Peggy Manglis grew up Greek, in every sense.
She went to church at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral every week. She had worked in her parents' string of Tarpon Springs restaurants since she was 12. Her father wouldn't let her go to slumber parties or bring boys to the house. She belonged to the Greek Orthodox Youth of America. She joked that her life was like My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
But she noticed something. All around her, in her generation at least, heritage was starting erode in favor of more American pursuits. Peggy's friends were losing a grasp on the language, on the traditions. Her own Greek wasn't as strong as she would have liked.
She made a decision. When she married, she would marry someone Greek. He would have all the traditional, hard-working values of her father, Theo. He would speak the language, and so would their children. And because she was already aiming high, she decided her future husband would be a doctor, too.
Her mother wished her luck with that.
At 18, she convinced her father to let her leave home and study nursing at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. She wasn't worried about finding that perfect Greek husband immediately. She had dreams of traveling the world as a nurse.
Peggy went home each year for Greek Easter, the biggest holiday for her family. But in 2009, she couldn't go. Easter fell on the week of her final exam.
Deflated and lonely, she went to church in Fort Lauderdale and met up with a friend. Peggy's friend introduced her to her cousin.
Elias Zapantis was tan and tall and handsome. He visited Greece every summer. He spoke the language fluently. He had a big Greek family, just like hers. He was involved in his church. He wasn't a doctor, but he was a pharmacist.
Peggy's mother called after church to check on her daughter. She expected her to sound sad.
"I'm having the best Easter!" Peggy said.
Elias messaged Peggy on Facebook and they went out. Within two weeks, Elias had already predicted that they'd be married by the time Peggy was 25.
Peggy finished college and had to make a choice: move back home to Tarpon Springs or stay in Fort Lauderdale with Elias. Her father was devastated when she chose to stay, especially since she wasn't engaged. But Peggy had a feeling. A proposal was coming.
They went to Miami for Valentine's Day. When Peggy and Elias were in the Jacuzzi, a little rubber duck floated by with a diamond ring attached.
"Wait!" Peggy said. "Did you ask my father?"
He had. In person. In Peggy's hometown.
They planned a traditional Greek wedding. Two days before the ceremony, all the women in the family arrived for the krevati ritual. Peggy sat on a bed, and the women sang and lavished her with coins and baby dolls to symbolize prosperity and fertility.
On June 16, Peggy's father walked her down the aisle at St. Nicholas. He kissed Elias' hand, then handed over Peggy's hand. Peggy married Elias in front of 150 people, and they celebrated with a reception at the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach. He was 32. She was 25, just as Elias had predicted.
During the father-daughter dance, Peggy's dad leaned in. All the traditions mattered, but one thing mattered most.
"Always have a love for each other," he said.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at [email protected] (727) 893-8857.