The lady you see in this picture passed away 45 years ago on this very day; therefore, I want to take this opportunity to salute her while honoring the birth of the nation she loved with all her heart.
She was my maternal grandmother. Her given name was Diamondoula Panesoy. She married my grandfather after being betrothed to him for many years. This intrepid Greek woman made a harrowing journey from Marmara, Turkey, to the United States, boarded a train from New York City to Portland, Ore., and got married.
They produced three children, one of whom was my mother. The kids you see in this picture with our Yiayia are my sisters and me.
She chose to become an American, which to my way of thinking makes her an exceptional citizen of this great land. Yiayia — which is Greek for grandma — would repeatedly brush off suggestions that she return to “the old country” to visit, to see her “homeland.” She would answer, “But I am ‘home,’ where I belong.”
She never looked back once she left southeastern Europe.
Yiayia died on July 4, 1978. She had been battling many illnesses. My late wife, Kathy Anne, quipped not long after Yiayia’s passing that “She chose to die on this date just to make sure you would remember.”
Yiayia was without question a most memorable individual. Everyone knew her as “Yiayia.” That included the kids in her Southeast Portland neighborhood, the kids’ parents, the mailman, the milkman, the guys who picked up her trash, the clerks at the grocery store where Kathy Anne and I would take her on occasion.
Above all, she was a dedicated American citizen. She worshiped FDR and JFK. She always remembered to vote. As one of my uncles once noted, she probably was a closet socialist. She believed that government should help every American.
She made our nation better simply by being among its taxpaying, voting, red-blooded American citizens. Yiayia strengthened this strong land by loving it openly and without a hint of reservation.
So … this is my way of offering a heartfelt birthday wish to a great land, which opened its doors to a woman who — in my view — would become one of its greatest Americans.