One Day at a Time
by Paul Elliott
The life lesson is be who you are. That you matter. You’re important. And you count as much as anybody else. Don’t waste your talents on meaningless things. Focus on what's important and accomplish that. Everything else is just a distraction.
Chapter 2: Welcome to America
I didn’t actually meet my dad until I was seven years old. My dad came here to start a life and then we were going to join him. He was a tailor. I moved with my mom when I was seven. I lived with my mom and Grandma, and I had one sister who was born in America. I was always a handful. I remember stealing chickens when I was little. I remember one time, when I was six, I was still in Greece and I pulled knife out on my Grandmother because she was trying to take away my cigarettes. But Greece is just a very plain simple life. When we went back to visit with Jean, I really realized the value of that. It was truly different. Values are different. They find being social, being together, being together and doing stuff together. Unlike here where we have, especially now, electronic gadgets. They didn’t have that kind of stuff. Their recreation is with other people. So I always hung around a lot of people.
I also remember not liking being here the first year. It was just so weird. I just didn’t like it. This was all brand new; you know, you had to wear shoes here and all sorts of weird stuff that I just wasn’t used to. I missed all my friends, and schools were different. I didn’t understand the language and trying to be accepted here, which was sometimes tough. The first time I went to the new school, everybody wants to be your friend right away, and when you’re a boy they have to size you up because there is a pecking order. There were a lot of fights and a lot of arguments. I remember getting into all sorts of fights and squabbles and being in trouble all the time. It was just a matter of survival for me.
The culture finally grew on me. It felt a lot easier to catch on when you’re little, so it happened relatively fast and then I kind of liked everything that was happening. It engulfed me, and I just learned. My family was always really, really Greek. They would stick with their own communities, so everybody spoke Greek. My dad really was never great at speaking English. My mom was a little bit better but not a lot.
When I was in grammar school, I used to hang around this buddy of mine who was real small and frail, and some of the big guys used to pick on him all the time. I asked them to cut it out and this went on once or twice. One day he came in and he had two black eyes and was all scratched up. I said “Who did it?” And he told me who did it. So, I went, I found the guy that did it, I picked him up over my head, and threw him down the stairs. So then after my weekly suspension, I had to go and apologize, but I would have thrown him down the stairs again.
I’ve always been a rowdy kid. It started when I was little, probably because I wasn’t supervised a lot, and it probably wouldn't have mattered if I was just ‘cuz I was always wild. I once got the entire high school to walk out. We were protesting something, so I started this big campaign. Basically, the entire high school walked out. I was suspended for week. Again. My family just rolled their eyes in their head. It was always a lot of “wait till your father gets home.” I remember one time I got in trouble. Got arrested. Because we were drinking in the hall with a bunch of people, so my dad had to come and bail me out of the 16th precinct. That was not a good time. I was probably in 8th grade.
I dropped out of school when I was in high school because my girlfriend got pregnant and then we wound up getting married. When I told my family, first it was “my girlfriend is pregnant and we’re going to get married.” And of course, that upset the entire apple cart. And then after that, welcome to the work week. I really stared the work force a lot earlier than other people. So, consequently I made a lot more money than other people. So, it came to the point where I made as much as or more money than anybody I knew. I used to hate going to school.
Chapter 4: Jean*
I remember getting divorced. That was life altering. You haven't lived till you've went through one of those. We just couldn’t get along. After a while we were just two different people. My thing was the kids. I just wanted the kids. They were like three and six. My son understood, and my daughter kind of did, but she withdrew. You could see the effect. I didn’t care ‘bout nothin’ else. There was always a constant battle. It’s easy getting married. It's really easy getting married. It’s really tough getting divorced.
We met at work. I saw her at work and then we met at the company golf outing that her dad put on. It was almost immediate. We set a date for a week from that day or something like that, and then we kind of talked during the week. Once we had our first date, we were inseparable. We went to this place called “Mick’s Fish Market” downtown. Two things happened that where kind of exciting. One was, we sat down, so I was trying to impress Jean by taking her to a nice restaurant and it was really expensive. So, we sat down, were talking, and all of a sudden, from under the table, this cockroach comes runs across her silverware and then back down to the other side. The other was, after we left. We valeted the car and we got out and there was this huge 750i BMW. I went to look at it and the valet comes and he's like, “here's your keys sir.” Like, “Ah… thank you… but those aren't my keys.”
Once we met and decided to get married, my whole life was restructured. We started building a life for ourselves and I really stopped doing a lot of the stuff I was doing before. I used to go out with the boys all the time and we would go to bars and stuff, and I stopped a lot of that stuff and settled down. The first week we were inseparable, within a year we were talking about getting married. So, you just kind of know. I liked her ‘cuz she listened to everything that I said. She started to like motorcycles and I started to like gardening. And we met in the middle.
Her kids didn’t react well to me moving in. Not well. That didn’t go so smooth. They weren't used to the kind of authority. Then I came in and decided things were going to change. So, a lot of conflict, but all things considered it worked out well. ‘Cuz most of the time it doesn’t work out well, you know? When you go into a family that already has kids, nothing tears you apart faster than the kids only being on one side or another. A lot of the fact that all that stuff was ok was because of Jean, because she really kind of pacified everything and kept that at bay.
I remember one time her daughter wanted to go downtown with her boyfriend. We said “no, not downtown, it's dangerous down there.” Well they disobeyed, and they went downtown. Half way down there, his car stopped working. So, he had to call. He had to call me to come down and get ‘em. Didn’t work out that well.
Her younger daughter used to come home whenever she wanted to come home, and I would get furious. Jean would say, “Don’t worry shell be home by one.” You know, it’d be three o'clock in the morning, and I used to say, “Nothing good happens at three o'clock in the morning.”
We’ve traveled all over the world. We’ve been everywhere. we’ve been to Italy, and Jamaica, Bermuda, Grand Cayman, Hawaii, Greece, Portugal, all sorts of places. I remember this one time we were in Costa Rica and Jean convinced me to go stay in a rainforest, which I thought would be really cool. We got there, and it truly was a rainforest. It was a two-story building with no windows. The beds had this netting around them, and before you go to sleep, even with the netting, you had to get all of the insects out of there so you could sleep 'cuz things would just fly in there. And when I say insects, I mean grasshoppers that are bigger than your phone. I mean I grabbed a grasshopper and threw it out the second floor and you could hear it hit on the ground. And there was a snake that actually lived there, this boa constrictor, and every morning he would be going across our doorway. You would have to walk over it to go to breakfast.
Some of the best memories were when [her older daughter’s family] lived with us. ‘Cuz she loved having [my granddaughter] there and so did I and it was such a thrill. It was such a thrill seeing [her] develop and then knowing we didn’t have to pay for college. I have pictures of [them], she’d be sitting there in bed reading [her] a story. [They] would fall asleep on there.
I take pictures of everything. People. Landscapes. I like animals. My newest one is birds. I've took a lot of pictures of birds. You know, anybody who would be a subject. It captures that moment forever. You know, you can freeze time with it. There's nothing else like that. You know, everything else is just memory but you can always look back at the picture and remember exactly when it was and what happened. It just freezes that slice of life. Those pictures don’t mean anything when you first take ‘em, but when you look at them ten years later or twenty years later, they're really meaningful.
Our lives are just one story after another. You know, there were just a lot of stories there. But none of them took precedence over another story. I found out that fast cars and big houses really aren't very important. They're just garbage. At the end of the day you know you leave all those things behind; you get yourself a really nice expensive car, five years later it's just a piece of junk. Every day you want to be able to suck up every last bit of breath that you can and enjoy the people around you.
The life lesson is be who you are. That you matter. You’re important, and you count as much as anybody else. You’re much more important than you realize. You know don’t waste your talents on meaningless things. Focus on what's important and accomplish that. Everything else is just a distraction.
One Day at a Time: Table of Contents
Chapter 1: One Greek Moment
In which Paul grows up on a small island in Greece.
Chapter 2: Welcome to America
In which Paul moves to America and adjusts to the culture in Chicago.
Chapter 3: Ahead of the Game
In which Paul pushes to excel in his career.
Chapter 4: Jean
In which Paul meets his second wife, Jean, and learns it’s never too late to start over again.
Chapter 5: Everyday Struggle
In which Paul works to get through his days one at a time, while still helping others to live their lives as well.
Chapter 6: Finish on Top
In which Paul hopes to live the rest of his life happily, healthily, and comfortably.
About Paul Elliott
Paul Elliott lives with his wife Jean and their two dogs. He works in printing and spends his time helping others around him. He hopes that whoever reads this book learns to enjoy their life and figure out what’s important because life is meant to be lived, and usually people waste it chasing after something.
* All names have been changed to pseudonyms