Caregivers can enjoy wonderful moments with their loved ones, sharing family stories and discovering family secrets. I grew up in a three-generation family with Yia-Yia (Greek for grandmother), my maternal grandmother, and my parents. Yia-Yia volunteered many delicious tidbits during our time together. It was embarrassing to watch Jeopardy! with her, but it was something I did often because that was when the floodgates opened — allowing stories of family affairs, changes in wills that were the result of coercion on family members’ deathbeds, and so much more to come through.
My Thoroughly Modern Grandmother
Yia-Yia was a “Thoroughly Modern Millie” at the turn of the 20th century, even though she came from a Greek village. Her four brothers went to university and then to medical or law school, and she wasn’t about to be left behind. So, off she went to Athens — to university, to get her teaching certificate. As an unmarried young woman, she became known as the village “bad girl,” just because she lived in an apartment with her brothers.
After graduating, Yia-Yia received a steerage ticket to New York. One of my favorite stories of hers was about how she sweet-talked her way into first class when she came to the United States. Whenever she told it, she would laugh and laugh — a sound I loved dearly.
My Father, the Cowboy
Dad and I were kindred spirits — spontaneous loose cannons, always looking for adventure. I can image his letdown when he returned from the European Theater after World War II. It’s hard to top his stories about the war: He flew by night, spied by day, and somehow talked his way into going to Greece to meet his cousin, who was a general in the war before becoming prime minister of Greece.
I never did top Dad, but I did fly into a war zone as a TWA flight attendant flying military from Rome to the Persian Gulf during Operations Desert Shield and Storm. Imagine my mother’s surprise when I told her after I had been in the first Scud launch of the war. Mother thought I’d lost my mind, but the image of her daughter dodging Scuds in the desert in high heels and makeup became one of her favorite family stories.
My Mother, the Southern Lady and Magazine Editor
Who knew I would follow my mother into magazine editing? She was neurotic about doing things right the first time, and bad grammar drove her over the edge.
She was a true Southern lady, unlike me (think Skeeter in The Help). At her funeral, many commented to me, “Your mother was such a lady — a real class act.” A pregnant pause always followed, accompanied by that Southern, plastic smile, which could mean only one thing: “What happened to you, dear?”
It’s uncanny how so much life has drawn from my family’s stories — as though my parents and my grandmother live on through me. I’m sure if you think about it, you can find similar parallels.
The stories that slipped through my fingers have gone to the grave. I never felt the pressure of time, living in denial because they were all so vital in their old age and so youthful in their appearances. Don’t let that happen to you. Interview your loved ones, and make a scrapbook of their stories to pass down to your children and beyond. Help your own family stories live on.