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  • Tillie Kryczka met George Douros in Chicago. Tillie thought George was the most handsome man she had ever seen. She was from rural Poland near Krakow and George was from Kastri Kinourias in Greece. They were married in 1916 or so and had three sons, Andrew, Angelus and George Jr.

    Angelus is my father and handsome George was my grandfather.

    It was a wonderful time for a young couple starting a new life together although neither of them spoke the other's language. The language of love carried them for a long while. Then one day, something was lost in translation and Tillie remarked in her broken English thick with a Polish accent: "I thought I had married a Greek God but now I know I married a goddamned Greek!"

    When I knew him, my grandfather was a happy man in his 60s with an expansive belly. I used to sit on his lap and play with the silver dollars he always magically produced from his jacket pockets as presents on our birthdays. The dollars would make us squeal with delight. Just one could buy a bucket of penny candy at Saul's corner store then.

    There was much I didn't know about Grandfather George. For one, he was quite the dandy. Although he worked as a short order cook, I now know that every day he would arise from bed and fully suit himself up in dress slacks, shirt, vest, jacket and dress shoes and top the outfit off with a fedora set at a precise tilt. He'd walk down the long narrow stairway from his second story flat and step regally outside onto Wilson Avenue. There standing in front of the general store that took up the first floor, he would light one cigarette and smoke it with great deliberation. He'd then cross the street a full 60 feet or so where he would step into the Eastwood Grill and transform himself again by changing into his short order cook's uniform.

    Grandpa Douros made delicious Greek chicken and rice and his baked rice pudding was a secret recipe that nobody can match to this day.

    In 1992, long after my grandfather had died, I landed a job working for recently elected Mayor Richard M. Daley, known as Richard II and to some irreverent souls as Richie. On my first day, I met with the Mayor for the first time, had my photo taken and then went to my office where we administrative gofers were based. The phone rang. It was Mayor Richard M. Daley's personal guard, Sargeant Ernest Bergnen, known as Sarge. Sarge had also been guard to the original Chicago Boss — Mayor Richard J. Daley —  for decades.

    "Duros, that's an unusual name," Sarge said. "Do you have a relative named George Douros?"

    "Well, yes. My grandfather's name was George Douros...."

    "Did your grandfather play poker? The old Mayor, Richard J. Daley, used to play poker in Greektown with George Douros. I used to go with him. Over the years, they became good friends."

    "Oh, no! That wouldn't have been my grandfather," I said. "No, he was a cook. I don't think he played poker."

    "Are you sure?" Sarge asked."George Douros was a good friend of the Mayor."

    I said, "I'm sure." And I didn't give it another thought.

    Years later after my mother had died, my father as he aged started to loosen up and tell stories of his father and parents. I learned that grandmother Tillie was furious at grandpa George, because the day my dad was born, he was nowhere to be found.

    Tillie had said, "He was off in the dumps playing poker." Apparently my grandfather HAD been quite the gambler.

    That opened the floodgates. I remembered the early holidays in the house on Arthur, when all the cousins visited and the adults played cards until the early morning, the sound of cards being shuffled and the crisp sound of chips being gathered and counted.

    The poker chips had been one of my happiest play things.

    During the day, I would open the round case. It was like a poker chip flower, lined with green felt. The red and white chips circled the central spoke of multi-colored chips like petals.

    I would pick up the chips en masse spoke by spoke and line them up and then knock them down and then rearrange them, counting them into even groups. Playing with them, I could smell the beer and see the cigarette smoke and hear the way adults talked.

    But I didn't know this thing called playing poker. And I couldn't see into the future to the day when a question would be asked that could have shifted my future if only I had known the true answer.

    All I knew then was the feel of the chips, the way I liked their ridged edges and the sound they made when they spilled onto the floor.
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