Greek parents… just to say those two words could paralyze the most hardened individual. I’m talking about the Greek-born parents of children born here or who came to the USA at a young age.
Here is an example of a Greek parent: When I was a paperboy (for the Courier-Post in South Jersey), we were getting smashed by the tail-end of a hurricane. Rain was coming down in buckets and the wind blew the rain sideways, but I still had to deliver the papers. We didn’t have those nice, little plastic bags like today, so I had to run up to each house and put the paper in between the storm door and the front door. Since I couldn’t use my bike, my Mom drove me around. Coming down from a house, I slipped and fell 20 feet down a muddy hill. Getting into the car, I was all wet, muddy, scraped and bruised and I pleaded for my Mom to take me home to clean up.
She gave me that stern look only a Greek mother can give, and in her Greek accent said, “If you were in the Army, would they let you go home? When I was your age, I was running from the German Stuka dive bombers shooting at us. You don’t know what it’s like to suffer. When you finish your job, then you go home!” I didn’t cry or answer back. No use. How can you argue with someone who was dodging Nazi dive bombers when they were 10 years old!
Now you understand. Greek parents mean well, but they are tough.
Remember asking them for something or anything? You asked: Mom, can I sleep over Johnny’s house? Mom’s answer: No. What’s wrong with your bed? We are not like those other Amerikani. We don’t sleep over anyone’s house, except your cousins and Yiayias. You asked: Dad, can I go down the shore this weekend? Dad’s answer: No. I need you at the diner. You think money grows on the grapevines? You asked: Mom, do you think we can have ham for Easter instead of just lamb? Mom’s answer: What are you, Catholic? You don’t know how to eat. And, you asked: Dad, can we go somewhere else for vacation besides Greece? Dad’s answer: Shut up, idiot.
We all have stories that could fill the Library of Congress. I remember a time when my mother told me to stay home because relatives were coming over for a barbeque. I whined. I didn’t want to stay with my little cousins. I wanted to go with Pauley, Mikey, Kenny, and Fritz (my “American” friends) down to Stone Hill, where the creek was. So I did what every good, little Greek boy did. I snuck out. Did it work? Of course not! Mom somehow tracked me down through the fields, woods, and the creek, and in front of all my friends, pulled me by my ear all the way home – for about a mile! How did she find me? She probably used GMGPS (Greek Mother Global Positioning System) that is given to them when they give birth. Ah, good ol’ Mom.
Did you ever try asking your Greek parents for an allowance for doing chores, like your “American” friends got from their parents? That’s when the other dreaded word came into play…the “pandofla,” the slipper. To this day, the mere sight of a slipper horrifies me. It was not the light woman’s type slipper, but the dastardly heavy man’s slipper that my father use to wear. My mother wielded that slipper with precision moves that a samurai warrior would envy. She struck faster than Caine, a/k/a young “Grasshopper,” snatching the pea out of Master Po’s hand (my generation will understand that analogy!).
Of course, Greek parents, especially mothers, used other paraphernalia, besides the pandofla, to strike terror in their children. There was the “koutala” or spoon…usually a giant wooden salad spoon. My mother knew I was too old to hit when she broke the koutala on me! Also, any size stick was fair game…my mother preferred the small wooden sticks used for the American flags that you stuck in the ground. Or, merely the back of the hand when nothing else was available to grab. Think about trying this in today’s world. Children Youth Services would have a field day. The children would be distributed to foster homes throughout the State and the Greek parents, including all of their accomplices – Yiayias, Papous, Theas, Theos and all the neighbors, would be behind bars!
Finally, the Greek parents did have the ultimate weapon in disciplining their children – shame, or otherwise known as “dropie.” If you did something they were not happy about they would simply shake their heads and ask, “What would the neighbors think? What would your relatives say? What would Yiayia and Papou think of you if they found out?” And even worse, “How could you shame the family – dropie?” That is Greek parent justice.
Of course, in the end, they love you more than life itself. Greek parents wanted us to turn out to be good descent people and used a little discipline (okay, a lot of discipline), common sense, shame, and a pandofla to instill this in us. God Bless them all!