As a radio psychologist once said to a telephone caller

“The workaholic is the happiest person around. It’s the people around him who are miserable.”

How curious the pronoun is masculine.

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Ten random bits revolving around Greek-American families

My novel What’s Left has me thinking about families – especially like Cassia’s Greek-American household in Indiana.

  1. Number of single-parent families in the U.S.: 13.7 million (27 percent).
  2. Number of Greek-Americans: 1.3 million to 3 million of full Greek ancestry estimated. (With her mixed ancestry, Cassia wound not be counted here.)
  3. Number of Greeks in Indianapolis area, 1900: 29.
  4. Number of Greek-Americans (full ancestry) in Indiana: 23,993 (2010).
  5. Number of family businesses in U.S.: 5.5 million.
  6. Greek diners: More than 600 founded in New York area between 1950 and 1970 alone.
  7. Number of diners in New Jersey: about 525 (the leading state).
  8. Greek-menu restaurants in U.S.: 3,100.
  9. First Greek Orthodox church in the U.S.: New Orleans, by 1866
  10. First Greek Orthodox church in Indiana: Holy Trinity, Indianapolis, 1910.

TEN FACTS ABOUT ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY IN AMERICA

In my novel What’s Left, Cassia is a member of a Greek-American family that lives at a distance for their Greek Orthodox church. While that faith shares practices and teachings with a number of other Eastern Orthodox denominations, some of its customs that she takes for granted do puzzle her classmates.

Here’s some perspective.

  1. Number of Greek Orthodox adherents in the United States: Between 440,000 to two million in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, depending on the counting method being used. They are spread among more than 500 parishes and served by roughly 800 priests. The Antiochian archdiocese has 83,700 adherents and 206 parishes.
  2. Number of followers in the Orthodox Church in America (evolving mainly from the Russian Orthodox): 115,000 estimated, with 456 parishes.
  3. Other Orthodox representation includes two Serbian archdioceses, plus Ukrainian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Albanian, Macedonian, Assyrian, Coptic, and two Armenian organizations.
  4. Date of Christmas: January 7, concluding the 12 days of Christmas.
  5. Date of Easter: Based on the Julian calendar, rather than the Gregorian calendar used in the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, the Orthodox date can fall anywhere between April 4 and May 8 on the Western calendar. (The Greeks call it Pascha, for Passover.)
  6. The highest level of leadership: The Metropolitan, or archbishop. The Roman Catholic Pope was once one of them.
  7. Icons: The interior of the churches, especially, are replete in stylized depictions of Jesus, the Holy Mother, and many saints. Many of these are murals on the ceiling.
  8. The iconostasis: An icon-covered wall runs in front of the altar and has a large central door as well as two smaller doors at the far end of either side. During the service, the priest often passes through these.
  9. The priests are typically married.
  10. Fasting: It’s not a total avoidance of food but rather constrained by intricate limitations. The longest periods of fasting are Advent, before Christmas, and Great Lent.

Orthodox Advent began November 15.

NORMAL? YOU MEAN LIKE FITTING IN?

Though she’s grown up in an extended bohemian family, Cassia’s able to cope with being different from many of her classmates – up to the point her father vanishes in an avalanche halfway around the globe. The other kids have fathers – that’s normal, or so she thinks. And then, in a flash, she and her home aren’t normal.

To see just how atypical they are, check out my new novel, What’s Left.

~*~

I just couldn’t pour this down the drain. It needed to simmer much more:

Her father was also a dreamer – or at least an idealist – a dimension that often inhibited him from asking hard questions or anticipating a full range of obstacles in a course of action. And he had an innate aversion to conflict.

What Thea Nita has confirmed is that Baba carried a sense of not quite belonging in the consumer culture of America. He had rightly concluded the ultimate flatness of his birthplace had nothing to do with its landscape and everything to do with a wider loss of stimulation, imagination, and inventive discovery – all further inhibited by social conformity rather than any acceptance of eccentricity. He recognized the potential for more, much more – something he encountered first in science and the fine arts and later in direct spiritual experience.

~*~

And then there’s her mother’s side, where they live – where he, too, has chosen to place his life.

Reflecting on the emotional cost of an upbringing like that in my own life has me realizing just how debilitating it has been. Like him, I found ways to escape and still somehow “fit in.”

Let’s get back to the basics. Would you say you’re “normal”? What would you like to change about yourself or your situation?

~*~

A large Queen Anne-style house with a distinctive witch’s hat tower something like this is the headquarters for Cassia’s extended family in my new novel, What’s Left. If only this one were pink, like hers. (Manchester, New Hampshire.)

THERE’S PASSION AND SCANDAL IN THE MIX

When it comes to sex, love, and relationships, my new novel, What’s Left, offers a full range of examples over its four-plus generations of her family.

Her mother’s line in the New World begins with a round of scandal. Her great-grandfather and his brother break tradition by marrying sisters against the wishes of their parents and their village, and then flee Greece altogether for Indiana. Her other great-grandfather marries a non-Greek, a Cuban he loves intensely amid another scandal, and relocates to Chicago.

Her grandparents’ marriage includes sibling rivalry and another scandal, as well as a packet of letters from the war years that Cassia discovers wrapped in lace ribbon.

Her parents’ generation includes sparkles of free love before her father-to-be is introduced to the family in what might be considered both love at first sight and an arranged marriage, thanks to her aunt Nita’s role as a matchmaker. Then there’s the whirlwind when her uncle Barney falls hard for her aunt-to-be Pia. In contrast, her uncle Tito and aunt-to-be Yin present a much more restrained story off in San Francisco. As for her uncle Dimitri, we’re back to scandal, as far as many in town would be concerned.

Cassia’s father leaves a rich photographic history of these events, along with three years of daily love letters to his wife-to-be. Maybe there are things a daughter would rather not see? Or is temptation too much to resist?

Well, however much their story can resemble a fairy tale, not everything turns out happily ever after.

As for her own generation? Times and traditions have changed, right?

~*~

Cassia’s is a much livelier family than many I see around me. I imagine it could be pretty demanding, as well as rewarding in its own way.

Would you like to marry into this family? Why – or why not?

~*~

Cassia’s family restaurant has me looking more closely at the ones around me. (Rutland, Vermont.)

WELCOME TO AMERICA

In my new novel, What’s Left, her mother’s grandparents sail from Patras, Greece, to America in the years just before the First World War. In contrast, her father’s side appears to have farmed the Midwest in the oblivion of forever.

In observance of Independence Day, here are images from the Library of Congress in homage to those immigrants who arrived in that period by way of Ellis Island in New York Harbor.

Greeks board rowboats to a steamer in Patras to begin their voyage to the New World.
The faces on these women still say everything.
Imagine the anxiety of approaching the registration desk, to learn if it’s yes or no or maybe.
The view of the harbor filled with hope and the unknown.
Think of all that’s left behind, too.