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Greek-American Stories: The Bridegroom

Bet you’d like to hear about how Yiannis met Areti. Well, I’m telling you anyway. Seated at Dixon’s Cafeteria one sunny afternoon, Yiannis, then in his early thirties, announced to those seated that he intended to get married. All fell silent until Dimos phrased an objection to his marrying without a job. “It’s not practical!” George quipped, “unless you can find a woman who’d agree to eat twice a week at your sister’s house.” Yiannis felt affronted. “Leave it to you to say something like that!” After a pause, he explained, “But, every man should have a wife. And, I intend to go to Greece to find that woman.”

“Even in Greece, women like to eat!” George continued his objections. “And, all women like nice clothes, getting their hair done, their nails, and having a husband that’s a good provider.” Turning away, Yiannis told the others that he’d written to his mother and she was actively enlisting the most sensible, biddable, practical wife for him.

April found Yiannis in his village where he was being treated like a visiting prince. In that poor village he was wined and dined and fussed over when his mother let it be known that her son sought a wife. Every proper, eligible, sensible girl was invited to the house for Yiannis to look over. Pavlina, the mayor’s daughter, 23, wore a dress of silk, her hair in a bun – but she had more opinions than Yiannis liked. Another girl, 24, dressed almost like a nun, a dazzling cross on her chest, and she spoke just five words during the entire visit as she was warned that ‘the American’ didn’t like talkative women. A third girl, 22, who had gone to school, could read and write, and loved reading, was definitely a deterrent. Then, he noticed a gaunt, curly haired girl carrying a bucket of water, heading towards the house of the local, elderly priest. “Who’s she?” Yiannis inquired, stroking his chin. His mother looked up and laughed. “Areti? Just an orphan, extremely poor and uneducated. Look at those bare feet – like a horse, large and clumsy. Good heavens, Yiannis! Poor girl is 18, no family, no education – ignorant and homely, too. Our good priest took her in to protect her. She’s all grown now, but…” As his mother reverted to Pavlina’s attributes, Yiannis contemplated Areti’s virtues. No family, no in-laws. Little education, which meant he’d be the sole voice in his house. No dowry or decent clothes, which could mean she’d be eternally grateful for clothes from the thrift shop. Another great advantage was that her hair was curly which meant no beauty parlors or need for make-up. More importantly, Areti was pliable, having worked for the priest since childhood. Interrupting his mother’s dialogue, he announced that he’d made up his mind but not before attending several more dinners given in his honor by the mayor whose hopes clung to Pavlina finally being chosen.

Just before he was due to return to the U.S. Yiannis visited the priest who was astounded and awed that Yiannis wanted as his wife the poor, uneducated, skinny, and dowerless Areti.
When the priest announced this great privilege to his ward, she was speechless and frightened. But, he assured her Yiannis was a good man. “His mother is a devout member of our church. And, he lives in America. You have been chosen over the most eligible girls in this village, Areti. Be grateful to God.”

And, so they were married in the humble church, she wearing a simple white dress that Yiannis’ mother made out of a bed sheet.

The mayor refused to be Koumbaro – a distant cousin was so designated – and the rejected families resented the numerous, elaborate dinners they had served Yiannis and his mother those many days. The priest, considering the event close to a miracle, bought Areti a pair of shoes so she would, at least, look presentable coming off the ship that was to bring her to that fabulously rich country of America. Areti felt like she was dreaming. But, the guys at Dixon’s wondered how long the honeymoon would last when the poor girl realized what she was in for.
But, no! Areti felt very fortunate to have a husband who looked after her and a job he found for her that, actually, paid her a salary – a salary!

So, there is such a thing as: “and, they lived happily ever after.”

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