I wish I spent more time in my mom’s Greek village so I could soak up more stories and affection from my 90 year old grandma (yia yia) and 80 year old grandpa (papou).
She got married in her early 30’s after she spotted papou on the street, trailblazing the path for cougars everywhere. I’m convinced that remnant fears of spinsterhood and infertility colour her well intended advice to get married and have kids STAT.
They were poor and grew up in a very small town, nestled between mountains. All the clichés of walking 5 miles to school, lacking shoes and fighting siblings over small luxuries rang true for my mom.
Their story is a typical immigrant one – my grandpa came to Canada alone at first, to assess the scene for his family (secured by the landed immigrant status of his sister). One by one, his three kids and wife joined him; my mom was 15 and her mom was well over 50. The boldest decision they ever made.
Their collective potential was shunted by their late-in-life arrival. Yia yia cleaned office buildings for a time and never did learn English. She probably could have been a kindergarten teacher, narrator or even an actor, possessing the gifts of storytelling and theatrics. To this day she recounts memories with animated detail, requiring infrequent murmurs from her audience to carry on.
Had circumstances been different, my papou could have been a world traveler and adventure seeker, with an online oriented business, blog and all. He loves technology (literally has a facebook profile) and dances to English music at weddings like no one’s watching (true story). He also enjoys going out for daily coffee jaunts, observing life go by.
Nowadays, he doesn’t get out as much because he takes care of her. Her limbs are ransacked by arthritis so he cooks, cleans and makes sure she takes her pills three times a day. She is afraid to be home alone, so he completes his daily excursion before 9 am, while she sleeps.
Despite daily bickering and feelings of frustration (she mourns her youth), they have been married for 58 years and counting. For all our fears of commitment (of settling and getting a divorce), they illustrate: it can be done. And they have done a good job of avoiding favoritism and other forms of poison in the process, retaining a close knit family beneath their wings.
They didn’t get caught up in vanity or materialism. They grew a lot of their own food (still do). They did not strive for special dreams, screenwriting and the like. If sheer survival was their past, then living in a rundown apartment in Toronto was success (it’s all relative).
They are content with simple. They are grateful for what they have. We could learn a lot from them.
What Michael McGowan’s film Still Mine can teach Gen Y
On Monday night I had the pleasure of watching the world premiere of Still Mine at the Toronto International Film Festival, the latest feature from Toronto-based writer and director Michael McGowan. He previously wrote and directed a sweet little movie called One Week – one of my all time faves.
Based on a true story, the plot centers on a married couple in their 80’s, who live in New Brunswick and fiercely cling to their independence. Craig Morrison (James Cromwell) plays a stubborn, traditional farmer who decides to build a more suitable home for his ailing wife (Genevieve Bujold) on his own land. Unfortunately, he does not comply with recently passed building regulations and takes on the local government and possible jail time, all in the name of love for his Alzheimer afflicted wife.
We see him build an entire house with his bare hands, only asking for help out of desperation. The TIFF synopsis says “Craig and Irene’s relationship is far richer because of the past they have shared. Their conversations are charged, direct, and laden with subtext.” I could not agree more and wholeheartedly recommend this movie.
Unlike the characters in the film, my grandparents have been blessed with a full and thriving memory. They can remember how far they have come; they call on birthdays and anniversaries. If you are going to get battle wounds from the war of life, you might as well remember them. Otherwise, what’s the point?
The Moral of Both Stories
My visit was anticipated for months and over in 5 days. When it was time to say goodbye, I realized there was a chance I might not see them again.
My yia yia uses two canes now, more hunched over than I remembered. She has outlived most of her siblings, neighbours and friends. As a result she is constantly aware of the shadow of death lurking and spends most of her time alone in the village with her own thoughts and fears.
If you have the good fortune of breathing, kindhearted grandparents near or far, make sure you see them as much as you can. Make them feel special.
They don’t quite make them like they used to.