Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Son-in-Law’s Memories

Van Zissimos March 30, 1920 - March 18, 2011

I first met Van Zissimos when I started dating my wife in 1980. Two months later, I proposed. Knowing that I was marrying into a traditional Greek family, I went to my future father-in-law and asked for permission to marry his daughter. He replied “If you love her enough.” Though the reply caused me a short bout of cold feet, I soon became his son-in-law. I also gained a father-in-law…..the best father-in-law that anyone could ask for!

My Boy
Once I was in the family, I was really in. You only had to watch the “Greek Wedding” movie to understand. He fondly referred to me as “My Boy.” I was always welcome in his house as he was welcome in mine. We only lived two miles from each other, so he was a continual presence at our home. So much a presence that the conception of my children hung in the balance.

I’m Having a Problem
I was so welcomed and so included in his family, that he had no problem calling me when he had a problem. “Alex my boy” he would begin, “I’m having a problem with my…, furnace, TV, ….”. On the surface of it, it sounded like he was just asking for advice, but this was really a coded request for me to come over and fix it for him.

Coffee and Pie
Van enjoyed his pie and coffee after dinner. I often shared pie and coffee with him, usually at his kitchen table. Sometimes I would bring dessert over and sometimes he would get a pie at the grocery store, but to sit at the same table and fellowship over a pie and coffee was his joy.

Rails and Ties

You did not have to hang around my father-in-law long to learn that he was a railroad man through and through. Through the years Van taught me all there was to know about railroad switching, braking, conducting, and “humping cars”. Before you let that phrase leave a questionable mental picture in your mind, “humping cars” just means pushing rail cars to the top of the hill in the yard and then allowing the car to roll back down, using switches to route them to the train you were building.

Red Lobster
Though I now live 30 miles away, I still go to the same family dental practice near father-in-law's home. Following the afternoon appointment, I would drop by and ask him if he would like to go out to eat. Sometimes he was in a funk when I first got there, but after a while he would brighten up and say, “Alex my boy, do you want to go out to eat? How about Red Lobster?” So off we would go to Red Lobster. Rainbow Trout was his favorite. After Red Lobster, we went over to Culver’s for his favorite treat, a pineapple sundae. As an added bonus, Culvers has free Wi-Fi, so I would bring my corporate laptop along, and we would catch up on the latest pictures of his great-grandson on Facebook.

My father-in-law was always thankful for his family. He lived for holiday gatherings and meals. As patriarch of the family, he often took the lead to say grace. In fact, he took the lead no matter whose house he was in and that was OK. He never forgot how he came to this country with nothing and how God had blessed him with children and great grandchildren. I will never cease to be thankful to God for bringing him into my life that I might marry his daughter and be blessed with a family of my own.

His Faith and Hope
The most important thing you would learn about my father-in-law was his faith in Christ. It was unshakeable. Despite all the struggles he had been through, he maintained a solid faith and confidence in God, even to the last days of his life. It was a confidence that could not be faked, especially in the throes of a terminal illness.

See You When I get There
Just before he passed, I told my father-in-law that I would see him when I get to the other side. And I fully expect to. My confidence is in the same God who brought us to together. When you consider the series of coincidences that allowed the paths of Van Zissimos and Mary Cutrubus to converge at a Coney Island on the southwest side of Detroit, you realize how improbable, how unlikely it is that I have my family today. It has been said that coincidences are miracles where God chooses to remain anonymous. It was a miracle that I met my father-in-law at all. And I am confident in the miracle that will allow me to see him again.