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A grand(father's) legacy

A reader of this column from South Portland once described to me a moment with her grandson. While playing a game with clues, the boy, 7, exclaimed: "Clog, you're too old to know this." Halkias-Telly Whereby she answered correctly, adding yet another gem to the treasure of grandparenting.

The names themselves stand out: Papsi, Nana, Clog, Poppy, Yiayia. We don't call our parents anything original, yet somehow find creative spins to substitute for Grandma and Grandpa. What's more, grandparents' children also adopt these monikers.

So much truth surrounds grandparents, maxims we utter with a wink and a nod but that run deep in our blood and behavior:

"Spoil them, then hand them back to their parents," or, "Are you the same parent I knew 25 years ago?"

The silver set is meant to shed the duty of parenting. It calls back to youth through the fruit of its offspring.

I was blessed to have known two of my grandparents, my maternal grandmother Stamatina, or Yiayia, and my paternal grandfather George, or Pappou. Both lived into their nineties and were unknown to me in infancy as the result of family estrangements and distance. Thankfully, later on I got to spend time with them and learn more about myself as a result.

This week, in honor of Father's Day, I'll remember Pappou.6-13-14-oped-TH-father

Pappou was a determined ol' cuss with a big heart. Armed with an elementary school education, he made his way through life back in the old country, relying on his work ethic to support a family. Pappou always sought ventures onto which he could latch his dreams and diligence.

In 1974, following eighth grade, I finally met him in Greece, as our family had moved there from the States. That summer with Pappou was both surreal and secure.

In his eighties, he was tireless. Pappou owned a neighborhood deli, and had plans to expand a café next door. Meanwhile, Greece was aflame. As its military dictatorship crumbled, the country mobilized for war with Turkey over the invasion of Cyprus.

Yet in this maelstrom, Pappou and I ran the shop every day as if nothing monumental was going on. We opened at 6 a.m. and closed at 8 p.m. I did all the tasks expected of a lackey; Pappou rewarded me with my choice of ice cream from the freezer, and training on management skills.

After the morning rush we would sit down and pore over newspapers. I'd soak up stories of his service in the First Word War and the Balkan Wars — and of the comeback in Cyprus of those Ottoman infidels.

Naturally, Pappou had an opinion on everything, and felt compelled to share it with any customer and passer-by that paused to chat. Having lived in that Athenian neighborhood his entire adult life, he had become as much of an institution as some of the ancient landmarks around him.

Now I realize that with all the national chaos surrounding them, the regulars found comfort in Pappou's constancy. Crisis or not, he was there every day. He sold groceries, swept the sidewalk in front of the shop, and always left his cane behind the counter, standing ramrod straight when coming out to greet the public. He defied age, gravity, and with unfiltered cigarette in hand, his own demons.

Pappou was tough but gentle; my father swore he had never seen the latter. When Pappou died a few years later, he had once again fallen out with Dad, so I was kept away from his funeral.

Such a waste, all that Attic drama.

The man was fiercely proud and his son Christos had inherited that streak. Unfortunately, it meant they often came to loggerheads, a pattern that resurfaced each generation between me and Dad, and then me and my son Jason, who is turning 28 this year.

But time softens all things, and Jason will end the line.

Afflicted with Asperger's Syndrome, he once informed me that he won't have children because he doesn't want his condition passed on: "Dad, I don't want any kid to suffer like I have."

Somewhere in my son's resolve, I heard Pappou's echo. So despite all the angst, maybe a grandfather's legacy can endure a lifetime after he's gone.

When Dad returned from Pappou's burial, he went into his bedroom. I was livid. At my desk across the hallway, I honed in on my calculus homework to suppress the anger of being denied a final moment with my grandfather.

Then I heard another tough guy being human.

From behind the closed door, Dad's sobbing washed away my rage. It's a dirge I can still hear today, and whose tune sang more to life than death.

(Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist from Portland's West End. You may contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or follow him on Twitter at @TellyHalkias. He blogs at fromthestacks.bangordailynews.com.)

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