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A Profile of America
After working as a journalist in the Greek American community for so many years and meeting so many remarkable people I’ve decided to publish a book of profiles about only a few of those people, some who are famous, but some few us know outside their friends and families, but who are equally remarkable.
There was the man in Astoria who made candles as a job, but whose true passion was visiting the war-torn and troubled regions of the world as a private citizen, at his own expense, and at his own risk, to witness the brutalities of life and politics and war, and if nothing else, be a witness and a voice for the oppressed. Why would you do that? I asked him. Because I must, he said, even if it does nothing: at least I tried.
There was the world-famous astrophysicist who had created the rockets that flew to the outer planets but who took the time to talk to me about our common heritage in Chios and the platia with the ice cream place where we had ice cream that came with a vanilla wafer and the municipal park dedicated to Kanaris where our grandmothers took us in our stroller and the bus with the chickens tied on top that we took to get up to the hills—and, oh, yes, we also talked about astrophysics and rockets.
There was the pizza maker, or maybe he was a donut man, or maybe he sold blinds—regardless, he was also a poet so deep and yet so vast and wide-ranging over time and place that he was a veritable Cavafy. His poetry soared over the everyday of an afternoon at work to the clash of swords and screams of men fighting on an ancient battlefield. And when he spoke about these visions of his mind and soul he was virtually in tears.
There was the elderly man who was a widower, a recent widower, who spoke of his wife with such grief that it broke your heart, too. He was a restaurant man, he always worked hard, his wife kept the books, “She was the brains; I was the hamali,” and she was also the woman who shared his life and the tribulations over decades of trying to make a living in America as an immigrant and raising a family and building the community, and he was dedicating the wing of a church to her, but that could not mend the break in his heart and his loneliness.
There was the young guy who worked at Disney in Florida, had worked at Disney since he practically came out of college, had the Disney chirp in his voice, was manager at one of the parks, EPCOT, and was due to be vice president, and whose vision was to have a Greece pavilion at EPCOT to go with the other countries on exhibit at the Lagoon there.
And there are simpler people like my sister Helen, who has never been lauded, because she has been a simple mother and housewife, like countless others who keep our life together, like my mother and grandmothers did, but who more than anyone has kept our family together through the hardships of her own life.
These are the true Greek American heroes of our time.
Dimitri C. Michalakis