Growing Up

Cathy reminisces about her childhood and the strong influence of Greek culture and traditions, particularly for her - the first born.

Our immediate family

  • I was the first born, and I went to school not knowing English. So, my Greek is very good. Then when I married George, his aunt started the Greek school in Waterbury. His aunt was a very brilliant woman. I mean, here is a woman from Greece who is reading Dostoevsky. She was an incredible woman. She corrected my Greek because I had sort of a Cretan slang from my mother’s village. But she taught me what to say and how to say it. So that when I went to Greece, they were very impressed by my Greek. The first child is always all Greek. As they go down, they speak less. Then I went to Greek school, as well, and I learned all my classics and all the mythology in Greek. I had a wonderful teacher. Three times a week after school. It was a wonderful priest that taught us too. I loved him. His name was Papa Christo. He told us wonderful stories about the mythology.

  • It was terrible. I suffered. Because I was the first born. I was a flirt by nature. I didn’t know that I was a flirt, but she kept a very close reign on me. But here is what I did. I sang in the choir. Our church was near Yale so there were a lot of Yalies that would come. My mother always had an open house on Sunday for people from other countries – from Greece – or people that didn’t have families. They always came and had dinner with us on Sundays. She would let me invite some of the men for dinner, but when we went out, she would come with us. She loved my husband. He was ok. She was very hospitable and a great cook. Yes, highly selective. She would want me to go out with a Greek boy but, he had to be educated and he had to come from a good family.

  • There are four of us. We have a great sense of humor, the four of us because we laugh. My mother was so strict, you had to laugh. We are close now. I played the piano. He (my brother) played the violin. I used to go to his lessons, and the teacher would yell at him, and I would be crying in the other room. Because, really, he hit him once too. So, we were close that way. I wanted to break away and be with my girlfriends. We had a sorority. I was sort of in the prom queen mode until I went to Greece and saw what real beauty was. My sisters, I mean, I took care of them. I adored them, but we weren’t close like we are now.

  • I started to see boys and that really was a threat to my mother. Because I was a flirt perhaps. I don’t know. I wasn’t what she wanted me to be. She wanted me to study more. I mean, I got good grades, but I didn’t study. I always wanted to laugh and play, and she wanted me to be more serious and ladylike. It was hard for me because I couldn’t go out. She let me join the chorus. I sang. She wouldn’t let me go to dances. I had a boyfriend that I was in love with. His name was Eddie Johnson. We used to meet in the halls and just talk. One day, she saw me holding his hand – she went to pick me up – and she got out of the car and grabbed me and shoved me in the car. Grabbed me away from him. That kind of thing. So, George was sort of my savior. In some ways, I was blessed that it worked out that way because, think about it - I was never rejected. I was never exposed. So, I have a wonderful attitude about men. I love them. They are wonderful. All the men in my life have been wonderful. My father. My husband was terrific. Everybody loved my husband too. And my sons are great. Not to mention Lisa.

  • My mother’s sister lived in New York, and those cousins weren’t as fortunate as we were. They lived on 13th street in a tenement house. My mother would bring them every summer to us because we lived in the country sort of. They stayed with us every summer. Last year, they all took a trip to Budapest and Prague and Vienna, and I joined them. I hadn’t seen them in years. There was this one cousin that I really loved when I was young. He was very handsome. We would meet, and he would take me to the park and I loved dressing up with him. He would laugh at everything I’d say. We met again. His wife just died. He went on this trip with his son. We connected. And then he told me how wonderful it was for him to be coming to our house those summers. Actually, he said to me, “Cathy, I am a doctor, and I have been a therapist. I have seen a lot of people, and I have never met a man or human being as kind and as Christian as your father.” He came to visit me, and it was nice to get that going again. I roomed with his sister who was a good friend of mine too. He loved being at my home, and he loved my mother and father. He said all his sibling’s lives changed because of this visit every summer.

  • Lisa has a friend here in Boston, Nicholas Christakis. Lisa was telling me about this man she knows that’s a friend of Paul Farmer’s and Ophelia’s who is Greek. She said, “Mom, you have to meet him.” I did and we hit it off. He missed his Greekness so, he said to Lisa, “This year, my Easter is different because my wife and I celebrate the American Easter, but I crave the Greek. Would you invite me to your home for Easter?” Lisa said, “You are lucky because it’s at my grandmother’s house, and you are going to get the full treatment.” At this point, my mother doesn’t know that Lisa is gay so, every possible man is available. Now, Ophelia knows exactly what my mother is going to say, and she warns him (Nicholas) that he’s a potential suitor for her. He comes to the door, and he speaks this impeccable Greek, and he kisses my mother’s hand. She is taken by him. Of course, the whole dialogue comes out, as Ophelia knew it would, and we all laugh. But he started looking around my mother’s house. He was taking pictures, and he calls his wife. He said, “I have hit the jackpot.” He opens the oven and he sees all these trays of Greek food. He is taking pictures and he takes pictures of her table and sends them to his wife. He had such a great time. One day, I came here with Ophelia’s mother, Pat, and she said to him, “Darling, where were you born?” I thought he was born in Greece because he told me he has a house in Greece. He says, “I was born in New Haven.” I said, “What? Why?” He said, “My parents went to school there.” I said, “Where did they go to school?” He said, “Yale.” I said, “What did your parents study?” The minute he said that, I saw his face, and I knew who he was because his parents were always at my house on Sundays. I said, “What did they study?” He said, “They were both physicists.” I said, “Was your mother’s father importing/exporting perfumes from Greece?” He said, “How did you know that?” And I said, “Your other grandfather was a judge, right?” And he said, “How did you know that?” I said, “They were at my house, and my mother used to babysit you while your mother took her exams.” He goes home, and he finds pictures of his mother. You know, he (Nicholas) became a doctor because his mother died young, and he revered her. He wanted to hear stories about her because he didn’t know anyone who knew her. He found pictures of them in my mother’s house and then he found pictures of them – I have this amusement park – and they were on the train with him, holding him. I love that story. I said to him, “Nicholas, your mother was one of the most beautiful Greek women I’d ever met.” I always think of Greek women with babushkas and black, and here comes this – she’s almost like a movie star, and she’s going to Yale, and her marriage was arranged. I was so against arranged marriages. I thought this is so barbaric and yet I saw them so romantically involved. They were always hugging and kissing.


Cathy with her family growing up

Family Traditions

  • Easter is a big one in the Greek church. Easter is more important than Christmas because it is resurrection and rebirth. We have some wonderful traditions. We dye the eggs red because of the blood of Christ, and then we go to church. The Greek ladies make this epitofio we call it – it’s a tomb of Christ - and people hold candles and go around the church three times and chant. Then, we kiss the icon. We all have candles. It’s quite beautiful, but it’s tedious as a child. But, now I see the beauty of it. Then, we have a midnight service on Saturday where the church is dark, and the priest is talking about the resurrection, and then all of a sudden at midnight, he lights a candle, and we all light our candles and the church is lit with candlelight. We kiss our neighbor, and say “Christos anesti” which means “Christ is risen”. It is the evening of love and resurrection, and it is quite beautiful. Then we go to the homes and have a soup which is called Magaritsa which is lamb and chicken stock but you put the innards in it. It’s quite wonderful. It’s an egg lemon soup. We don’t do the innards anymore, but we did then. I learned how to do that. You take a pencil, and you pull it through the intestine, and you pull it out and let it soak in lemon juice. It really tastes just like pasta. But that doesn’t happen anymore. I used to freak out as a child too. But then as I got older, I even did it. But now, you can’t get them. We all gather together and had wonderful Easter parties with cousins and relatives.

  • The christenings. We submerge the child in the water, three times, at the church in a big brass bucket. It depends – you can do It anytime you want. I christened my best friend’s daughter at 20, but she didn’t get naked. They just sprinkled her. She wanted to become Greek. I follow the traditions because my mother-in-law was Greek and my mother was Greek, and they were best friends. My mother-in-law used to go and stay with my mother after I got married. My mother would keep her there for a couple of weeks because she got depressed after her husband died.

  • Name days. We don’t have birthdays in the Greek upbringing. There are name days, and each person has a day of the year. Mine would be November 27. My father’s was in April, April 23. The house is open to people coming, and people do go. My mother really didn’t follow that very much. At the beginning, she did, but then it sort of faded away.

  • It (Christmas) was the same as Easter really. We had a tree. It was just Santa Claus and all that American thing. She didn’t take that away from us. Although it was no big deal. But it’s interesting because growing up, I remember having all those Greek myths. You know, the stories about all the gods because that’s what I learned in Greek school and they could change. I have a friend who is a therapist. She specializes in multiple personalities, and she wanted to hear about my stories about the gods. How they used to change to adapt to a situation. So, I was very lucky in that I grew up with not just one Jesus or Christ that had to do right and wrong, but there was flexibility in my way of thinking because these gods would change to adapt to a situation.

Greek picnic, 1936

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