. . . From a man with wooden teeth, 3 of 4


Part Three: My Big Fat Greek wedding.

(Editor’s note: This is the third of four postings that originally appeared in November 2006 as a parable of youthful folly. If you’ve just stumbled upon this posting, part one appeared on Christmas Day. It tells how I moved to the Northern Californian town of Eureka to start a community newspaper only to lose my nerve and open a typesetting shop as a fallback plan. That sets the stage for part two in which I am found by the man with wooden teeth. Today I take a healing dip into the bosom of my family.)

As I recall, my wife-to-be had flown from Eureka to Sacramento a day or two ahead of me to get fitted for her wedding dress, and wasn’t around when I picked up the first issue of the NorthCoast Journal and Barter Bank and threw it into the trunk of my car — along with my misgivings about this second attempt at community publishing.

With her literallly out of the picture for a moment, this would be a convenient place to explain why you hear so little from or about my silent partner. In the first place this is my blog. If she wants to tell this or any other tale she can start her own. Secondly, this entire escapade was my fault. She was then young and impressionable and trusted me (I think the passage of time has cured that naivete). Finally, she was reluctant to get hitched and would’ve preferred to shack up. I argued that, as we were in business together, we ought to marry as it would provide clear case law to divide the property should we ever part. She eventually argreed to marry but imposed a condition — that she keep her own name. I iconviently nterpret this to mean that she is the keeper of her own persona and not my prose fodder.

But I think it’s fair to say, and no violation of anyone’s privacy, that both she and I have unusual logic patterns, and during the long drive south on Highway 101 — through the tall trees and windy mountain passes, past the spindly oaks of Willits, east on Highway 20 along the silvery Clear Lake and south on the fast highways into the lights of Sacramento — I was wondering how to break the news to my poor, suffering darling that I had blown it once again and pissed away what little money we had left getting us into bed with a con man. Because, unless I’m mistaken in this belief, to her mind the deal with Rama had been a ray of hope. She never wanted to quit our original quest because her one concern — clearly expressed before she agreed to join me in the original move from Berkeley to Eureka — was that she not get stuck being a typesetter.

As she saw it therefore, co-publishing with Rama offered her — the person who had to pound away at the keys and do most of the work — the comfort of believing she was not simply stuck in the job she had specifically not wanted to do. But even after I reached Sacramento there was no chance to discuss any of this because I was immediately swept up into the great big bosom of her Greek family, and the raucous embrace of that wild tribe of Brooklyn-born Italiian-Americans from whence I had issued forth.

I can only share scattered images of the four days of celebration that followed. There was the Thanksgiving table that groaned under the weight of turkeys and hams, black olives and feta cheese, and the butter-soaked Greek delicacies I could never stomach, like baklava. The wine flowed freely and fueled the loud conversations of the two families being folded together here who met for the first time to discover that they shared the most important value, a love of family itself, in addition to a particular fondness for the progeny each was contrubuting to this relationship.

My immediate family — mom and dad (since deceased) and my five younger brothers and sisters, flew out for the event, plus my one living grandmother, Tessie, my mother’s mother, who was also Greek, a fact that delighted my in-laws-to be. But I don’t want to mislead you about the character of my family. We were Abates. We were Brooklyn Italians. We were in your face, table-pounding, and opinionated — usually at volumes more befiting an opera hall than a living room. But did love them! For them, it was not just a wedding. It was a visit to California (as Easterners they had only no grasp of the bigness of the state, and the differences between north and the south, and the fact that Sacramento was in the central valley farm zone; I think they half-expected to see beaches). We drove to the Golden Gate Bridge and shivered in the fog while we snapped pictures. I remember one sweet moment when I walked with my brothers and sisters down to a bend in the American River, which flows clear and fast not far from my mother-in-law’s home. They’re all grown up and married themselves now, with families, but this was so long ago they were kids, most of them, and they marveled that something so fresh and beautiful could run through a city.

As for my wife’s family, I had already met her mom, the matriarch, Yia Yia (grandmother) Dimitra, her sweet and numerous aunts (called Theas in Greek) and uncle (Theo George), not to mention her older sister (who took me aside at one point in the midst of all this celebration to warn me that if I ever hurt her sister, she would come after me.) This sort of family I could understand and love, but what I had no idea until the ceremony and reception was just how large this family was. The wedding day itself had some funny moments. But for now I’ll just say that the entire Greek community of Sacramento must have turned out the Saturday afternoon we were married because the wooden pews on both sides of the aisles were filled. I realized later that they weren’t alone. Though I wasn’t able to see this as I walked down the aisle — incense nung in the air like a smoke screen and not much light filtered through the stained-glass — a large cohort of my friends were also present because my wife had secretly invited some of my Navy buddies, some crazy Irish high-school buddies who had migrated out to California, a crop of our student newspaper buddies, and of course my lifelong friend, Cousin Charles.

All of these friends I only got to meet after the ceremony, which was long and bewildering as it was conducted entirely in Greek. Indeed, to this day I’m not covinced that I am married, because no one ever asked me if I do. My sister-in-law just walked around the altar three times, then held a white halo over my head. The priest (who had a beard suspiciously like Rama’s) said some words in Greek then waved the brass incense holder at me as if I were a bug he wanted to drive away. And then it was time to meet the rest of family; the Thea who had drawn water from the well not far from the place where YiaYia Dimtra was born; the Theo who was her son, and had gone to school with one of my wife’s Theas. My cheek was pinched. My head was patted. I’m surprised no one went for my package to make sure I had the gear to do my part in producing the offspring that were clearly expected. I must’ve met 400 people that night. I never got to spend much time with any of my friends but they didn’t seem to mind. It was a wild party, with Greek dancing in a big hall filled with laughter and voices. And then it was over, and my new extended family loaded the wedding gifts into waiting cars, and a couple of them carried my passed-out Cousin Charles onto the top of the last load. Someone put one of the Cow Lillies from the table settings in his hands as a joke. He snored through it, oblivious.

And I realized that night that I was not the fool who had twice now failed as a community newspaper publisher. Yes, I had been foolish in two instances, but who doesn’t do foolish things. No, I was the man who all these people loved, and whom they expected to do the right thing, as much it was within my ability to do, now and forever after. And I knew exactly what that was. I only had to do it. (to be concluded).