Pete Peterson's 'The Education of an American Dreamer'

and had to struggle to survive. My father, the child of poverty, ascetic and hardworking; my mother, warmer and spontaneous—in a perfect world each would have complemented the other and compensated for what the other lacked. But the depth of their divisions came to light at once.

They honeymooned in Colorado. This was not a romantic choice, but a family obligation. My father's closest maternal relative in the United States, his mother's sister, lived in Colorado Springs and he wanted to show his new bride to his aunt. My mother had the idea that her honeymoon was worth recording, so she got her hands on a Brownie camera and took some photographs. Somehow this escaped my father's notice.

Back in Kearney, they set up housekeeping. My mother had the film developed and one day, when they were walking the seven blocks from the Central Cafe to their house—the family budget did not permit a car—she brought out the photographs to show my father. She must have been shocked at his reaction.

He erupted in fury, raging at her "gall" and "disrespect" for taking and developing photographs without his knowledge and consent. It was an act of disobedience, and furthermore, an unapproved expense. No bride of his could walk with her husband after committing such an act. He ordered her across the street to walk on the opposite sidewalk the rest of the way home.

What to make of this? It was not in my mother's nature or her cultural background to complain about her marriage, but it was she and not my father who told me this story many years after it had occurred. In fact, she waited until he died to tell me, although I had long since concluded that she had much more to complain about. After my father's death, her manner was completely different from the one I had known much of my life. As a widow, she found a joy I hadn't seen. She spoke with a voice that was happy and light. Cousins who had known her as a girl in Greece said she was that girl again. She was finally free of the yoke of the imperious patriarch, my father.

She always was a loving mother. That was clear to me from my earliest moments. She could anticipate my needs, which spoiled me and caused problems later in my life when others—business colleagues as well as romantic partners—could not do the same. Her doting gave me a punch line when Jewish colleagues told me stories about the fussy attentions of their mothers and their maternal pride. I'd listen to them all and say, when they were finished, "Greek mothers make Jewish mothers look criminally negligent."

The world began to open up to me when I was about three. By then I had already been to Greece with my parents on a visit to their home villages, but I was only two and don't remember the trip. One of my first memories is of attending a movie with my mother. It was Al Jolson's The Singing Fool, the tale of a singer who broke the hearts of those early talking-picture audiences as he sang "Sonny Boy" to his -dying son. I remember jumping up in the dark theater and shouting, "I am the Sonny Boy!" My mother shrugged off the stares and laughed and hugged me. Soon after that, in 1929, my sister, Elaine, was born. I think this fulfilled my mother in some way that I or any son could not. My mother felt born again. Elaine would achieve the life my mother had imagined for herself. The year after Elaine was born, we were happy.

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