The Greek Gift Game
By Karin, December 2007
Well, the past couple of days have been interesting . . . in a Greek Way!
First off, Papoose (Grandfather) had his Name Day. Since he is such a sweet old man, I decided to bake something for him. I made a plate up of Cranberry Bread with orange and walnuts, a Lemon Bar cookie I make, and Chocolate Bars (sort of like a brownie).
Around noon I decided to walk up to their house. It was drizzling, and coming into their garden area was really soft and pretty; very farm-ish and stuff around from fall, just cozy. The door was closed, so I knocked…and his voice started yelling inside. I did not know what he was saying, and in a bit I knocked again. Again, more of his loud yelling. What I wondered was, is he warning me, “Don’t come in my pants are down!” or was he saying “Come in, the door isn’t locked!”? So timidly and bravely, I opened the door; he started yelling some more. Thank goodness his wife YaYa (Grandmother) came quickly…and of course welcomed me with hugs and smiles. I handed her the plate to which she immediately helped herself to a cookie. Papoose was insistent I sit. “Katsee, katsee” and half stood up as if to push me into a chair!
The room was nicely warmed by the fire in the wood stove, it was cosy, the TV was going and Papoose was sitting at the table with a beige crocheted shawl around his shoulders. I greeted him with, “Kronia Polla” (Many years) which is the saying you give on Name Days. He was very pleased, warmly shook my hand, grinned very big, and then seeing I wasn’t sitting yet indicated I was to sit on a sofa bed. NOW! Then he sat down, but immediately got up, and put a pillow behind my back! Eighty six years old, but not too old to be a gentleman!
Then the conversation stopped! What to say? How, in my limited Greek, and their limited English do we talk? If we were a room full of Greeks, the air would be filled with everyone talking and no one listening to anyone! I just started to feel awkward when YaYa came to the rescue by rushing around the room, going from kitchen to wood stove with a large round battered pan filled to the brim with macaroni and dove (pigeon)! Yes, those little birds that fly around our fields are now food for winter stomachs! I must admit, it smelled delicious. YaYa uses this wood stove for cooking, baking and all the while it heats the main room of the house. Her tiny kitchen is just a room for washing up and preparing food.
Papoose explained to me about the photographs on his wall. They are old family pictures. I understand enough Greek to know sister, friend, son, daughter, etc.. I found them fascinating. He also showed me his stripes (3) that came off his military uniform when he was a young man. There were photos of a very impressive young Nikos and of a HUGE bull taken at the port of Parikia. I felt the room had so many stories. What a pity we could not really communicate.
Anyway, I stayed about 30 minutes in which we attempted to make small talk, watched news coverage on the TV in the real awkward moments, and of course I was treated to the usual Name Day cookie and a small glass of suma! We joked about drinking before lunch!
When I got up to leave, I was immediately given gifts to take back home, which is what the Greeks do. No matter what you bring, you carry away more! I was given 3 grapefruit, 2 oranges, 8 green tomatoes and Name Day cookies for Michael.
The next morning we squeezed the oranges…WOW!, so sweet and smooth….then we squeezed 2 of the grapefruit! Now that was a treat beyond belief. I am not a grapefruit lover, but this juice was really wonderful! It makes one wonder how we can abide drinking juice from the supermarkets. There is just NO comparison.
OK, so today I am busy packing, organizing to leave for the USA. YaYa knows I am busy–so she wants to help by showing up this morning with a huge bag full of horta she had just picked! That was really a special gift, as she has bad knees, so it was a job of real friendship that she did this. However, I really did not want to be at the kitchen sink, cutting the roots off 1,000,000 little dandelion, etc. plants, washing them, then rinsing them at least twice. Imagine, an entire bag full! The job takes my inexperienced hands about 2 hours! Then you cook it down like spinach; it does take a big bag to get a decent portion. Unfortunately, I am not so keen on horta. It is usually served with vinegar or lemon and a little olive oil.
After cleaning half the bag I stopped for the day. We will have what I cleaned for supper with a bacon omelette and some of the fried green tomatoes. I thought of giving the rest away, or even (and this IS bad) throwing it to the goats! But when I think of YaYa down on her bad knees, in the wet rainy soil, I know tomorrow we will finish up the bag. And I will be more healthy for it!
Now, back to my packing. I definitely will find a nice box of chocolates from America to give them when I come back–and leave their house with more gifts from YaYa….you can never win! I like this game!
2021 Update: YaYa (Yah Yah) is interviewed for a remembrance project and a photo of Papoose in 2019 (deceased 2020): Pre-tourism Aliki