From the 1960s through the 1980s, I had a friend once, contrary to popular belief, that came from a very “Greek” family. You know the type – they spoke Greek all the time, cooked Greek meals, Yiayia, who was dressed in black, lived with them, they went to Greece each summer, they went to church every Sunday and all of the holy days, and owned a diner. As kids, my friend, Petros, who we called “Taki,” and I went to Greek school, attended the Greek dances, were altar-boys, and did all of the “Greek” things that good little Greek-American/Canadian boys and girls did back then. We went through grade school and graduated high school together. Although we went to different colleges, we kept in touch and always got together, whenever we could, especially when our church held its annual Greek festival.
Then Taki got married.
He married a very lovely young lady named Erin. A sweetheart. As you can tell from her name, Erin was not from any part of Greece that I know of. Her family was from the place where leprechauns live. They had a wonderful wedding at the local Greek Orthodox Church and we danced all night to bouzouki music, with some disco (it was the 70s you know) and a few Irish jigs thrown in there, and afterwards they bought a house and had two lovely children. Wife, house, and kids… the whole catastrophe, as Zorba said.
As the years rolled by, Taki eventually became Peter and he shortened his Greek last name by dropping the “opoulos,” for “business purposes,” as he told everyone. His children, Sean and Lauren, grew up in the “other Church” – our Catholic brothers and sisters, and the only time he would speak Greek is when he visited his surviving parent, his mother, in the nursing home, because she was starting to forget English and only understood Greek. The family has gone to Ireland several times to visit the place of Erin’s family roots, but not Greece…it’s too backwards and they don’t have good indoor plumbing, he has told us. It seemed Peter became embarrassed of being Greek.
Today, Erin and Peter are still together and in all honesty, they are a great family. After 28 years, they are still in love. Their daughter, Lauren, recently married and has one daughter, Bridget, and is pregnant with a boy. They’ll name him, Ryan. Sean is still in school but has been dating for years a girl named Bethany.
In reality, over the years, Peter has forgotten what it was to be Greek. For whatever reason, which I do not condemn him, he forgot the land of his ancestors. He forgot the struggles his parents and relatives went through when they immigrated to the New World. He forgot 5,000 years of Greek history. He forgot how to dance Greek! (Zorba is turning in his grave).
Alas, there is a sliver of hope because Peter is “Re-Greeking.”
What is “Re-Greeking?” Simple… it’s when you wake up one morning and suddenly realize being of Greek ancestry is not that bad. So Peter starts looking up his old Greek friends. He starts attending, Greek church, and he starts showing up at the Greek functions.
He realizes that he misses all this Greek stuff. He misses waking up on Thanksgiving morning to the smell of not only turkey basting in the oven, but spanakopita and pastitsio baking away. He misses hearing his mother talking to his aunt on the telephone in Greek at 100 mph and the screaming back and forth (Erin doesn’t scream, especially when the kids were small – there were timeouts). He misses hearing the old scratchy records of songs by Kazantzidis and Tsitsanis blaring on the record player. He misses drinking homemade tsipouro and is tired of drinking Irish whiskey. He misses being called “Taki.” And he misses dancing Greek (Zorba stopped turning).
Peter, who now wants to be called “Taki” again, doesn’t want to alienate his wife and kids – he loves them. He wants to include them. So although there is a little reluctance on Erin and the kids to suddenly embrace being Greek, Taki decides to take them all to back the Homeland – Greece and they not only visit the ancient historic sites and the islands, he takes them back to his parents’ village and the smell of sheep.
A funny thing happens… Greece suddenly becomes cool.
The kids love having bougatsa in the morning. They love the little Greek tavernas where you can sit away the day sipping a frappe or some Greek coffee. They love bouzouki music. They love the smell of sheep – well almost. Even pretty little Erin has fallen in love with Greece… the beaches on Mykonos, the glorious sight of the Parthenon atop the Acropolis, and the White Tower overlooking the bay in Thessaloniki. But she doesn’t like the smell of sheep, neither does Taki. Ireland is nice, but like Gus Portokalos said in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, “When my people were developing philosophy your people were still swinging from trees.” Greece is where it all started!
Everyone is now happy. Even Lauren and her husband have decided to name their son, Petros and Sean is now dating a girl named Chrisoula. Taki, the Prodigal son, has almost completed his Re-Greeking… he just needs to add the “opoulos” back to the end of his name. Welcome back, Taki, it’s good to have you!
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