icaria, but something always seemed to come up. Especially when they received news that Sara was pregnant with a boy in 1923 and a daughter in 1924.

       As the years passed for the Angelos, the rumors of another war spread like wildfire. Mateo was horrified when he heard that Germany had invaded Greece on April 6 1941. His memories of the little white house on the cliff came flooding back, and he promised himself again that when the war was over, he would move back there with his family. He had always wanted to be buried on the cliffside of his old home. However, on December 7 1941 Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese air force. Mateo and Sara were distraught as they realized that their son would be drafted, and sure enough on February 10 1942 their son Lucas was drafted into the American Army.

       Mateo spent his time distracting himself, from the thought of Lucas being in the war, by working extra-long hours, and in 1944 his daughter Sophia became pregnant with her first child. As 1944 progressed there were whispers of an allied offensive attack, but no one knew what had happened until the letters were sent to the families. Mateo and Sara received a letter on June 10 that their son Lucas had died on the beaches of Normandy. It wasn’t until after the war that the true terror of that day was told to the public. All Mateo knew is that he went into a deep depression. The only thing that kept him going through the pain he was feeling from the loss, and the constant physical pain in his back as a result of his war injuries, was his granddaughter and his hope of going back to Greece.

     In 1970 Mateo finally retired from WNY after 49 years of working there. He had become a gray haired man who was very proud of his family. His daughter had become a lawyer and his granddaughter was studying to become a doctor. On one of his visits to the doctor that year Mateo complained of a constant pain in his chest. After months of testing Mateo was diagnosed in December with a very aggressive form of cancer, Mesothelioma. It turned out that his worksite at the WNY had been a superfund site. The toxicity in the area had caused Mateo’s cancer and WNY agreed to pay a settlement. At the same time, he had gone through gut wrenching months of treatment before the doctor gave Mateo the news in July 1971. He would only have another three to six months to live. Instead of worrying about his cancer Mateo decided that if there was a time this would be it. The next day he and Sara packed up their belongings, sold their house, and with the settlement they had received from WNY, traveled to Greece.

     As Mateo laid his eyes on the small Island he cried. Through his tears he could se the turquoise waves slide over white rocks. The rocks looked like pearls in the sun. He smelled the salty ocean, and the breeze was like a familiar hug that told him, “You are home.” As he walked off the boat with the luggage, he started to smell the scent of newly baked bread. It was hard for him to hold back his tears as he and Sara walked around the bend to where the village was. Mateo was both excited and scared of what he would see. Through two wars and 68 years he wasn’t sure what to expect. As they came around the bend on the beach, they were both astounded. The little white house was still there. The blue door was barely hanging on one hinge, and the blue had turned to more of a brown, but the house was still there. Excited Mateo and Sara moved into the house and prepared to enjoy Mateo’s last months in peace.

     However, months went by, suddenly a whole year had passed, and Mateo started to feel better. As he got to know more of the families on the island, he wanted to do something for the village. Something that could bring people together again. Sara and Mateo opened a coffee house with the money they had saved in 1972. Sara made different European dishes and Mateo made the coffee. Over the years people on the Island started to know Mateo as the grey-haired kind talkative coffee brewer and Sara was always there by his side serving the most delicious salads and desserts. Their daughter and granddaughter would visit as much as they could and whispers of the coffee house spread through the Islands. As the population on the island slowly grew the Angelos would greet them with open arms and make them a free cup of coffee. When they weren’t at the coffee house, they would sit on the side of the cliff by their house watching the sun burn the sky as it sank into the ocean.

     Mateo never went to a doctor after 1972 and when they asked about his health he would always talk to his customers about the strength of thoughts. He would tell them the story of how he was forced to leave the Island to fight a war, why he had to go to America,

how his son had died, and how he had been diagnosed with cancer, but at the end he always say, “It wasn’t luck or magic that kept me going, it was my thoughts. That one day, I would see the coasts of Greece again, lay my eyes upon the ocean and sit in the little white house on the cliff. Thoughts are powerful, they can drag you down, but they can also heal your wounds.” Mateo and Sara passed away peacefully in their bed in 2004. Mateo lived another 32 years after he was diagnosed with cancer. His daughter believes to this day, that it was the peace of the Island, the turquoise waves, and the white rocks that truly cured his illness.

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