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Four Fathers

Dos Equis is so wrong: my father, George Kontis, is the most interesting man in the world. He’s great at parties and can talk to anyone. He speaks a little bit of every language on the planet. He tells the best jokes. He gives a tiara manly swagger. And he is the best storyteller EVER.

Papa Woodcutter was a very easy character to write.

I invited Mom to the website for Mothers’ Day, so in fairness I had Dad contribute a guest post to my blog about whatever he wanted for Fathers’ Day. I’ve been busy with this small thing called a book tour, so I didn’t even have a chance to read the essay he sent me before this morning. I just finished reading it. And I cried.

These stories are not about me or my father–they are about HIS father, and my great-grandfathers, amazing men I never had the privilege to know. I can only imagine how amazing they were…because I know exactly how amazing MY father is. (Yes, I come by it honestly. ALL of it.)

Love you, Daddy! xox

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Dear Alethea:
As Father’s Day approaches, I thought you might like to hear about Grandfathers and Great-Grandfathers that you never met. They were fascinating people. Self starters and hard chargers, yet at the same time dedicated to their families. Read on, and you might recognize some family traits….

Your great-grandfathers:

John Kontaridis

Your paternal great-grandfather, John Kontaridis, was barely 40 years old but was already successful entrepreneur, with three thriving businesses in the Greek Byzantine town of Smyrna, Turkey (now called Izmir). John married a beautiful Smyrna woman, Theodosia Komnenos, who happened to be a descendent of the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos Komnenos. Ergo, dearest Princess Alethea, your title is more than self-proclaimed!

John Kontaridis also had an interest in medicine. In spite of his significant wealth, family demands, and no medical training, he found time to treat people with back pain. His highly regarded success in fixing backs was a family secret that was passed on to male members of the Kontaridis family. John treated Greeks, Turks, and Armenians from all walks of life, who lined up at his front door–usually on Sunday afternoons. In September 1922 the Turkish Army took him on a long hike that didn’t include food or water and John was killed when he tried to sneak a drink. His brother witnessed this event and many other atrocities, which are today denied by the Turks.

George Mitchell

Not able to make a living in his home country, your great-grandfather, George Mitchell (Mikelis) left his home high on a mountain top in Greece and immigrated to the U.S. through Ellis Island. At first he worked in an enameled pot factory until he could save up enough to open a candy kitchen and then a restaurant. He joined the U.S. Army in World War I, achieving the rank of sergeant, distinguishing himself in battles fought across France. At some point he got so sick the Army couldn’t care for him, so they left him in care of a French farm family. He was nursed back to health by the family, whose young daughter Blanche made him feel particularly healthy. Their daughter, Georgia was born in 1919. Georgia is your French connection. Our whole family has been trying to reconnect with any possible descendants. George was successful in business, well respected in the community, and a gourmet who appreciated good food. His neighborhood bar/restaurant was particularly successful. He saw World War II coming and bought a huge quantity of whiskey, thinking the time would come when it would not be readily available. He stored it at home in his basement in plain sight and within easy access of his five teenage children. Not one of them ever snuck any booze, and none of them ever drank much their entire lives. George was an avid hunter and provider, keeping the table supplied with game and healthy food. He died of a heart attack at age 50 brought on by smoking and the exertion from dragging a deer he’d shot.

Your paternal grandfather:

Soterios (Sotos) Kontis

In September 1922 while his father was on that hike with the Turkish Army, Sotos, age 4, was running from his burning house with his remaining family members. They eventually found safe passage to Athens Greece where they arrived safely, but penniless. Eventually, his older sister opened a ladies’ hat shop and Sotos was her delivery boy. Once she gave him a hat to deliver and enough trolley fare to get him there and back. When the conductor demanded extra money for the package he was carrying, Sotos knew would not have sufficient fare for the trip home. Sotos removed the frilly hat from the box, placed it on his head and wore it all the way into town. Sotos was resourceful in other ways. He made his own toys and enlisted his artistic brother in money making schemes and pranks. The two boys started a church. Sotos was the priest and his brother Xanthos the artist who painted the icons. The boys charged the other neighborhood kids to light candles and kiss the icons. It was a successful enterprise until their mother found out. Sotos served in the Greek merchant marine during much of World War II and finally illegally immigrated into the US when his ship reached New York. He joined the US Army, learned English, and became an Officer.

Sotos loved America. As chief engineer on a U.S. missile tracking ship, he traveled often to Africa on tracking missions and sometimes stayed in a hotel in Durban, South Africa. Seated in the lobby one day, he was reading a paper and smoking his favorite blend of tobacco. A young South African man approached him, apologized profusely for interrupting, and asked if his blend was a secret mixture. “Oh, no!” said Sotos. “This is Mixture 79. It’s available everywhere in the U.S.” Sotos immediately tore some of his newspaper and emptied the contents of his tobacco pouch into it. He folded the paper around the tobacco and handed it to the young man. The young man instantly went for his wallet, in an obvious gesture to pay. Sotos said: “Oh, if you want to pay me, let me hear you say ‘God Bless America.'” Heads in the hotel lobby, filled with curiosity turned to hear a young South African exclaim: “God Bless America!”

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On the Importance of Turkeys

Thanksgiving weekend’s not over yet! And before it is, I have a quick message I would like to say to my beloved little sister, in front of the whole world.

My next video should be about the story behind this, or why we called Soteria “Sami” all those years…but for now, I’m just sort of hoping this prompts a response. *evil grin*

Remember — Buy a Pair of Earrings Today & Save a Small Business!

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The Gift That Keeps On Giving

There is a moment from this weekend frozen in my mind: the girls are on the couch combing their lustrous clean locks, Tomo’s patiently waiting to find out just what he’s being sent to the drug store for this time, and I’m cross-legged on the floor between Della’s legs as she sits above me on the couch, inspecting the itchy nape of my neck. Kelli slides to her knees in front of me and announces: “You know why Murphy created this weekend? Because we all needed something to blog about.”

There is a moment of silence as the truth of her statement sinks in. And then: “Dibs on The Gift That Keeps on Giving as a title!” I yell.

“I get Shit Happens!” chimes Gypsy.

The hippie smiles and says, “Of Lice and Men,” and we all double over in laughter.

It was a weekend for the history books, ladies and gentlemen — the kind that brings us all closer together and reminds us what really makes a family. Because birthdays shouldn’t just be about fancy dresses and presents. They should be about laughter and love…and lice.

I’ve lived more life in the past six weeks than most people dare to live their whole lives. The parting of ways, the moving, the goodbyes, the journeys, the memories revisited, the sadness, the joy, and the pain. These weeks have given me everything I’ve wished for and then some. They have brought me new friends. They have made me sick. They have made me tired. They have given me hope for the future. My birthday marked the end of that journey. (The first chapter, anyway.)

In an effort to maintain what little sanity I had left, I postponed my Big Fabulous Party plans until later (possibly spring) and settled on a smallish get-together with only enough of my friends to fit around the dinner table (and their children). Oooh, a fancy dress party a la Mary Robinette Kowal’s last year. That would be fun. Excellent idea! Nice, relaxing, and low-key.

Thursday night there was some drama. Some folks got upset…and then got over it. A Canadian arrived. I went to bed early. Friday was awesome. There was Scrabble and giggles and turtles. The zombie kind. Tomo came and brought his girls as one of my birthday presents–Ariell returned one of the books I had lent her over New Year’s. There was dancing in the garage. We ate spaghetti. We remembered why we needed each other, and my worries went away.

And Ariell’s head started to itch.

Early Saturday morning, there were dead bodies on the pillow and a very distraught almost-thirteen-year-old.

“So, I hear my present came with a bonus,” I told her. She laughed.

Tomo went to the store and bought a two-pack of lice shampoo. Having been through this enough times in Elementary school with my sister, I knew a thing or two about Ye Olde Louse Comb. We’d nip this puppy in the bud, no worries. Ariell and I watched TV and bonded as I took my time combing her terminally tousled hair. We had no other plans. Dinner was five or six, the Eagles game started at eight — otherwise it was just us.

But the wimpy little shampoo didn’t work. A few things in the house broke. The turkey was wonderful and the stuffing divine and I looked great in my dress…but around halftime we decided that a.) the Eagles weren’t going to win the game and b.) we needed more lice shampoo. Not only was Ariell still finding Little Monsters, but the back of her neck was covered in bites. I was determined to conquer this once and for all.

I changed out of my dress and joined Tomo this time for the hunt…and was very surprised at what we discovered. 1.) There are many different brands of treatment available for lice, F.) There were not more than two boxes of any kind on the shelf, and 45.) I did not get yelled at for sitting on the floor in the grocery store for an extended period (but that’s another story for another time).We bought three boxes — one for Tomo and one for each of his daughters, just to be safe.

I finished combing Ariell’s hair for the third time sometime before 2am. “You realize this officially makes us sisters now.” I told her. And then I went to bed and cried myself to sleep. I dreamt of lice and crazy psychosomatic itching.

Only…it wasn’t psychosomatic.

Sunday morning brought us our third run — this time to the Rite Aid because we’d already bought out the Giant’s stash of medicine — bringing our total brands of medication tried up to five. We were informed while checking out that “Yeah. the entire district has it” which just made us laugh. Because we didn’t have local lice. Ours was imported from Virgina.

Only the best for Awesome Porch.

We broke a few more things this day — including the upstairs toilet — and while I had to wash my own hair it was Della who put in the gel and combed it out. Della…to whom I gave lice in the second grade all those years ago after she tried on my Brownie hat. It all comes full circle, doesn’t it?

Lice is a thing. It happens. Whether or not it’s a tragedy is only a matter of perspective. It brought us all to new levels of togetherness. It helped clean and spray the entire house. It taught us a lot, about lice and about each other. It provided a case study on the best lice medication to use (we all agree Lice MD is the best, the one with the green comb. It was the most successful, and was the least harsh to use on a poor sore head that’s already been terrorized by Little Monsters).

Most of all, it caused a quarantine that forced the whole crew to stay one more night. I got to wake up on Monday — my actual birthday — and have cake and singing and breakfast with all my friends. My more than friends. My family.

So..thank you, Ariell. Little did you know, you brought me the greatest gift of all.

Lice.

Best birthday present EVAR.

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