Like all Greek kids – especially the youngest boys – I was terribly spoiled growing up. If I didn’t like what my mom made for dinner, I’d simply call my “yia yia”, my grandmother, and she’d tell me to come to eat at her house. On those occasions that she and my mom prepared the same meal, she’d assure me I should still come over – she’d make me something different to eat.
I loved it at her house. And not just because I was spoiled there. I loved it because it was my second home and I was encouraged to be whomever I wanted to be.
On Fridays, after the dinner dishes were washed, my Aunt “Mimi” would make us a bowl of popcorn and the three of us would watch the antics of Redd Foxx on Sanford and Son. Each time he clutched his heart feigning cardiac arrest and called out to his late wife, “I’m coming to join you, Elizabeth!” we’d laugh until our sides hurt. The following afternoon, my Aunt Matina would arrive, bringing with her small gifts, treats and a knack for having fun.
No one there ever discouraged me from trying on Mimi’s shoes, or donning her vintage white evening gloves that stretched to my shoulders – a look made complete by a black-veiled hat from the 1940s that she’d grab from my grandmother’s closet. It was the closest thing I ever did to drag. And it delighted all of us.
My uncle sold the house last month. It had been in the family for 70 years. I support his decision unequivocally because it had simply become too much house for him.
When I think of that house, I can’t help but be flooded with amazing memories of encouragement and acceptance. The experiences I had there helped shape the man I’ve become. I learned to cook by watching my “yia yia” make the thousands of meals I ate there. I learned to embrace and foster my Greek heritage, hearing her stories of the Old Country, her life as an immigrant and the people from her youth – stories powerful enough that I named my youngest son after her long-dead favorite brother. Most importantly, I received complete and unconditional love for the person I am today.
Please don’t get me wrong: my parents were rock stars in standing by me and accepting me. But parents have to set boundaries and rules from which grandmothers and aunts are exempt. I recognize that I was only able to have the life I did at my grandmother’s house because my parents allowed it, recognizing the important role extended family can have.
That’s why I believe LGBTQ+ people make such great parents. The lack of acceptance and the hostility many in the community faced by their biological families forced us to redefine what family means. We understand that various people beyond a traditional family unit play significant roles in kids’ lives, making for well-adjusted, happier adults.
As my cousin Laura and I walked through our uncle’s house one last time, she outlined the perfect confluence of events that had occurred for me growing up: I lived walking distance from that house; I was the youngest in the family by several years so parents dealing with moody teenagers were relieved to have me occupy myself elsewhere; and I was our aunts’ and grandmother’s favorite. This conflux of good fortune allowed me an idyllic childhood in that house. She’s right. How lucky was I?
It will take time for me to get used to the fact that it’s someone else’s house now. But I’m forever grateful that it will always be my home.