Eleni Kouri

By NaturallyInspired

What went through her mind when she first saw the tall turquoise statue from the sea, and glimpsed the shores of New York? What did she think when she stepped off the boat and heard the officer say, “welcome to America?” Did she know she would spend sleepless, homesick nights, crying, in this land of blonde hair, blue eyes, brown skin, Coca-Cola, and immigrants mixed? Did she hate every minute of it, or did she find pleasure in the American comics she read to try to learn English? Was her uncle, her only relative in this foreign country- the man who escaped Turkey’s blood-red, genocidal shores, for New York’s, without ever stopping in Greece- kind, and did he make up for his German-Scottish wife’s cold austerity? What was it like leaving your homeland, one that had given you war throughout your childhood- Mussolini, the Nazis, the Civil War, still going on in alleys and behind closed doors- and yet the one place that you could call home, leaving your family behind at eighteen years old, saying goodbye to your mother, your sister, your brothers, for the land of opportunity, to create a better life of your own? Did she even have a choice or was it thrust upon her out of fear and poverty, mixed with the hope of a land paved with gold? …having to learn, not a second language, but a third, when she struggled to clean out her Greek and save the Pontian dialect for home… and did the thought ever, by some strange chance, cross her mind, before she left home at eighteen years of age, that the little boy down the street- that tiny, godly old man’s son- how old was he? 10?- would one day be her brother-in-law?

How did she feel when she walked down the aisle, with her family around her throwing rice and finally cheering her on as the wedding ceremony came to a close, as she looked to her handsome husband- the policeman, with ancestors from the mountainous tribes of the Spartans and their allies- who looked into her eyes and smiled, his stern, no-joking façade, down to expose his soft heart? …and when they bought their first home in Roslindale, with so many more Greeks, all together to help each other get by as newcomers in the land of “get it yourself,” finding strength in numbers?

What did she whisper to her baby boy on that chilly October night in 1964, as a mother for the first time, looking out the window over the new Plymouth? Did she gaze with pride into his eyes with her husband and say, “he has my eyes?”

Did the years go by fast, working with her husband, tailoring, cutting, sewing clothes, at the store they bought from an old Jewish man, for over forty years, watching a son and a daughter grow up and go to high school and college, watching them both marry?

What about when she first heard the news that she was a grandmother, a mother multiplied by two, that her daughter’s son had just been born, and that her son’s son was on his way? …years later at her daughter’s divorce?

And what did she say to her sister, as tears fell down her cheeks, at the casket? What were here final parting words in this world to the lifelong friend that now for years had lived just two streets over, a friend both by choice and by blood, with whom she’d grown up, and with whom she had sewed with together at the dry-cleaners from across the table? What did she say to that witty, cynical version of her that had made her laugh by making fun of the customers in the old dialect the foreigners couldn’t understand? Perhaps something in that language, some memory they’d shared or some kind words of thanks and a farewell? What was the last thing she said to her sibling through a heaving chest and tears, from this side of death, after she prayed at the foot of the dark brown wood? When she visits the grave, still marked only by a plastic sign even after a year, thanks to the uncaring, unthankful nephew, does she say, “I’ll meet you in a few years?” …and yet she’s cheerful and on occasion remarks to her son with a laugh, “a sparrow jumped up on my porch and sung for an hour yesterday and stayed there all afternoon, I think it was my sister stopping by for a visit again.”

What do I see when I look into her eyes, filled with the hardships of many tough years, much suffering, much sadness, mixed with much joy, laughter, fear of God, and an optimism that’s lasted through it all? Is it the wisdom of an old woman, the care of a grandmother, the memories of a long life filled with innumerable stories, or is it the hopeful gleam of an immigrant girl at eighteen, the laughter of a sister and a daughter growing up in a town in Greece on tobacco fields and unpaved streets, the quiet love of a bride who knows that deep inside, she’s tougher than her deeply emotional husband, who though he acts gruff and rough and strong, knows he can’t fool her for a minute? All of these together. Through my eyes I can only truly see my grandmother, because that’s the role she plays to me, but looking deeper I can imagine the stories she’s told, the memories only she can remember, and just try to get a picture of the whole soul of this dauntless, honest woman.

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Eleni Kouri

Created: Jul 26, 2010

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