The Oakmont Greek Orthodox Church has its food festival the last weekend of June every year. I went almost every year growing up when I lived in Pittsburgh. I danced for the audience when I was in elementary school and then again when I was in high school. I volunteered for many years with set up, baking, and serving. And although we’ve lived in Lancaster for 13 years now, we often go back to Pittsburgh specifically for the festival. In my opinion it’s one of the best festivals out there. There’s the food–the pastichio and moussaka and chicken and rice, the gyros and souvlaki, the loukoumades and the pastries– the live music, the outside seating, the beer tent, and of course my family and friends and all of the Ikarians from Pittsburgh, all in one place for three weekend nights in a row. Traditional dancers, from school age to adults, put on shows in the evenings, dancing in costumes, dancing on tables, and waving the Greek flag with pride. Later on in the night everyone else dances for hours.
I was well aware that this past weekend all of my family and cousins would be together in Oakmont, enjoying the festival. Of course I thought of them and wondered what they were doing. But as it turns out, we had our “own” Oakmont Festival right here in Ikaria, which made me feel just a bit closer to home.
On Friday evening Elias and Rea had a dance performance in Agios Kyrikos. It was their second and final show–an opportunity for the dance teachers to showcase the work they did with their students over the year. Just as with the food festival, there were multiple groups of dancers ranging in ages from young to adult. For this performance the dancers were all given traditional costumes to wear, and they performed outside with chairs set up all around for others to watch. As the kids danced, the sun set and the string of lights came on. I looked around and remembered that in a few short hours my niece and nephew would be doing the same thing that my kids were doing. My sister would be watching from the side, along with my mother and other family members, and I was watching with my father and cousins cheering them on. “CHECK” in the box for traditional Greek dance performances.
On Saturday and Sunday the young people in Karavostamo were setting up, preparing for a panagiri that was going to be held in our village on Monday. There were tables to be set up, leaves to be raked, lights to be hung, potatoes to be peeled and food to be prepped. Since this festival is run by the young, it wasn’t my place to volunteer. After all, I am a mother. So instead of helping, I sent Elias and his cousin, Zach, up to help the group. They went up to the church and didn’t come back for hours–“CHECK” in the box for volunteering for the weekend.
And on both Sunday night and Monday night we went to a panagiri. Sunday’s panagiri was in a small mountainous town of Droutsoula–a town with only nine people living there over the fall and winter months! We went with my father and our cousins and ate goat wrapped in paper, Greek salad, crusty bread, Greek pastries and Greek coffees. The band played and we all danced the Kariotiko, the Sousta, and the Kalamatiano. “CHECK” for live Greek music, dancing and food!
Our imaginary Oakmont Festival concluded on Monday night when we walked out of our door, down the street 100 yards and arrived at the church, where the panagiri was being held. Unlike the larger panagiris of Karavostamo that are held in the river bed, this one is held on the hillside adjacent to the church. The tables are terraced along the slopes and from almost every seat you can see the small cement dance circle under the trees. Because it is early in the summer season, there weren’t a lot of people, comparatively speaking. The dance floor never became too crowded, and we were able to dance much more comfortably than the night before. Rea and her friends danced for hours on end, while Elias and Zach hung out with their friends in the church yard. I did a bit of dancing after I ate more traditional Greek food and drank a beer with my cousins Chris, Stella, and Sofia. As the clock moved forward, I sat with Marina and watched our girls dance until they were the last young ones out there. At 4:30 am we walked back to the house and crashed. Although we didn’t dance until the sun came up, I can “CHECK” beer tent off of the list.
So, although we weren’t in Oakmont we did just about everything we would have done had we been in Pittsburgh for the weekend–volunteered, watched dancers, listened to live music, danced the Kariotiko, ate Greek food and pastries, and spent time with family and friends. Knowing that the calendar was going to turn from June to July this weekend made me a bit misty eyed as I thought about leaving. But after a weekend of realizing that so much of what I have here can be found in America, I am reminded of all that we have waiting for us at home.
** And as an added footnote, when we go to Pittsburgh for the festival we often celebrate Rea’s birthday. It was no different here. On Saturday night we had a party for Rea with her friends.