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May Old Acquaintance Never Be Forgot
It seems that every year we rue what happened the year before and hope for better for the coming year. We make resolutions that we keep imperfectly, or not at all, and then another New Year comes around and we make fresh resolutions to make up for the resolutions we missed last year: I will stick to my diet…I will actually go to the gym…I will stop texting and start talking on my phone…I will visit Greece this year…I will stop thinking about past regrets and start enjoying the present.
Because the past is past and the future is coming but the present is right here. Like most of us, I imagined my parents would always be here, and my biggest regret is that I never tapped into the rich history they represented. I imagined someday I would have my father write his memoirs and since he had a photographic memory I would get our family history down to the last detail. Glimpses of what he and my mother could provide me of a vanished world were sprinkled in all our conversations as they got older.
I would visit them in Long Island where they lived and over turkey and Swiss sandwiches on white toast with fresh tomatoes from their garden and Lipton tea or Maxwell House coffee for dessert and my mother’s koulouria we would sit and they would talk about the village back in Chios. Where they grew up and my father’s great uncle wore the vrakes but he corresponded with Venizelos himself because he was the wise man of the village; or my mother when she was a girl would get a hunk of bread for a snack from her mother with butter and sugar—that would be snatched away by the mother of the neighboring kids who were starving. Eh, you have plenty, the woman would tell her, and my mother would keep the secret to herself because she felt guilty that her father had the village store and they had plenty and the neighboring kids were starving.
And there were the stories of my father during the Greek civil war that I relished, like the one where he led his troops into a railroad tunnel to rout the enemy and they engaged in a pitch battle in the dark that made him a hero and honored him with a parade. Or the fateful night when his master sergeant was due for his leave to see his young daughter after years on the front but went on one last patrol and he was killed on the spot that very night. And then my father, on leave himself for the first time in years, went to the government office where war widows applied for their husband’s pension and my father tried to get the pension for the widow of his master sergeant by putting his gun down on the desk of the bureaucrat who was holding things up because he was flirting with the widow and my father told him, Make your choice now: either your brains or your signature will be on this paper.
The regrets of the past haunt us all, but let’s remember life is going on all around us in the meantime and we are making our own memories right now.
Enjoy a momentous and Happy New Year!
Dimitri C. Michalakis