In any life story, as with any good book, there is always the “set-up” — something showing the foundation, culture or series of events (in this case, my upbringing) which led to the main event, which was to be the most exciting year of my young life spent in Greece.
Although I have shared several excerpts from my eBook “Climbing St. Friday” here, this excerpt reveals to readers just how cloistered I — and, it seems a lot of OTHER Greek-American girls might have been during my era — by overly-strict parents. In hindsight, I look back on this part of my life nostalgically, with 20/20 vision as well as a smile.
At the time, however, it was no joke to be me.
My parents’ lopsided ethnic bent made it difficult for them to encourage their daughter, especially, to assimilate socially, since doing so risked my becoming too comfortable in a non-Greek world. When invitations came for me to accompany friends to church hayrides or to other seemingly harmless events, I had to turn them down. It was explained to me that “mixing in” meant I might get indoctrinated into becoming a Presbyterian, a Lutheran, Catholic, or even a Holy Roller. It mattered little to my parents that the nearest Greek Orthodox place of worship sat a full sixty miles away and we rarely went there. It only mattered that I not be exposed to another religion. How a hayride would have anything to do with religious indoctrination was never explained to me. I soon conjured up visions of being systematically brainwashed by wild-eyed zealots in the hay wagon as the complicit horse pulled us along.
The words “slumber party” and “sleepover” were not part of the lexicon in our household. One of the reasons I had not experienced much unsupervised time with other girls my age is because sleepovers were deemed another unnecessary social ritual. I could, in my parents’ minds, talk with my friends at other times of day. I gathered by my parents’ remarks about sleepovers that permitting me to spend that many hours with a gaggle of girlfriends could result in: (1) my realizing that other families neither sounded nor acted like my own; (2) my getting chummy with someone else’s brother; or (3) the risk that I might learn something about sex before marriage. So while my classmates talked hairstyles, rock stars, and French kissing, I was left to watch old Danny Kaye and Abbott & Costello movies on TV with my brothers. Somehow this failed to be a good substitute, even though it made me an expert at classic movie trivia.
Pop managed to quash all chance for the male of the species to become a part of my high school experience, as well. “What’s the point of getting to know any of them? You’ll never marry one.” He was not looking for, nor expecting, any kind of response on my part. Dating was, after all, rife with uncalculated risks—such as having a daughter end up with a name like “Dena Johnsonbaugh.” It had been decided early on that I would not break the ethnic chain of multisyllabic names ending in -is, -os, -es, or –ou, unless to take on, perhaps, some other noble Greek name. And so it came to pass that I endured high school without a single date, including prom, since there were no boys with names like mine at my school or any other school in Muncie. I could not wait for graduation but I’m not sure why, since the scenery was not about to change any time soon.
My choice for college was no choice at all. While other girls I knew applied to colleges away from home or even looked forward to living in the dorms at Ball State, my father couldn’t grasp the reasoning their parents used to afford them this luxury. “Why would I put out all that money when you can live at home and go to a perfectly good university here in town?” Silly me. How could I forget that I was just as lucky to have Ball State University in my backyard as I was to have been born of Greek roots?
Driving was also a no-win situation. I couldn’t afford my own car and my brothers could, after all, take me wherever I needed to go. For me, driver’s education in high school merely meant was that I would be prepared to drive whenever.
Along with my first year of college came my first real date. It seems God doesn’t deny; He only delays. A boy I met at a church dance in Indianapolis was permitted to drive the sixty miles to take me to my freshman homecoming football game. Before we reached home afterward, I received my first kiss. Instead of the soft, lingering, romantic touching of lips I had hoped for, he smashed his face against mine. I was literally as well as figuratively—crushed.
Can you relate? If so, I would be thrilled if you told parts of your stories here as commentary below. As a Greek girl growing up in a part of the Midwest that had few Greeks and no church, I missed a lot of social life growing up simply because my parents saw no real reason for me to socially integrate beyond school and a few girlfriends. It does not mention it here, but I was not even permitted to talk to a boy on the phone. Please share your experiences with us now!