Greek-American Stories: The Dear Departed

Getting old is something we tend to think happens to everyone else. Take it from me, that’s not so. Aging happens to everyone except tax collectors and telemarketers. Lately, I started reading the obituaries. Not because I’m morbid, but because I’m curious to know how someone died or whether I happen to know that person. What’s boring about reading each obit is that I’ve never yet read any that criticizes the departed even when it’s a guy who forgot to pay back a fat loan. It’s always, “very friendly, great cook, and beloved by all the nieces and nephews, or, “a generous contributor to various charities.” (Yeah! Like tipping Sweeney, the bartender.)

Wouldn’t it be fascinating if one – just one obit said something unfavorable or, stated facts closer to the truth? For instance, I had an uncle named Frixos who made my childhood a real pain. When visiting our house, which was often, he’d ask me to bring him a glass of water so he could drop his dentures in. And, I’d have to see that glass on the table grinning at me at dinner time. He’d send me out to get him the newspaper and after he finished reading it, he’d say I brought the wrong paper. That was the signal to send me out once again for, “the right paper.” And, I had to pay for the new paper with the tip he gave me for the first one. He’d argue with anyone about baseball players, politics, or a mutual friend and turn vicious as Dracula when you got the best of him. He’d swat my napping cat off the sofa so he could sit when there were other plushy empty chairs. I used to dread Sundays due to the fact that we’d see him at our door, grinning, and hungry, never forgetting his bib.

Yet when he died, everyone stood at the coffin weeping, recalling a fond memory of something he did. Curious, I stood close among the mourners hoping to hear about one of those fond memories. Aunt Nota, holding a handkerchief to her eyes, suppressing tears and a laugh, said, “remember when that Girl Scout came by selling Girl Scout cookies? He took a box and shut the door.” (Subtle laughter). I said, “I don’t think that’s funny.” She looked down at me as if I accused St. Paul of being a thief. “He opened the door to pay her but she was gone. He was joking!” I said, “I still don’t think that’s funny.” I got a hard stare from those standing around. Then, a nephew told of the time someone had come to the door asking for a donation towards the town swimming pool and he gave him a glass of water. More quiet giggles. “That’s not funny, either,” I mumbled. “You have no respect for the departed!” someone said, accusingly.

One popular belief is that if we’re good we go to heaven and meet up with those that left before us. Thing is, I’m not exactly keen on seeing Uncle Frixos if he goes there. Or, if I go there. Anyway, another form of belief is that we come back as another person. It’s called reincarnation. If there’s any viable truth to that, I wonder if we get a choice. I sure wouldn’t want to come back as a dictator or homeless or a Republican. Because I was harassed by Uncle Frixos, it would be nice to receive some sort of reward and come back as a piano virtuoso or a talented actress. If not, then, I’ll take returning as a doctor who does marvelous things. But, the way things have a way of turning out I’d bet my first patient would be a reincarnated Uncle Frixos. So, I don’t find reincarnation something I’d look forward to, either.

We have few choices; going to heaven and doing nothing for an eternity and meeting up with other former banes of my existence on earth, or, hell. Not a comfortable alternative! That isn’t a place where I’d like to spend any time in, especially, since I can’t stand heat, or people like Attila, the Hun, or Nero, or Ivan the Terrible. So, I’d prefer to accept that the dear departed die and stay dead. This is it! We had our chance. If we fluffed it, tough nuggets! We had our time here and we should have lived as well as we could and do what was right, but if we do come back as a human being, I’ll have the common sense to avoid the likes of Uncle Frixos.


It’s a hot July day in Greece, 2024, another heat wave rivaling the one in 2023 that could have melted steel.

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