Eulogy for Pappou

Adamos Georgiou has passed away. Finally, he is allowed to rest.

The obvious and uncomfortable irony of trying to memorialize him now is that he’s been gone, in truth, for a long time. The mind of the man who passed away was not that of the man who created his legacy, my family’s legacy. It is a harsh thing to point out in such a sensitive setting, but my pappou’s late condition is necessary to note in order to properly prioritize the simple, tragic, and relatively short-lived character of his later years; against the bold, sturdy, remarkable stroke of his long past. It’s too easy to think that his more recent life was the more relevant, and therefore that it should be what I talk about now. But his dementia stands insignificant and unnoticeable next to the massiveness of his past.

Another irony of this eulogy is that I’m likely not the right person to make it. I mention this not as false humility, but as a proper acknowledgement of the fact that I did not know Adamos Georgiou for the majority of his lucid life, and even when I did, I was just a dumb kid intimidated by this grizzly bear of a man who spoke in foreign poems with a straight back and wise eyes that could just as easily be iron as clay.

I look back and I remember silly but vibrant moments.

Him sitting at his kitchen table, from his reserved corner seat, telling me the old stories of Aesop and Socrates and Plato. I can still see and hear him describing Icarus flying too close to the sun, how the beeswax that held his wings together melted, his pride becoming his downfall. Or how Socrates willingly drank the poison he was sentenced to die by, rather than flee, in order to prove his belief in the righteousness of the justice system that convicted him.

I remember Pappou not liking it when I preferred pizza and hot dogs to his gourmet curries, but always passing a well cut slice of an apple or orange to the backseat during long road trips upstate.

I remember him fiercely giving my sister and me his famous single syllable roar when we were being too rowdy in the car on the way home from church, and us instantly cowering away silent and terrified.

I remember him waking up before dawn with my dad and me to go fishing out in Greenport, him ready with a meticulously packed tackle box full of lures, lines, and savory snacks for both us and the fish.

I remember his gardens, before he gave them up. Me, useless and happy with dirty knees and a spade, always impressed with how he managed dozens of vegetables and herbs, when at our house we only ever had tomatoes and cucumbers.

And I remember his shed, in it a small, red, trapezoid toolbox made out of steel, full of rusted tools; and shelves with a half dozen spools of different types of string, one type, waxy and thin, he would use to make elaborate grips to knives and fishing poles, and another, nylon and white, he would use to hold tomato vines to their supports.

Everything he did was a detailed project that he was consciously steering towards success.

That’s why they called him the Captain.

Adamos Georgiou was a man who took life seriously. He didn’t let life happen to him, instead he grabbed it in both fists and bent it to his liking as best as he could. When it was time to make a decision for himself and his family, he didn’t wait, he acted.

Moving from Cyprus, to The States, back to Cyprus, and then back to The States – chasing opportunity, avoiding war and risk, and refusing to be disheartened by material injustice – he never gave up, he never stopped working, and he never compromised his principles. You couldn’t break the guy. He wasn’t the type that would let his own animal impulses distract him from his higher goals. He believed in the potential for people to create meaning, to create good works; and he knew he was responsible for realizing that potential in his time on Earth.

He took responsibility. That’s what I see as the overwhelming theme of his life. He took responsibility. Consciously, and with intent instead of dogma, he took responsibility. And in so many cases, he won the games that he played.

He raised and supported a beautiful, healthy family. He was hospitable to the communities he operated within. And he imparted so many wonderful, significant traditions with such a hearty charisma.

When I was younger, I used to hate going to Greek School. In theory, Greek School was an extracurricular class where you were taught the Greek language through a strict, proven method in a focused, formalized environment. In practice, Greek School was a bunch of Church ladies cycling between filing their nails, picking students to read from single-ply textbooks sold by the Greek Scouts of America, and propagandizing you to be more patriotic through the door-to-door selling of cement and sawdust chocolate bars. I still have flashbacks to one of those teachers spitting on me as she howled, “YOU MUST BE PROUD, ΠΑΙΔΙΑ! Be PROUD THAT YOU ARE GREEK!” And I still have some of those chocolate bars in the back of my freezer. All I ever wanted back then was to get out of that repurposed house-turned-classroom and to go to Taco Bell.

One of the yearly chores of those classes was to memorize a Greek poem and recite it in the church basement for Greek Independence day. This was simultaneously one of the more interesting and nerve racking assignments, because it involved memorization, which I viewed as a kind of game; but also you had demonstrate this skill in front of the entire parish. Year after year, I would do this. I would get on stage, and recite the sounds and syllables I had committed to memory over the weeks, no idea what I was actually saying, and then I’d pass the microphone to the next kid in line, and breath easy until after the ceremony when it was time for bagels and glasses of milk. (Meanwhile you’d get yelled at by the church custodian, Marco, for taking glasses of milk, because as everyone knows milk is for coffee not for children.) None of this ever meant anything to me beyond the moment’s anxiety. But then one year something different happened.

I remember our class got off the stage and they invited my pappou up to say a few words. This had never happened any of the years before, to my pappou or any other adult, as far as I can remember. Usually, it was 5 to 6 classes of kids, each a year older than the last, each shuffling through monotone and rote read poems of imperceptible difference, each poem a test of patience and self-control and maddening boredom for those sitting around waiting for the others to finish.

But now my pappou is on stage. I know that guy. He’s alone. Why is he up there? What is he doing? And in the brief instant during which all these questions were popping into my mind, he boomed into a multiple paragraph poem, energy overwhelming his posture, and exiting through both his voice and an outstretched finger, which would come down to mark the significance of a specific stanza or piece of punctuation. His greatness in that moment was undeniable and the church-goers sitting in that basement hall stayed silent the entire time, and then when he finished, many minutes later, they crashed at him with reverence and applause.

My pappou had faith in the power and beauty of words and ideas, and he knew it was his responsibility to pass them on and keep them alive, for if he didn’t who would? I knew then that many of the adults in that room didn’t have the courage to be onstage, let alone the talent to deliver the words with such confidence or even the knowledge of knowing the words in the first place. And that meant that my pappou likely didn’t start with that talent or knowledge either. At some point in his life, he made the choice to develop and to learn. Someone once said, ‘Courage isn’t an absence of fear. Courage is the willingness to act despite fear.” In that moment, watching my grandfather, I began to understand what it was to be a man. I was proud to be Greek and proud to be his grandson.

My own love of books; of telling stories; of the balance between hospitality and gratitude; of nature, the mountains, the sea, the animals. Every backyard BBQ, every early morning adventure, every household project. The focus, the finesse, and the brute force, at times. The desire to achieve and to persevere and to preserve.

All of the things that together add up to being a good man. All of the things I hold as ideals.

They are rooted in him. In Adamos Georgiou.

When I think now about his death, I truly don’t feel sad, as in the heartache of lost love. That grief has already been paid slowly over the years.

Instead, I am overwhelmed with a combined sense of respect and inspiration and thanks.

And if I am sad, it is the sadness of a disappointment that he couldn’t be around longer so that I could’ve thanked him as a man, and so that I could of continued to have learned from him directly, instead of simply through his legacy.