Updated: May 9, 2022
When a person passes away, we often hear the phrase “they lived a good life”. My father said that about himself when he was near the end of his time here on earth. But somehow, that phrase does not exactly describe the life my mother lived. She lived a beautiful life.
Mom grew up in Elkhart Indiana, the only child of Greek immigrants. Her father, who called her “poulaki mou” (my little bird) taught her how to be gentle and kind, and her mother, a woman who had a passion for learning about life outside of her Greek village, taught her to be intellectually curious and strong.
There was no doubt Mom was beautiful on the outside. Perfect complexion, silver hair, expressive brown eyes - none of these faded, even in her final days. Her sense of style was sophisticated and classic. She always left the house appropriately dressed, and whether she was going out or staying home, her make-up and hair were impeccably done. This was not an issue of vanity, but an expression of respect for herself and anyone she might encounter during the day. She believed that everyone who came into her orbit deserved the best of her.
Her beauty did not end with her presentation of herself. She pursued beauty her entire life, whether it was through her 85 year love affair with the piano (her favorite composers were The Romantics and Impressionists) or her short-lived career as a fashion illustrator. Everything she did encompassed elegance. She had hoped to become a costume designer for the ballet, but that plan was cut short when she fell head-over-heals in love with a Greek jazz musician from California. She got married, moved across the country, helped him establish his business, and they started a family. Theirs was a 62 year romance that rivaled any Hollywood movie.
Chinese Princess, Georgia Vasilas, 1947
A beautiful spirit cannot be contained. Despite the demands of taking care of a husband, two daughters, a house, and helping to build a successful business, her creative energy expressed itself in everything she touched, from decorating our home, designing and making our clothes, to the very way she signed her name. Years ago, parties at our house were numerous, preparations took weeks, and everyone was treated as a guest of honor. I was almost banished from the family once when I suggested we make things easy with a pot-luck and paper plates.
Underlying Mom’s beauty, grace, and elegance was a spirit as tough as her Spartan blood, and a dry sense of humor . Dad was the boss in the world’s eyes, but Mom was the boss at home. When my sister Diane or I misbehaved, there was no yelling. There was “the look” that could cut through a glacier. It was enough to keep us in line for weeks. I remember a time during my teenage years when I was trying to navigate the choppy waters between my American roots and my Greek heritage. I used a phrase quite common in the late sixties: I was trying to “find myself”. My mother gave me “the look” and said quite calmly, “You’re at 470 Mountain Avenue in Piedmont. Now eat your dinner.” That was the end of that discussion.
Mom’s inner strength did not fail her at the end of her life. Despite a stroke that left her bed-ridden and blind for seven months, she remained kind, always saying with a cheerful voice that she was fine and had enjoyed a "perfect" day. It was her decision to believe that, and it was our job to be inspired by that. Several times, hospice pronounced that she only had a few days left, and each time, she proved them wrong by hanging on. We wondered who she might be waiting to see, or what she might be expecting to happen before letting go. We now suspect it might have been the Warriors’ winning the championship. She was full of surprises.
My parents left us with many gifts . In the case of my mother, the gift for which I am the most grateful is inspiring me to live a beautiful life. Happy Mother's Day, Mom.
© 2022 Angela Koregelos