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Up Greek In America"
It was the summer of 1972. The HOT sun was beating on me, sweat was rolling off my face, my only relief from the sun was the shade that I got while walking behind my 300 pound Thea Despina. I remember my summers so vividly. It was the time my mother and yiayia would get so excited when they'd hear of a new construction site which meant a huge mound of dirt filled with dandelion greens somewhere near a highway. How I hated those damned dandelion greens. My mother would drive at a speed of 70 miles per hour, evidently to make sure no one beat her to the precious dandelions. When yiayia would spot those godforsaken weeds, my mother would swerve onto the shoulder of the highway, cutting off traffic and creating near misses of trucks and cars, and then slam on the brakes of her Cadillac. As both my mother and yiayia waited for the dust to settle from this Mario Andretti-like maneuver, I would peel myself up from the floor of the back seat, checking to make sure that my neck wasn't broken and that my legs were still functional. It was then that I'd thank God I didn't die for a plastic bag of dandelion greens.
Don't tell me your family didn't do the same thing! Just because you weren't there doesn't mean they didn't pick dandelion greens. Here are some telltale signs that your family hunted dandelions: 1) Skid marks on a local highway overlooking any type of new construction. 2) A plastic Wonder Bread bag wrapped around a sharp knife, found either under the driver's seat or in the trunk of your parents' vehicle. 3) Your mother's muddy shoes. 4) Your yiayia's muddy black shoes. And finally, 5) An over abundance of dandelion greens at every meal during the summer, including breakfast, lunch and dinner. Do any of these signs sound familiar? Consider yourself lucky if you never witnessed this dandelion gluttony that my family embraced! I am pretty sure that every time my mother or my yiayia would pick dandelion greens, I was always with them. Just my luck! I remember waiting in that hot stuffy car, pounding on the window, pleading with them to "please hurry" or asking them, "why can't we be like normal people and get our greens in the frozen food section of the grocery, or in a can like Popeye!" Could you imagine the hell Popeye would have gone through if he had stop in the middle of every fight to pick dandelion greens just to get enough energy to save his beloved girlfriend Olive Oil? Well, come to think about it, if you have a girlfriend named Olive Oil, maybe you should pick dandelion greens. What a great way to win the hand of the one you love! Just pick the flower that compliments her name!
What I remember most of the dandelion hunt was the gusto and the determination that both my mother and yiayia put into picking those greens! They would begin slowly, making their way to the top of the mound of packed dirt, gently clipping the tips of these wild weeds, and then with all the care in the world they'd place their spoils into a plastic bag and continue their quest as if they were climbing Mt. Everest. The only thing that was missing was perhaps the placing of the Greek national flag on top of Mount Dandelion and then a photo of these two women who single-handedly conquered this piece of earth. The look on their faces would have shown the pride of having picked all the dandelion greens they possibly could and the pain of having sacrificed their beloved Basile by leaving him in the car to die of heat exhaustion! Where the hell was the National Geographic when you needed them to take pictures of this journey! "The Bridges of Madison County" issue of the National Geographic had NOTHING on my mother and yiayia picking dandelion greens. That issue could have been called, "The Jolly Green Giant Can Kiss Their Ass"! I would've subscribed to that educational magazine in a flash.
Now it was time to
go home and prepare the spoils of their personal war, a pile of cooked,
fresh greens served up with other Greek delicacies, such as fish-head
soup and stewed okra! What the hell kind of diet was this for a child
of twelve? Come to think about it, with the diet that we Greeks partake
in, I'm pretty sure we invented the reality-based TV show