She lays on her horn as we yank combs through matted hair and stretch cotton tights over scrawny legs. Like clockwork every Sunday she wakes us and the rest of the neighborhood, I suppose she figures they should be up for church too.
Sweat beads on her forehead as she leads the line of dancers. It’s my wedding and no one but her knows the steps but we spin to the rhythm of the old Greek tunes that I learned as a kid dancing in her basement.
Shoulder to shoulder we are hovered over pasta, feta cheese, olives, sausage and wine. “I didn’t have much,” she says, “this is just what I threw together.”
I open the door to find brown paper bags filled with potato casserole and rice pudding. Years later in Texas I continue to discover these sorts of packages express mailed across the country bringing me a momentary taste of home.
My Yiayia is the caretaker of many, first my mother, aunt and uncle, then me and her other grandchildren, recently her own mother, brother and husband. She works the church festival and serves meals every week for the homeless. In her I see what it is to put the needs of others before oneself.
The smell of sauce bubbling on her stove has the power to stop time, one whiff and I am both 5 and 35 in the same moment. She continues to feed everyone in her life. Around her table I learn who I am and what it means to be a family, to have a people and history of my own.
Today she turns 80 and I couldn’t be more grateful.
Happy Birthday Yiayia.