The Train

Diaspora Greeks, no matter their generation, seem to have in common a burning desire to visit the “homeland,” and since we were living in Athens thanks to my father’s job, it was no surprise that we received frequent visits from our relatives in America. My father, an avid tourist, made sure to drag these folks around the countryside to see the sights and to visit our Greek kin in their villages.

In America we were “Greeks,” attending the Greek Orthodox Church, baptizing our children with Greek names, cooking and eating Greek food in our homes, and attending Greek language school; the women bleaching their moustaches and chin hairs; the men growing out their pinkie fingernails to indicate a life of gentility and leisure; all to the steady rhythm of clicking, twirling worry beads.

In spite of all this Greekness, however, when we Greek-Americans visited the “homeland” for the first time, we were “Amerikani.” Passports in hand, cameras around our necks, waving wads of drachmas and dollars, we were an invading force of benevolent aliens, ooh-ing and aah-ing and hugging and kissing everything in sight.

Eating too much of everything that to us was “the best we’ve ever had”…bread, fruit, greens, tomatoes, fish, lamb, yogurt and olives and cheeses and exotic sticky sweets, consumed mostly outdoors under clear skies containing the purest light we’d ever seen; we believed that we were as close to heaven as we could get without dying. We proudly and loudly spoke Greeklish, a patois of melded Greek and English that we sincerely believed was intelligible until the natives laughed and twirled their upraised fingers in a motion reminiscent of screwing a light bulb into the side of one’s head, the Greek gesture for “crazy.”

In other words, we were really naïve. This picture indicates the level of giddy excitement that overtook even the most mature and successful of men. My Uncle Ernie and his friend Milton, both Greek-Americans visiting from the US, are overcome with a manic kind of joy at the sight of this choo-choo train. I imagine them leaping from the car with their cameras rolling, shouting, “Wow! Looky there! A train!” while from behind them my father takes pictures of his own. I can almost hear Dad laughing as he pushes the shutter button, “Holy Cow, look at those dopes.”

6 comments on “The Train”

  1. You lost me a bit on this one, Susie. I’m fairly confident that your father, who was acting Consul General of Greece, would have known far better tourist attractions to show to his visiting relatives than a choo-choo train. I am also certain that my father had seen many trains already in America. I bet there was a good reason that your father shared this event with them. Perhaps one of your cousins from the village was experiencing their first train ride? Whatever the story, my Uncle Peter was far too intelligent and diplomatic to have considered his visitors “dopes”. xo Patti

    • Patti:
      Using artistic license, all in good fun and with so much love.
      I remember how excited they all were during that trip!
      My dad also took a picture of the choo choo train!
      Love, Susan

  2. So true!!! We are so Greek in America and soooo American in Greece!
    Ti na kanoume!

  3. Maybe what he said was…” Holy Cow, look… it’s the Pope!” I’d be rushing for a photo op too!

  4. Why is ‘STOP” written in English? Probably because everyone but the Americans know to stop for the train?

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