A couple of years ago, all of my sisters descended upon the eldest’s home in the sweltering heat of mid-July in Arizona. We came to sort through boxes of pictures my mother had kept. Though I offered to collect and digitize them for all of us, I am grateful for my eldest sister’s wisdom in insisting we get together to go through them. I’m not really sure what prompted my interest in the pictures, but I imagine it had something to do with our father becoming ill. The possibility he might pass loomed and I felt like the tether tenuously holding our collective history might snap from that loss. I know for me, as I get older, I have this need to know about the past and not just mine but that of my parents and their parents. Somehow knowing our family history gives me a deeper understanding of my own life. I have always been interested in our family history, but I have spent most of my time exploring my dad’s family history. This was the first time I really had a chance to explore my mother’s history.
It had been some time since we were all together in the same place at the same time. We spent a couple of days laughing, playing cards and floating in the pool working up to sorting through our history. I expected to find the pictures of our childhood and maybe even pictures of our mother’s childhood. I did not expect to find so many pictures of our grandfather’s family in Greece. I came upon the picture below and I instantly felt like I was looking at myself in 30 years. Her eyes, her nose, the line of her mouth, all mine. I saw that expression often in the mirror. My sister had the writing on back of the picture, which was in Greek, translated and it said, “To my beloved siblings and nephews, Christine Georgakopoulou”. She must have been my grandfather’s aunt given her age in the picture. My grandfather’s last name was Paraskevoulakos. Apart from my youngest sister and my daughter, I never really thought I looked like anyone in my family until that moment. I certainly didn’t think I looked like my parents. But looking at Christina Georgakopoulou gave me this sense of belonging to something far greater than the present. This old, scratched, creased picture made me feel like there was a thread, tiny but steel-strong, that ran through me to my grandfather and all of his family. My grandfather crossed an ocean in 1912 alone at the age of 18. My own daughter is nearly 18 and I cannot imagine putting her on a ship to another country where she could not speak or read the language. He landed in Chicago and then traveled to Seattle. I complain when I can’t get a direct flight. He crossed a country, I assume by rail, and couldn’t even read the signs in the railway depots. I know that he found a community of Greek immigrants at St. Demetrios Church in Seattle, so he wasn’t alone. Still, I know it could not have been easy. He was strong and courageous and as I looked through the pictures of his family members in Greece, I found that same strength in their eyes. I see it in Christina Georgakopoulou’s eyes and those are my eyes. I see it in my sisters’ eyes. I see it in my child’s eyes.
I think we pass on much more than our looks through the generations. We pass down the fabric of our spirit. I am so grateful for that weekend in the sweltering sun to have discovered a connection to my family history. I am even more grateful to have deepened the connection to my present by sharing those moments with my sisters.