Ronnie’s mother was right, as usual, and they arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare - despite having stopped for treats on the way. When Gramma wandered into view, the girls lunged forward and into her waiting arms. She hugged them and kissed them and as she hugged them some more, while she exclaimed that they had certainly grown in her absence. Ronnie knew for a fact that she had barely attained an extra inch in height this whole year, but let the comment slide. She knew it was just one of those things that Grammas say.
“Sarah, it’s so good to hold you again!” Gramma cried as she hugged their mother in turn. “I’ve missed you all and I have so much to tell you and so many pictures to show you. It’s good to see you looking so well. How’s the business going? Are you getting lots of new customers?”
While the adults greeted each other, the girls gathered Gramma’s luggage and piled it onto a cart. They all finally headed for the parking lot and home. Gramma requested the back-road route and was readily accommodated. It meant that they would be able to avoid the highway tourist traffic and the weekday rush in town. As soon as they were under way, the girls fired off a barrage of questions. Gramma knew that the only way to have a peaceful ride would be to tell them a story and she knew just the one to tell.
“When I was in Greece,” she began, “I visited the island of Hecate and there I met a woman who, upon learning my name, told me a legend of the Rainbow Goddess. Who would like to hear it?”
Cries of “Me!” and “I would!” rang out.
“Oh my goodness, will you look at that? When did they cut down those trees? It’s amazing what some people consider progress. Why I remember…”
“Gramma!” Ronnie interrupted, perhaps a tad harshly. She knew without bothering to sneak a peak, that her mother was giving her ‘the look’ in the rear view mirror. “I mean, excuse me Gramma. You said you’d tell us the Rainbow Goddess Legend. I want to hear it the way they tell it in Greece.”
“Sorry Honey, I guess I was getting a little off track. Let’s see now, where was I? Oh, yes, I was on the island of Hecate and had just met Toula. Isn’t that a lovely name? Anyway, she told me the story as her mother and her mother, and her mother and all the mothers before had told it. She asked that I tell it to you, so here goes:
“Zeus and Hera ruled Olympus. Often they and the other Olympians had need of a swift and loyal servant to deliver messages to the Mortals of Earth. Hermes, the Winged Messenger, was dispatched to do their bidding. When they needed to contact Zeus’s brother Hades, ruler of the Underworld, however, there was no messenger to be found. What creature could possibly descend into that realm, which was guarded by Cerberus (a three-headed dog), then cross the River Styx, and return, unscathed, to Olympus? They despaired that such a being could ever exist and Olympia lost contact with Hades.
“Mortals and Immortals alike feasted in celebration when the joining of Thamus and Electra resulted in the birth of Iris, a being as swift as light itself. Though sister to the Harpies, she resembled these impish creatures in only one aspect – winged speed. The Harpies were wretched hags. Iris was a lovely maiden. A halo of light crowned her head and her dainty feet sprouted small wings. The Harpies were human/bird hybrids with massive wings on their backs.
Iris was as different from her siblings, in manner, as day is to night. While they wreaked havoc everywhere, she aimed only to please.
“The three Harpies, whose names translate to Storm, Swift Flyer, and Black Cloud sought vengeance upon the Earth Mortals after the humans devised a plan to rid the world of them forever. The God of the North Wind sent his sons to drive the Harpies from the Hall of King Phineas. The three creatures had spent time there conjuring tables laden with food, only to spoil it before Phineas could satisfy his growing hunger. They did this over and over. The vile sisters were transported to the remote island of Strophades where they were to be destroyed.
“When Iris pleaded for the lives of her sisters, it was decided that they would be imprisoned on the island instead. Rather than feel any gratitude toward her, the Harpies were offended by Iris’ interference and believed Iris had stepped in only because she thought they were inferior to her and to the mortals of Earth. As a testament to their wickedness, they saw Iris’ compassion as a weakness on her part and vowed to someday take advantage of that trait in her.
“Upon their later escape from the island, the Harpies became the representatives of unfriendly seas and the storms that accompany them. Fleets of vessels were dashed to the rocks in the wake of their fury. Some were swallowed in gigantic waves, carrying all souls aboard to Poseidon’s watery depths. ‘Harpies’ they were called and rightly so, for the term means Snatcher and they snatched the livelihood and, when they could, the very life of any and all who were unfortunate enough to cross their path.
“Iris looked down from Olympus and wept. She wished nothing more than to end the pain and suffering of the Earth Mortals, whom she had long admired. When Hera saw Iris weeping, she knew her to be a kind and gentle creature and took the maiden to her side. There she trained Iris to serve Olympus and the Earth.
“In time, Iris rivaled Hermes as the coveted messenger of the Gods. She could travel on both wind and water and she, alone, could descend to Hades’ Underworld, cross the River Styx and its brother waterways, and then mount again to Olympus, unaffected by all that had surrounded her in that Nether Region. Some said that the scepter she carried, an ancient fairy wand, lent power to her on those missions and protected her from Cerberus and other lowly creatures.
“Most of her errands brought Iris to Earth where she relayed messages from the Olympians and served as an advisor to the Earth Mortals. Those who suffered relied on her comfort and those souls who were ready to leave their frail, human bodies depended on her to guide their final journeys.
“Iris came to know and love the Mortals. She envied them their parent and child relationships and longed for a child of her own. In time she married Zephyrus, a gentle peacemaker and God of the West Wind. Iris’ greatest wish was granted when she bore a son – Eros, God of Love. Being the mother of Love itself, she was soon heralded as the Goddess of Compassion and Emotion.
Her most appropriate title became that of Rainbow Goddess. Her luminous crown leaves a trail of iridescent hues across the sky each time she speeds between Olympus and Earth. The eyes are the windows of the soul and it is to honour her that we call the colour of the eye ‘iris’. She is also recognized in the flower we know by her name, a species whose multitude of colours is rivaled only by the rainbow itself. The rainbow is her sign, to us, that she is on her way to minister to our needs after the storms of life have tossed us hither and yon.
“It for that reason that the Island of Hecate was dedicated to her and why its residents feast once a year at the Iris Festival. To repay her kindness, they have offered her a place, here on Earth, where she can feel as welcome as she does in her Olympian home.
“Well, that ends the Legend of Iris, but not my story of Hecate,” Gramma announced. “Look we’re nearly home. I’ll quickly tell you, before we arrive, that the Iris Festival was to take place on the very next day and, because my name is Iris, Toula arranged for me to not only attend, but to be given the seat of honour! I can’t wait to show you the pictures of me sitting in that seat with garlands of flowers on top of my head and wearing a multi-coloured gown that shimmered in the sunlight. It was a day I will never forget.
“Great story, Iris,” said Sarah as she pulled into the driveway. “Now we can get this luggage lugged in and you can unpack while I make lunch. Afterwards, we can relax over a cup of tea before we get the birthday celebration underway.”
As Ronnie carried Gramma’s heaviest suitcase up the stairs, she wondered if the bag contained her special gift!