Introducing Gust Dimoulias
Currently resides: Illinois, USA
My name is Gust Dimoulias and I am from the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois. My ancestry on my father’s side is from Greece – a small village near the Ionian Sea. On my mother’s side is Greek and Irish. My maternal grandmother was Irish but my maternal grandfather, who I am named from, was Greek.
I never learned much about the Irish part of my family. We were Greek. I learned to speak and read Greek and was raised in the Greek Orthodox Church. Over the course of forty years I learned what it meant to be Greek. Our culture goes back over centuries and in to the ancient world. Sadness, joy, love, and loss are all heard in our poetry, short stories, or novels.
My past is reflected in my writing. In my writing my constant readers get a view of my experiences which are colored by my culture. The main character of my stories is a bit of me, and a bit of my father. The character’s experiences are my experiences. Secondary characters incorporate other people that have flitted in and out of my life.
Join me in the next three pages while I tell you a little more about your humble scribe. I’ll tell you a couple of stories from my childhood; traditions from my culture with a little familial twist. My most fervent hope is that what you read will resonate on some level within each of you constant readers.
In the life of every family of Greek decent the church is at the center. One of the truly clear memories I have is the celebration of Easter. The United States celebrates Easter with the Easter Bunny and chocolate eggs and hard boiled eggs painted in bright colors. Countries who practice the Orthodox Faith celebrate Easter in their own way coloring their eggs differently. My family celebrated in their own way.
When I was young my family was very traditional. Dad was the head of the household, and while my brother and I were branches, my mother was the heart and spirit. It was she that kept the traditions of our Orthodox Faith and family. The true celebration began months earlier with The Great Lent.
Great Lent is a forty day period of fasting that prepares the faithful for Easter Sunday. Lent always meant going to church every Friday and Sunday to venerate Saints, The Virgin Mary, and Orthodoxy. Our family always fasted heavily in the first week of Great Lent. Every week brought us closer to Holy Week.
Our preparation for Holy Week always started with dad going to a Greek butcher and buying a whole lamb. When I say a whole lamb, I mean with the head, hoofs, and everything. One year I told dad I don’t think I could eat anything that could look back at me. We cut up the beast in to parts and stored them in the refrigerator until our Easter dinner. Dad also kept the entrails and the heart and the liver.
Holy Week began with Palm Sunday and ended with Easter Sunday. Each day commemorated a Saint or an event of Jesus’ last week on earth. Each day was a church service. On Holy Wednesday we celebrated the Sacrament of Holy Unction. Holy Thursday we commemorated Jesus’ passion and death. At home mom always spent the day dyeing eggs red.
Good Friday services lasted all day. The priest would read the hours of Christ’s passion. In the midafternoon we commemorated Jesus being taken down from His cross. In the evening we all went to church to chant the Lamentations, which are a funerary dirge. Easter, or Resurrection services started on Saturday night.
The Resurrection services would go all night and we would not get home until three in the morning. We cracked an egg between ourselves, which was a game; the one whose egg remained whole won the game. Mom would cook lamb and a soup called magiritsa, which is made from the intestines, heart, and liver of the lamb. We carried the light of the Resurrection for forty days.
The Christmas season was always a time of magic and mystery. It always seemed easy for others to celebrate Christmas in the commercial way. We could buy a tree, decorate it, buy gifts, and open them Christmas morning. But in Greece, Christmas, like Easter, is centered on the church. We never celebrated Christmas in exactly the way they do in Greece.
The Christmas season would begin with a Lenten period most commonly called Advent. Fasting and going to church where hymns were chanted to the pre-eternal Christ. We wouldn’t buy the tree after Thanksgiving the way many do. We always waited a week or two before Christmas to buy the tree.
We decorated the tree with gold and silver tinsel. Covered the tree with multi-colored lights that flashed. Placed ornaments that were kept from when I was in Grammar School. Once the tree was sufficiently decorated I would perform a certain ritual. I had to close every light in the house so I could watch the tree. Mom always laughed as I continued this ritual even in my teenage years. I think she still laughs even though she is gone and continue the ritual.
In Greece, the children in the little villages would go door to door singing local Christmas carols. If the singing was any good, the children would be given sweet treats. Such a tradition is impossible to do here in Chicago. Instead of going door to door we sung Christmas carols with our church’s choir. We weren’t given sweet treats, but my mother’s smile was more than enough to make singing with the adults worthwhile.
Christmas Eve is normally spent in church for a midnight liturgical service. My father taught me that Christmas was not about Santa Claus or presents. Dad taught me Christmas was about the ultimate gift of Jesus Christ being born. Greeks didn’t have Santa Claus, we have Saint Basil. Gifts are exchanged on the Day of the Epiphany.
Mom had always gotten dress shirts for us and she would let us open those gifts. The dress shirts were to be worn for church on Christmas Day. Mom always fawned over us in our suits. She never went to church with us as Mom needed to stay home to cook. As any son will tell you there is nothing so good as your mother’s cooking.
On the Feast of the Epiphany dad would cut a bough from our Christmas tree. We would bless our dwelling by dipping the bough in to a pot of Holy Water and spray them everywhere. Dad or I would chant the hymn of the day “In the Jordan were you baptized Oh Lord.” This would be done in every room of our house. Once the house was blessed we would take the tree down and dump it off so that it could be put in a wood chipper.
This is a photo of what called a εικονοστάσιο in Greek or an Icon Screen in English. In many Greek homes this is placed on a wall or a niche in a wall. The family members will venerate the icons before meals or going to bed. To the Orthodox Christian the icons are windows in to heaven. The church is the central pillar of our lives.
For me these Icons are tied to my past. I say my past, but I do not mean my own direct past. The past I speak of is my ancestral past -those Greeks who venerated similar Icons such as the ones pictured and chanted the same hymns that I chant when I am at church. These Icons tie me to those people as with ropes.
Shades of the Same Skin is an anthology of culture. The world is in need of a vigorous seasoning and it is why the poets in this book are willing to share their ethnicity. Each one will give some insight into their culture, music, clothing, food, traditions, and even share a few recipes. Some will engage in unique stories and folklore. Others will take us back to their childhood days and compare it to the experience of children today. A few will even welcome us into their homes to share items from their heritage.
This is also a book of unity. Its purpose is to show that without diversity, the world would be a boring place. Each poet in this anthology has a unique style because of where they came from, their experiences, and who they are. Their words are printed on these pages to inspire why we belong. We are all vital ingredients for the recipe to keep the world stirring.
Shades of the Same Skin is Available at the following Retailers:
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100% of all proceeds from this book are being donated to the “Starving Artist Fund” to assist writers in becoming published authors. Purchasing this book can help a writer become a published author!