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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Swimming Against the Tide


My first memory of Cousin Toula, is of her sneaking a drag on a cigarette—actually several drags, I think it was my husband, Nick's cigarette—and blowing the smoke into the darkness of a warm Greek summer night. It was something similar to what I'd done with one of my friends more than ten years prior, while sitting in the wooded area near my house. Two American thirteen-year-olds experimenting. But Toula was not a teenager and she was not experimenting. It was 1983 and we were twenty-something-year-old young women in the small village of Margariti. Even I who wore short shorts and tight tube tops at home in New York but long sundresses in Margariti, knew that Toula was playing a dangerous game, this female-smoking-a-cigarette thing.  

I immediately liked her.

When I met my sister-in-law, Eftihia, for the first time, she was wearing jeans—long legged Levis. She was the only pant-wearing woman I saw in the village as well as in the small city of Igoumenitsa. Again, it was 1983 and I myself was clad in a dark colored dress of conformity. My jeans were strictly for the plane ride to and from New York. But Eftihia explained (though no explanation was necessary as logic made it obvious) that carting wood for cooking, trekking to the spring to get drinking water and the heavy laborious work in the house made dress-wearing a ridiculous idea. Those around her tried to make her see the reasoning in conforming to societal rules. But she wasn't having any of it. In fact, when a naughty male passenger had a bit of a feel on a crowded bus one day, she turned around and punched him in the face and made his advances known to all. It never happened again. Not to her anyway.

Cousin Toula, against strong and fearsome objections from her father, opened a bar in Margariti. Yes, a bar! She tended to drinks and conversation for over fifteen years—against threat of disownment and humiliation. She followed her own path—swam against the tide and made a good living for her family.

Eftihia negotiated her own marriage. The young men who were smitten with her—she was a beautiful woman—had to agree to her terms or there would be no deal. In the end her current husband listened and agreed as she laid out her expectations and objectives for married life. Whether or not it went as she expected—I’ve never met a woman whose expectations of marriage bore fruit—it didn't matter. She did the unthinkable. She laid out what she wanted in her future husband rather than accepting what was expected.