Last week I received devastating news. News that crushed the very moral fabric of my being. Disturbing news that was like a dagger being stuck into my soul and ripping out my broken heart.
In other words, it was really bad!
I’m not kidding. Jaw-dropping bad! I really don’t know what could be worse. Me, of all people. Damn, life is so cruel.
Before I reveal the shattering and demoralizing news, I need to explain to you who I am. I am of Greek Macedonian descent. My parents were born and raised in the same village in the Province of Florina. Our family, as far as we know, has lived in the same area for over three hundred years. For Christ’s sake, my great-grandfather was a Makedonimarchos who fought with Pavlos Melas and was his “grammatea” writing communiqués back and forth to Athens.
My father fought in Macedonia during the Greek Civil War against the communists after World War II and was awarded a medal by the King of Greece for saving the town of Amyndeon. I belong to the Pan-Macedonian Society and enthusiastically cheer “Zito I Makedonia!” when the Society marches by at the local Greek Independence Day Parade. We dance to Macedonian songs and sing “Μακεδονία Ξακουστή” loud enough for Zeus and those other crazy Olympian gods to hear us on Mount Olympia. I was raised to believe that we are the descendants of the mighty Alexander the Great!
Then my ninety-one-year-old father and my eighty-nine-year-old mother got the results of their Ancestry DNA tests. Yes, the one I bought my parents for Christmas. Why didn’t I delete that posting that popped-up on Facebook – Ancestry DNA, now only $49.99! I should have spent the money on a tie for Dad and an apron for Mom. Not really, more like a bottle of whiskey for Dad and cash for Mom.
The results for Mom came first. Nothing unusual. 65% Greece and Balkans, and 35% Eastern Europe and Russia. Okay, typical.
Then Dad’s came in. 72% Greece and Balkans. Makes sense. 23% Eastern Europe and Russia. Again, no big surprise. Then there was 4% Italy. Still no big deal. But the kicker was about to be revealed. Something that threw me a curve.
My Dad’s DNA was 1% Sweden. WHAT??!! Swedish? That means I’m .05% Swedish. Holy Odin!!!
How the hell did that happen? Fine, I’m 6’1” and light brown hair, as is most of my family, and my father had red hair and freckles until he was twenty-one when it started turning black. Not your stereotypical Greek. Actually, we always thought an Irishman must have passed through the village a long time ago that’s why the red hair and freckles.
My brother is thrilled because he always wanted to be a Viking. I’m just thinking that my ancestry search may turn up a Papou Sven and Yiayia Ingrid instead of Papou Dimitri and Yiayia Paraskevi.
Maybe that’s why I like those little red-licorice Swedish Fish and love watching The Vikings on the History Channel. They’re pretty cool. I guess being a Viking has its benefits?
But thinking how this happened, it’s not a stretch. As we all know, the western part of Turkey was once all Greek, including Byzantium. From the tenth to the fourteenth century, the Varangian Guard was an elite unit of the Byzantium Army. They were mostly comprised of Norseman warriors from Northern Europe. In other words, Vikings. Some Byzantine writers referred to them as “Axe-bearing barbarians.” Hey, stop being so rude you Byzantine writers!
So is it possible that Papou Sven could have been among the Varangian Guard? Of course. And let’s face it, Sven, and his other Varangian compatriots had some downtime after battling crusaders and Arabs and keeping the Emperor safe in Constantinople. What do you think they did on their day off? What every warrior did – play tavli!
One additional thought, the first Varangian Guards in the 900s AD, were actually from Kievan Rus, basically early Russians. There you go! That’s the 23% Eastern Europe and Russia in Dad’s DNA!
At this point, I feel like a man without a country, at least in my DNA. I just hope I’ve made both Papou Dimitri and Papou Sven proud!
“Tack snälla” to all my Swedish cousins!
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