My paternal grandfather George was one tough hombre.
Armed with just a grade school education back in the old country, he lived his 92 years there with the energy of a teenager. Known to us by the affectionate Greek moniker of “Pappou,” he possessed drive and ambition that kept his eyes on the horizon, forever dreaming.
A former editor of mine, Jim Therrien, now with the Berkshire (Mass.) Eagle, once told me he preferred obituary pictures of people in their youth, when you can see their future was still ahead of them. Recently, I recalled JT’s sage advice: in asking my sister to find a photo of Pappou for my weekly column and this blog, the above 1914 offering with his new bride, my grandmother Aspasia, seemed perfect.
That’s because except for gray hair and wrinkles, Pappou looked pretty much the same 60 years later in 1974, when I spent the summer with him in the Athenian suburb of Zografou. Sometime between then and that picture, he and Aspasia raised three kids – my father Christos included – in a hut with a dirt floor, no heating except an open hearth, no plumbing or facilities save for its outhouse, and a stream running through the back corner of the single room.
To be fair, no one would mistake the young Pappou for an easy man. He was a ruthless negotiator in his work life, a strict disciplinarian with his children, and rumors abound – though never confirmed – that his reputation as a ladies’ man was well deserved.
Still, Pappou, a wounded World War I veteran of very modest means, would give his last drachma to a homeless beggar, was fiercely loyal to friends and family, and a total softie with little kids (who were not his own, my Dad was quick to remind me).
The summer I spent with Pappou was one of my life’s most influential, and adventurous. Long a widower, he remained a neighborhood fixture during a tumultuous time of political upheaval, war, and social unrest in his country. I recalled these three months of a Greek granddad who mattered and his American grandson in my weekly Portland Sun column, “A grand(father’s) legacy.”
In that piece, I also spoke to the greater notion of how long-lasting a grandparent’s presence can be; it often stays with us long after they do.
So, to that end, with Father’s Day here, what about your grandfather(s)? Take a moment below in the comments section to remember them. Tell us their names – or nicknames, as I pointed out. Do you have a brief vignette to share?
These men were the fathers of our parents. Whether gone or still with us, bring them to life on these pages, even if for as long as it takes to tell us who they were and why you loved them.
The memories of that summer with Pappou made me a better father years later, and hopefully a more decent human being today. I learned a lot about pride, generosity, and dignity.
It’s a debt to Pappou I strive to honor in my daily life, but can never hope to repay.