Thursday, February 27, 2014

Troop 3877

Last night the Boy Scout Troop 3877 held its mid-year award ceremony.
Gus always insists on carrying the Greek flag.

Gus received his citizenship pin, one of his requirements to move from second-year Webelo to a full-fledged Boy Scout,
Meanwhile, Niko received his wolf badge, and a whole slew of belt loops - from culture / foreign language to bowling and tennis. He was extremely pleased with himself.
There they are, two cool Scouts in Troop 3877...

Monday, February 24, 2014

Sons of Arcadia

My grandparents hailed from the Greek state of Arcadia, which is situated on the east-central part of the Peloponnese. 
 Arcadia includes mountains and the most amazingly azure waters you've ever seen.
In mythology, Arcadia is home to the god Pan, the huntress Atalanta, and the 6th Labor of Herakles - the Stymphalian Birds.
In 1930, Arcadians in America formed the Pan-Arcadian Federation of America. It's a fraternal organization dedicated to promoting and preserving Hellenism, democracy, the Greek language, Orthodox Christianity, and philanthropy. For the past three years, I've been honored to serve as president of the Theodoros Kolokotronis chapter in Salt Lake.  
Kolokotronis - a son of Arcadia - was a great general during the Greek War of Independence.
To raise funds for our philanthropic work, we hold two annual fundraisers: a summer picnic, and our  makaronada - I guess best translated as "spaghetti feed."  Sunday at our makaronada we fed nearly 100 people. These are always a success because of the efforts of my cousin-in-law, George.
For me the makaronada, the summer picnic, even the PFA itself is not only a nod to my heritage and my past, it's a link to my future. The boys love helping at the makaronada.
These are memories they'll share with their children and grandchildren. "Tending bar," busing tables, leading everyone in the Lord's Greek.
These are the memories they'll have of a loving, embracing community proudly calling them sons of Arcadia.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Maybe Even More Mortherly

One of the most difficult aspects of parenting is when your kid gets sick. Of course, once they go to school, there's no end to the funky, gunky yuck they drag home. Weird coughs, runny noses, clammy bodies.

Here's what sucks for our kids: Kelly and I aren't what one would describe as the most empathetic and comforting parents. After all, we are the guys, who told Gus to "just walk it off" when he had several chunks of wood lodged into his knee (in our defense, we had no idea that it wasn't just a scraped knee.)

Recently, the boys introduced into our home the latest bug that's going around. One by one, it felled each of us. The remnants still remain, true to the kids' doctor's diagnosis that this particular virus is taking a while for people to shake.

Inconvenient and unpleasant, this bug has made the kids seek succor from their parents. That in turn has made Kelly and me work to be more compassionate, more patient, maybe even more motherly.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Calla Lilies Are in Bloom Again

Valentine's Day has always been more about friendship and less about romance for me.  So I find it appropriate that yesterday, I said good bye to a friend of mine.

I met Russ through work when we both lived in San Francisco.  From the first time we talked on the phone, Russ and I hit it off. Sometimes, we'd just call each other to do our imitations of Katherine Hepburn. "The calla lilies are in bloom, again, Christopher!"

When Russ retired several years ago, he returned to live in his home state of Oklahoma, but we still kept in touch via Christmas cards and emails.He was a big fan of this blog and my column, and frequently shared them with his family and friends.

Well, not too long ago, Russ told me he had cancer.  In his Christmas card this past season, he mentioned he was still fighting it and planned to start chemo after the holidays.  That sounded hopeful.

Earlier this week, Russ sent an email telling his friends that to his surprise - and to the surprise of his doctor - the cancer has spread to his liver, and there was nothing that could be done. The medical team would stabilize him and send him to hospice.

Yesterday, I called Russ. To check in on him, try to make him laugh, and deep down I knew to say good bye. In our short conversation, even though he was clearly tired, Russ showed me the humor I loved, and the courage I always admired.  He told me he was headed to hospice today, but he didn't fear death. He said, "I've had a great life."

Hey Russ, the calla lilies are in bloom again. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A New Level of Empathy

I recently learned within a couple of hundred years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, a plague swept through the Americas decimating as much as 90% of the indigenous population. By the time those intrepid Europeans arrived the remaining Native Americans tragically proved no match for newly-introduced poxes and fevers.

There used to be a time when my immune system was the stuff of legend. Sure, I'd get the sniffles every now and now - maybe even the flu once every 4 or 5 years - but really nothing seemed to be able to take me down.

And then the kids came along, bringing with them every germ a biological warfare lab could dream up. This weekend Gus had the sniffles. Today I have something akin to laryngitis. Yesterday, he got sick at school. Tomorrow I'll have...I shudder to think.

Let's just say my already great sympathy for the indigenous peoples of the America has taken on a new level of empathy.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Portraits of the Author as a Young Man

While I was looking through those old photos of my yia yia, I ran into more than a few photos of myself.  I am the first to admit that I was an odd and often awkward child. I like to think it built character. Take a look at me from infancy to the just before my teenage years. Go ahead and laugh, I did!

Baby on Board
I have always argued that not all babies are pretty. I am living proof of that!
That's me on the table, with Mike, Ted and Yia yia - circa 1965-6.
John being forced to interact with the alien child.
Happy birthday! March 1966, with Sandra and cousins Laura & David.
With Dad, circa 1966. I think this was the start of my goat obsession!
 Mom's little bundle of joy.
 Yet again John is forced to pretend to like me. (Check out that couch!)
The Boy Wonder
If I'm being really objective, I think I was a far cuter little boy than I was a baby. Even if I was blonde - a fact that never ceases to amaze and bewilder my kids.
Easter, when I was about 3, with Sandra. Mom made our outfits. Stylin'!
 On my Theia Mimi's bed.
 My 4th birthday. I was crying since I was shy and didn't like being the center of attention.
 With John and Dan in 1969 on vacation. Dan was obviously OK holding my hand. John not so much.
 Me with Chuvar, our friends the Saunders' dog - circa 1968-9.
Somewhere along the Pacific Coast on vacation in 1969. Pants a bit high?
This is when I broke my leg in 1972. Don't I look pathetic?
It's Christmas! Probably 1970-1. Color wheel on aluminum tree was cool.

Growing up
The '70s were just plain weird.
 From the width of the too-cool John's bell bottoms, I'd say 1972.
Hair's starting to get darker...and shaggier. Circa 1974-5.
 I loved my new King Oil board game! And yes, I'm wearing a turtle neck with a suit. Circa 1975.
With Yiayia and Theia Mimi. Probably 1975-6.
Andrea Wilburger and me at Midvale Elementary, 1976.
As I looked at these photos, I saw the typical awkward childhood. But also, I saw one filled with family, fun and loving memories. And that's what childhood is all about. I mean it certainly isn't about 12-year old boys in green polyester suits and disco hair cuts holding a bottle of  Seagrams VO at his brother's wedding in1977, right?

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Yia Yia's Boy

Growing up, I was very much my yia yia's boy. I was always at her house - even as a teenager. No one could cook like she did. No one made you feel as good about yourself as she did. No one was so old country charming as she was.

A few days ago, missing her, I posted on Facebook a photo I have of her.

My niece, who didn't know her, asked me to post a couple of more. So, I spent some time at my parents' taking pictures of pictures.
Long before she ever dreamed of being a grandmother.
 Some 30-35 years later, as a yia yia, with my brother Mike, circa 1951-2
In full yia yia mode, with all my siblings. John as baby means it's 1960.
  With "Theia"Ameriki Gouvisis (I think) sometime in the mid-50s after my papou passed.
Finally! The favorite has arrived! With me Christmas 1965 or '66.
Enjoying the family room bar. Apparently, plaid was all the rage in the mid 60s.
At my brother Dan's wedding in 1977 with my mom's grandmother the larger-than-life Eleanor Davidson. (By then Yia yia felt a black, grey or navy background counted as still being in mourning.)
In her famous garden.
 At my brother John's wedding in 1984. No that wasn't her hat!
In front of the new fire place in the early 1980s. 
 Probably 1984-5, not long before she passed.
When I die, I don't expect to be sitting on a cloud singing the praises of God. I expect to be sitting with my yia yia, holding hands, laughing, and feeling like the most important person in heaven.
With her namesake and her chrisouli - golden one - Christmas 1982.