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Columnists

Greek-American Stories: Characters

June 25, 2018
Phyllis “Kiki” Sembos

In my old neighborhood, Inwood, located in upper Manhattan, I can recall people who were in some way, unforgettable. Inwood was one of the better neighborhoods for middle income families, having four movie houses, six Irish pubs, three boutiques, a cloister atop of Fort Tryon Park, Inwood Hill Parkthat overlooked the Hudson River,a few groceries of different nationalities, and Miramar, a public swimming pool with sand, a gym and a refreshment place, owned and operated by a former Olympic champion.

Across the street from where I lived with my parents lived two Greek-American women, Joanna and Irene, who were raised by a nanny, Kyria Anastasia, a friendly, sweet soul, brought from Greece by their parents, who were doctors. Both parents had died and, being fully grown, the girls didn’t need a nanny anymore,but Kyria Anastasia had nowhere else to go. She couldn’t go back to Greece because she no longer had anyone or anything there. All she had for income was her Social Security. So, she lived in the six-room apartment with the two women who decided to let her stay until they relocated or got married. Kyria Anastasia lived with one hope, the return of her fiance, Tasso, whose ring she wore with pride. “How long have you been engaged?” a Greek neighborasked her. Thoughtfully, she’d respond, “Oh, about four years, I think.” But, according to Joanna and Irene it was more than twenty years. Laughing, the neighbor said, “He’s either long gone, Kyria Anastasia. Or, probably, a grandfather by now.” Kyria Anastasia would get upset. “My Tasso promised he’d return. He asked me to wait for him. He’ll come. I have his ring,” she’d thrust out her hand to show a plain gold ring. Another laugh and, “Nice. I’ll be flower girl at your wedding.”

Then, there was another curious person whom neighbors called, “Circles,” an elderly man with white hair, tall and heavy set with smiling blue eyes and always a happy greeting for those who’d wave at him.He’d walk in circles at the corner of Dyckman Street and Broadway and wait as each bus arrived.I’d come out of the subway entrance and see him there at the same time each day. This went on for years, I remember. I askeda neighbor who lived in Inwood a lot longer whohe was waiting for. He looked up, sadly. “He’s waiting for his wife – who’ll never return. She was run over by a passing car getting off the bus and was killed. But, he’ll never accept that it happened. If you ask him who he’s waiting for, he’ll tell you, ‘my dear wife, of course.’”

Then, a new grocery opened on Sherman Avenue that we’d heard was owned by a Greek. We all went to greet and patronize it. The young man was from Kozani and newlywed. His wife, Angeliki, was a smiling,beautiful woman who helped him in the store. Of course, his store quickly became busy with customers both American and Greek, and he brought in some Greek products that sold, quickly. Everything went well and my yiayia and mother were happy with the convenience. However, the neighborhood began to change with a new influx of immigrants and refugees. I was no longer living there but my parents were. Soon, I’d hear of burglaries, robberies and one unsuccessful attempt on my parents’ apartment.Slowly, the boutiques, pubs, movie houses and Miramar disappeared. Dyckman Street looked like Delancey Street in the thirties; the sidewalks were loaded with products of every description. Then, I’d heard that the happy couple had experienced some very serious problems. They sold and returned to Kozani.Inwood is inundated with new characters. The old characters were, in a way, innocently interesting. The new characters are – new.

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