Monday, October 20, 2008

My Big Fat Greek Story, Part Two

Continued from Part One.

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."

My parents, especially my dad, are stunned. They are sitting there, on a little island in the middle of the Aegean Sea, at a virtual stranger's house who claims that my dad, let alone has a cousin he never knew about, but that he knows her and she's on her way over!

My mother is crying, my dad is trying to calm her down saying, "Listen, let's not lose our heads. The chances of this being a real family member aren't good, so let's not get our hopes up, ok?" A car pulls in the drive, but no one gets out. G goes out and sees them and tries to get M, said cousin, to stop crying hysterically and come in. He says, "M, these are good people. It's ok. Let's get you in to meet them, and we'll sort everything out, ok?" You'll understand why she's crying a little later in this post.

So, when she finally gets the courage to walk in the house, she sees my dad, and it wouldn't be an understatement to say that hysteria got the better of everyone. She actually looks like my dad. After big Greek hugs, wailing, squirting tears, more hugs, they all sit down to try to sort things out. Again, my dad isn't 100% convinced. He pulls out the official family paper he'd gotten earlier at the town hall. M looks at it, and almost faints. It is true. They are related.

Not only are they related, but they are first cousins. My dad's father and M's father were brothers! We've always known about M's father, Uncle N, we even have pictures. But we never knew he had a daughter or whatever happened to Uncle N. All family contact was lost.

After everyone composes themselves, M says, "For my whole life, I knew I had an uncle and cousins in America. My father would receive letters and photos, but suddenly they stopped. We've tried for 30 years to find you. The Red Cross even helped us. I even prayed, since I was 8 years old, that maybe one of my cousins would be the same religion as us, and it might make it easier to find each other."

My father, in tears (which is not a common occurrence), asks what religion she is. When she says the same one as my father, the wailing begins again. (We are in a Christian religion that has just 7 million people worldwide and was persecuted by Greek Orthodox in Greece.) For 35 years, my father was disowned by his mother for his religion. M was disowned by her own country for her religion. They never knew they had cousins. And here, on this unassuming random day, she receives a phone call and their lives are forever changed. But wait, it gets even better.

She invites them to her home to look at the old photos of her father's that she kept. They go to her home, and she pulls the photo album out and says, "I do not know who many of the people are in the photos, except I know which one is your father." When she opens the photo album, there are some of the same photos we have in our old photo albums! There are photos of my dad's father, dad's two older sisters! My dad is overcome with emotion, as this is a very familiar photo of his dad and sisters. He turns the photo over, and there is his dad's writing. He cannot believe that here in this little house, on this little island, in this stranger's home, there are photos of his father and sisters (who live in California and we are very close to).

Then M says, "Do you want to see the house where your father was born?....We are standing in it!" Her house. This is all too much, and they hug and sob and promise to never lose each other again.

It is at this point that I receive a phone call on my mobile. We were driving to Spain that day. My mom calls, and I thought someone was dead, because she was sobbing. When she explained they found a cousin, I was in shock. When she explained briefly the other important details, I almost fainted in the car. Then she said, "M doesn't speak English very well, but she's fluent in French. Here she is now..." So she put M on the phone. We were both sobbing and she kept saying "Je t'aime, je t'aime!" (I love you!) and she begged us to come.

When my parents flew back into Toulouse a few days later, at midnight, they were too excited to sleep. My dad unpacked the ouzo that he'd brought from Grandfather's Island, poured us all glasses of it, and proceeded to tell every scrumptious detail of the miraculous visit. The next day, he called his sisters and one of my aunt's got out her photo album. She had had this photo of a little girl that she knew was a cousin, but didn't know how or who. She scanned it, and then emailed it to us and M. M called and said, "That is me!" So, all these years, M has had photos of our family, and my aunt had a photo of M.

We found out the reason why we were never productive in our search for M. When a Greek woman marries, the spelling of her last name gets altered. In M's case, the S was dropped. And of course, she couldn't find us, because my father was using his stepdad's last name. Something he'll always regret.

You might want to know what my grandmother, the Dragon Lady, had to say about all this when she heard through the grapevine. Well, she promptly made a nasty phone call to my dad and said that it was impossible and this woman was not a family member. My dad said, "Mom, I'm the one who went thousands of miles to Dad's island, I'm the one who met her, and I'm the one who has the proof from the town hall! You've lied to me my whole life about who died, and no one died when and where you said they did."

My parents, M and her husband, all speak twice a day on Skype. I talk to her too as much as I can. She is a lovely person, who cries every time we speak because she can't believe what a miracle this is. Her English has vastly improved, and we are all beginning to learn Greek. My parents just bought their tickets to go back for an entire month. And then M and her husband will come here in July! All my aunts will come, and we'll have a very emotional, aka very Greek, family reunion.

PS. I showed her my hairy arms on the webcam and asked her if this was typical Greek Girl stuff. She laughed so hard she almost fell out of her chair. Then assured me..."yes, you are a true Greek woman!"


Cris, Artist in Oregon said...

Wow.. I have tear's streaming down my face reading this. FANTASTIC TRUE STORY.
They must have just made plan's to go back to visit? How awesome.

La Belette Rouge said...

Dear Corfu COusin: I knew this story as you so kindly shared it with me---but reading it again I am crying again. This is such an a amazing story. So incredibly touching.

So thrilled for you and all your family. And, I am so happy to hear about your upcoming reunion.

I am so sorry that the Dragon lady tried to ruin your reunion. But, she doesn't have the power to do so.

Much love and huge hug!!
Your Samos Sis

Cassoulet Cafe said...

Cris and SS: I love to make people cry (well, in a good way) :)

I'm sad though that the only ones who commented were ones I already shared the story with, sniff sniff. Thanks you two for being so supportive :)

And LBR, you're right, Dragon lady doesn't have any power over us. She lost that years ago when she allowed unspeakable things to happen to my aunts. She'll never take this wonderful thing away.


~TessaScoffs said...

What a lovely story! I had a similar reunion with cousins from Mexico recently. We had known each other as small children and then their parents went through a divorce as a result of mental illness. When their dad died (my uncle) we reunited. I told them that we had always missed them at family events and that they were never forgotten. ALL FOUR OF THEM burst into tears and said that they had been waiting their whole lives to hear that. Made my day.

Anonymous said...

love the last line of the story! "yes,you are truly a greek woman"

Cassoulet Cafe said...

Tessa: I tried to leave you a comment yesterday, but Blogger was down. Anyhow, thank you for sharing your happy story with me... :) You should post about it!

Cassoulet Cafe said...

Tessa: I tried to leave you a comment yesterday, but Blogger was down. Anyhow, thank you for sharing your happy story with me... :) You should post about it!

Hot Tub Lizzy said...

WOW - what an AWESOME STORY!!!!!!!!!!

The Dragon Lady is a putz.

Paula said...

Love love love the story! Congrats on the family found - what a wonderful experience! I am so happy for you!