I was indeed a very lucky person to be the first born grandchild in my mother’s family. I was surrounded by women from a very early age and, as I grew and matured, I began to see the benefit of having them in my life.
They were a complex group, my mother and her sisters. There were so many facets to them that it left the mind dizzy trying to sort it all out.
There were six of them, from Chryse, the eldest, to Becky, the youngest. In between were Sophie, Evelyn, Mother and Mary. You might think that having the same parental connections would have caused a great deal more symmetry in their thinking but, no, they were as different as you can believe.
The commonality that they had was that they all loved to dress up and they loved good things. Perhaps the strict work ethic that their father imposed led them all to love the other side of life. One common trait was that they all loved shoes and the fancier the shoe the higher the praise from the assembly.
Christmas was a perfect excuse for them to parade their finery and they did it in spades. When Barbra celebrated her first Christmas with us, she was absolutely overwhelmed at how dressed up they were for the holidays. I explained that they worked so hard that celebrations were paramount and needed to be at a high level and so they did it up in the best way possible.
Chryse, as the oldest, took me under her wing and we spent every Saturday together downtown shopping or at the movies and always concluding with lunch at Picardy’s, the Honey Dew or Moore’s restaurant.
I learned how to use cutlery properly in a restaurant and how to truly behave as a mature young man. Chryse introduced me to vaudeville, the symphony and bought us some of the first subscription seats for John Hirsch’s Theatre 77 on Portage East. We would go shopping and she would instruct me on the quality of things and tell me that owning one or two good things is much preferable to having several mediocre pieces. Books and reading were a high plus with her, and she imparted that love to me as well.
Sophie was the most jovial and had the best sense of humor. She was beloved by many for her wonderful ways with people. She liked to go out with me as she loved that people often mistook me for her son. She had a signature scent called White Shoulders; many years after she passed away I stepped onto an elevator on Fifth Avenue in New York and a lady was wearing it. I was overcome with sadness at my loss.
Evelyn was a no-nonsense person and a very hard worker. She was devoted to her husband and children and had the most amazing memory of all of them. Once, when I was working with her, a fellow came into the restaurant and said to her, “I bet you do not remember me,” and she quickly responded with a rapid-fire volley of questions about his sisters and parents. He was dumbfounded as he had not been in Winnipeg for about 20 years.
Mary was a sports fanatic, a Bomber supporter for over 50 years. She loved to take all the nephews and nieces to games and sometimes she was the loudest voice in the stands. She was always a dedicated volunteer for the community and made many friends over the years at Folklorama, the Pan Am games and other things. She was sometimes sharp and bristly and feisty.
Becky was the baby of the lot and always pleasant and happy-go-lucky. She inherited my grandmother’s skills in the kitchen and taught me many wonderful Greek recipes that I still prepare today. She was always a funny one and loved to play jokes on her sisters and brother and nephews and nieces
Isabel, my mother, had an almost prickly exterior but was a pushover underneath. She had a passion for white gardenias and often wore them in her hair when she had a chignon. When she was mad, her eyes would flash and you knew not to cross her in any way. She loved her music and often, when cleaning house, she would put on her Glenn Miller records and make me come and dance in the living room. She loved to bake and truly hated cooking. She was adamant that her two sons would leave home being able to fend for themselves. She taught us everything we needed for survival.
How lucky I was to have them all in so many aspects of my life. They shared parents, but they all learned to be individuals and women who could stand on their own. The learning curve I shared with all of them was greatly beneficial for me; the women in my past helped me to be a better person.
Jim Pappas is on the CJNU board.