They say a photo is worth a thousand words. And I could have simply posted the photo without a caption. But you know me better and keeping my mouth shut has never been a virtue that I took seriously or excelled at.
This remarkable, simple photo appeared on my Facebook newsfeed. It was taken by a friend of a friend, someone named Katerina. Our mutual friend Margarita was tagged in the photo and that’s how it got on my Facebook wall.
A simple photo (see the full image at the end of the post) that conjured up so many childhood memories. Thank you Katerina. And I hope you don’t mind that I used your photo in this post.
This photo was taken at the Venetian Harbor in Hania— in my opinion, one of the most beautiful places on the planet. The kids, I’ve been told, are “Amerikanakia,” six and seven year old kids whose own parents were born in the United States but whose parents and grandparents were from Hania.
It’s good to see the annual pilgrimage continuing to happen— a testament to Katerina, Margarita and the countless other American and Canadian-born Greeks who insist on sharing Greece with their own kids.
When I was a kid, my dad worked all year long in the restaurant so that my mom, brother and I could spend our summers in Greece. Staying connected to our roots was important to my parents, which is why my own dad slaved in the restaurant year after year. In fact, it took him more than 40 years to go back, himself. That was quite a sacrifice.
I know it paid off. I feel more connected to Greece— and Crete in particular— than any place on earth, including Pittsburgh where I was born. But it’s funny. I’m not a native of the place. People remind me to this day when they see me and say “Kalos to Amerikanaki” (Welcome little American) with the emphasis on little not being my size or age, but more like a diminutive).
It never bothered me being called an Amerikanaki. In fact, it was a badge of pride, knowing that I was lucky enough to share the best of both worlds, feeling 100% home in both countries.
I used to sit at that same bench, gazing at the lighthouse, wondering how long it would take to walk all the way around the harbor to reach it— a distance that seemed to be miles away when I was a kid.
I remember sitting at the same bench, watching the horse-drawn carriages clinging by on the cobblestone and smelling the chestnuts and cotton candy— asking my mom why it was called “to mali tis grias” (the old lady’s hair) and wondering if my own mom’s hair would look like that when she got old.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is that these memories have stuck with me and I feel like the luckiest person in the world for having parents who understood the importance of sacrificing every year for that summer pilgrimage to “the old country.”
We didn’t have a lot of money growing up. We weren’t poor— my parents were both hard-working and they decided that connecting their kids to Greece— more so than soccer camps and roasting marshmallows at camp fires— was more important for their kids’ development.
This photo by Katerina reminds me of my parents sacrifice— and makes me grateful for this new generation of parents, like Katerina, too. Thank you Katerina. I hope we can meet some day and I’d love to talk to these kids and ask them about their own experiences on this bench.