Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My Big Fat Greek Story, Part One

It took years for me to convince my father to go to France for a visit. He didn't even go with my mother to see us when we were living there. He is a homebody, he likes his recliner when he's not working, and now that he owns a laptop, that sweetened the deal. Finally, he succumbed and agreed that he would go with us in March/April '08. But there was a stipulation: If he was going all that way, he wanted to go to Greece, to the island where his father was born and grew up.

That was fine with me, however, being that the dollar was down, and we are five, we just couldn't swing it for ourselves. Besides, we knew we'd need a break from each other by then! My dad's father died when my dad was 15. My dad's mother, who I refuse to call Grandma, is not a nice person. She disowned my dad when he started studying the Bible with the religion he became. When Dad was little, she kicked my his father out for another guy. My grandmother, who refused to allow my dad to call his own father "Dad", but instead by his first name, also refused to let my dad use his real last name; a very Greek, but unique last name. When my Dad started studying the Bible, his mother told him to stop using the stepdad's last name that she had all his life forced on Dad, and told him to now start using his father's last name, because he was "dragging the stepdad's family name through the mud." Nevermind that the step dragged his own name through the mud, in ways I won't even elaborate on here. This man, I have only seen once, because he was a disgusting human being who every decent person in our family called The Nazi. The Nazi and The Dragon Lady, is what they were called.

So, because Dad can tend to be stubborn, he refused to stop using The Nazi's last name (after all, he was only 20, newly married, rebelling against his mom and stepdad's abuse). He regrets this decision today not to take back his rightful Greek name.

Dragon Lady assured Dad that there were no family members left on the island that my grandfather was born on. They all fled to Egypt, or were killed, she said. We did internet searches on the last name, but to no avail. There was not one good lead. As I said before, all we had were family legends and some photos.

We have family photos of Dad's aunts and uncles, siblings of his father. We know the names, we know what happened to some of them. Still, no leads to any family left on the island. This is why I felt like my parents' time and money to go to this island was going to be somewhat wasted. Don't get me wrong, I thought it would be very neat for my dad to see what his father saw as a young boy. But I didn't want Dad to get his hopes up in finding family.

First they spent 4 days in Athens, and Mom said that Dad kept talking to everyone they met about his father and his real last name, and did they ever hear of anyone with that last name? Nevermind that it was like finding a needle in a haystack, he persevered. (I am told by a guy from Greece that this is most definitely a Greek thing, and that Dad didn't embarrass himself.) :)

In Athens, he got the number of a friend of a friend that lives on the island of my grandfather. So when my parents arrived for their 3 day stay on the island, they immediately called this person, who happens to be the same religion as us. Happy, this man who I'll call G. told my parents to meet him in the center of the village at 6pm, he would come meet them.

Meanwhile, my parents explored and visited with local townspeople, who were very willing to listen to my father's story of island heritage. Each person said they hoped he would find family, or even land! (Is that Greek or what?) As they were telling the hotel owner, who spoke perfect English, he got all excited and shouted that they must follow him to the Town Hall to tell them the story and find some records of family members. It was just next door. When they left, they had in possession a an officially stamped and sealed family document!

Yes, it's true, Grandfather was born here! Here was the date of his birth, all the siblings, the parents, and others. Everything was just as we thought. Including the confirmation that all the family left the island and there were none left.

Very satisfied that they at least accomplished something, even if it didn't lead to actual family members, my parents left the building to go meet G. This was more than they really hoped for.

So at 6pm, they waiting at the meeting point. G. came driving up and introduced himself and his kids to my parents, and then said, "Get in the car, we take you to our house for coffee and visiting." Stunned, a little worried, but taken by the friendliness and sincerity of G., they got in the car. (Mind you, this is not a city, and he was a friend of a friend.)

G. took them to his house, and they started visiting over some Greek coffee. Dad explained that he was the first family member to come to Grandfather's Island, they just got a document with a family tree, and they were happy. G. said, "Tell me the family name of your father." So, Dad told him. Stunned silence.
G said, "Excuse me for a moment, I have a phone call to make." My Dad does not understand Greek anymore, but it was very evident there was excitement going on this end of the phone call. There were intermittent questions asked of my dad by G. about family history, places, dates, names. My dad answered all of them. G was getting louder and louder on the phone, smiles, big, excited Greek parents were sitting there wondering what in the world was going on or about to happen.

G hangs the phone up. Looks up at my parents, and said, "You have a cousin. I know her. She lives here on the island. She is on her way over right now."

To be continued......


Cris, Artist in Oregon said...

oh I love this story. I know the ending, but still love it. Brings tears to my eyes. Altho I am finding out more details here so I can't wait to read the next installment.

Heather said...

Ooooo...don't stop there. Keep going! I came over from SITS to say welcome.

Paula said...

So cool!!! I am so excited and I can't wait for Part Two!!!!
I agree it is all Greek to talk about heritage, throw out family names, and also really get excited about Land, lol. I can just imagine the big grin and air of excitement of G and also your Dad asking everyone in Athens about family (so something my family would do). I have relatives still in Greece (although I haven't visited yet). Did I say I can't wait for Part Two!

La Belette Rouge said...

When you told this story I told it to y He-weasel and to everyone in my family. It is absolutely amazing!!! Part 2 is even better!!:-)