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Out of the Balkans

Part 2: Jason's Journey, Recollections and Celebrations

Chapter 1:

Lily was a life force. From her commanding voice to her assertive, high-heeled walk she dominated her environment until she suffered her first heart attack. Even after that when she felt well she was Lily. Only when angina pain reminded her of her illness and she sensed her mortality was she vulnerable. At these times everyone feared for her, yet denied the possibility of her death.

I remember my mother as a human dynamo. Her energy was boundless and her ability to organize her activities astounding: shopping, cooking, cleaning, spending time with friends on the phone and in person, writing two hundred or more Christmas Cards, preparing holiday banquets for fifteen or twenty, meeting with her bridge club, sewing dresses and blouses for herself and for Nitsa, and being the guiding force that made and kept together family marriages.

Mom was demanding and firm mother. We knew that we were loved, but we also knew that under most circumstances we were "to be seen and not heard," "speak only when spoken to," and obey. I do not know where my mother, the little immigrant girl, learned manners but I was taught everything from elevator behavior to how to use a finger bowl by the time I was six. My lessons included opening doors for ladies, walking on the street side, taking off my hat in the presence of women, reply with "sir" and "madam," standing when a woman came to or left a table, or entered a room, etc., etc., etc.

Lily's nails were long and red - she had them and her hair 'done' every Thursday morning at a beauty parlor on Third Avenue. Her hair turned salt and pepper when she was in her early forties, and she put on a few pounds, but remained a handsome woman.

Lily laughed. She laughed loudly, deeply - without restraint. She had a wonderful sense of humor and loved good times.

Lily was earthy. She delighted in naughty jokes and spicy stories.

Lily loved to dance. If she heard Greek music she would be on her feet and to the embarrassment of my father she sometimes performed solo dances usually reserved for men, the zeibekiko (zembekiko) for example. She and Dad did an amazing tango together.

Lily adored men, men of every age. Her attraction to men was innocent. She wanted to do for men, to cook for them, serve them and cherish them. And men idolized her for it.

Lily was generous. She gave at every opportunity of herself and of her resources. At Christmas she would send me out anonymously with packages of food and gifts for poor Greek families. When I was seven and eight she loaded me with two huge shopping bags every two or three weeks and sent me out to walk a mile or more to the Staten Island Ferry, travel across the bay, take a train, and deliver food to an old couple that were half blind and lived on a small farm in the middle of the Island.

Lily had an open heart and home. She welcomed all the friends that Nitsa and I brought home. She fed them, entertained them, counseled them and comforted them. There was never a time that my friends were not welcome - friends from Christ Church, from school, girlfriends who were from outside of New York and in school or in show business, and army buddies and their wives, even if I were not home. She treated them as her own children.

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