Do you ever wonder where you come from? I mean, scientifically I know where we come from, I would hope we all do, but I’m talking about your personality, your habits, your pet peeves, etc. I’ve always been curious about my relative’s lives before I was a part of them, I often grill them with questions and listen attentively to what they have to say, even if sometimes they just respond with, “I don’t remember, Anastasia.” It might just be my little obsession with listening to other people’s stories, but it’s fascinating to think that they have lived 40 or 50 or even 70 years before I came along. They had experiences and developed expressions and made mistakes and chose paths that shaped them into who they are, and their stories became my own little fairytales…
Once upon a time in a far away land called Brooklyn, a little girl named Aphrodite was born in late April of 1938. For a while, she only spoke Greek, which she now claims to have forgotten, but when she turned 9 her family moved to Jersey City, where she resides to this day. A self-proclaimed “wild child” and tomboy, she did “normal things”, like when she ripped up the ligaments in her wrist and rode her bike with no hands down one of the busiest streets in the city, or when she would make box ramps and ride over them. She even played baseball better than the boys and wrapped her hair up in the cap so she could pretend to be one of them. However, since we all know these weren’t really “normal things” for the time, the boys found out and ratted her out due to jealousy. She grew up with 2 younger siblings, Christine and George (as her youngest brother, Peter, came into her life much later), was too shy to enjoy school and had a personality opposite of her girly sister. Eventually, she met a charismatic, young musician named Thomas in her junior year of high school. He was an intelligent teen who played in a band at all the school dances, and has just “been around ever since.” She later had to step up, and soon had to raise her youngest brother, along with her children. But, believe you me, her tough nature never diminished her care for those around her.
In the same far away land just a year earlier, another little girl named Margaret was born in mid-September. With a father who immigrated from Ireland, and a mother who came from Newfoundland, she grew up on 12th street near the end of Prospect Park. She was a bright Catholic school girl, who sometimes felt she grew up in the shadow of her elder sister, Joan. Despite their sometimes bickering, the sisters were the best of friends, and shared a twin size bed until Margaret got married. Throughout her years, her “crowd” never got into trouble and enjoyed just walking around the streets of Brooklyn, often going to the ice cream parlor. Her father had a beautiful turquoise-colored glass eye that she would often replace, so it’s no surprise that she eventually won a New York State scholarship for nursing school in Jamaica. She never finished school because once again she did not realize her worth and her lack of confidence in her ability to remember medications prevented her from continuing. Eventually, through her roommate in nursing school she met Arthur, soon to be a police officer with a tough, but caring heart. They became each other’s world and soon lived on Long Island, where Margaret’s great ability to help others and her strength never wavered, as she not only took care of 4 children, but many other family members as well. Arthur, on the other hand, hid his big heart behind an exterior of tough love, doing whatever he needed to do right by his family. He was courageous and kind, and although he was a police officer and detective, he never once felt the need to fire his gun because of his ability to control the situation through words. It would come to be that Margaret would have to look after her husband, who’s illness got the best of him, and over 25 years, slowly took away the complex character his family had come to love.
These people became my grandparents and their children became my parents whose siblings are now my aunts and uncles. And no matter how many questions I ask, I will never know fully what their lives were like because as Grandma always says, “You know Grandma, you don’t know Peg.” However, so much of who my parents are, and who I am, comes from them because as Yia Yia always says, “You plant potatoes, you get potatoes.” Our personalities, and what makes us who we are all comes from somewhere. Maybe my Dad’s heavy use of sarcasm came from his Dad, who only meant well, but was always a little rough around the edges, and his deep empathy came from his mother who’s generosity never fails to shine through. Maybe my Mom’s ability to listen and talk to people came from her charismatic father, and her little bit of spunk came from her once “wild child” mother. And my opinionated nature most probably came from my Yia Yia who never seems to be afraid of who she is. I mean seriously, this women once scared a crazy man who punched a glass frame in an elevator. My ability to be a “people’s person” and the comfort I find in music definitely came from my Poppy, who’s charm and confidence covers up his nervous energy. My—and I don’t admit this often— temper probably came from my Grandpa, a character I really only know about from stories, who’s many colorful expressions included things like, “Go scratch with a wire brush,” and “Whoever made this should make one more and drop dead.” I also probably got my ability to problem solve and calm situations from that same Grandpa, which almost seems like a paradox, right? My hidden strength most likely came from Grandma, who often tricks you by having what some may call a softer exterior. And just like that, I realize those fairytales are not so far away after all.
You and I may never fully know what our parent’s or grandparent’s lives were like before we came into the picture. There are still some things I don’t understand, like when my Yia Yia says, “If it was raining shit, we’d have a pitchfork,” or when my Grandma says, “I’m itching like a bag of nuts.” But I do know that their experiences, and their habits, and the way they deal with problems have somehow been passed down to me.
Everyone’s lives are shaped by those who came before them, and yes I know there is the debate about nature and nurture, and that our DNA is scientifically who we are, but I like to believe in stories and I like to make connections. Although, sometimes their stories seem like “3 cents worth of God help us and save us,” (another expression used by my lovely Grandma) they are still my protagonists, my princes and princesses in far off lands, and you have characters like that too. I hope you pay attention to your family’s “Once upon a time’s” as much as I love to because you never know when you will find a little piece of yourself in one of them.
Anastasia Meininger, aka “Offbeat Rhythms”, is a high school student in Westchester County, a suburb of New York City. She lives with her parents and older brother, and her life is filled with her hilarious and loving Italian, Irish, Greek, and German family, as well as her wonderfully crazy, and diverse group of friends.
Anastasia is a normal, yet distinctly unique teenager who loves performing, making people laugh, and even going to school! Her favorite subject is Science, especially Chemistry, and when she’s not studying, you can find her at her dance studio, where she rehearses for her dance competitions, and vocal showcases.