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Before You Were Born
Stories from our parents' surprisingly romantic youth.
By Litsa Dremousis
My dad was a Greek immigrant putting himself through the University of Washington by waiting tables when he met my mom, whose wealthy family had arrived in Seattle decades earlier. To be together, they had to overcome my formidable grandmother, who opposed their union. Mom, Dad, and I recently had brunch and they told me the story.
The first time you met was at a dinner, right?
M: Yes, the first time we met was at a Greek Orthodox Youth of America progressive dinner, where each course was served at a different place. My parents hosted the third course in the entertainment room at one of the apartment buildings they owned then.
D: I went with some friends.
D: Why do you think? To meet girls.
M: We talked and we got along right away. I thought he was funny and intelligent and so handsome.
D: And I thought your mother was very smart and really beautiful. She was shy then, though.
Yeah, everyone in the family says that. That obviously vanished by the time George and I were born.
M: Anyway, the next time we met was a few weeks later at a G.O.Y.A. dance. I got to wear my first black dress. I felt so grown up. My mom believed in the Greek superstition that it was bad luck for children to wear black, so I was eighteen and finally got to wear black.
D: I saw her again and asked her to dance right away.
M: Other men kept trying to cut in, but he wouldn't let them. And then everyone was going to an after-hours club, and I had to ask him for a dime so I could call my mother and ask permission to go. She wasn't thrilled about the idea, but she said yes because the group included my Sunday school teacher.
D: His name was Aristotle. He watched me like a hawk.
This would be a fine time to mention that this was 1963 and not the 1800s.
M: It was different in those days. This was before the '60s were in full swing, and in the Greek community, they never really occurred.
D: At the nightclub, there was a stripper.
M: Not really a stripper, but she did a burlesque act. I got up and ran to the woman's room because I knew if my mother heard I'd watched a woman take off her clothes, she'd be livid. And I was underage, so I made a point not to order a drink, which I wouldn't have done anyway, but the servers assumed I was over twenty-one and I didn't want to get us thrown out. I know, it was silly, but the cultural norms were so rigid. After that, your father started calling me every night. I drove my parents and siblings crazy because I tied up the phone line.
D: I looked forward to talking to her. And depending on who answered the phone, I'd put them on and make up stories. Around this time, your grandfather had his brother-in-law stop by the place I worked to try to dig up information on me. They knew I was in school, but they didn't like that my background was different. They knew I was older than your mother, too, but they didn't know by how much — eleven years. So when any of them asked my age I'd say, "I'm two years older than my brother."
M: My family referred to the Greeks who'd moved here recently as "banana boaters". And my sister and I always said we'd never date one.
Seems like this was common in immigrant communities. The more assimilated members viewed newer arrivals like they were a different caste, really.
M: Completely. So my family was suspicious of him, even though we were both Greek and your father was putting himself through college and earning As in his second language.
D: I asked her to a dance, but Kennedy was assassinated and the dance was cancelled. It was so awful. People were crying in public. We were all in shock.
M: I still remember everything about it. None of us could believe it. The dance was cancelled but the homecoming game still took place. People needed a place to be together. And your father had already ordered the corsage, and he still brought it for me. It was a yellow chrysanthemum with the school letters in purple pipe cleaners.
D: Of course. I did things right. Between school and work, I only had Sunday nights free, so her family would have me over for dinner. Her brother and sister liked me, but her parents didn't. Because my mother had died when I was six, I'd never really had a family, and already I was the black sheep in this one.