Meet my father, Jerry, an immigrant that came from Greece around 1949. Since his time in Canada and the United States, he’s never eaten a McDonald’s hamburger, cheeseburger, or anything else made by the fast-food giant or any other fast food joint. He is also in his ninth decade of life. Is there a connection? Maybe Giorgo Tsoukalos from the show, Ancient Aliens, can figure it out since, according to him, everything is connected to ancient aliens.
Back to Jerry. Dad’s not old, just more experienced than you and I. He’s been around awhile. He has seen a few wars in his time (was in one), and he has seen cars replacing donkeys, the telephone replacing the telegraph and the internet replace that. He has seen man land on the moon, polio defeated, and airplanes that circle the globe and spaceships that fly higher and faster. He has even witnessed his favorite creation – Turner Classic Network showing his old John Wayne and WWII movies. Yup, Dad has been around. In other words, he knows a few things.
So what’s his secret to life? Does he practice Zen-like meditation or yoga? When he was younger, did he work out to Jane Fonda’s old workout videos or has he suddenly started CrossFit? Does he play golf, tennis, Bocce Ball? What is it? By the way, he does none of that and he’s pretty fit for a ninety-something year old. If I told Dad to get in the car now because we’re driving across country to California, he’ll say, okay, let’s go!
Maybe it’s his diet? Yes, maybe it’s all these god-forsaken diets that everyone tries and never works.
Some people starve themselves, which I’m told by the experts is horrible. Others say to eat seven or eight small meals a day. Sure, if you’re a Hollywood movie star with a full-time chef and trainer! And others say you need protein in every meal! I’ve see a guy add protein to oatmeal. Really? You can’t skip protein for one meal, especially oatmeal? There’s the Paleo Diet that brings us back to our Neanderthal roots and yummy meat, and the Vegan Diet that has a farmer slicing vegetables (did you ever hear a vegetable scream?), and making a veggie burger. I know, it tastes just like chicken.
Well Jerry is from Greece, so it must be the Mediterranean Diet. Right? Basically, fruits and vegetables, beans and nuts, healthy grains, fish, olive oil, small amounts of meat and dairy, and red wine. But Dad is not from a Greek island where they eat a lot of seafood. He’s from a small village in the mountains of northwestern Macedonia, where seafood was hard to come by. His diet consisted of beans, chicken, beans, some meat, beans, vegetables, beans, potatoes, beans, and maybe some type of fish… with beans. Get it?
In trying to ascertain what his secret is, and, by the way, Mom is just a couple years behind him, I needed to look at his life. For the first twenty-one years of his life he lived in a small village so home-cooked meals by his mom and Yiayia were the standard and everyone agrees that is the best for you. They had no video games or internet back then so, as a kid, he played outside, which is also the best for you. But then the Germans came so play time was ducking the German patrols, trying to help his Jewish friends, and not get shot (Mom use to run across the fields as the German Stukas were shooting at her!). Then came the communists and Dad was off to war and fought against them. After that it was sailing the deep blue sea to Canada to work in a relative’s restaurant and then to New Jersey where he started owning his own diners. So although he ate well, there was a hell of a lot of stress during that period of time. Maybe it was the diet altogether.
While working in the diners and raising his family, Dad got involved in the community through his church and AHEPA. He never played golf, but when he came home from work he knew how to relax. Dad always read whether it was the newspaper or a good book, and although he owned or worked at several diners, when he came home, Mom made him his Greek-Macedonian home-cooked dinner.
But there is one thing I recall that Dad has done since the first time I remember him. Before he would eat dinner, he would relax on his Barkalounger, have a small dish of mezethakia (hors d’oeuvres) and a shot of whiskey, Ouzo, or now, tsipouro. Just a shot, not several shots or an entire glass.
I am over sixty, so I can recollect him doing this since I was a kid. Every night, mezethakia, a shot, then a sensible, home-cooked meal by Mom. Then he relaxed. WWIII could be going on outside, no problem for Jerry, he’s in his relaxation mode. And although Dad likes his Scotch when his out at a celebration, and I’m sure him and his buddies back in the day had a few celebrations, there is no over-indulgence.
Wait, that’s it! His secret!
I think those rascally Ancient Greeks, you know, Socrates, Diogenes, and the boys, had a saying for it. Παν μέτρον άριστον (pan metron ariston), moderation in all things. It’s that relaxation at the end of the day. It’s the simple home-cooked meal. It’s that one shot of tsipouro a day. It’s moderation in all things. But it also may be that he hasn’t eaten in a fast-food joint his entire life. Hmmmm. Makes you think. Bring Tsoukalis in!
So in the end, according to Jerry, just live your life, enjoy what it has to offer and don’t go overboard in anything you do. Good advice, Dad. By the way, Jerry’s turning ninety-one in September. Happy birthday!!
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