Deomi Ballas was my maternal grandmother, and it is the four-year anniversary of her passing. As I sat in church this Sunday listening to the memorial service for other deceased, I couldn't help get a tear in my eye in remembrance of my grandmother.
Deomi, or yiayia, as her grandchildren called her because it means grandmother in Greek, immigrated to the United States when she married my grandfather in the 1940's . Yiayia came from Glossa, Skopelos, a village on an island in the Sporades group of islands in the northern Aegean Sea in Greece.
She married my grandfather shortly after meeting him, which wasn't uncommon in the days after World War Two. My grandfather had returned from fighting in the war and was ready to settle down and have a family.
My grandparents moved to Clarksdale, Mississippi and eventually landed in Greenwood, Mississippi where they owned and ran the Crystal Grill. That restaurant is still in operation today more that 50 years after it's opening! My grandparents worked in the restaurant as team, my grandfather in the kitchen, and my grandmother at the cash register.
In the front of the restaurant, my yiayia, was famous for giving away onion rings to customers and offering them an endless supply of coconut pie with meringue that stands at least five inches high. She breathed life into that restaurant which was hard to see go away as she grew older and unable to perform her usual duties.
When she passed away, people came in from all over to attend the funeral and share memories of Deomi. We laughed and giggled as we remembered how she loved to light firecrackers in her hand and then throw them just milliseconds before popping on her fingers.
One time, my grandmother was pulled over for speeding, and she wasn't about to have any of that. As the officer strolled up to her car, she was ready with her response in her thick Greek accent. "Oh no, no, no ticket. Come to Crystal, and I give you coconut pie. Come." He came and got his pie, and she got NO ticket, just like she wanted.
On Thanksgiving one year we gathered to feast with a bunch of families as had become a tradition in our circle of friends. We all sat down to our food and wine. When my grandmother took a sip of her red wine, she said, "Oh I don't like that." and she promptly picked up a packet of sweet 'N' Low and emptied it right in to her wine. Upon reexamination she exclaimed, "Now that's better!"
My grandmother was a very determined woman who realized her dream to "come to United States." In this country she experienced the American dream and never stopped giving back for the rest of her life.
To my grandmother, Deomi, may her memory be eternal.