Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Tomorrow is my father< George Cokinos’ birthday, and his family is having a hard time believing he is in his ninth decade. He still drives, rakes leaves and refuses to go quietly. Greeks have solved the problem of growing old, and it’s not the Grecian Formula. It’s the tradition of Name Days. Your Name Day is set by the saint you are named for and by that saint’s feast day which is set by the Orthodox calendar. Traditionally parties are held, but no age numbers are involved.
I know my Papou and Yiya didn’t have to take the age thing too seriously until they arrived in America, and officials demanded to know their birth dates. Either they didn’t remember, or they didn’t want to remember their true ages. Papou was much older than Yiya, perhaps by twenty years, but the gap grew larger as he aged, and weirdly enough, as he grew older, my grandmother became younger. Perhaps he fudged the numbers when they got married, or maybe she just didn't care to her admit her age. Or maybe a little of both. In paper my papou was younger for the insurance agents, but older for the census takers.
When Papou was about eighty in the 1950s, he had to go take the newly implemented driver’s test at the DMV on Indiana Avenue. My Dad drove him down there and watched him scratch his head through a little window where he was taking the test. After a few minutes, Dad gestured at him to ask to go to the bathroom, and then, oh so subtly I’m sure, Dad went into the bathroom with him, and they got the thing done. (Dad proudly recounts that “they” got a 98.) Next came the driving portion which involved a lot of orange cones. Papou hit every one. Fortunately, the inspector was a customer at Churchill’s Bar and Grill, the family restaurant. Dad took the man aside and promised him that Papou would only be driving to St. Sophia’s, and his daughter’s house and only on Sundays. Would he please pass him? He did.
Those were different times. At that point in his life, Papou was wielding a Cadillac. He had a tiny garage so he hung tires on the walls for when he parked. Dad says he often drove right over the curb into Aunt Catherine’s yard, and she would yell at him from her kitchen window. But he kept driving well into his eighties, and as far as we know, he didn't kill anyone.
My father is still driving as well, and still passing all the tests. He was born right here in DC where we have birth certificates and birthdays and eventually- with the advent of my mother, the American birthday tradition was established. (My mother, by the way, solved the age thing her own way by joining in with Jack Benny and remaining firmly lodged at thirty-nine.)
Way back when, back in his childhood, Dad remembers his big present would be a five or ten dollar gold piece. He has given them all way now, but he wished he kept one. His favorite present, however, was the birthday gift that he bought himself at age eighteen: a used 1932 maroon DeSoto with black fenders.
We celebrate Dad’s birthday tomorrow- on April 18th, but I discovered a few years back that his birth certificate says April 17th. I said, “Hey Dad, look at this. You’ve been celebrating the wrong day all these years.” And he said “Too late.”
Happy Birthday, Dad. Whenever.