Pappou is Greek for grandfather. My pappou arrived in the United States from Greece in the 1930s, knowing no English. He went to work as a dishwasher in his uncle’s restaurant. These are some stories of him.
The only people who were kind to him when he came to this country were the other dishwashers who were black. They would invite him for dinner and helped him learn English. Years later when he owned his own restaurant everyone could eat there. One day a black lady was eating at the counter, and a white man commented, “You shouldn’t serve the niggers in here.” My grandfather turned to him and said, “Nobody talks to my wife that way. Get out!” And he gave the woman her lunch for free. My family only knows this story because when he died, one of the teachers’ aides who worked at my mom’s school told her the story as the lady apparently shared the story for the rest of her life.
My yiayia, grandmother, was born in Brooklyn to Greek parents. She and my pappou were all but an arranged marriage. His cousin knew my grandmother’s sister, and the two ladies thought they would get along. Plus my grandfather’s English was much better, and his uncle was worried about the attention he was getting and giving to American girls. So one day, my yiayia came down from New York to Pennsylvania, they went on a car ride, and by the end of it, they were engaged. The marriage lasted 55 years, so something went right. This is the true story of their courtship. Apparently, my pappou had been telling my sister stories of riding his donkey from his village over to my yiayia’s village in Greece to court her. It wasn’t until we were all sitting around after the funeral that she mentioned how romantic she thought that was. To which my mother replied, “Where? To the village of Brooklyn?” I don’t know if my sister has ever forgiven our pappou.
Upon finding out that my aunt’s first husband had become abusive, my pappou took his shotgun and went to the aduser’s house. He was not home. My pappou would often say, “He lucky he no home because he be dead and I be in jail.”
During my parents’ divorce, there was an accident. My sister slipped next to my mother’s car, my mom hadn’t seen her, and ran over her leg. At the hospital, my dad came storming in shouting, “What has she done to my daughter?” My 5’2″ pappou started to choke him. It took my uncle and my mom’s cousin to pry him off. He would often say, “He lucky they there because he be dead and I be in jail.”
The extended family was out to lunch after church one Sunday. As we were sitting down Pappou waved and smiled at a lady who had waved at him from another booth. My sister asked if he knew her. He did not. My uncle told him he should be careful of strange women. He might get an STD. To which Pappou replied, “Well, you gotta die of something.”
I miss him.