I have this nightmare. I’m sitting in a classroom. There’s no one else there. I look around, but I don’t recognize the room. It’s really dark… sinister looking. I know something evil dwells in here. I can feel it. It’s macabre. Maybe it’s the Jersey Devil. Suddenly, a yiayia dressed in all black, appears and she’s holding a big tapsi of spanakopita, and a wooden spoon. I smile. She wags her finger and says, “Oxi, no pita for you!” I’m perplexed and about to say something but she turns into Telly Savalas and he’s looking at me too, and says, “Who loves ya baby,” then offers me a lollipop shaped like the Greek flag. This is really weird. I look up and see a blackboard. The old fashioned kind that you use chalk on. You know the type – if your hand slips… aghhhh, the sound of screeching nails on the blackboard.
Suddenly, on the same blackboard, letters start appearing one at a time, like some invisible hand is writing – Α, Β, Γ, Δ and the rest of the Greek alphabet. I start seeing old, faded pictures of Kolokotronis and Bouboulina. Posters of Greek soldiers with rifles and large bayonets who are charging the enemy and the words “Oxi – October 28th” blazon across the top. Greek flags are strewn about and I hear the haunting sounds of an out of tune clarinet playing Mandili Kalamatiano coming from somewhere. The room starts spinning and spinning. I close my eyes and scream!
Then I wake up in a cold sweat and realize it was just a dream, but a horrible dream that I have had since I was a kid. I dreamt I was back in Greek school – Noooo!
Only the Greek diaspora can understand this phenomenon of our Greek culture. You people born and raised in Greece truly cannot understand. When you left your school rooms to go home and play with your friends, your little cousins here in the States ran home from American school, did their homework, shoveled dinner into their little mouths, then it was off to sit in another hot or cold (depending on the weather) school room, usually the church hall, and listening to Pater Giorgi give the Greek lesson. While our American friends were out playing ball, hanging out, or just playing around, we were watching Pater Giorgi write our mathimata, on the board. It was like watching grape leaves grow.
I’m not talking about today’s nice, modern Greek “language” schools that every church now has with its friendly educated teachers, principals, and parent organizations, clean whiteboards and erasable markers, colorful textbooks, and time for Greek dance lessons. No, I’m talking 1960s and 1970s where the parish priest or his evil minions taught, and my cousins and friends, Bill, George, John, and Steve (we didn’t have Greek-sounding names back then), suffered, oh so much. I loathed Greek school – sorry Mom and Dad, sorry Pater Giorgi.
Besides drilling into our heads the Greek alphabet and learning our conjugations like, είμαι, είσαι, είναι, είμαστε, είστε, and the ever popular, είναι, they forced us to learn about March 25th and those crazy Greek freedom fighters, and how the Greeks gave the proverbial moutza or Na to Mussolini on October 28. And I won’t even get into those sadistic Greek poems for those special celebrations… because I already did in my article, A Form of Torture.
Did you ever watch the scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when the economics teacher, played by Ben Stein, is giving the roll call, “Bueller, Bueller, Bueller,” and they show a shot of a kid asleep with spittle running down the side of his mouth? That was me in Greek school. Oh, the suffering!
But, this is the part of the article where I tell the truth. I’m coming clean. Hello, my name is Harry and I’m a Greek school drop out! There, I said it. I don’t remember making it past the third grade, or was it the second grade? I just remember walking out one day, well, sneaking out with my good cousin Bill, and never returning. Ha! To this day, fifty years later, those evil minions are still looking for me. If they do ever catch up to me, I’ll blame cousin Bill. He was older, he should’ve known better. Sorry Bill, I’m throwing you under the karotsi.
Now that I’m older I realize that back then there were two types of Greek-American kids. The ones that attended Greek school throughout the entire eight long, years (yes, you little goody two-shoes, you know who you are), and the other type, the Greek school drop outs – that’s me. I bet there are many of you… probably thousands, maybe millions of you scattered throughout the world, hiding, not willing to admit that you dropped out, but I’m here to save you. To let you know that it’s okay. We survived. We somehow learned to communicate with our fellow Greeks without a certificate of completion from Pater Giorgi and his minions. Why? Because we learned how to speak Greek from working in the Greek diners or hanging out with Papou and Yiayia!!
Okay, maybe our Greek wasn’t that good, and maybe I can now see the benefits of sending our kids to Greek school so they don’t speak Greeklish, but for the multitude of you that dropped out – it’s okay, who loves ya baby!
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