Before You Were Born

Before You Were Born: First-generation Greek immigrant romances second-generation girl

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Stories from our parents' surprisingly romantic youth.

Paul and Anna 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.

The DremousisesWhy?

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.

So Grandmother tried to break you guys up.

M: My father asked him how he planned to support me. And he answered honestly, that I was going to drop out of college and support him until he finished. And my parents hit the roof. I'd been raised with the best of everything. My father told him, "No daughter of mine is going to work." So my mother took action.

Four generations of Litsa's family D: I could tell she liked me personally. She just didn't want me anywhere near her daughter.

M: Her intentions were good. She was very loving, but she was smart and willful and oversaw everything. Even though things were in my dad's name, she actually ran the family business. She told me I'd never gone without, that I didn't know what it was like to be poor, and that I was romanticizing it. She had a point. We lived in a Victorian mansion at the time, and the former maid's quarters were now an attic. There was no heat. She made me sleep in it for a month. To test my resolve and see if she could break it. Which only made me more determined.

But Grandmother went further than that, right?

D: Yes. Then your grandmother called me at work, and said she wanted to take me to dinner when my shift was done. I knew something was up, but I didn't know what. So I met her there, and she had this really nice purse. She pulled out a paper bag and told me it contained six-thousand dollars in cash. She told me to take it and never see her daughter again.

What'd you do?

D: I told her to make it twenty thousand and we'd have a deal. No, I'm kidding. I got so mad. I told her how much I loved your mother and that I didn't want a cent of her family's money. But she showed me the cash, to make sure I got a good look at it.

Mom, what'd you do when you found out about this?

M: I didn't know for about two weeks. Your father thought I already knew, but told me when he realized I didn't. I was furious with her. We had a huge argument. And she kept telling me to calm down, that it was going to be okay, but that I couldn't marry him. I asked, "How is it going to okay? I love him." I cried for weeks and at this point, she was honestly scared I was going to run away. So she said I could keep seeing him, but she forbade me to tell anyone.

D: We almost eloped.

Hold it. What? You would've killed me if I'd done that.

M: I know. But we were starting to think we might not have a choice. We met with my mom's sister, who'd been divorced. She was the most modern one in the family, and she said she'd help us. But then I decided we weren't going to run away, because that'd be like admitting guilt, and we weren't doing anything wrong. I wasn't going to hide anything.

D: My parents had an arranged marriage. Her parents had an arranged marriage. Getting married used to be like applying for a job.

M: But we actually met and fell in love and courted — it wasn't dating, really, because we were chaperoned most of the time — and we chose to be together. Nobody on either side of the family had done this yet.

D: And I didn't come to the United States to get married. I came to make money and send it back to my family in Greece. So my family was mad the money was going to stay with your mother and me.

Paul and Anna Dremousis todayYou guys pissed everybody off. How long did you date before Dad proposed?

M: A little over two months. Which seems amazing now. It was such a crapshoot. I was eighteen. How did I know?

D: You can be eighty and still not know.

M: We were at a fancy restaurant and an older couple in the next booth was listening the whole time. Your father told me to think about my answer carefully, because if I said yes, then changed my mind, he'd throw himself off the Aurora Bridge.

D: It didn't have guardrails in those days. It wouldn't have been too hard. [laughs]

Mom, what did your parents say when you told them?

M: My mother laughed at the suicide part. She said, "You dummy. They all say that." My father asked me why I wanted to marry him and I said, "He makes me laugh." He said, "So does a clown, but you don't marry him."

D: I understood why they were doing all this, though. And soon your grandmother and I became close friends. Because my mother had died when I was so little, she became like a mother to me.

M: When your father and I would get in arguments, my mom would take his side.

D: She and I would play pinochle together.

M: So Litsa, when you were in college and thought I was the strictest, meanest mom ever, I was actually quite liberal in comparison.

Is the story of how your parents met or the adventures of their wild youth the stuff of family legend? Are you interested in sitting down with them and getting the full story? If so, we'd love to hear about it! Send us a brief description of your parents and the story you'd get from them to with the subject line “Before You Were Born."