I later found out from my mother that Nick’s mother, Arianthi, passed away on the previous Thursday, before the earthquake in Japan. I probably would have gone if I had found out earlier, but as often happens, it was not to be. Just like when my wife Liz passed away, my mom came out. I told all the rest of the family to stay home; we’d have a memorial service for Liz in California. But as often happens, it was also not to be.
My brother in law, Nick, his family is Greek. His mother, Arianthi, whom we all called Yia-Yia (Yιαγιά), was a wonderful person. As was her husband, Demetri. But first, the afghan.
I often sit on my couch and watch a movie with the little afghan covering me. It comforts me; it reminds me of Liz and Arianthi. I think about the hands that made it, the energy that went into the making of something with love. I think about the bodies it kept warm and comforted over the years. Now it is older and kind of ragged in places, but I wouldn’t give it up. If fits me. It connects me with someone who I didn’t see very much but with whom I felt a connection.
I read her obituary. I knew most of the stories, about her and her husband fighting and hiding from the Nazis, with desperate hunger and in a world gone out of control, all with young children. About losing a son, about coming to America, not knowing the language. About raising three kids, all whom she was so very proud of.
Later on when I became a vegetarian for a time, she was one of the people in my family who understood. She would pinch my cheeks, and say to me with her bright little eyes, in her cute little Greek-English accent, “You don’t worry about it. It was horta that got us through the war, me and my Jimmy and the children. And then she would tell me her personal story about just how tough and dangerous their life was in the 1940’s in Greece. “We had nothing, we had nowhere to go, we had only ourselves,” she would recount,” and by God we learned to rely upon our family first.” Family is to the Greeks like it is to the Italians. In fact, it was from Arianthi that I learned about my Greek side, just from watching her. I really miss seeing her all these years. And now, well, she’s on the other side.
And her family, come’ va? Well, they made it in America. They are the quintessential Americans. They are, like the Italians and any other dispossessed people that make it to our shores, what this country was invented for. To bring your dreams and plant them in your yard and to harvest bushels of horta and live and dance and drink wine and dance some more and love and keep the flame burning for as long as one can.
|Arianthi Coussoulis - "Yιαγιά"|
|Arianthi's daughter Tina|
|Arianthi's son, Greg with his niece Angela|
|Arianthi's son, Nick Coussoulis, husband of my sister Tina|
|My sisters, Julie and Tina|
|Julie and Tina's children|
|Demetri and Arianthi Coussoulis sitting at the table as I will forever remember them|