I too have a story about the influence of my grandfather on my life. I am the very proud granddaughter of the late and great Carter B. Olive, a husband, father, grandfather, chef, war veteran, storyteller extraordinaire, and very proud Greek! From the time I was born my pawpaw told me and my brother stories of adventures that the Greeks had as well as his own. He taught me about Greece’s history, politics, architecture, food, the Gods & Goddesses, comedies, tragedies, and everything in between. It’s a way of life for us Greeks passing down stories form one generation to the next. Story telling is how we identify and share with others who we are. It’s like life writing out loud. As I grew up my fascination and love for the country and my families rich history grew more and more. My pawpaw had a rich and full life himself and the most important things he passed down to me were to experience everything, write it all down, share with friends and family, to love, live, and to be proud of where we came from, Greece. I want to dedicate this BLOG post to my Pawpaw and tell you all a little about his amazing life and how it has influenced mine.
My Grandfather was born in Mobile, Alabama, after his parents came over from Athens, Greece. His father upon arriving to America changed our last name to Olive. Our original Greek name was Courzmouis, however when my great grandfather came to this country he could hardly speak English and so chose Olive because we were Olive farmers/owners of a large olive farm which we still have in our family. My great grandfather tragically lost his life in a motorcycle accident when my pawpaw was only three years old. His mother raised him and taught him how to cook amazing Greek foods while also picking up southern cuisine traditions and fusing the two. All of these recipes have been passed down and I even am trying to do them justice. In 1941 a picture was published in the papers of the Parthenon being burned while a Nazi flag was being raised. My great grandmother was terrified and tried desperately to get into contact with relatives still there, but everything they tried was useless. No communication with any relatives would happen for years. When my grandfather was 25 Pearl Harbor was bombed. My grandfather immediately went to enlist. These tragedies (WWII) hit both homes for my family. My grandfather didn’t always like to talk about WWII because he saw a lot of things that were quite devastating, but he would tell us to always remember and to never forget what happened so we could stop it from happening again. When he was released from his duties as a solider he booked it from Germany to Italy and then finally getting to Greece. Our family was shaken up, but still together. Hiding in the mountains from the Germans. Some of his male cousins had tried to fight the Nazis upon their arrival and were killed. My grandfather would get sad thinking about them, but he would also keep them alive by telling us about them. Their stories like all of his about the war were educational to myself because they were his life writings. A biography of his life during these rough times. They defined him and our family. He taught me the importance of finding something in the story. That something to hold on to, something to remember, and something to identify my own self with.
My grandfather went back to Alabama shortly after the war was over to share the news about our family in Greece with his mother. He then moved to Atlanta. He quickly realized that he wanted his own restaurant, but to make money he would have to get a corporate job first. He was a hard worker, who was driven and motivated. He started to work for a new up and coming company called IBM in Atlanta. He made good money, but still not fufilled because he had not started his own family yet. Then he met my grandmother. They were both older when they married and decided to immediately have a child. They had a little girl named Anastaceia who happens to be my mom. She goes by Stacey now (she’s not so big on the big, dramatic, Greek name she was given). After my grandparents had saved enough they sent my mom to college and then moved to Savannah where they opened “Carter’s.” It was the coolest restaurant. Greek and Italian nights followed the next night by a traditional Southern menu. The restaurant like my grandfather was always changing and telling a story.
When I was sixteen years old, I begged my grandfather to talk my mom into letting me go experience the places and traditions he had been telling me about for so many years. I got on a plane in June of 2005 and didn’t look back. I met relatives and went, and saw, and tasted, and experienced, and lived like he told me I would. As June passed by I fell even more in love with Greece and the stories of my families past. I connected with the country and with my own roots. The last night I was there my grandfather called my hotel room and asked me if it was a good time to go on a little adventure. He gave me directions to go downstairs to the front desk. When I got there a cab driver was waiting on me with my name on a card. He handed it to me. It was a note from my grandfather. He wrote me the most personal and beautiful note I have ever gotten still to this day. Then the cab driver told me that he had special instructions to take me to my grandfather’s favorite spot in Athens. (I didn’t know at the time, but the driver was a cousin of my grandfathers. I had met him several nights before at a family gathering, but being overwhelmed with so many new faces I had honestly forgotten his. Oops.) It was about 10 that night and the driver drove for what seemed an hour with traffic. And there it was my grandfather’s favorite spot in all of Greece. A small hill looking up at the moonlit Parthenon. It was breathtaking.
My grandfather passed away four years ago this spring, but his memory, stories, and the legacy he left behind are still very much alive. My life is full and I am a proud Greek. I love Greek food and traditions (esp. the weddings and parties!), and I am majoring in Creative Writing with a concentration in Fiction here at the college, which I believe my grandfather would be very proud of.
Lovely narrative, and a fascinating piece of WWII history!