Like any Greek kid worthy of their prized coonskin cap, I was steeped in the reality that Mom ran things like the Sergeant at Arms. She wouldn't let us go to school without first sitting to `enjoy' endless, steaming bowls of oatmeal. And not the instant kind, since microwaves were invented before radiation was.
If we misbehaved, Mom would call for backup: yiayia, who lived two doors away. She was like Mom, but even scarier. Never underestimate a grandma donning black – the official color of Greek villages.
Yiayia was the reason we fled a row house in the District of Columbia for greener pastures in the form of a single-family house in Maryland. But not just us. It was a cultish affair, a moveable feast, involving extended family. Once settled in, getting to our three cousins' homes involved grueling, five-minute walks.
Often, purely out of love, Mom would mix things up by plunking down cream of wheat. On balance, I would gladly have chosen waterboarding, if that were an option. If we didn't eat breakfast, she refused to let us out the front door. As a result, I missed math class. Don't ask me what 8 times 8 equals.*
I could say more about Mom, a child of the Depression. It left its scars.
On Sunday, we would go down to Dad's restaurant. That was an era when many eateries were closed that single day. Without missing a beat, my father would immerse himself in figuring out the payroll. But since I couldn't relate to that because I was AWOL from math class, I would follow the scent back to the kitchen. There, Mom would yank out the leftover roast beef from the frisge. First, she'd slap mountains of it atop plump Kaiser rolls, slathering each with mayo before carefully wrapping each one in wax paper. Presto! Our school lunches for Monday were ready to go.
Today, after a 40-year marriage to a "good Greek girl," as Mom called her, I've become more sensitive to moments when cognitive dissonance crept in.
The other morning, as I was leaving the house, her gaze slid down to my shoes. Gritting my teeth, I knew I wouldn't be turning the doorknob just yet to make my exit.
"Why those?" she pressed. "Those are your good shoes."
In fact, they were $24 Wranglers from Walmart. Not a budget-buster.
"Wear the other shoes. Those are too nice to go around in."
I was discombobulated. The other shoes, a pair of Hokas, cost $100! What was her true message? Clearly, our efforts at ordinary conversation had hit a snag.
I changed the shoes. Naturally.
An hour later, during my morning walk, my deep thoughts were rudely interrupted by the voice of a woman walking on the opposite side of the street.
"No coat?" she bellowed. "You'll catch pneumonia!"
"Oh, sorry, I left it at home," I replied, apologetically. But why was I atoning before a complete way-too-nosey stranger? I veered off in another direction, just so I could steer clear of any further nagging.
The inescapable truth is, cognitive dissonance is part of our DNA. It goes without saying it was invented by a Greek mom.
*56. (Forced compliance behavior.)
"You're driving us into the poorhouse!" my father would cry, sometimes in hybrid English and Greek. Of course, his protestations fell on deaf ears.
I think the fashionable new term is `cognitive dissonance.' Like Quaker Oats, my mother forced it out of us before we realized what it was. It is the hallmark of Greek thought.