Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. ‘Tis the Season – Potterdopoulos, Mother

 

In the fall of 1977, I proposed to my then- and long-time girlfriend, Janet. We set a date in May, over six months away, which my soon-to-be mother-in-law explained was barely enough time to make proper arrangements. That meant Janet and I would have to spend the Christmas of that year introducing the other to various out-of-town relatives. Everyone from both families was coming to Ann Arbor, MI, that Christmas to meet the other’s intended. We were both the first child from our respective families to get married – which signaled a generational shift which both of us had been oblivious to when I made and she accepted my proposal.

It meant sitting through two Christmas dinners, one in each household. Her family had Christmas dinner at noon; mine at 6 p.m. (Somehow tucking away two massive dinners was less of a challenge in your late teens and early 20s.) I met her menace of uncles and aunts at her parents’ place at midday. (All of her father’s numerous brothers were well over six feet, and wanted to assure themselves I would do right by their innocent niece. I am not sure how well I succeeded in assuring them, but I survived the dinner.) Then it was time for Janet to meet my family.

She had fewer parental siblings to deal with. My mom had one brother, who lived in town, had met Janet previously, and approved of her. (Something about her being the making of me.) He was there with his family. Both sets of my grandparents were there (a minor miracle because my father’s parents had had an acrimonious divorce decades earlier, and his mother lived out of town.). My grandparents had all immigrated to the United States from Greece, except for Yaiyai (grandmother) Lillian, my father’s mother, who was born in the US a year after her parents arrived.

For some reason this made Lillian the most ardently chauvinistic of the four grandparents about her Greek heritage. Did you ever see My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Lillian made the bride’s father in that movie look positively accommodating to non-Greek culture. As far as she was concerned, if you did not come from Greece or were not descended from Greeks, you were only a generation or two removed from the apes which had descended from the trees. Blacks, Native Americans, Asians, and Northern Europeans – it made no difference – to her they belonged to the lesser breeds. Italians were barely acceptable, especially the southern Italians which had interbred with the Greeks since ancient times. Everyone else? Forget it.

Also there was my dad’s younger brother, Jack. Jack had been married (to a woman whose first name was Jill – it was on her birth certificate, just as Jack’s birth certificate had Jack as his full first name), but by 1977 they two had split up. At least part of the reason for the split was my grandmother. Jill was a very blond, very patrician WASP. Further, she and Jack had never had children. At every opportunity, Yaiyai would hold forth on Jill’s manifold (in Yaiyai’s eyes) flaws. Yaiyai was not the sole reason for the split, but she did her part.

(My dad was the “good son” in this setting. He had married a good Greek girl. It was about the only time he was the good son. Lillian had a long list of reasons why he was inadequate, and why my mom was a miserable choice independent of ethnicity. Lillian was a horrible mother and mother-in-law. Fortunately, Dad had a firm ally in Sophia, his mother-in-law, Mom’s mom. Since Lillian was afraid of Sophia, she left my parents alone when in Yaiyai Sophie’s presence.)

Lillian came prepared to disapprove of Janet on ethnic grounds. Janet came from English and German stock (her ancestors came to the United States from those countries in the mid-1700s to early 1800s). However, she also had dark hair and brown eyes – like most Greeks (except for the many Greek women who dyed their hair blond and wore blue contact lenses). As we would often joke later, she could “pass.” So Lillian could not condemn her simply based on appearance.

When dinner started, my maternal grandfather, in his role as family patriarch, sat at one end of the table, while my father, as host, sat at the other end. It was a very long table because it was two tables set together to accommodate all the guests. I sat in the middle, to be available to everyone and Janet sat to my left. To my surprise, Lillian sat next to Janet, rather than at the more prestigious position on one side of her eldest son. Uncle Jack sat next to his mother.

Dinner started as usual, with Papouli Perros (my mom’s father – papouli is Greek for grandfather) opening with his usual interminable prayer. (Ended, as usual. After Papouli went on for what Dad felt was long enough – generally as Papouli was just getting into his stride – when Papouli would pause for a breath, Dad would interject a loud “Amen.” We would all echo the amen, cross ourselves, and dinner would begin. My brothers and I laid bets on how long it took before Dad said Amen.)

My wife had been silent through dinner, intimidated by the family tradition and ceremony. (Much as I had been silent through most of dinner at her parent’s place.) I was trying to think of a way to get Janet involved in the conversation. To my surprise, Yaiyai Lillian, when passing Janet a platter of food, turned and asked Janet, “and what is your last name, dear?”

She asked the question sweetly; likely as sweet as the poisoned apple the wicked queen had passed to Snow White. I wondered what was up, before I realized why she had asked. Lillian was trying to learn whether Janet was Greek.

“Potter,” replied my unwary bride-to-be.

“And what is that shortened from?” Lillian followed.

I suddenly realized what was happening. Many Greeks changed or shortened their names when they came to the United States. Paraskevopoulos would be truncated to Poulos, or as in the case of the father of Texas oilman George Mitchell, changed to an American name like Mitchell.

My fiancée, unaware of the trap, just looked at my Grandmother puzzled. This was a piece of Greek culture to which she had not been exposed.

My Uncle Jack, without missing a beat, suddenly interjected, “Potterdopoulos, Mother. Pass the potatoes, please.” He then led Yaiyai off on another topic, before she could return to the subject. Janet, still puzzled, turned to me for an explanation. I whispered to her that I would explain after dinner.

Dinner continued without the incident Yaiyai had been hoping to ignite. Lillian was a drama queen, who had to be the center of attention. Due to our upcoming marriage, Janet and I were the center of attention at Christmas dinner that year. Lillian had been trying to make a scene to reclaim that position as her rightful due. By forestalling her attempt, Jack achieved a little bit of payback for all the put-downs he endured due to his ex-wife’s non-Greek background.

Lillian warmed up to Janet after Janet and I had our first child, the first grandchild for both sets of parents and Lillian’s first great-grandchildren. Great-grandchildren trumped ethnicity for her. Jan and I gained a joke to share. For years afterward, if Jan was asked if she were Greek, she would often respond saying, “I was once told my name was shortened from Potterdopoulos.”

Published in General
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

There are 22 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Stad Coolidge

    Seawriter: Did you ever see My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Lillian made the bride’s father in that movie look positively accommodating to non-Greek culture.

    Yikes!

    • #1
    • December 4, 2020, at 6:59 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  2. Arahant Member

    Love it. Quite the scene to set before us. Thank you.

    • #2
    • December 4, 2020, at 7:12 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  3. EODmom Coolidge

    How sweet. Fun family tales. Easy to laugh at from a distance. Terrifying in the moment. Sweet memories of a loving family. 

    • #3
    • December 4, 2020, at 7:15 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  4. MWD B612 "Dawg" Member

    Holy cow! My wife is the daughter of Greek immigrants. One of my mother-in-law’s friends asked what my name used to be. My wife, without pausing, said, “Kennedopoulous.”

    My MIL’s friend just nodded and said, “Oh, of course!”

    And here I thought I was the only one that happened to.

    • #4
    • December 4, 2020, at 7:34 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  5. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter

    MWD B612 "Dawg" (View Comment):
    And here I thought I was the only one that happened to.

    Nah. Welcome to the club.

    • #5
    • December 4, 2020, at 7:35 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  6. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I think many mothers and grandmothers just see it as their duty to find some reason to disapprove of the women “stealing” their boys. My father’s mother (a Swede) voiced her dislike for my mother often, going so far as to not even speak to my mother for an entire month – in this case it wasn’t an ethnic thing so much as my dad was the baby of the family, and my uncle always was a doting mamma’s boy (and my father was emphatically not so, so this was Grandma’s way of trying to guilt her way into control – didn’t work).

    There’s a comic, Jeanne Robertson, who tells a rather funny story of an early encounter with her own future daughter in law.

    • #6
    • December 4, 2020, at 7:56 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  7. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Seawriter: As far as she was concerned, if you did not come from Greece or were not descended from Greeks, you were only a generation or two removed from the apes which had descended from the trees.

    • #7
    • December 4, 2020, at 8:12 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  8. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Dad was the only non-Greek on his college intramural basketball team. So they decided to drop the last syllable of his last name and append -dopolous in its place.

    • #8
    • December 4, 2020, at 8:23 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  9. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter

    Percival (View Comment):

    Dad was the only non-Greek on his college intramural basketball team. So they decided to drop the last syllable of his last name and append -dopolous in its place.

    It meant he was one of them. Part of the team.

    • #9
    • December 4, 2020, at 8:29 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  10. Mim526 Member

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    I think many mothers and grandmothers just see it as their duty to find some reason to disapprove of the women “stealing” their boys. My father’s mother (a Swede) voiced her dislike for my mother often, going so far as to not even speak to my mother for an entire month – in this case it wasn’t an ethnic thing so much as my dad was the baby of the family, and my uncle always was a doting mamma’s boy (and my father was emphatically not so, so this was Grandma’s way of trying to guilt her way into control – didn’t work).

    There’s a comic, Jeanne Robertson, who tells a rather funny story of an early encounter with her own future daughter in law.

    Funny lady.

    • #10
    • December 4, 2020, at 8:31 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  11. Jules PA Member

    Sweet memory of your dear Janet. Thank you. 

    • #11
    • December 4, 2020, at 12:13 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  12. JosePluma Thatcher

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    I think many mothers and grandmothers just see it as their duty to find some reason to disapprove of the women “stealing” their boys. My father’s mother (a Swede) voiced her dislike for my mother often, going so far as to not even speak to my mother for an entire month – in this case it wasn’t an ethnic thing so much as my dad was the baby of the family, and my uncle always was a doting mamma’s boy (and my father was emphatically not so, so this was Grandma’s way of trying to guilt her way into control – didn’t work).

    There’s a comic, Jeanne Robertson, who tells a rather funny story of an early encounter with her own future daughter in law.

    A long story with an obvious conclusion.

    • #12
    • December 4, 2020, at 12:49 PM PST
    • Like
  13. PHCheese Member

    I knew George Mitchell. He and his two sons Kent and Mark developed the island where I lived for ten years Bald Head Island. George is credited with being the inventor off fracking. He was much smarter than his boys. His wife was a very nice person and she looked Greek.

    • #13
    • December 4, 2020, at 12:51 PM PST
    • 1 like
  14. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter

    PHCheese (View Comment):
    His wife was a very nice person and she looked Greek.

    She was as Greek as my late wife. (That is not a bad thing, despite Yaiyai Lillian’s views.) 

    • #14
    • December 4, 2020, at 12:55 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  15. JoelB Member

    I don’t have any such tale, but my good friend, Ron, had one from meeting his future wife’s “Grandma Grouchy” for the first time. “GG” was very proud of her boys and would always try to cast her granddaughter’s suitors in a bad light. After dinner, Ron had an olive pit sitting on his plate. “GG said to Ron, “My boys always clean their plates”. Ron replied “It just came out of my nose and I didn’t know what to do with it”. He had GG in stitches and the two of them got along famously ever after.

    • #15
    • December 4, 2020, at 2:05 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  16. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    This conversation is part of our Group Writing Series under the December 2020 Group Writing Theme: “’Tis the Season.” Stop by soon, our schedule and sign-up sheet awaits.

    Interested in Group Writing topics that came before? See the handy compendium of monthly themes. Check out links in the Group Writing Group. You can also join the group to get a notification when a new monthly theme is posted.

    • #16
    • December 4, 2020, at 5:35 PM PST
    • Like
  17. Randy Webster Member

    Percival (View Comment):

    Dad was the only non-Greek on his college intramural basketball team. So they decided to drop the last syllable of his last name and append -dopolous in its place.

    Percidopolous?

    • #17
    • December 4, 2020, at 10:08 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  18. Randy Webster Member

    I never knew Greeks were such chauvinists.

    • #18
    • December 4, 2020, at 10:10 PM PST
    • 1 like
  19. Arahant Member

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    I never knew Greeks were such chauvinists.

    Where have you been? They’ve been that way for close to three thousand years.

    • #19
    • December 5, 2020, at 4:14 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  20. Randy Webster Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    I never knew Greeks were such chauvinists.

    Where have you been? They’ve been that way for close to three thousand years.

    With good reason for a couple of hundred. Not so much thereafter. You can only rest on your laurels for so long.

    • #20
    • December 5, 2020, at 4:34 AM PST
    • 2 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  21. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    I never knew Greeks were such chauvinists.

    Where have you been? They’ve been that way for close to three thousand years.

    With good reason for a couple of hundred. Not so much thereafter. You can only rest on your laurels for so long.

    Not Greeks. Laurels are all they have left.

    The main reason Greece lost out to the upstart Romans was Greek parochialism. If someone did not come from your poli (city) they were not fully human. If they came from a poli that was not Greek they were not human – merely barbarians. Meanwhile the Romans let anyone good enough become a Roman citizen.

    Me? My grandparents may have come from Greece, but I’m ‘Murican.

    • #21
    • December 5, 2020, at 5:13 AM PST
    • 6 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  22. Buckpasser Member
    BuckpasserJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I would have enjoyed dinners like that. Unfortunately, both my parents were only children. No Aunts, Uncles or Cousins. A wonderful story @seawriter.

    • #22
    • December 5, 2020, at 11:13 AM PST
    • 2 likes