If you are reading this post, chances are you are very close to the elder members of your family. You might Skype and call them every day, you might live in the same neighborhood, maybe even in the same apartment complex, or like me, you live with them in the same house. This is a blessing. But now with the coronavirus outbreak, living with yiayia will become a nightmare.
Why? Because Greek grandmothers suffer from what I call “xerokefalia” (hard-headedness). You try to reason with them, you tell them about the dangers for their population specifically, and what do they do? The same old thing they are used to—take their karotsaki (carriage) and hobble to the grocery store on the main avenue, to do their daily food shopping.
I caught her this morning—just….as she was about to go out wearing her mandili, holding her umbrella.
“Α πα πα πα,” I screamed, “που πας αγαπη μου”
῾να αγορασω φασολακια από τη συπερ μαρκετ᾽
“Are you crazy!” I yank the karotsi out of her grip. Do you not understand that you are on quarantine?’
Ἀσε με, καλε῾ δεν μπορω να κατσω σπιτι. Den eine zoe afti. πρεπει να μαγιρεψω.
She gets livid with me. Sweet little old ladies can get nasty very quickly if you do not do what they want. “Leave me alone, leave me alone, mou echeis fai tin zoe me tis aidies sou.”
Giagias try all the tricks to get what they want—first is the drama usually focused around death.
“Δεν με ενδιαφερη, “I don’t care,” she goes on in machine rifle Greek, “let me go outside and let me die. I can’t live like this.”
“But Ma, this is only day 5! You have to have patience.”
It’s like reasoning with a toddler except with wrinkles, no teeth or fake ones. But she is adamant like a mule.
Then I use a different tactic.
“Please, mama, se agapame, we love you,” we don’t want you to put yourself in danger.”
“Παρατα με, What’s going to happen to me if I walk to the kineza to pay my phone bill—
῾Τo the kineza! I shout even louder. She is not even afraid to have contact with the Chinese lady at the corner phone store.
“Min stenachorgese,” she assures me, I’m not going to get sick. Δεν θα παθω τιποτα.῾
I have reasoned with her over and over. But it’s no use.
“I am trying to save your life, kakomira mou. You are the weakest link in this house!”
Did you hear in California they demanded that anyone over 65 to stay home?”
What I get in return is vriksimo! She has the kotsyia to tell me, I’m the one driving her crazy. That this is the worst situation she has ever lived through.
“Really ma?” I remind her.
You were born during the height of WW2.
In the deep cold of December.
7 months prematurely without an incubator.
With Nazi bombers overhead.
With no food except for bird seeds.
In a bombed out section of Athens.
With a bad case of pneumonia.”
“When it’s your ora,” she says, “it’s your time.” Moira—that’s it.
How to get into that fat skull that you while you can’t escape fate, you do not want to go and rub up next to her either.
The challenge to keep yiayia put in the house for another month, two, three? is as stressful as this whole coronavirus thing.
Each life stage has its own hangups. I live with a 20-something. She’s another one I have to keep on lock down. In the last five days, I had to counter the following quips from her—
“I got to get croutons for the salad” (Don’t you get it? We are on lock down. You don’t need to create a 5-star chef salad. Use what we have.)
“This is all bullshit to scare us; I’m going for a jog in the park,” (I am not going to jeopardize the life of my mother for your workout! Do the poor man’s workout and go up and down the stairs inside the house.)
“I have an appointment with my girl from the DR Belkis on Dykman to do my nails” (You can survive without doing your nails for one month. Do it yourself).
This quarantine business is going to play out as a Greek tragi-comedy in my house as we like good Greeks live in a multi-generational household: three generations share the same house, even if on separate levels.
For the last two years, we have managed to share space without choking each other. But now that we are in such tight quarters, θα γινει της τρελλης, to not use a worse word.
So far I have failed to drive sense into both generations.
My 20-something sneaked out with her friend Michael for a late-night walk to the park. And yiayia, well, she sneaked out from the basement stairs. And where did she go? To the dry cleaners to pick up the poukamisa for her adult son. Ironically, he does not need them now as he is working from home.
You go reason with the stubborn old lady in your house.
So I tried another idea. If she has trouble listening to her daughter, an inferior role to hers, maybe she will listen to an authority?
I tried calling the social worker, a gentleman from Cyprus, at the local senior citizen center. “Do you find that senior citizens are having a difficult time following guidelines to stay home?” I wanted to ask him. “You should put out a special PSA just for the Greek elderly community.” But alas, the office was closed.
Is my yiayia an isolated example or in general do the Greek elderly not listen but do tou kefaliou tous?
I do not know how I am going to survive this thing.
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is the English saying. In Greek it should be, “You can’t keep yiayia in the house.”