How My Father Learned to Love Spaghetti and Panagiota Too
New York Stories
Wall Street Greek's New York Short Story Writer and Story Teller Nicholas Zaharakos shares with us a wonderful love story, intimate to his own heart. The story telling of his parents' courtship has a lovely nuance, a comedic twist that will raise an eyebrow and inspire a smile.
Nick shares with us the spark that started his pen in this instance...
I had an embarrassing experience at work last year. I completely forgot my personal password for the computer that I use there. After five futile attempts at trying to remember it, the security feature for the machine completely shut it down. I was forced to leave a message on the voice mail of the Management Information Services Department (MIS for short), explaining my predicament and humbly asking for help.
They let me wait a few hours (I guess to teach me a lesson). Then a technician, who probably knows that he makes far less than I do, paid my office a visit. He performed a lot of rapid-fire keystrokes that had me bewildered, but unfroze the computer. He then asked me to key in a new password that he hoped I would somehow be able to remember. I was going to grab a couple of slices of pizza for lunch, and because that was on my mind, I decided to use pizza as my password. That worked out well, so when I had to replace that password as required after sixty days I used bagel as the next one. Since then, I have selected a different food item and have yet to plead with MIS to get me out of the "I forgot my secret password, and I never wrote it down someplace sad song."
This little episode made me realize how important food is in my life. Indeed, my family name of Zaharakos comes from the Greek word for sugar, "Zahari". When someone pins me with the ethnic tag, "you're Greek!" My reply has become, "I'm also as American as Spinach Pie!" I have grown (quite literally grown) from being one of seven small children living with grandparents as well as Mom and Dad in a small railroad flat, searching in the refrigerator for something to eat and only finding the makings for a ketchup sandwich. Now I pray for the strength to resist the temptations of rich deserts, my biggest enemy is anything made of chocolate. I now count calories, and have at times gone through the agonies of the "D" word, a diet.
Now, or it's about time, to the real food story.
How My Father Learned to Love Spaghetti and Panagiota Too
One of my father's first jobs I'm told was at Harry's Restaurant, in Brooklyn. Harry always wore a bow tie and was known never to take off his jacket or step into the hot kitchen. His post was the cash register. My father's name was Stavros, which was Americanized to Steve. He became one of the cooks, and worked long hours six and sometimes seven days a week. He would naturally take his meal break during a slow time of the day. There was a certain type of unspoken etiquette at that time that was recognized by eating places that ranged from small coffee shops with just stools to fancy and expensive restaurants. That is, that the help was supposed to eat well. The only thing that they had to pay for if they smoked, were cigarettes. My father quickly developed a fondness for steak, probably because he came from an impoverished village where meat was scarce.
When my father first started to regularly sit down for a steak dinner in a booth just outside the kitchen, Harry would walk by and say in his thick accent and with a finger wagging, "Steef, steak no good for you, Steef, steak no good for you." Harry was obviously a bottom line man. My father tried to ignore these admonitions, even though he knew that the restaurant business was not a democratic institution. Also, in short time my father started to have company during his late afternoon meal break; a young woman named Panagiota, Bertha in English (who eventually became my mother). Now, when Harry would scold my father about his steak eating habits, the stakes were much higher. My father needed to keep his job just as much he wanted to impress Panagiota.
One of the perennials on the menu was spaghetti. It was precooked. When needed, you just grabbed a handful of it; put it in a strainer into a pot of boiling water that was kept on the stove. The spaghetti became hot in a minute, ready to accompany meatballs or clams or other sauce. Almost overnight, my father started having a strange addiction for spaghetti. Every day, he would heap a mountain of it on his plate with butter and cheese.
Now when Harry would inspect as he walked by he would nod his head and pleasantly exclaim, "Steef, spaghetti good for you, spaghetti good for you, Steef." When Harry was back safely at the cash register, my father would lift off the spaghetti with his fork and enjoy the steak hidden underneath.
I am just as sure, (though remember, I wasn't around then) that he also doubly enjoyed the company of Panagiota too.
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