Usually I write an article about my experiences as a Greek-American, but today I will take a break and let my father, Jerry (Vangeli) Karapalides, tell his stories about growing up in Greece back in the old days, or his visits back to the old country. So here’s my Dad’s story of Joe the Donkey. Enjoy!
Back in 1980, my wife, Andrea, and me took our then 10-year old son, Ted (Theodoros), back to the “old country,” for a 3-week stay in our village, Sklithron, located in the Province of Florina, Western Macedonia, Greece. Sklithron was a far-cry from the all-American town Ted lived in. Ted was a pure American – born and raised in a small town, Maple Shade, New Jersey, attending public school, playing on the football team, and eating cheeseburgers and drinking Coca-Colas.
Of course, Ted, and his older brother and sister, had to listen to all of my stories from my youth and growing up in Sklithron and how, as kids we had fun with horses and donkeys and now he would see for himself. We arrived in Sklithron and stayed with Thea Marika, the last of my surviving aunts and uncles. Among her domestic animals, Thea Marika had a lovely light-grey donkey. Ted, whose only pets included a bird and a French Poodle, named Hercules, immediately took a liking to the donkey and proudly named him “Joe.” Every day Ted would give Joe three full course meals of dry hay, green grass, and oats and 2 baths. Then each afternoon, Ted would ride Joe through the village.
It didn’t take long for the village kids to find out the routine of the “Amerikanopoulo” and Joe and their daily “volta” and they all wanted to be friends with Ted. But Ted saw how the villagers used a “verga” or stick on donkeys to make them go. He told them they could be friends, but on one condition – no one would ever hit Joe with a ‘verga.” Now Ted, riding Joe, and all his new friends, would take a “volta” around the village each day. It was a funny sight – an American boy and his donkey and an entourage of village kids! Ted and Joe became such good friends that when we wanted to visit other villages and towns, Ted refused to come. Someone needed to watch Joe.
Finally, the day came when we were returning back to America and Ted had to say good-bye to his good ol’ friend, Joe. He cried all the way back to New Jersey. Thea Marika commented that for the three weeks that Ted took care of Joe, Joe lived like a king! She also said that one of Ted’s village friends thought he saw tears on Joe’s eyes when Ted hugged him good-bye – very possible!!
Ted is now in his forties with three children of his own, Andreanna, Argy, and Vangeli and he has told them this story about a boy and his donkey. Who knows, for his son, Vangeli’s birthday, maybe Ted will take him back to Sklithorn and he too will find his own Joe.
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