Saturday, June 23, 2007

My Big Fat Greek Life

As some of you know my husband is of Greek heritage. He was born in Toronto, but his parents immigrated to Canada as young adults. His Dad came first and instead of settling in Montreal with his brother he kept on to Toronto to stay with another brother. He originally landed Halifax and when we took a trip to the East Coast in our dating years, Hubby was moved to tears to imagine his father entering these very waters on his ship with $3 in his pocket.

His father is the youngest child of a mother widowed while he was still in her womb. He lived through depression, the war, the German occupation of their village, and poverty. He tended sheep and slept in fields and truthfully had no shoes. He is a master of making a meal out of nothing, a skill honed over years of surviving on what you could grow or raise yourself.

Theirs is the story that movies are made of, they came with nothing and made a wonderful life. Hubby's Dad knew his future wife as they were from the same village even though he is a few years older. Their courtship was letters back and forth and finally my Husband's Dad asked her father for permission to get married. My mother-in-law came to Canada and despite being alone with just a handful of people she knew, she got married to a man she barely knew. Today is their 45th wedding anniversary and they are a couple who know each other in a way that is almost supernatural. This lifetime together, longer than I have been alive has given them an unbreakable bond. Not that they don't bicker like the best of us and my father-in-law can drive my mother-in-law nuts sometimes, it is just that they are so connected they are unimaginable apart.

As I approach my 10th anniversary I have trouble imagining my 45th, or even 25th. That seems like so many lifetimes away. My father-in-law loves to regale me with stories and even after all this time I am not an expert at extracting myself from the conversation. He speaks of family in such a way, that is revered with such ferocity you dare not challenge his notions. When I point out that most if not all cultures revere family, he will tell me it is different with Greek people. At first this offended me, was my family not devoted to each other? Did we not love each other? My Hubby would tell me that I was being defensive or perhaps I misunderstood or something was lost in translation. And while I am certain that the value of family applies to every other culture, having first-hand experience with the Greek culture I believe it to be true in the sense that family is not only important it is the reason they take every breath.

My in-laws would do anything for us and I mean that in the most literal way. They would give until they could give no more before turning away family. I love my family and am quite sure they love me, but there is an element of self-preservation that I think would kick in at a certain point. My in-laws would drive over and get me a tissue out of the box if I asked and really think nothing of it, I asked and that is enough for them. I have had the luxury of having my children cared for, of letting a sick child stay in bed while I took the other one somewhere, homemade food, company for doctors appointments, a warm meal whenever I enter the door and in fact a key to the front door. I am family and they have accepted me fully.

I know they were wary of me when Hubby first brought me around, which was well into the relationship - bringing home girlfriends is frowned upon. I am sure they longed for someone Greek for their son. I was told recently that my mother-in-law tells most people that I am Greek in every way that matters because I love her son and family dearly. I remember thinking, wow I never imagined I would be accepted like that. Let's face it I stand out in the family, an English girl with blondish hair who bristles when the conversation comes round to discussions of women's work with some of the older relatives.

The movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding is very much like my life, in an exaggerated and comedic way. When the movie came out I loved it and my brother's name is Ian which made it all the funnier. Who doesn't love John Corbett, I was smitten while being addicted to Northern Exposure - I was convinced I would name a girl Cicley if I ever had one. While the premise of the movie is getting her family to accept him and that certainly was not the case for me, this movie was funnier to me than it was to many others I am sure. A manual and code book for the non-Greek girl.

I was married in a traditional Greek Orthodox ceremony, have heard about the origin of many words (I used to get so mad at then to-be Hubby when he would clean up on Jeopardy based on his knowledge of Greek), have a hard time keeping all the cousins straight since they all have the same names, explain every Easter why I still don't like lamb, have been plied with mountain tea to make me better and yes, considered Greek school for my girls.

Hubby attended Greek school every day after school his whole elementary school life. He would finish school, go home have a snack and go to Greek school from 4-7pm every day. He can speak, write and read Greek fluently, is extremely proud of his heritage and doesn't have a single Greek friend. That I have always found strange. We don't have a Greek flag waving anywhere in our house, but both my girls have several icons given to them to protect them that are safely tucked away.

The movie came out right around my birthday and Hubby gave me a doctored version with this photo on the cover. That is my head (from our wedding), but not my body - oh how I wish my waist was that small. Hubby doctored up his hair to get the right effect. I have a framed copy on our bookcase and everyone loves it, we get so many comments on it even after all this time. The only thing I left out when I scanned it was he put our names at the top, marquee style.

I could and maybe will do a post one day on all the wacky stuff, but really I think about how earnest his Dad is while telling me something or his Mom when she tells me something that I think borders on voodoo. They are simple people who made a life, own their own home, owned businesses and my Hubby's Dad completed a Grade 3 education. They put two children through university and are still helping. I would not want them to think I was making fun of them in any way. They have done more in their lives than most people could do in twenty life times and when I get cranky and sullen I feel spoiled and ungrateful when I think of what they have endured to get to where they are today.

My Big Fat Greek Life is great. It may resemble a movie sometimes - good thing it is a comedy. Even though they have no clue about my blog, I should be so lucky to be celebrating my 45th anniversary one day. Best wishes to them and everyone who manages to make this journey as a couple, to find that person whom you belong with for better or worse.


Alpha DogMa said...

Thanks for posting that photo! So funny. We'll celebrate our 45th in 2045 - I can not get my mind around that date.

The way you speak of your in-laws is wonderful and inspiring. I'll keep your words in mind as I struggle for peace with my own in-laws.

How did your in-laws react when you chose the girls' names and broke with tradition?

Omaha Mama said...

I love this post! And I loved the movie. John Corbett is wonderful.

My grandparents celebrated 60 years in February! That blew my mind. Right now, I am in awe of those who make it to 10 years, like you. We just celebrated 6.

Your Big Fat Greek Life sounds fun - I'm glad you've shared it!

Jenifer said...

AD-You know I think they were just so happy that Hubby finally got married and had a family that they were fairly open-minded about the rest. The girls names do have Greek meanings which makes them happy and I am sure if we ever had a boy I would put his Dad's name somewhere in the mix. That would make him a very happy man...

OM-Six years, why you are babies yet! Seriously, I have no idea where the time has gone no one is more amazed than us that we at 10 years already.

Beck said...

That picture is just TOO great! I love it!
You know, when you were writing about what your FATHER-in-law went through growing up, I thought that you were writing about what your husband went through growing up - which made him sound really old. But then I figured it out.

Christine said...

Oh that picture is wonderfully funny!

This was written with such love and respect for your husband's family. You are lucky to have them and they you.