Greek-American Stories: Sizing Up a Bargain

Sunday found our usual five sitting around the table in Dixon’s Cafeteria, their usual coffees in hand and the usual donuts centering the table. And as usual, Yiannis reached out for the sprinkled one before Kipreos snatched it up. Then, looking a bit cheerless, Yiannis said, “I wish I was thirty eight again.” He sighed biting into the donut. The others looked up at him, puzzled. “Why thirty-eight, Yiannis?” asked John. Shrugging, Yiannis told him, “Because then nothing needed adjustments, everything looked good on me. I liked wearing my summer shorts and tee shirts when it’s summer. Now, I don’t want to show my legs anymore. But…”

Smiling, Dimos said, “everything looked good at that time for almost everybody, Yiannis. But, why at thirty-eight especially?” George picked it up from there. “Don’t you know why? Let me tell you. His facts may not be what the real story is. That’s the age he went to Greece looking for a wife. He wrote ahead to his mother to find him a suitable wife that he’d be glad to marry. His mother brought a few nice girls to his house. I heard they were nicely dressed, modest and educated. But, no! He wanted none of them when he saw the neighborhood priest who had an orphan, a poor girl that worked around the church, made his meals and did laundry and cleaned. That’s when Mr. Wise guy here made calculations.”  Yiannis, in his usual nonchalance said nothing, refusing to become riled up, continued savoring his donut while eying his next choice. Dimos, worried that his silence was subdued annoyance, waved his hands and tried to moderate the account by saying, “surely, Areti must have had some other redeeming qualities to have attracted Yiannis. We know she is a very good woman. She is patient, tolerant, and works hard.”

“Ahh, of course!” piped up George. “That was one of the clinchers. That was the deciding factor aside from the fact that she was an orphan and he’d never have to deal with in-laws or needing to send money to any relatives. But, mostly, Areti had curly hair.” Kipreos looked up from his coffee, mystified. “Curly hair? What did that have to do with choosing her for a wife?” Nodding and grinning, George pointed out, “Like he told me then, a woman with curly hair didn’t need to go to the beauty parlor for permanents and other stuff. Women spend a lot of money at beauty parlors, you know. There’s high economical savings! Also” he continued, “with no education, she wouldn’t know more than him. He’d always be the boss. And, that’s how it goes. Gives him her whole pay envelope and he gives her just enough for car fare and lunch money.” Yiannis looked across at him, shrugged and reached out for the second donut.

“Also, she is almost twelve years younger than him. He’ll be getting Social Security while she still works.” Yiannis continued disinterested, nibbling the second donut without rancor or objections. “Also, she never asks for anything, being grateful she was chosen to be married. She’d had no chance of marrying in her predicament. And, she never complains or sees his faults. He’s a god to her.”

John, tossing a hard look at Yiannis, asked, “that all true, Yiannis? You chose Areti because she’d assure your economic expectations and frugal way of living?”

Finally, Yiannis decided to speak up.

“It wasn’t like that,” he began, nonchalantly. “Girls in Marousanakislaki have to have a dowry of about five thousand drachmas and a trousseau before marrying. Areti had nothing, of course. So, it made sense that as my wife she meet her obligations and work until the five thousand drachmas are paid up to cover what would have been the expected dowry. Hey! That’s the tradition! But…”

“Hasn’t she paid up, yet, Yiannis?” asked Dimos, sympathetically. “Almost,” he drawled, using a napkin to clean off the sugar from his fingers. “But when I said I wished I was thirty-eight, again, I wasn’t talking about my age.”

All attention fastened on Yiannis as he explained: “I was talking about my size.”


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