From the Mommy Files…

Keeping Family History Alive

Posted on: November 26, 2012

On this blog, I’ve talked a lot about the importance of keeping traditions alive.

Family history goes hand-in-hand.

Many people don’t know how their family ended up in America, let alone when or where.

At our house, these traditions and history are part of our everyday.

My children know all the names and towns.

They’re fascinated by it, and ask questions.

This past Thanksgiving Eve, I had the pleasure of having my nephew/Godson come to stay with us.

My brother is a single dad.

Maybe he doesn’t have time – maybe he doesn’t know about family history.

He certainly doesn’t celebrate any traditions or customs, unless I do it and he joins in.

So here I was with my nephew, on Thanksgiving Eve.

My contribution to Thanksgiving dinner was making my maternal grandfather’s meat stuffing recipe.

It’s a lot of work, so my aunt didn’t want to take that on, along with everything else.

I totally get that, but it’s just not Thanksgiving without it.

The last few years I made it at home anyway, because, well, it’s just not Thanksgiving without it.

Sad thing, these days, only one of my cousins (of nearly 20) make it.

My aunts and uncles do not either, because it’s a lot of work.

This is why there used to be a party BEFORE Thanksgiving, when we all gathered to lend a hand in the stuffing preparation.

This party would include family, friends, some appetizers, wine—and lots of laughter and storytelling.

For a while, this actually became more fun than Thanksgiving, but I digress…

So here I am with the nephew – the kid is 9 and he’s one inch shorter than me. 😉

He offered to help.

The girls decided that if he wanted to help, that I should have that time with him.

They told me so.

So they stayed downstairs, while Nephew and I cooked.

He got a big kick out of the food processor! He’d never seen one before, let alone used one.

We took each ingredient, one by one. I cleaned, chopped, put things in bowls, etc., and he inquired about each and every one and why it was prepared that way.

Then I asked him if he knew whose recipe this was.

Holiday time is a great time to share family recipes, history and to keep traditions alive. This is my papou’s “famous” meat stuffing. It’s just not Thanksgiving without it.

The conversation went like this:

Nephew: You said it was Papou’s (grandfather).

Me: Yes, but it is MY papou’s recipe…my mother’s father.

Nephew: Really? It’s been around a long time then!

Me: Yes. It’s just not Thanksgiving without it!

Nephew: I promise I’ll try it this year, since I’m making it and all.

Me: Great. Do you know what my papou’s – your great papou’s – name was?

Nephew: No.

Me: His name was Jim.

Nephew: What?! That’s my dad’s name! Is that where my dad got his name, like I’m named after my papou?

Me: Yes!

Nephew: That is soooo cool!

Me: Do you know what my yiayia’s (grandmother) —your great yiayia’s – name was?

Nephew: No.

Me: Maria.

Nephew: Get out! How cool! Was that on purpose?

Me: Yes. This is our tradition. Auntie and Uncle were named after Papou’s parents.

Nephew: So is that how Boo and Bebs got their names?

Me: Absolutely!

Nephew: That is the coolest thing! Does everyone do that?

Me: Not anyone else in our family does that anymore. But many Greeks follow this tradition.

Nephew: I would really like to go to Greece someday. Would you take me?

Me: Sure. Do you want to learn Greek?

Nephew: I know about 10 words in Greek. Could you teach me some more?

So everything that we did, I described in Greek. He listened intently.

Nephew: So tell me about your grandfather Jim.

Me: He came to the US in 1906.

Nephew: You’ve got to be kidding! That was more than 100 years ago.

Me: Yes. He came here when he was a young man. He went to join his father and uncle who were working out West on the railroad.

Nephew: With trains?

Me: They helped to lay the tracks.

Nephew: Maybe that’s why I really liked trains.

Then I proceeded to give him the abridged history.

Papou eventually moved to Chicago and went to work with his uncle in the grocery business.

Later, he opened his own store, and also a restaurant and bar.

He married my yiayia and they had 7 kids.

My mother is the oldest.

My papou also imported cheese and olives from Greece, and became known around the country.

He also sponsored about 1000 Greeks from the area around Tripolis, Greece, near where he was from, to come to Chicago.

These people would come, and he’d help them start their new lives.

He’d either train them in his restaurant, got them jobs somewhere else, or help them start their own businesses.

He was well-respected.

Nephew: That’s amazing! Did you ever meet him?

Me: No. He died many years before I was born.

Nephew: How old would he be now?

Me: About 125.

Nephew: What?! Did my dad know him?

Me: Your dad was about 2 when he died.

Nephew: Oh. How come no one else talks about him?

Me: I don’t know. Maybe they don’t know about him. You should ask Yiayia to tell you stories about her dad.

Nephew: That would be so cool.

So the stuffing was complete, and Nephew actually tried it, and he liked it.

At Thanksgiving dinner, he proudly announced to everyone that he helped make it, and that it was his Great Papou Jim’s special recipe, and that’s who his dad is named after.

It was a really special time with him.

He asked me later that night if there were any special Christmas traditions.

I told him he’d have to come over again to find out.

As we left, I hugged him and he thanked me for telling him about the stuffing, and my grandfather.

Then he said, “I’m so happy to be Greek. There are so many awesome things to learn about being Greek.”

That totally made my night.

And made me proud.

Won’t he be surprised when I take him to the National Hellenic Museum over Christmas break and show him the photo of my papou that appears in their newest exhibit, “American Moments!”

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