Tag Archives: Yiayia

Still missing this great American

Forty years ago, on the Fourth of July, 1978, I walked into my house and got the news from my wife.

My grandmother had just passed away. She is the one on the right in the picture above. My reaction kind of surprised me then: She was in her 80s and I knew she had been sick; still, I put my arms on the fireplace mantle and sobbed, cried like a baby.

The picture, by the way, is of three of my grandparents. There was Diamontula Filipu and her husband, George, my mom’s parents; the lady on the left is my dad’s mother, Katina Kanelis.

This is a poignant remembrance. For starters, I always remember Yiayia’s death, as she did die on the anniversary of the birth of her adopted home country. My wife reminded me a few days after learning of Yiayia’s death that she picked the Fourth of July just to be sure I’d remember.

We called her Yiayia, because that’s Greek for “grandmother.” Indeed, her southeast Portland, Ore., neighbors called her Yiayia; the store clerks did, too. The mailman, the milkman called her Yiayia.

I have referred to Yiayia in previous blogs as a “great American.” She was a diminutive patriot who stood taller than anyone around her when she talked about her country.

She emigrated here from Turkey in the early 20th century. Her husband, my Papou George, already had relocated to Portland to await Yiayia’s arrival. She got off the boat at Ellis Island in New York City, processed through immigration, then asked someone how long it would take her to get toĀ  Portland. The person she asked presumed she meant Portland, Maine, and told her it would take about four hours.

Four days later, she ambled off the train on the other side of a vast nation. Intrepid? Yeah, she embodied the meaning of the term.

She shares this date of Earthly departure with two other great Americans: Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom died on the same day, July 4, 1826 — precisely 50 years after the nation they helped create came into being.

I hold up Yiayia’s American greatness to any who have lived in this country. Whether they were born here or came here of their own volition, Yiayia stood tall among them.

She never returned to her native Turkey. She always said she was “home” and had no desire to return to where she entered this world as an ethnic Greek in what the current president of the United States might call a “sh**hole” country.

She might not have been allowed into this country that seeks a “merit-based” immigration system. She lacked formal education. She didn’t have any professional skills that I can recall. She merely was a loving wife, mother and grandmother. My sisters and I spent much time with her, playing silly games and laughing at stories she would tell about her beloved husband, George, who died when I was a baby.

Yiayia also was a patriot. She adored FDR and JFK.

I miss her to this day. So should the country she loved with all her heart.

Two memories: distinct yet related come to mind

Once in the bluest of moons strange thoughts cross my mind, involving distinctly different memories but which somehow — oddly — are tied together in my heart and mind.

My late grandmother and my hometown newspaper have come to my mind this evening.

I got word today that The Oregonian is going to shut down its presses, darkening the production operation in downtown Portland, the city of my birth and where I came of age. It makes me sad.

And on July 4, tomorrow, I will mark the 37th year since my beloved grandmother, Diamontoula Filipu, passed away. She died on the Fourth of July. I think of her almost daily. I think of her on Independence Day because Yiayia, as we called her, was a great American, a loving matriarch, the best cook who ever lived and was a proud American. She chose to live in the United States and never took for granted — not for an instant — the blessings she accrued when she moved here from Turkey not long after the turn of the 20th century.

My wife told me that Yiayia likely timed her passing just to be sure that we’d remember it. Boy, do we ever.

OK, so how are these two things related?

Here goes.

My wife and I hadn’t been married all that long. She was working in the circulation department on the ground floor of The Oregonian building. We had produced one son already; he was about a year old. Then we learned we were pregnant again.

With this news fresh in our minds — and with little time to inform anyone of it — my wife went to work one morning and told a colleague of hers about our big news. Well, it turns out that her friend’s grandmother was a good friend of Yiayia’s. This friend, apparently, told his grandmother later that morning in a phone call. Her colleague’s grandmother than reportedly called Yiayia to congratulate her on becoming a great-grandmother again.

One issue, though, arose: Yiayia didn’t know about it until her friend told her.

Later that evening, my wife and I walked into our little rental house. The phone rang. It was Yiayia.

She was “mad” that we didn’t tell herĀ first about our big news. She proceeded to “scold” me, telling that she had to be kept informedĀ before anyone else when the news involves something so huge as the impending birth of a new family member.

She then laughed and told me she loved me.

That was Yiayia. Was she a busy-body? Sure. But old-country women are entitled

It might be a stretch to combine these two memories, but they’re in my heart tonight as I think of a longstanding tradition in my hometown going away — and of one of the many happyĀ remembrances I have of my beloved Yiayia.

I miss her every day.