Anna Papson, winner of the 1993 “Best Balcony” contest at Congressional Towers.

This stylish lady, aka Yia Yia (Greek for “grandmother”), sadly is no longer with us, but she left behind quite a legacy.  Intrepid and modern, Anna emigrated alone, as a teenager, from the Greek island of Lesbos to Toronto, Canada, and eventually lived at the apartment seen above—her last port of call in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Yia Yia had a big impact on my childhood.  Among other things she taught me how to make keftethes, koulourakia and baklava.  All in large quantities, because when it comes to Greeks and food, large is how we roll.

tasty baklava

Here are three things Yia Yia taught me during those cooking lessons of my youth:

  1. Older people have hidden talents.  Everything Yia Yia cooked or baked was delicious. Yet she never once referred to a cookbook or used a measuring cup. Whoa.
  1. Instant gratification is overrated.  It takes forever to make baklava.   There are tons of steps involved, and you can’t cut corners, but the honey-laden pastry is well worth the wait.
  1. Inheritance isn’t just about money.  Braiding ropes of koulourakia, laying out phyllo dough and shaping keftethakia meatballs, I inherited a generation’s worth of culture from my Yia Yia.

I can’t speak for her, but I hope having me under her tutelage gave my Yia Yia a sense of purpose, and reminded her that despite her older age she still had a lot to offer the world.

What else did I learn from my Yia Yia?  That aging well is about interacting with people from different generations, because each has something to learn from the other, even if it isn’t obvious right away.

To learn how you or someone you know can connect with someone of a different generation, check out this wonderful project: Mentor Up.