Mistress of the Mix: MY BIG FAT GREEK SUMMER (Mother’s Day Edition)

The day after I graduated from college, my friend Lisa and I got on a plane headed for Athens. Greece, not Georgia. It was a decision that changed my life forever, and I owe it all to my mom.

To tell this story the right way, we should go back a few months, to the day Lisa – who was also my college roommate – got a letter from our mutual friend Hilary. Hilary had moved to Japan with her mom at 15, made  a crapload of money teaching English, and 4 years later decided to see the rest of the world, and ended up on the island of Crete. She wrote to Lisa, suggesting that we join her in the village of Paleochora, on the southwest tip of the island. She told us that she could help us find a place to live and jobs for the summer. She said she could even find us boyfriends. We could spend our days swimming in the Aegean Sea and our nights dancing at the Paleochora Club.

Lisa was up for it immediately, but I waffled.

I worked my way through college, usually holding down 2 or 3 part time radio and waitressing jobs while taking a full load of classes. But in my senior year, I started to get busy applying for public radio careers throughout the country.  I was a finalist for a reporter position in Massachusetts, and another news job in Alaska. I was afraid to commit to the Greece trip, because I thought I might miss the opportunity to land my dream job.

This drove Lisa nuts.

She was ready to go. Ready to quit her job, leave school, and move to Greece indefinitely. The only thing holding her back was her fear of traveling all the way to the other side of the earth by herself. If I didn’t go, she didn’t want to go. It was a lot of pressure on me, because I didn’t want to let Lisa down, and I was excited about the idea of going to Greece, but I kept putting off giving her an answer because I was waiting to hear back from the radio stations I’d interviewed with.

Finally, mom stepped in and saved the day.

She told me these four words: You. Have. To Go.

Then she told me why.

When my mom and dad married in 1959, my father had a bitter ex-wife and two young daughters in Texas who didn’t get to spend much time with their dad. Although he was supposed to get the girls every summer, many times their trips out to California were suddenly and inexplicably cancelled at the last minute. My mom and dad would make elaborate plans with the girls that never materialized, and they would suddenly find themselves with a whole, lonely summer with nothing to do and nobody to do it with. You can imagine how devastating it was for them to put all their eggs in one basket, and none of them hatched.

So instead they hatched a plan. It was the ultimate revenge on loneliness and ruined summer vacations. Every year they made two sets of plans: one if Diana & Vicki did show up, and another if they didn’t. If the girls showed up, they’d head off to Catalina for a week on the beach. If they didn’t show up, it was something else just as exciting and fun to look forward to. Something that ensured my parents that if the  girls trip was cancelled, that they didn’t spend all summer moping around, crying in their beer; they had something else almost as fun waiting in the wings. Obviously, they would rather have the girls. But they knew that to protect their hearts, they had to come up with Plan B, just in case Plan A didn’t work out.

My mother had already done a lot of thinking about my situation, and told me she’d figured there were several possible outcomes:

  • I could sit at home and wait to hear from my potential employers. I might hear back from them tomorrow….and then again, I might not hear back from them for months (it was months, by the way).
  • When I did hear back, it could be good news, or it could be bad. If it was good, then I could pack up my already packed up stuff and move to wherever it was I’d been hired. If word came quickly, then the only one who lost out on a cool opportunity was my roommate Lisa. If word took months, then we both lost out on an amazing summer.
  • If, however, I sat and waited the whole summer and the news was not good, then not only did Lisa miss out on the opportunity to go to Greece, but so had I. And I would be miserable, jobless AND without an amazing tan. And probably minus one lifelong friend.

My mom said there was only one real path to follow, and it was to buy an open ended round trip ticket to Greece immediately.

She said that if word came soon, then I could come back. Even if I only spent a few weeks in Greece, it would be a great way to relax and get a tan before starting a new job. If it took months to hear back, then I would probably have the summer of my life, she said.

But most importantly, she said that if I didn’t take the opportunity to go to Greece and stayed home instead, and didn’t land any of the jobs I was a finalist for, that I would be the most miserable, pathetic 22 year old in the county. But if I went to Greece and later found out that I didn’t land any of the jobs I’d applied for, my mother assured me that I absolutely positively wouldn’t give a shit.

And there you have it. Mom’s final word.  So what the heck. I did it. We flew to Athens, took a ferry to Crete, then a 2 hour drive to the other end of the island, courtesy of Hilary’s boyfriend Manos Savas.

Pretty soon I was sharing an efficiency apartment in Paleochora with Lisa, spending my days on the beach getting an almost all-over tan and spending my nights working at the Fortezza Bar until midnight, then dancing until 3am at the Paleochora Club with my Greek boyfriend Haris. I would borrow his Honda scooter to tool around the village, and eat greek salads every day, with locally grown tomatoes and huge chunks of feta cheese. I caught up on my reading. I learned to speak Greek like a 4 year old who could cuss like a sailor.

Paleochora at night

One evening a few months later, as I was walking through the village to work, Mrs. Savas ran out of her restaurant and flagged me down to let me know that my mother had called. I had a job!

As it turned out, I hadn’t gotten any of the jobs I’d been a finalist for. Future NPR darling Elizabeth Arnold landed the job in Massachusetts. NPR’s future Middle East correspondent Peter Kenyon, already in Alaska, got the other job I’d applied for in Anchorage.

Mom was right. I didn’t care. Not one bit. I was so happy living on an island, in a little village of a few thousand people with nothing but fishing boats and tourists. It was an amazing life.

Then she told me that in Alaska, a domino effect had taken place. When one position opened up and it was filled by another Alaskan, it opened up another position. Which was filled by another Alaskan. Which opened up yet another position. And so on and so forth. My resume was passed down from Anchorage to Juneau to Petersburg. And Petersburg, as it turned out, wanted to hire me.

I was so content that I almost didn’t take the job, even though I was running out of money in Greece. But I stood in the pantry of Mrs. Savas’ restaurant to shut out the kitchen noise while my mom executed a conference call with the radio station in Alaska, where my future boss told me that if I took the job, I’d be moving across the world, to an island of a few thousand people, where the main industries were fishing and tourism.

And I thought…what the heck. I’d have a Big Fat Alaskan Adventure!

Today I was thinking about all the things to thank my mother for (besides giving birth to me) on Mother’s Day. Of all the things on the list (which includes blessing me with her rich and beautiful voice, and for her decision to not only go into the public radio business herself, but for taking me to work with her when I was just a kid), her advice on the matter of Greece is still at the top.

Thanks mom. Today’s playlist (a Best Of from a few years ago) is for you.

I’m interested in hearing from you: What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten from your mom?

You can check out the Mother’s Day playlist directly from the Grooveshark website, or click on the play arrow in the colorful box below:

Valerie Ing-Miller has been the Northern California Program Coordinator for Jefferson Public Radio in Redding for nine years and can often be found serving as Mistress of Ceremonies at the Cascade Theatre. For her, ultimate satisfaction comes from a perfect segue. She’s the mother of a teenage daughter and a 7-year-old West Highland Terrier, and can’t imagine life without them or music. Valerie wakes up with a song in her head, she sings in the shower and at the top of her lungs in the car.

Valerie Ing
Valerie Ing has been the Northern California Program Coordinator for Jefferson Public Radio in Redding for 14 years and can often be found serving as Mistress of Ceremonies at the Cascade Theatre. For her, ultimate satisfaction comes from a perfect segue. She and her husband are parents to a couple of college students and a pair of West Highland Terriers, and Valerie can’t imagine life without them or music. The Mistress of the Mix wakes up every day with a song in her head, she sings in the shower and at the top of her lungs in the car.
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16 Responses

  1. Avatar Ginny says:

    Wonderful “Mom” story. And, what makes it so good is that that was your mom!

  2. Avatar EasternCounty says:

    What a great Mom you have — along with Robb Lightfoot’s Mom. Since I didn’t listen to your playlist, I’m not certain that one of your songs simply named Mother is this very old one, but I’ll add it anyway:

    M is for the million things she gave me
    O means only that she’s growing old
    T is for the tears she shed to save me
    H is for her heart of purest gold
    E is for her eyes with love light shining
    R means right and right she’ll always be
    Put them all together they spell MOTHER, a word that means the world to me

    That’s how I feel about my wonderful Mom. I miss her every day.

    • Valerie Ing Valerie Ing says:

      I need to go find that song….Adrienne Jacoby also mentioned it when I originally created this playlist several years ago, and I don’t know who does it!

      • Avatar EasternCounty says:

        I doubt if you can ever find it because it’s so old. I learned it about 65 years ago, and was around before that. I could sing it for you . . . !

        • Avatar EasternCounty says:

          My, my, my. Will wonders never cease. I just Googled “M is for the million things she gave me,” and up came a couple of YouTube versions. It was written in 1916.

  3. AJacoby AJacoby says:

    Aside from music, the tho’t that comes to mind when I think of my mother is, when told (disparagingly), Well, you know, we all turn into our mothers eventually!” My first tho’t was always, “Well, I could only HOPE so!” In my mind, I think she has always been the gold standard to which I aspire.” My sisters-in-law all insist that to know me is to know my Mom. I take that as the ultimate complement.

    • Valerie Ing Valerie Ing says:

      It’s so cool that you think of your mom that way! Everyone who knows me knows that I have my mother’s voice, her laugh and her sneeze!

  4. AJacoby AJacoby says:

    I tho’t I didn’t have any songs to add to your play list, then I tho’t of “I Want a Girl (just like the girl, that married dear, old dad.) And then if you REALLY want to reach, I would add Rt. 66 . . . . why, you ask? Because Rt. 66 was known as . . . wait for it . . . . THE MOTHER ROAD!! LOL!!

    Thanks for your stories , . . and life lessons . . . A good mother i a wonderful thin to have!

  5. Avatar Ron says:

    What a great story. I too was born on mothers day and one thing she told me was “you need to stick up for yourself” when I was in school.

    And I did and do. Boy does it go a long ways. If I didn’t, who knows were I would be or do now……

    • Valerie Ing Valerie Ing says:

      Great advice, Ron!

    • Avatar Cheryl says:

      Ron – A belated happy birthday to you. My son was also born on Mother’s Day (in 1991). He was the best Mother’s Day gift ever, for me and my Mama!

  6. Avatar Grammy says:

    In 2002 I was asked by my daughter if I would go to Europe with her. For over a week we walked all over England with quick jumps on The Tube to our next walking experience. She even had us go on a balloon ride over the hop fields. At 11:00 pm we sat on a bench that was the train station. Waiting for the last train of the night in the middle of no where (all alone).
    Then it was off to the continent to walk, bus, train ride, gondola, boat ride, tramway (Alps) to cover nine countries. In one day we walked 21 miles.
    I came away with the experience of a life-time with the most important blessing, that my daughter wanted me to do it with her. And we still could stand each other at the end of the trip.
    To this day I can’t believe that my Daughter wants to do things with me, even though she is a personal woman that is boss over quite a few people. Owns her own home and lives three hours away (the disadvantage of living here in Redding. You want your children to go to University but they can never come home again. Because Redding just does not have the jobs for them. Most fields, the students are hired in their senior year.)
    Next month we are going to the coast to spend a week with our dogs on the beach. Still likes me. She really likes me. I just can’t get over it.

    • Valerie Ing Valerie Ing says:

      I just read your story out loud to my daughter and husband, while he stood in the kitchen making himself a mayonnaise slathered sandwich. After hearing it, my husband (always the jokester) said, “Aw, remember when it used to be like that with you and your daughter?” (Because it still is…lucky me!)
      My daughter immediately jumped up and ran to defend our honor. Eddie defended himself with a mayo covered butter knife, Sophia grabbed a fork (which didn’t scare him at all). They joisted for a few moments, but when she got a Harbor Freight catalog to use as a shield, he had to admit defeat. Thanks for a great kitchen moment! It wouldn’t have happened without your comment!

  7. Avatar Cheri Davis says:

    Being a lover of music(and I believe dancing) as I know you are..wanted to share some priceless advice my Momma(who has since passed)…told me when I was young.

    Music was playing and I was trying to dance..and she told me this, “Cheri just close your eyes and feel the beat, feel the music”. My momma had many gifts and the love of music and dancing were a couple. I have never forgotten that and how that ability to feel the beat and feel the music when dancing takes me(and others) to the most beautiful places. I thank her all the time.

    P.S. And speaking of music and dancing…is the Market Street Faire music list going to come out anywhere soon?


    • Valerie Ing Valerie Ing says:

      What a sweet, sweet rememberance of your mother! Thank you so much for sharing this.

      • Valerie Ing Valerie Ing says:

        Oh….and I don’t know if there will be an official poster or list, but I’ve definitely been working hard booking bands for Market Street Faire, and we’ve got a bunch of great ones! You know how to find me if you want to suggest a great, fun band that didn’t play last year, and would be willing to spend a few hours under a pop-up tent entertaining faire revelers and supporting a better downtown!