In Greek, the word Nifi is used for the woman who marries into a family. Some people think I'm Greek, but I'm not. I'm an ordinary, unremarkable girl from Hauppauge, a product of one Italian from the Bronx and one French Canadian. They met in New York City in the 50s and settled in Hauppauge in 1961.
I became a Nifi in 1982 after impulsively marrying a Greek immigrant who had been working at a local diner--Expressway Diner on Motor Parkway in Hauppauge (currently IHOP). We married secretly; I guess you could say we eloped. We went to a courtroom in the Denison Building and stood before a judge. My husband Nick, who didn't speak much English back then, always says, he thought he was paying a traffic ticket.
And the following summer, I went with my new husband to meet my in-laws in a remote village, south of the Albanian border on mainland Greece. It was my first time traveling outside of the US. I was 24 years old, uneducated and incredibly ignorant. At that time, the homes did not have any running water: think about cooking, drinking, hygiene. Also, insects and small animals were able to get into the house because there were no screens and the wooden doors had plenty of space under and around their frames.
My mother-in-law, Pareskevi Lykas-Katsiotas (nicknamed Chevi), hadn't seen her son in six years, and she always believed that I had been the reason he had returned, so I think she really liked me. I didn't speak Greek but she wanted to tell me little stories about her life, so we'd sit in the shade of a giant mulberry tree and she'd feed me tiny pieces of the past while her son translated. Her stories were filled with heartache and betrayal. She told and retold the same stories as if she were tracing the lines of a picture, pressing it into existence.
Two years ago, I started writing them down and eventually they became a book.
This past summer, I brought her that book. The Nifi. I was so excited about presenting it to her, putting it in her hands, the tangible product of those warm evenings. It's not written in her language, but that didn't matter. She wouldn't have been able to read Greek, either.
But she suffered a stroke before I got there, and passed away shortly after. I was too late. She never knew that her story would be told, that people would know the truth.
The Nifi gives you an intimate look at a woman who was stronger than the culture that suppressed her and it leaves you with an unquenchable yearning. It's a story rich in the traditions and triumphs of one small valley and the events that defined generations on both sides of the Atlantic.
The book is available on Amazon.com in both paperback and for your kindle. I love this book, but maybe like a mother who thinks her ugly child is beautiful, I cannot judge it fairly. If you happen to read it, let me know what you think.