Grandpa Speaks Greek

I hope he can read it.

Grandpa Speaks Greek
Photo by Mac McDade / Unsplash

by Brian Belefant

My daughter deserved something special, so I did what any dad would do. I took her to Greece. 

Ophelia is a good kid. I mean, she picks on her brother way too much and doesn’t do more than the absolute minimum around the house, but she put up with having been neglected a lot over the past year because her brother spun out of control at school and required an inordinate amount of attention––even more than he usually does. Add to that the pressure of starting middle school and the emotional stress of puberty and she’s had a lot to take on. 

She handled it by digging in. Diligently doing her homework and spending her free time reading. Reading a lot. Starting with and always coming back to Percy Jackson books––stories about a special needs kid (like her brother) who discovers he’s a Demi-God. She loves Greek mythology, so what better way to show her how special she is? 

That was the stated intention. The reality was that I felt that Ophelia and I needed a good, solid chunk of time together and by the way, I wanted to go there. My parents lived in Greece before I was born and I’ve gotten to that age where it’s become important to explore my history. Or in this case, my prehistory. 

The myths. 

As soon as school let out for the summer we visited Grandma and Grandpa and I unveiled my plan. Grandpa must have approved because he told Ophelia a story about how one time, he got into a cab in Athens and told the driver where he wanted to go, in Greek. Hearing my father’s perfect accent, the driver invited my father to sit in the front, where they spent the entire journey conversing pleasantly in Greek, the driver occasionally interrupting––wondering incredulously how my father managed to master the language since he wasn’t born in Greece, his parents weren’t Greek, and he only moved to Greece recently, as an adult. 

This was the first time I’d ever heard my father claim to speak Greek. Japanese, yes. He was proud of his ability to speak Japanese and I don’t know how many times I heard the story about how he once asked for directions in Japanese when he, my mother, and my sister lived there and my sister––a five-year-old––was so surprised to hear him speaking Japanese that she started crying. Apparently he wasn’t supposed to have had that skill. After all, she was the one attending a Japanese preschool. She was the one who spoke Japanese. 

He also likes to tell the story about how he became fluent in French when he worked in Morocco. In this story, he spent his spare weekends in the souk, hanging out with vendors and practicing his conversation skills. 

This is a man who deplores shopping and recoils at having to interact with people, but okay. 

In the almost 60 years I’ve known my father I never once heard him speak Greek. Not at a restaurant. Not at the Greek festivals we went to every single year when I was a kid. Not in Greece, when our family traveled there for three weeks. 

When I was in college my father got a job in Israel. I never heard him speak Hebrew or even saw him make any attempt to learn the language, but maybe I just missed it. I was only there for three summers and a spring break. 

In fact, for such a polyglot, I never heard him speak any other language. He was proud to have a copy of the OED and could discourse on word origins like the best of them––he liked to tell us how an English word was derived from the Latin or the Greek––but as to having an actual conversation, nope. Never remember it happening. 

Back to my father’s story. Nobody challenged him. Not Ophelia, not me, not Grandma. We just let him spin his yarn, plant his flag. 

When I was a little younger than Ophelia is now, my parents sent me to a summer camp. They picked me up two weeks later and on the way home I made up an audacious story about how I was so good at archery that I hit a bullseye on the first try. On the second try, I told them, my arrow split the arrow I had just hit into the target. And then, believe it or not, I did it again. They didn’t challenge me then the same way. Just let me have my story. 

It bothered the crap out of me. Worse than calling me on my lie was letting me believe I actually got away with it. 

I decided then never to lie again, but you know how hard that is. Not just when you’re eleven, but later on when you’re in college and trying to get laid, the temptation to misrepresent presents itself constantly. 

So maybe we did the right thing by letting Grandpa have his story. On the other hand, who knows? Maybe it was the truth. 

All I know is that when Ophelia and I were in Santorini, I sent him a postcard, telling him how beautiful the country is and letting him know we were thinking of him. Thanks to Google Translate, I transcribed the entire message into Greek. 

I hope he can read it.

Brian Belefant used to be good-looking, but now he has a dog, and not just any dog, but a friendly, goofball dog who loves everybody except Santa Claus.

His short stories (Brian’s, not the dog’s) appear in Blue Mountain Review, American Writers Review, Magpie Messenger, Story Unlikely, Libretto, and Half and One. His novella The Sultan of Garbage will be published by Atmosphere Press this August. 

Brian is also an award-winning fine art photographer. 

He’s currently at work on his second novel.