Craig Everyday after school I would walk to my Yia Yia Georgia and Papou George's house, with a big backpack full of crayons, trapper keepers, and permission slips.
As I stumbled inside the door, dodging the rugs and chairs, I was welcomed by my Yia Yia screaming, "Mari Katherine, is that you," above the blaring drama of her favorite soap opera, "Days of our Lives."
She would call them "her stories." These stories were her comfort. Whether it was for entertainment or merely counting on her stories to be there for her like a friend or a neighbor, they were her stories.
This is what she did, every time and every day. She watched her stories. It is repetitive in its course of description, but it was her ritual nonetheless.
Over time, her stories became my tradition. For me, it wasn't about the soap opera. It was about slamming the screen door, hearing her voice and seeing her smile.
These were magical moments.
I would kiss my Yia Yia and hold her weathered, crooked-fingered hands until she let go. Sometimes it was only for a minute; others it was all afternoon.
Years of cooking, cleaning, ranching and loving were marked on those hands. Yet, she still was a lady and never missed a nail appointment. Then, I would look at my hands and notice that my left middle finger bent in the same way hers did.
She spoke to me in Greek and little by little I could comprehend and would respond, "Kala Te Kienes" (Good, how are you?) as my Papou waited anxiously to tell his koukla (doll) 'hello.'
His smile was unforgettable. It was subtle yet inviting, sincere yet mysterious. I would kiss him on the cheek and his hand would hold my fingertips shaking from a disease he had since he was a boy.
"How are you Papou?" I asked.
"I'm still alive," he answered.
A phrase I expected but had to hear for comfort. It was this type of dry humor that I will miss about my Papou. His humor was easygoing. He didn't expect you to laugh, he just wanted you to be there and listen.
When he would stroll with his cane and his brown hat toward our car, my brother would help him get in, and I would ask, "Papou, you got it?"
"I hope," he answered.
I hope, too. I hope you know, Papou, how much you have impacted my life. I hope you know, Papou, that I love you. You have to make it for me, for us.
His mind never let him show his age. I always wondered what that mind was thinking. A mind I wish I had during that biology final. But it was a humble smart. He didn't boggle ones mind with statistics or mathematical equations. He just told stories.
On commercial break from "Days of our Lives," I would heat up leftover spaghetti, sprinkle on some Parmesan cheese and grab a warm 7-Up from the pantry to join my Papou on the couch. He would peer over his Athens Tribune newspaper and say, "Let me tell you something" in a broken English accent. This really translated into, "Let me tell you story about the Persian war, or my village in Greece, even the years I spent at the University of Athens studying law."
In other words, "Let me tell you a story."
Although the events happened 70 years ago, I still could relate. With those stories, he instilled in me the values of life. I knew from a young age that these were the traditions I had to live by; to love my family, respect my parents, go to church, do well in school and simply live.
I have carried these stories with me to where I am today. But don't worry, Papou, they are in good hands. Even if I am not going to be a doctor, I will make you proud.
They are gone now, passing on from this mortal life. But they are unforgettable.
He was the man who wrapped his arm around you when you sat next to him. The man whose sneeze was so loud, it shook the whole entire house, whose wisdom and insight could teach a city and warm a room.
She was a woman who had a voice, one who you would listen to not because you were scared of the consequence because she was right. A woman who drove 75 mph at all times while wearing one leather glove on her right hand. She could work with the men and gossip with the ladies.
They are my Yia Yia and Papou.
I only hope you are so lucky to have someone unforgettable.