How would you describe your grandparents?

I didn’t get to know my paternal grandparents well; I met my grandfather only once, my grandmother twice. My grandmother was somewhat vague by the time I met her, and I had real trouble with her dialect. My grandfather was vaguely feared, but I couldn’t particularly see why at eight years of age; I hadn’t been brought up in his hardscrabble household, after all.

My maternal grandparents, I got to know well. My grandfather was proud, unsmiling, stern. He was the village beadle, and a denizen of good standing in the community. He was descended from Sfakia, the southwest of the island, where people pursue vendettas and dress in permanent black, and think dancing beneath them. He was slightly out of place in the village in easternmost Crete, where people are relaxed and docile, and do not shoot firearms into the air at weddings. He ran a cafe in the upper village, before my time; I could not understand how—the kafedzis is supposed to be the life of the party.

He wasn’t cold, as such, although perhaps more affectionate to infants than to children. But critical, and very concerned with public perception. When I’d goof off as a teenager, he’d scowl Λίγη σοβαρότης δε βλάφτει. “A bit of seriousness wouldn’t do you any harm.”

He often said that if he was ever debilitated, they should give him rat poison: he was too proud a man to want to go without command of his faculties. He was felled by two strokes, and lived out his final days with no faculties, and no rat poison. He deserved a better end than that.

My grandmother was—is—as cheerful as my grandfather was stern, and as kindly as he was critical. She’d laugh a lot, with a gentle chuckle, and often without much obvious cause. She’d still get annoyed about things, often including me goofing off. But her annoyance never lasted long.

She’s still going at 94, although not quite there as much as she was. Then again, she’s more there than her children allow. When my wife and I visited her, she asked my wife’s name, and when she was trying to pronounce “Tamar”, my uncle jumped in and hollered “Maria! Her name’s Maria!” (A generation of Albanian migrants can testify to Greeks refusing to learn foreign names.) My grandmother chuckled, “Well, I guess I’ll call you Maria then.” In fact, here’s the footage:

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