I don’t know if I ever mentioned that I am not a big fan of Christmas.  This may be in part because I’m scarred by the memory of having a nameday (it’s a grik thing) fall on Christmas Day – which meant I got stiffed for presents and mentions that all the other grik kids got. I guess this is because I happened to be named after (Jesus) Christ.

But, in fact, I was named after my father’s mother, Kristina “Toula” Brou(haha).  So, at this time of year I do always think about her, and thought I would share some memories of her.

(Lest you ask how “Kristina” gets morphed into “Toula”, I don’t really know.  My best explanation – the griks, rather than shortening names as diminutives tend to lengthen them.  As a child I was called “Kristinaki” or “Kristinoula”.  Somehow, the “noula” got morphed into “Toula” at some point.)

My yiayia (grandmother) Toula never actually met her father.  He had emigrated to the United States after her older brother was born, and came back for one visit at which point Toula was conceived.  As far as I know, he did not return to Greece after that, although he sent money and other things and as far as anyone in the village was concerned, he and his wife were still married.  It’s my understanding that Toula had the opportunity to meet her father but chose not to.

Toula’s maternal family were olive growers and produced olive oil.   As a result of this, a marriage was arranged between her and my grandfather, Vasili Brou(haha).  This is their engagement photo:

Despite the fact that their marriage was an arranged one, they truly loved one another – I observed this myself as a child and many others have spoken about this.  Although I do not support arranged marriages on principle, I’m glad that this one worked out for Toula.

The house where Toula lived with her husband and family was actually occupied by the Nazis in 1941 or so as it was a big house – and I suspect the familiar connection to lots of olive oil had something to do with it.  So, for about 3 years, Toula cooked and cleaned for the Germans.  This bothered her a great deal although luckily nothing bad happened to her as a result.

So… in case you’re wondering where I’m going with this… let me fast forward a few decades.

I best got to know my yiayia Toula when she came to stay here in Canada for several months after her husband had died.  My memories from that time period:

– she was what I consider to be a master lacemaker and knitter.  I asked her to teach me how to do some things then.  Her response: “I’m not going to teach you because you are going to become educated and go on to better things.  This kind of thing is for village women and housewives.”  As a result, I got stubborn, and – when she left for Greece again – taught myself how to knit.  I do find it sad that she discounted her craft so… and wish she had lived long enough for me to show her that professional women can also do crafts.

– at the time she was here, Terry Fox was running for cancer and they were documenting his run every night on the evening news.  She would sit in front of the news, not understanding English –  but cry when she saw Terry Fox running “oh the poor boy, I’m praying for you.” And I imagine she was.  When she heard he had died, she was apparently completely devastated.

– she did not know how to use an oven because where she lived at the time, people did not have ovens and took their casseroles down to a local “fourno” or oven to be baked for a small price. This created some issues for my mother when she was recovering from a very bad reaction to wisdom tooth extraction and Toula kept bringing a roast into her bedroom saying “is it done yet???”

– when I was in Greece in 1982, I had a bad accident (I managed to walk through a patio door at my aunt’s place, and then fall on the glass).  Being 12 years old at the time, my biggest problem (after being taken to the local hospital and having two gaping wounds sewn up without anaesthetic!) was that I could not go to the beach for at least a week after.  However, Yiayia Toula cried and prayed over me for weeks.  At the time I thought this was irritating.  Now, I think it was – at worst, quaint – at best, a sign of love and who knows, perhaps it helped me heal!

Yiayia Toula died some time back and had suffered from Alzheimers beforehand.  In addition to her wedding ring (which I was given as her namesake, and which I wear on the thumb of my right hand), I keep in my house another memento of her: this greeting card that she sent me for Christmas one year:

Since I moved here to Toronto, this has been one of the icons I have in my house – hung on the east wall as per the tradition.  This icon is currently in my bedroom.

My favourite part of seeing this every day, however, is knowing what was inside the greeting card (which was sent in the late 80s). Words of encouragement and love, signed with this inscription: “I kiss you on the eyes a thousand times.  Your grandmother, Kristina Brou(haha)”.

This is how she signed every letter she ever wrote to any member of my family here (replace “grandmother” with “mother”).  I always thought this was quite a cute usage, and get a smile every day when I wake up and see this icon on my wall.

So, hronia polla, yiayia (happy nameday) – and I’m thinking about you.


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