A WEE DISCLAIMER: although those of you who read this blog regularly have gathered (I hope!) that I don’t really talk about intensely personal stuff here. However, in the past couple of weeks I’ve been quite occupied with settling the affairs of my father, who is currently in acute care a couple of hours north of here suffering from Alzheimer’s. So I hope you’ll bear with me for a bit of a personal story – it will be long and photo intensive, and I hope it’s not too maudlin.
I was too young at the time to remember the day that this photograph of me and my father was taken. However, the other day when cleaning out my father’s apartment in Kingston, I came across a bunch of stuff that helped me remember his story.
My father’s name is Theodosios B. Brousalis. In English, they call him “Ted”. I’ve never quite been sure why, except that in the days he came to Canada it was not a good idea to have an ethnic first name.
He arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1960 from Greece on a boat called the Queen Frederica:
His passage cost $285.30 US and the boat took 14 or 15 days to arrive here. He had no real plan about what to do when he got to Canada. By that point, he had served in the Air Force in Greece and then worked as a cigarette delivery person for some years. He hadn’t done very well in school, probably because he was a smartass who didn’t take direction well. The Air Force experience didn’t really change this, either.
So, he decided to leave Greece. His original plan was to join his mother’s father in Alton, Illinois to get work there. (Ted had never actually met his grandfather, who had left the village when Ted’s mother, Kristina – yes, I’m named after her – was still in the womb. The grandfather came back once more to Greece, impregnated the grandmother once more and then went back to Alton, Illinois, never to return to Greece).
However, in order to get to the US, it was easiest to come to Canada first and apply from here at that point. So Ted came here on a landed immigrant permit having promised to marry someone here – this was something that had been set up as a sham for him to get here in the first place.
However, once Ted got here, he decided he liked Canada. I’m not sure why as he had a bunch of crap jobs in his first few years here. He ended up in Montreal working in a nylon factory for 50 cents an hour – the factory was hot and the workers had to buy water from the boss to keep going.
He then ended up in Kingston, Ontario – where I grew up – when he was offered a job with some friends from his hometown. He had to teach himself English and in this regard went to night school while working six or seven days a week as a dishwasher.
From there, he ended up in the restaurant and bar industry. At the time he came to Kingston, there was no liquor service in Ontario. The photo above with the snappy red jacket is the first photo taken of anyone in the place he worked serving liquor when they made that legal. He was always very proud of that (people who wanted to serve liquor had to take a two week course) and still had the snazzy red jacket hung up in his apartment.
After that, he bought his first business with a partner. It was a burger and snack shop .
Ted introduced the souvlaki to Kingston. At the time, Kingston was a very “English” town. Ted said this to me in 1986 when I interviewed him about his life for a high school project:
I think this… this mixture of multi-nationalities has created some culture in Canada, which no other… not too many other countries have. If is wasn’t for this mixture…well, the first I came here in Kingston, in the restaurants, you could only eat… hot beef, one type of steak, club sandwich, liver… it was limited, the menus in the restaurant… and all these people they came from overseas, and they just brought some of the ideas here which they adapted and started working, and that’s why you have such veriety here… I don’t think you can go too many places in the whole world where you can find this… like, you go to Greece and that’s all you find, some Greek food… everything, and you go to China, you find Chinese food… here, name it, you… whatever type of food you want, you can eat, specially in the big centres…
When I was growing up, Ted was a very hard worker. I didn’t see all that much of him, and usually he was either asleep…
… or handing out rules. Some of the Greek father rules and superstitions can be quite strange, as you will know if you have ever watched “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”. Ted could have played the lead role in that movie quite easily. Ted also had weird beliefs, such as that white vinegar on french fries would give you leukemia.
But I digress. Ted ended up having some other restaurants which were successful for quite a long time.
He and his business partner then ended up falling on hard times due to the recession and other problems, and lost everything.
However, Ted ended up working as an upholsterer and refinisher after that:
He was still working until a couple of years ago, at which point his health started to go downhill.
This is the most recent photograph that I have of Ted, taken in December of 2007:
There will probably be no more photos taken of Ted – at least not by me. At present, he is not looking all that well and his brain is about 20 years in the past, the best we can tell. Before he went to hospital he was not eating or cooking for himself and lost a lot of weight. This makes me quite sad as one of the good things I remember about him while he was living alone is that he loved to cook big meals for people.
AN ASIDE: Like me, Ted liked to experiment with cooking techniques. These either worked out brilliantly or not at all. I remember one Christmas some years back when he had me and my brother over and had decided it would be a good idea to try to cook a 15 pound turkey in a paper bag. This theory originated from a cooking method called “kleftiko” that some Greeks use for lamb chops. It originates from when some Greeks a long time ago were hiding either from the Turks or some other invaders in the hills and buried meat in the ground in paper over coals and cooked it that way to avoid detection. It works very well with lamb chops, but not at all well with turkey. The bag caught fire after two hours in the oven. I forget what we ended up eating, but it wasn’t turkey!
Because I won’t be taking any more photos of Ted, I will leave you with the best photo I ever took of him:
This photo was taken in 1996 in the apartment I lived in during law school. Ted was just leaving on his way back to Kingston from Toronto and had asked for some coffee. I had no coffee mugs in the place and gave him the coffee in the beer stein you see him holding. So, I got a little speech about my hostessing abilities. However, he then asked me to take the photo of him with the coffee in the beer stein and told me he was pretending that I’d actually served him Guinness before letting him make the three hour drive back to Kingston. He then said:
I would have thought that if you only have beer mugs that you would actually have some beer to give an old man before sending him back on a long trip. But no. I guess you drank all your beer even though you knew your baba was coming to visit. Next time, have some beer here for me, plis. And – (raising the coffee/beer mug) yassou! (cheers in Greek).
Yassou, Ted. And I hope that wherever you are living right now in your mind, you’re happy.