FOR MY CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN:
Anna Theocharides Holdeman
FOR MY CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN:
My Memoirs By Anna Theocharides Holdeman
FOR MY CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN: Memoirs of Anna Theocharides Holdeman ÂŠ 2014, Anna Theocharides Holdeman, All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the publisher. ISBN 978-163315352-3 Published by 601 Design, Inc., Denver Colorado USA
FOR MY CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN:
My Memoirs By Anna Theocharides Holdeman
601 DESIGN, INC. DENVER, COLORADO
Anna Theocharides Holdeman
My Memoirs June 2014
fter my 84th birthday, I received a phone call from Elizabeth from Virginia telling me she is coming to visit me to help me start writing my memoirs. The family has been telling me all along that they have heard me talk about my lifeâ€”snatches from my childhood in Greece, growing up on the Farm School, my school days, friends and all kinds of anecdotes; and now it is time I tell my stories in chronological order. Here I begin first with my parents, my father, Eleutherios Theocharides (1873-1958), and my mother Elissavet (nee Keshishoglou, 1896-1968). I am the daughter of Greek refugee parents who came to Greece from what is today Turkey in Asia Minor. They came in 1922 with my two-year old brother, Harry, along with approximately two million other Greeks. This movement of refugees occurred after the Treaty of Lausanne when the Great Powers got together to settle their peace terms with Turkey after its defeat in World War I, and the gradual dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. With the treaty all the Greeks in Turkey were deported in exchange with 350,000 Turks who had settled in Greece with the spreading of the Ottoman territories. The Greeks had been established in Asia Minor at least fifteen
hundred years before the Islamic invasions from Central Asia in the late 11th Century. Saint Paul brought Christianity to the Greek population which spread through the whole of Asia Minor including the minority of Armenian settlements northeast around Mt. Ararat. The Islamic invasions were becoming more and more powerful occupying more territories westward, territories that were then under the Christian emperors of Constantinople (ancient Byzantium). The Ottoman Sultanate was well established after besieging Constantinople—the spiritual stronghold of the Byzantines—in 1453. The Ottoman Empire took its name from the leader Othman of a Turkik tribe in Central Asia. The empire continued to spread westward into the Balkans (Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Serbia) as far as the outskirts of Vienna (thus Mozart’s Turkish March composition), Palestine and North Africa. Most of these territories, including mainland Greece, were under the Ottoman Empire for almost four centuries. Today’s Greece fought and gained its independence in 1821.
Ounya revisited 45 years later with my mother and my family.
This is the background from which my parents emerged. My father was born in a beautiful little town on the Black Sea, Oinoe (now called Ounya on maps of Turkey) meaning in Greek, “town of wine.” I remember my father telling us how, as a child, he would jump into the waters of the Black Sea from the window—so close to the sea was their house. Some 85 years later, my own family visited Ounya when we lived in Turkey in 1965. My grandpa was a ship builder who in his youth worked in the shipyards of Istanbul building ships. For centuries the Greeks of this region lived their lives in villages and towns on the Black Sea coasts, many with livelihoods based on fishing and sea trade, which was not the life with which the invading Turkish populations were familiar. So the Greeks were left to pursue their lives by the sea speaking their own language which, in my father’s case, was the Pontus Greek dialect. More isolated from foreign influences, the Pontus dialect remained close
Father and uncle Demetrios.
to its ancient Greek roots not having influences from the likes of Venetians, Paduans, and Crusaders, as was the case of the language on the Greek mainland. My father had a brother, Demetrius, fourteen years older, and two older sisters, Irene and Zoë. In 1884, Uncle Demetrius and my father went to Merzifon, southwest of Ounya to study at the American Missionary High School, which was the precursor of Anatolia College. The College was one of the various educational institutions that opened up in Turkey during the American missionary invasion in the second half of the nineteenth century. My uncle graduated from the College in 1888 and by special arrangement with the College authorities, was sent to Athens, Greece for advanced work in Greek, and from 1891 until 1922 he was the head Professor of Greek in the College. My uncle was by inclination a scholar and a literary man. He reveled in the classic learning of the early Greeks. Their tongue was his mother tongue. He delighted in questions of dialectics, criticism, logic, philosophy, archeology, religions. When he returned from Athens he brought with him his bride, Aphrodite. He was such a Hellenic scholar that he gave all his children the classic names of Electra—the daughter—and Xenophon, Orestes, Hippolytus and Thrasybulus. My father, after graduation from Anatolia College, earned a scholarship to study in Edinburgh, Scotland, and at the turn of the century he traveled alone at the time Queen Victoria reigned over her country and its colonies. He spent four years at the famous Theological College of Edinburgh, and two years preaching in the rural areas for the Church of Scotland. I can imagine my poor father—what a leap of culture from the humble beginnings of a boy from Ounya, Turkey to Victorian Britain! Fifty years later, my sister Elsie, traveling from her home in Norway, visited the College and the registrar showed her my father’s name and his own signature in the archives. She also saw his address of the billet where he spent his years in Edinburgh; she walked Princess Street where he would have traversed to reach the school, and saw John Knox’s statue that my father used to tell us about. What an experience!
My mother was born in Samsun (Greek: Amissos). She came from another stock of Greeks in Turkey. Her parents, Theodoros and Anastasia, were born in Caesarea of Cappadocia, the central part of Turkey; they attended the Greek Orthodox Church but spoke Turkish. They had one daughter (my mother) and four sons. They were in the tobacco business. I don’t know when her parents moved north to Samsun nor how many of the brothers survived when the exchange of populations took place; but before we leave that central part of Turkey, I would like to say a little more about the region of Cappadocia. My grandparents came from a famous Byzantine little town called Procopion (Urgup in the Turkish map) just outside Caesarea and north of the Tarsus of Apostle Paul. That area is now a very well known spot for tourists. The land formation is so unusual; the soil is volcanic and the old inactive volcano stands near Procopion. The erosion through the centuries has formed fairy-like cones, columns and towers, pyramids and needles; some of these projections have a block of hard rock at the top while the under-part is so eaten away
A point of interest: How the Greek names of towns changed to the way they sounded to the Turks as the Greeks pronounced them:
City Name in Greek
The Greeks would say:
City Name in Turkish
Constantinoupolis (City of Constantine) Smyrne
“ees tin poli” meaning “to the City”
“ees Smyrne” meaning “to Smyrne”
“ees Nikaea” meaning “to Nicaea”
“ees Amisson” meaning “to Amissos”
My maternal grandparents came from Procopion, Caesarea which is todayâ€™s Turkish town of Urgup. by the rains that they look like giant mushrooms. The Christians of the early Byzantine years, five or six centuries A.D. were very much attracted by these formations and carved into hundreds of them hollowing out neat rooms, churches and monasteries. One can still see beautifully colored frescoes on the walls with biblical inscriptions in Greek. There were also tables and benches carved out of the porous rock for the monks who inhabited them. They also used them as shelters from the Mongol and other invasions, and the persecutions against the early Christians. My mother used to tell us that our grandparents came from an ancient Greek town full of caves and ancient churches, but I never pictured them like this when my own family visited those parts in 1965, during our two years in Turkey. My mother was born in Samsun and went to a Greek school up to the fourth grade. She was a good dressmaker and lived a much protected life among her relatives. Her mother died before they came to Greece. One of her brothers, Uncle Evgenios, came to Greece in
the exchange with his two sons, but did not live long enough for me to remember him well. Public conditions in Turkey were seriously troubled after World War I when it was losing its territories one-by-one; first the Balkan countries and finally Smyrna (Izmir) on the Aegean coast of Turkey. The Christian population was watched closely with suspicion by the Turkish authorities. First the Armenians were persecuted culminating in the massacre of 1895 and then their deportation in 1915. The Turks resented and persecuted the Armenians because of the zeal with which Armenians embraced the Christian missionariesâ€™ introduction to western life and religion. After the defeat of the Central Powers and the rise of hope on the part of the Greeks in reclaiming territories they had lost to the Ottomans, the Turkish authorities began to suspect Anatolia College and its staff of spreading ideas of an anti-government nature. Among the arrests of Armenians, they also arrested my uncle and two other Greek teachers from Anatolia in 1921. With the untrue charges of aiding or abetting rebellion in Turkey, they were sentenced to death by hanging. This was the end of my uncle Demetrius. His family, along with other families, mothers and children, were deported to Greece, and my aunt Aphrodite and their children emigrated to America where she died in 1925 with a broken heart. My cousin Electra lost her life in an automobile accident in 1929. My two aunts, Irene and ZoĂŤ, also emigrated with their families to the United States. When my father returned home to Turkey from England, he lived in Samsun, a prosperous, busy port city on the Black Sea. He returned an eligible bachelor, endowed with all his six years of college education in Scotland and became wellMy father as a bachelor.
known in the Greek and Turkish circles. As such an eligible bachelor, quite a few Greek friends wished him to marry and settle down. For some reason, he took a long time to decide and finally, at the ripe age of 46, he met my newly widowed 24-year-old mother, Elissavet Georgiades (her first husband died from influenza) at the home of relatives where he had been invited, I am told, to meet my mother’s older cousin for marriage. But instead, he decided to court my mother when he was struck by her young beauty and her attractive My parents wedding, 1919. bearings. They were married in the Greek Orthodox Church even though their views towards the Greek Orthodox Church differed from one another. It was not very clear to us and we did not discuss it in the family in later years, but I presumed my mother wanted her family to be brought up Greek Orthodox. I also presumed my father, having attended Anatolia College and the Edinburgh Theological College, was a member of the Protestant Church. But in order to marry my mother, who was dedicated to the Orthodox Church, he agreed to marry in this way. He was liberal enough to comply with her wishes and they were married in 1919. At the time, my father taught English in various schools and private homes, and he made some good friends. These friendships saved his life when troubles started between the Turkish authorities and the Greeks. Before my uncle’s arrest in 1921, a well-to-do father of one of my father’s Turkish students warned him of the upcoming arrests of Greek academics and influential persons, and advised him to flee to Istanbul where the Greek citizens by the Lausanne Treaty had been exempted from exile in return for the exemption of the Moslems in Greek Thrace. At the time of his flight, my father left behind my
mother with their two-year-old son Harry. They in turn with relatives and other mothers and children were put on boats and sailed in 1922 from Samsun to Athens, Greece. The men folk were separated and sent to â€˜Exoriaâ€™ (exile) on a long march southwards towards Syria; they eventually reached Greece, but many perished on the way. I have never been clear whether my parents met in Istanbul or Athens. Father
Infant Harry in Samsun.
On arrival in Greek soil, my father was soon hired as an English teacher at the American Farm School, on the outskirts of Thessaloniki in Northern Greece. The Farm School was founded by American missionaries and Dr. John House, co-founder, invited my father to join their teaching staff. What a suitable person my father was with his English religious education and the slight Scottish accent to boot! Even though this institution was meant to function as a misDr. John Henry House, co- sionary school, Dr. House, convinced founder of the American that agricultural prosperity was what Farm School. the poverty-stricken Greeks needed the most, established the Farm School as a Christian agricultural school. Boys from the surrounding parts entered the school at the age of fourteen and were trained to become competent farmers.
My parents and Harry on arrival in Athens, 1922.
My parents and Harry in front of the Parthenon.
Newly born with my parents and Harry.
Life on the Farm School
was born in Thessaloniki on January 30th, 1924, after my parents and my brother, Harry, settled on the American Farm School. January 30th is a Greek holiday honoring the three ‘Hierarchs’ or Saints. I don’t remember their names: what I remember, however, is that it was a religious holiday and the schools were closed and my classmates were teasing me that it was because of my birthday! I was given the name of my Father holding me. paternal grandmother, Anna, and when my sister came into this world sixteen months later, she was not given our maternal grandma’s name, as was custom for Anastasia was too close to sounding like Anna. Instead they named her Elsie from the English textbook my mother was using to learn English at the time. Harry’s name is a derivation of the name ‘Theochares.’ When he was born my father had already fled to Istanbul and in his absence, my brother was baptized with the name Vasilios. When my parents reunited they changed his name to Harry (Theochares). Greece was then in great turmoil with the influx of thousands of ref-
Early days on the Farm School. I sit on father’s lap with Harry in a taxi. ugees arriving day after day from all over Turkey. I don’t remember anything of all this. All I remember is that mother—at the mention of these events—would raise her eyes to heaven, cross herself and mutter, “may this never happen again!” Life on the Farm School was a very happy life. Elsie and I were very close; we grew up oblivious of the tragedies that took place before our time. We felt like we lived in the midst of a big family. We knew everybody around us and everybody knew us. The American Farm School was our playground. We knew all the nooks and crannies. Elsie and I made a good pair: I was by nature shy, but the one with the ideas; she was the daredevil to put them into practice. If they were good ideas I let her take credit. It is then when I developed the older sister syndrome: motherly and protective. When my parents first arrived on the Farm School, they were given a temporary house until our ‘permanent’ house was built with money my father lent to the School. I don’t know whether my father brought the money from Turkey or it was given to the family by the Greek government as a refugee resettlement fund. When my father was refunded the money from the school, he built the family home downtown in the suburbs of Thessaloniki on Queen Olga Boulevard, the road leading towards the Farm School. It was large enough to
The inauguration of our house on the Farm School.
Our house on the Farm School. Elsie and I sit in front of the house with our pets.
The American community on Thanksgiving Day on the Farm School. As an infant on Thanksgiving Day, I sit with the son of the YMCA Director, Leighton Reese. be used as a rental property upstairs and for the family downstairs when we needed it for our visits to Thessaloniki. We must have been the first family with children on the Farm School because when I look at old pictures, we seem to be surrounded by adults or students only. And little by little the Farm School cook’s children appeared, Kyriakoula and Angella, and later the Russian truck driver’s daughter, Zoya Gorbach, and other children of my father’s colleagues. The memories of my happy childhood remain strong and clear in my mind. I remember the dairy and cow barn, which was a stone’s throw from our house. I remember the students working there, some regularly to pay back their free schooling or other obligations to the School. I must have been about four or five years old with a very limited imagination geographically when I learned that one of these stu-
Farm School Commencement Day. I am 4 years old with sister Elsie, 3.
Family with evzone outfits in front of our Farm School home (left). Myself and Elsie with a Farm School calf (right). dents was sent to America by the school for further studies. He was one of my favorite friends because he would stop and talk to me and sometimes offer me fresh buttermilk to drink. So, far beyond the fields of the Farm School campus, there was a hill with a white stone pole on its summit and in my child’s imagination the hill was the ‘far away America’ and the white pole was Demitrius, the student, in his white dairy overalls. I have the fondest memories of those early days. When Harry was of school age, he was enrolled in the German school in Thessaloniki.
When Elsie and I were old enough, however, transporting all the children to town for school was difficult, so a one-room school was opened on the ground floor of a building called ‘The Ark’ on the Farm School. It was built originally for the British Quakers as their headquarters for their refugee relief work and as a storehouse. We were about six or seven school-age children and our teacher was Miss Chrysanthe Zarou, daughter of parents who had a farm near the village of Sedes. I had a great admiration for my first teacher. Being kind of a tomboy myself, I liked her sportsmanship; she would come from their farm on horseback and teach us about healthy life and art. I treasure the photo where she and our mothers helped make the Evzone outfits we wore and danced on the ‘Twenty-fifth of March’ national holiday. At this time a young man, Theo Litsas, a refugee from Smyrna, who worked as Program Director on the Farm School, was having his eyes on our Miss Chrysathe and would stick his head in the classroom door occasionally and say “hello” to us; but we all knew, and the whole Farm School knew that he was in love with our teacher. People talked about it in whispers. But my sister, Elsie, couldn’t keep her mouth shut and at one of these times she asked him—to my embarrassment—whether he was in love with ‘ Despinis’ (Miss) Chrysanthe. He got red in the face and told her to mind her own business. Isn’t it interesting how one still remembers these incidents? ‘Kyrios’ (Mister) Litsas was such a good friend of us children and would tease us a lot and call us “tsurapes” (village socks). He was the organizer of all activities we children liked—the excursions to Mt. Chortiatis, where my brother went to Boy Scout Camp and K. Litsas was the Boy Scout leader; or family excursions to the beach across the bay at the edge of the Gulf of Thermaikos where Charlie House, the Farm School Director, was architect of a building for unfortunate, poor children. We loved the Saturday night entertainments K. Litsas had for the students and families with all kinds of games that pleased us to heaven. (He was a good friend of our family up to the time of the German Occupation, and even after our family moved away from the Farm School to Thessaloniki, in 1943, he would stop and visit my parents. He arranged a very honorable funeral and burial for my father at the Farm School cemetery in 1958, when all of us—his children—were married and living overseas: Harry and myself in the U.S. and Elsie in Norway.)
Singing carols at the home of the Houses (myself far left), Harry with drum. Harry, Elsie and myself with our maid (right). In evzone costume with teacher Miss Chrysanthe (below).
It was with profound respect that those of us living on the Farm School regarded the House family whom we saw as parents of the whole school: Dr. Henry House and â€œMotherâ€? House, their son Charlie and his wife Ann (addressed by us as Mr. and Mrs. House) and daughter Ruth. Dr. House, the founder of the American Farm School, came to the North of Greece at the beginning of the 20th Century as a missionary after he had served in Bulgaria for the Congregational Church for many years. Father House offered my father one of the teaching positions on the Farm School and assigned him as an as-
Farm School children gathered around Mother House’s wheelchair— myself, Elsie and cousin Vetta standing.
Farm School excursion to Mt. Chortiatis. Mr. & Mrs. Litsas at far right, my parents at far left, Elsie and myself in floral dresses. sistant to the Academics Department where he served as needed. I remember Father House’s saintly countenance and kindness to us children every time our paths would cross. He often came to our house walking softly with fast steps among the young walnut trees that were shading his path towards our house where he and my father would sit and visit. On Sundays, he would stand at the door of
the Assembly of Princeton Hall where chapel services were held to greet the people. Mother House would arrive in her wheel chair with Miss Ruth accompanying her and helping her to be seated. My father was an ambitious father for his children’s education. Elsie and I started piano lessons, I took private art classes by our art teacher Mr. Lefakis. Mrs. Schina, our principal, was Paris educated, and we had to learn to eat at the boarding department with all the manners and etiquette required for young ladies. My classmates were of well-to-do families, taking vacation trips abroad, eating expensive imported candies from expensive elaborate boxes, and way beyond my parents’ means! I became fond of my school and did very well in my favorite subjects. If my teacher praised me in the class for doing well in a certain subject, I’d put all my efforts to please that teacher. Spelling and grammar were my forte and I loved my teacher for singling me out from my whole class—I was a bit infatuated with him and was looking forward to going to school every morning (puppy love?). He liked my stories in composition and would include some of them in his special collection of his students’ stories. I also loved the physical education class and played volleyball on the varsity team and was one of six girls who played drums as leaders of the school in parades that Thessaloniki often had for national days. Generally, school was fun for me. I could tell my father thought so, to my siblings’ resentment when he would suggest that I help, especially Harry, who struggled with the Greek grammar and spelling in his early years. As children, we loved the friendly presence of Mrs. Ann House, always smiling and ready to give us sweets, especially when she would return from America with gifts. I still have the silver baby spoon she brought me with ‘Puss in Boots’ inscribed on the handle, as does Elsie. Charlie House was always busy with the famous buildings that were coming up one after the other: I remember when James Hall was built, Princeton Hall, Hasting House and the other houses for individual families. I was an infant when the ‘Ark’ and our own house were built, but I remember we referred to it for years as our ‘kainouriyio speeti’ (new house). I remember the rows and rows of mulberry trees (planted for silk farm purposes) between our house and the Ark, and all the English Quaker ladies living there.
Ivan and Anna with Joice Loch at Pyrgos,1988. Among my early recollections I remember Mr. and Mrs. Loch, the beloved British-Australian couple who did admirable relief work for the arriving refugees scattered in camps on the outskirts of Thessaloniki and the Farm School. Later in life, I had close attachments to the Lochs after the War when they were making plans for a domestic training school for girls on the grounds of the Farm School. Sydney and Joice Loch got so involved with their work in Greece that they remained in the country the rest of their lives. After their work with the Quakers they became very drawn to the plight of the newly settling refugees from Turkey in the land allotted to them by the government which was undeveloped and infertile. The Lochs chose to settle in a little village called Ouranoupolis (also called Pyrgos) by the sea and close to the entrance of Mt. Athos on the third peninsula of Chalkidiki. The name Pyrgos means â€œtowerâ€? and was named this because of a tower that was built in Byzantine times by the Emperor Andronicos Paleologos from Constantinople to be used by the Empress while he did his pilgrimage to the monasteries of Mt. Athos, so the legend goes. The Lochs, being writers and romantic, chose to believe the story told them by Brother Meletios, the wellread librarian of the biggest monastery of Vatopedi, that the emperor in midlife had renounced the Imperial crown and took vows and
Annaâ€™s family visits the Loch Tower at Pyrgos, 1994. joined the monks of Vatopedi. He had built the watchtower to house his grieving wife who came there to visit him every summer. The Lochs made this tower their home and the place from which they wrote many books. Joice Loch, with her relief work experience, had been the God-sent caretaker of the villagers: their doctor, midwife, veterinarian, and adviser in the selection of natural dyes for their famous hand-woven Anatolian carpets, which became a famous industry known to the whole of Greece and abroad. The Farm School was their second home. We, as children, were fascinated to hear Mrs. Lochâ€™s stories about life in the village: her pet crow with the broken wing that would perch on her shoulder wherever she went; the ghost monk who was killed in the tower by pirates who attacked from the sea, and how she could hear him walk upstairs while writing her book in her study room. The villagers loved them and they in turn cared for the villagers to the end of their lives! The Farm School was like an oasis in the midst of the fields surrounding it. Thanks to the hospitality of the Houses, many interesting people would visit it. Nobilities such as the King of Greece, George the Second, would come. I even shook hands with his brother, Prince Paul, on another occasion, when I happened to meet Mrs.
King George of Greece visiting the Farm School (father, Elsie and mother are far left). Inset, At Farm School Commencement, Father leading the Archbishop to his seat. House walking with him on the Farm School grounds. She introduced me to him as the daughter of one of the Farm School staff! Government officials, high ranking men of the cloth and international consular people would come to the school. The American Consul of Thessaloniki chose to live with his family on the Farm School in the late thirties. His three sons were our childhood friendsâ€”Budge, Mike and Bobby Keeley. Mike, especially, was a friend who remained so until after the War and came back to Greece as a young man in his middle twenties to teach on the Farm School. He was romantically involved with my sister Elsie and even visited her in London when she and I lived there for three years. The romance did not last too long, but it left an imprint in the fabric of their young lives. We started going to school in Thessaloniki when I turned eight, Elsie, seven, and Harry twelve. Harry had already had a try in the
Queen Frederika greeting Ivan’s co-workers at a Farm School Commencement. German school previously. An old small bus driven by Yangoulis from the refugee town of Kalamaria became available. Our first school was St. Eleutherios School, on the outskirts of Thessaloniki, closest to the Farm School. My parents were not happy with the school, one reason being that the hygienic conditions were not up to par for my parents when they discovered we carried lice in our hair from poor classmates coming from the then-backward village of Pylaea. So my father enrolled us in the prestigious private School of Aglaia Schina—a six-year co-educational elementary, and a sixyear girls’ senior high school. I went there for nine years. Harry, after the sixth grade, went to Anatolia College (six-year high school) and Elsie entered the five-year Girls’ Anatolia College. In the years of our schooling outside the Farm School we almost lost the company of our brother. He was in boarding school at Anatolia; then had summers at the Boy Scout camps and two-months at YMCA camps. His best friends were Stellios and Demitrios Zannas, the sons of the Farm School lawyer. They were like brothers to Harry and he spent a lot of time with them in Thessaloniki. There were times when the Zannas’ would send their private car with Manolis, their chauffeur,
Farm school staff—Dr. and Mother House seated—my father next to Dr. House, teachers and heads of departments. to pick Harry up, and return him home. We hardly saw him. He didn’t even have a decent room in our house to call his own. As we children grew older our beloved Farm School house felt more and more inadequate in size. (Ironically, almost two decades later when Harry came with his family to work on the Farm as an agricultural engineer from Cornell, one of his first projects was to enlarge the “Theocharides” house to be lived more adequately by future Farm School families!) In Greece, name days are celebrated more than birthdays. The great celebration in my family was my father’s name day: St. Eleutherios Day on the 15th of December. It was then when my mother would give the house the new look to be open for well-wishers from all walks of life: First it was the American friends from Anatolia College, who knew my father well from Turkey, also the Americans from the Farm School. They would Harry’s friends the Zannas’ and come before supper time and be Landsdales at YMCA camp.
My father plays flute while I play piano (left). My classmates and I (with drum) led a school parade on a national day. offered tea and delectable baked goodies. Elsie and I would be serving with the special porcelain tea cups and saucers on the family porcelain tray that mother would bring out for these occasions, and offering them around in our best selves. (I still treasure these dishes tucked back on my kitchen shelves, and the porcelain tray hanging on my daughter Cynthia’s dining room wall). But the real celebration would start in the evening hours when the Greek friends would come headed by the dear Theo Litsas who lightened up the evening with his jokes and jolly conversations, and the wine and fruit and nuts abundant on the table! My father was an ambitious father for his children’s education. Elsie and I started piano lessons, I took private art classes by our art teacher Mr. Lefakis. Mrs. Schina, our principal, was Paris educated, and we had to learn to eat at the boarding department with all the manners and etiquette required for young ladies. My classmates were of well-to-do families, taking vacation trips abroad, eating expensive imported candies from expensive elaborate boxes, and way beyond my parents’ means! I became fond of my school and did very well in my favorite subjects. If my teacher praised me in the class for doing well in a certain subject, I’d put all my efforts to please that teacher. Spelling and grammar were my forte and I loved my
teacher for singling me out from my whole class—I even got infatuated with him and was looking forward every morning to going to school (puppy love??). He liked my stories in composition and would include some of them in his special collection of his students’ stories. I also loved the physical education My mother and father enjoying the sea. class and played volleyball on the varsity team. Generally, school was fun for me. I could tell my father thought so, to my siblings’ resentment when he would suggest that I help, especially Harry, who struggled with the Greek grammar and spelling in his early years. During these years, we did not travel to many places. But when schools closed for summer and my father was free from his teaching, we would go away for two months to a beautiful little village by the sea, Aghios Ionannis (commonly called “Ay Yiannis”), at the foot of Mt. Pelion in central Greece. During that time, Harry would attend the YMCA camp which was located on a cove outside of Ay Yannis. It was a big ordeal preparing for our vacation. Transportation by boat or train would take us only as far as the town of Volos; then by bus half way up Mt. Pelion to the village of Macrynitsa, then by mule down to Ay Yiannis. What fun it was for us riding the mules, but a lot of work for our parents for all the luggage and other things they had to arrange to take with us for the two months of stay in the little cottage we rented year after year. Another way we would reach Ay Yiannis was hiring a “kayiki” (sail motorboat) from Thessaloniki Bay which my parents preferred because of the amount of things we had to take with us. But this kind of travel was risky as it took overnight to reach the village and we had to be prepared for rough seas. One time, I remember, it got so rough that the captain felt it wise to stop and get us ashore and we spent the night sleeping on the sand in a protected area among
the boulders. Ay Yiannis seemed to us so exotic! The vegetation was different; lots of orange trees, the balconies full of gardenias, hydrangeas and jasmine; and little waterfalls surrounded by amaranths and ferns. We spent hours in the sea and learned to swim at an early age, but there were certain things we had to be watchful; sea urchins, which lived and were anchored among rocks on the bottom of the sea. If we stepped on them, the spikes would penetrate our skin and break, and it was difficult to extract them. The only way to treat them was by pouring olive oil on the skin and waiting for them to slip out by themselves. Sometimes it took days to get rid of them. Another danger we were aware of was the existence of scorpions in those parts. These nocturnal creatures of the arachnid family had a narrow segmented tail bearing a venomous sting at the tip. We acquired quite a respect for them after my father was stung; we were taking a walk on the beautiful beach of Ay Yannis one evening and at one point sat on the sand to enjoy the moment. I was half leaning down with my elbow resting on the sand, when I felt something moving along my arm. I immediately jumped up and screamed “Scorpion!” My father spotted it with his flashlight and stepped on it missing its tail end which stung him just above his shoe. I ran to the YMCA doctor and he treated my father at home with the warning that he would have a painful night. Sure enough, his leg swelled and he groaned and moaned all night. The villagers told us that if you encircle a scorpion with alcohol and light a match, it would try to crawl out and at the end would give up and commit suicide by stinging its own back! One summer when I was about eleven, my parents decided to visit another little village by the sea, Stavros. It was famous for its abundance of springs and luscious vegetation. One thing my parents did not realize, however, was that the abundance of water—especially standing water—invited mosquitoes. During my childhood, malaria ran rampant. For this reason, we slept under mosquito nets as a rule, but even so, I contracted malaria, and while in Stavros, I became seriously ill with high fever and hallucinations. The Farm School sent the “good old Lincoln,” the only car families could use in the 1930s for special cases like mine. I don’t remember how I got back home, but what I remember is how weak I felt after I got out of
bed a week later. Harry, who joined us after the YMCA camp, also fell ill with malaria. In the year that followed, many more cases of malaria were reported. Good old quinine, a yellow pill that made our faces look very yellow, and quinine shots in the buttocks healed us for good. Another serious illness I suffered as a child of about eight was rheumatic fever. I still remember how worried my parents became and had three doctors come and confer, as they feared the illness would weaken my heart permanently. Thank goodness, I got through it okay, but to this day when I fill in questionnaires at the doctors’ offices about illnesses in my past and they read “rheumatic fever”, they immediately check my heart. Life was going well for us young people, without cares. Our schooling, and our school breaks; Christmas and Easter holidays, summer vacations; parties and ‘bal d’enfants’ at carnival time in February; movies, theaters. French was the diplomatic language in our days, and we had to take French at school at all times. The movies, even though made in America or England, were dubbed in French with Greek subtitles. We loved going on weekends with my parents to the movies, especially in summertime when they were playing outdoors under the stars at Aristotle’s Square. We saw mostly American movies. Shirley Temple was the darling child star and her contemporaries Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland; Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers; Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald; we loved Tarzan and Westerns. Afterwards my parents would take us to the famous confectionary ‘Flocas’ for tea or Turkish coffee and its famous pastries, and then would hire a taxi for home. Those were the carefree days we enjoyed as children. Some sad things happened also. In 1936, Dr. Henry House, the beloved father and founder of the American Farm School died at the advanced age of 90-plus. This threw the whole Farm family into deep mourning for some time. Though the students of my school were mostly Greek, one third of the student population was Jewish, especially at the elementary level. The French Lycee or the American school, Anatolia College, were the more preferred high schools for Jewish students and many left my school after the elementary level. I did not realize there were so many Jewish people in Thessaloniki until we started school down-
town. In our secluded life on the Farm School, we had not come in touch with any Jewish friends as there were none living there. Most of the students of the Farm School were from the villages of northern Greece. However, Thessaloniki, according to records, had a Jewish population of 56,000. From ancient times there were Jewish people, but a surge in the population came in 1492 during the Catholic Inquisition of the reign of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain. Thessaloniki, still under the Ottoman Turks, was the port city where the biggest population settled. Besides Greek, the next most spoken language in Thessaloniki was Jewish-Spanish called “Ladino”. It was heard mostly in the market places as the shop keepers shouted their goods in Ladino and at the port as “hamalis” (porters) unloaded the cargo on their backs from the ships in the wharf. The well-to-do Jewish spoke French and often traveled abroad to the big cities north of Greece for business and vacation. Thessaloniki was a very colorful poly-ethnic little city. As we walked in the streets we would see Catholic nuns around the French schools in their blue apparel with the white starched butterfly-like headgear; old Jewish grandmas, “nonas,” wearing the traditional outfit that of Sephardic Jew: long skirt with a decorative apron and a satin vest trimmed all around with fur; rabbis with their round headgear walking out of their synagogues; Albanian halepdjis carrying their thick milk-like halep in containers on their backs with teapot-like neck protruding over their shoulder to pour the drink for the customers. One can still see beautiful old Jewish mansions declared historical by the Greek authorities, even though the owners never returned from the Holocaust. My best friend at school was Meddy Florentin, a Jewish girl. We were in the same class together from Fourth Grade through all six years of high school. We became very close. Her father had a fabric store and my mother would take Elsie and me there to buy what we needed for our dressmaker to sew for us. Many times after school I would stop at her house while waiting for our bus to take me home; Meddy loved to visit me on the Farm School. I admired her for being at the top of her class and yet she carried this quality with humility, caring deeply for all her friends.
War Begins and the German Occupation
Father, Mother and my family in front of the White Tower in 1937.
t was in September of 1939 that we learned from the BBC news listening to our beloved newly acquired ‘Philips’ radio, that Germany, in the far north, invaded Poland and thus began the Second World War. We still did not worry so much as it seemed so far away. Life continued as usual. Schools opened as usual and summer came. Towards the end of summer, as we were getting ready for the next school year, we heard that the Greek battleship “Elli” was sunk on August 15, 1940 by the Italians without provocation. On October 28, Benito Mussolini, the Fascist dictator of Italy and a German ally, declared war against Greece when Metaxas, the Greek dictator with his famous “OHI!” (NO!) refused to surrender. Mobilization started; we were at school; we saw military trucks full of young men leaving for the front towards the Albanian border from where the Italian
army was invading. The Farm School bus came soon and picked us allâ€”the Farm School students, and this was the end of school for the time being. Brother Harry, who had already graduated from Anatolia, waited to board ship in October for America to enter Cornell University with a scholarship. But he lost the opportunity to get out of Greece before the war and so he remained with us. Italian planes started bombarding Thessaloniki; our Greek army, although smaller and less equipped for war than the Italians, proved superior and was successful in pushing the enemy away from the bordering mountains, occupying one by one Albanian towns in spite of the many casualties. Schools closed and whatever buildings were considered suitable for the army, would be put to use; like Anatolia College, it turned into a hospital for the wounded soldiers. The winter of 1940 was exceptionally cold; many of the wounded soldiers returned with frostbite. The women folk were asked to keep busy knitting socks and scarves for the soldiers. It was then when I learned to knit well. Through the Red Cross, we were given wool yarn and since socks and scarves could be knit without looking, I would read a book and knit at the same time. We all voluntarily helped our men on the
My last year of school with classmates before the Nazi invasion (myself standing far left), 1940.
Front and helped each other. My father organized English classes for all the children of the Farm School families and othersâ€”young and adult, and relatives who moved to the campus for safety from the city where they were experiencing the air raids. As I was now a senior in high school, I took some students from the grades below and schooled them privately. Quite a few of our Farm School men left for the front, and we at home were trying to devise ways to entertain them with letters. Sis Elsie picked one particular man, Manolis, who used to tease her and joke with her a lot at home, and started a correspondence pretending she was his wife and that she found out his infidelity with other women; how could he?; the tragedy he brought to the family and children, and so on. The letters were censored, and he would share them with his buddies and they all had big laughs! The air raids continued; the sound of sirens would warn us of their coming, and we would all run to the assigned lowest level of Princeton Hall for shelter. My mother had sewn a belt with pockets in it for all her precious jewelry and the gold coins that we changed with our savings. She would tie the belt around her waist under her coat every time we prepared to go to the shelter. One day, my parents, Elsie and I took a hike into the fields when we heard the sirens going. We ran into a ditch by a nearby vineyard and all of us huddled together with our heads resting on our knees. We heard the planes flying over us and I raised my head to see them and my mother shouted at me to lower my head for fear I would invite them to bomb us! We had our comical experiences caused by our fears! We did see the planes actually bombing the town then. Around this time, a big blow befell our family. Since the school closed, the Farm School, including the director, Charlie House, decided to remove the teaching staff from their payroll; some of the younger teachers were given other positions, but my father being the oldest was removed completely. This was a big shock to the family coming to us at such a critical time. We were allowed, though, to remain at our home. My father had to look for a job to bring food to the table. To his pleasant surprise he found there was a great demand among his friends and their friends in Thessaloniki for learning English. The war brought the Greeks on the side of the Allies and this sparked a great
desire for everyone to learn the English language. So father started teaching privately in homes with groups of students; and the demand was so great that Elsie, fresh with the English language of five years at the Girls Anatolia, helped him with his teaching. In the meantime, BBC kept informing us of the war in the North. Hitlerâ€™s Germany after Poland was spreading left and right: Norway, Denmark, and France through Holland, Belgium. In 1941 they launched an invasion of the Soviet Union. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor then together with Germany declared war on the United States which caused the American Consulate and all Americans to leave Greece. The Germans, on seeing Italy failing to occupy Greece, opened another front besides that against Russia and headed southward. After occupying Yugoslavia, they crossed our border without resistance from us and entered our city on April 9, 1941, and the rest of Greece soon after. Our poor soldiers started coming home one by one from the Albanian front disheartened, dispirited and hungry after walking for days to reach their homes and to face the new situation of the German occupation. Everybody on the Farm School awaited with fearful expectations what next. I might add that of all Americans only Charlie and Ann House opted to remain behind. I well remember the first time I saw a German military man. We could see from our balcony in the distance German vehicles on the road leading to the military airport; then we saw a jeep-like vehicle turning into the Farm School road. It stopped in front of the Housesâ€™ home, next to ours, and a German officer came straight to the front door. Elsie and I ran to the back entrance leading to the kitchen, and there with the house cook and Vetta, the maid, we waited for the bell to ring. Vetta opened the door and he politely asked for Mr. and Mrs. House. They all spoke with each other with civility and carried on the conversation into the living room. And that was it! Soon after, a whole unit moved to the Farm School. They occupied the buildings that were empty, like those of the families who had moved to the south to be with relatives for safety and with the hope that the Germans would not occupy all of Greece. Our neighbors on our north left for relatives in Athens. From our kitchen window we saw five soldiers moving in. All
empty houses were occupied without disturbing the residents who remained. Our neighbors were nice to us and we learned their names and learned to greet each other in German as they walked past our house to go to their daily duties. We heard they were a garrison unit of Austrians who had to serve in the German army. But contrary to the Farm School, we learned that things were not going as well in Thessaloniki. A lot of the shops closed or were abandoned due to the fact that goods and food became scarce and hard to be replaced. The Germans confiscated many of the supplies they could use for their soldiers. Soon the scarcity of food caused a big upheaval. Those who had the money started hoarding what they could get, and those who did not, started begging for food. We had beggars coming to our door every day. We at the Farm School were a little better off, as our bakery had supply of flour for the residents. My father with his lessons would barter for food. We hated going to Thessaloniki for the poverty and hunger was very obvious in the faces of the people. Especially little children looked emaciated with swollen bellies. It was not unusual to see all of a sudden a person standing by and falling to the ground from weakness and dying. Famine went rampant all of a sudden. A beggar woman came once to our door for food. I remember that face. She looked lost and confused; her mouth had earth around her lipsâ€”a sign she was digging for roots from weeds in the fields to eat. The Germans took over the directorship of the whole Farm School. A special person by the name Jungeâ€”I believe a sergeant of the German Army, was appointed to be the authority under which the Greek personnel functioned. The Houses were allowed to remain for a few months but soon were put under house arrest and sent to Germany, where as American citizens were exchanged with German citizens in the United States. One morning we woke up with the news that the Farm School bull, imported from America and of high breed, was stolen from its thick walls and highly-protected shelter. We presumed the thief came from the hungry neighboring villages and it infuriated the Germans. Those were times when thievery was not seriously condemned. We knew grapes from the Farm School vineyard were picked when ripe without permission. I remember one time when walking the road to Thessaloniki, the wheat field next
to the road seemed to be disturbed by some unknown soul hidden out of sight and gathering ripened wheat heads for food. The Germans were dumbfounded for the dexterity with which stealing was devised; they soon learned to say in Greek, “klepsy-klepsy,” meaning “stolen-stolen,” and they would mention it quite often. One day we learned that British prisoners were brought through the Farm School grounds on their way to Germany from the North African Front. The year 1942 marked the height of the Axis (Germany and Japan) conquest, with the Japanese occupying one by one territories in the Pacific after Pearl Harbor, and the Germans under General Rommel advancing from West North Africa towards Egypt (a British stronghold). The German guards, whom we already knew from their one-year stay at the Farm School, allowed us to talk to the prisoners who looked pretty wretched in their tattered khaki shorts from the battles on the African Front. They told us they were Australians and New Zealanders; and by permission from the guards (who contended they were not barbarians!) we were allowed to supply the prisoners with new shorts that we had our mothers sew overnight with bales of khaki fabric given to us by my Jewish friend Meddy’s father from his shop. We, young folk, were pretty animated with all that was happening around us. Elsie, who looked much younger than her age, was then about 15 years old, fresh from the American school, spoke English pretty well with a strong American accent and our German neighbors made a lot of fun of her English. The fun they had with her emboldened her to praise the Allies and they would greet her with “Heil Churchill” instead of the “Heil Hitler” we used to hear so much. We also learned at that time that the Municipal Hospital in Thessaloniki had a wing full of British prisoners with various ailments, mainly dysentery. So Elsie was determined to go and help there. She managed to obtain permission to work in the hospital from the Swiss Red Cross nurse whom we knew and who worked as the liaison with the German authorities. So Elsie had our mother make a nurse’s uniform out of a bed sheet and started working at the hospital. She walked the seven miles that separated the Farm School from the Hospital every day with a lot of stories to tell us when she returned home. The Greek staff, doctors included, secretly worked
with the underground movement during the Occupation, which worked with the Allies in neutral Turkey and their Commandos in our mountains. So one evening Elsie came home with this story: it was decided at the hospital that a certain prisoner would be whisked out of the country to Turkey. Elsie, the youngest of the nurses and least suspicious, was asked to take the prisoner to the toilet facility and there she helped him change into the clothes of a villager and jump from the window to waiting agents on the ground. Then he was led to a secret beach in Chalkidiki and from there by boat was taken to a submarine with other escapees to Turkey. The amusing thing is that when the Germans at the hospital found out from the empty bed that a prisoner was missing, they lined up nurses and doctors for interrogation and pushed Elsie aside as too young to be suspicious! Some of our young men, Greek and Jewish, joined the â€˜andartesâ€™ (guerillas) in the mountains and were organized by British Commandos and later, unfortunately, by communist recruiters. They engaged some times in battles with the Germans, especially convoys traveling through the mountains from Athens to Thessaloniki. Then the Germans in retaliation would take out from jails prisoners and would shoot them. We had an incident in our family which caused a lot of anxiety. My brother, Harry, was working in the German auto-shop on the Farm School during those days, when a Gestapo (police) car stopped outside our house asking for Harry. My mother, terrified, informed them he was at the workshop and was expected soon for lunch. They said they would wait. We were mortified. We did not know why, whether he was involved in underground activities? Had no idea. When Harry arrived, they placed him between them and drove away to the city. The following hours were agony. Finally after some time he came home with his story: He was led to the German police headquarters and to the Gestapo officer who presented him with a picture of Harry dressed up like Hitler, his black hair swept over his forehead and a thick mustache; next to him another young man dressed like Mussolini with the characteristic protruding jaw, both of them saluting with their arms extended the Nazi way and students marching in front of them using the famous goose step and extended arms. Harry explained that the photo was taken years ago, back in 1939 (it was 1942 then) at Anatolia College, before
Greece was in war, and one weekend the students made fun of all the world leaders— Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin, etc. The officer asked him how he can prove it was so long ago and Harry had the presence of mind to show him his forehead with thin hair and receding hairline and that he would not now be able to imitate a Hitlerian forehead! The officer chuckled and told him to go and have all his classmates destroy this picture adding he did not want them to make Harry at Anatolia College before the war masquerading as Hitler with fun of “our Fuhrer.” In October 1942 schools Mussolini. opened again. It was not the same anymore. We had no bus to take us downtown now. Some of the families moved to Thessaloniki. I was in the Sixth Grade of High School and determined to graduate. My only way to school was either on foot or using my brother’s bicycle, our only way for transportation with wheels. Sometimes the neighbor Germans would give us rides, but not in the open, as they were not allowed to help civilians. We rode that bicycle an awful lot. Harry would go to the Rowing Club where he would meet his friends, and at daytime, I would ride to school. Girls were not seen riding bikes in those days so the street boys would give me a hard time as soon as I would enter the town. The new location of our school was the abandoned French School “Kalamari” not too far from Meddy’s house. So I would leave my bike at their house and then would walk to school with Meddy. The number of Germans on the Farm School was multiplying in 1943 as the German Air Force Command was moving, and our houses were needed for occupation. So they had two long barracks built in the fields about a mile outside of the Farm School and had us all move there the summer of 1943. So we moved
after eighteen years, years full of memories of our growing years on the Farm. We were given one room with a small kitchen. The toilet was at the end of the long hall for all the residents. The living quarters were so small that Harry had to sleep outdoors under our window. We felt then it was time for us to seek a place to live in the city: my school was there, fatherâ€™s students were there, and the Nautical rowing club where we young people frequented a lot was there. I took seriously rowing that summer and needed to practice often for the regattas that were to take place at the end of the summer. So we were fortunate to find a house in town and that summer moved to Thessaloniki, the summer of 1943.
Our rowing teams in Thessaloniki, victorious after the Panhellenic races on the Island of Rhodes (left). Boats ready for regatta in front of the White Tower (below left). My rowing team practicing for the Panhellenic races on the Island of Rhodes after WWII (above).
My Friend Meddy: The Holocaust
My friend Meddy and Strattos at the rowing club after liberation from the German Occupation.
he year of 1943 was a gloomy year for the Jewish population. Up to that time, they lived like the rest of the Thessalonians. But soon their suspicions started materializing. First they were required to wear a yellow star ‘concarda’ on all their clothes. The men were required to work certain tasks of hard labor. The synagogues, keeping efficient records of their members, enabled the Nazis to gather them all and they were forced to move to certain assigned areas of the city—“ghettos.” When I finally found out where my friend Meddy with her family were moved, I would go to visit her. We were still living in the barracks and would hear that some Jewish hid away when suspecting persecutions, but we could not do anything to help Meddy and her family as we were confined to such
a small space with no privacy. One morning I went on my usual visit and to my horror found the whole Jewish neighborhood abandoned. Some people from the neighborhood were going in and out of the empty homes, and when I asked them what happened, they said that German guards ordered them in the early hours of the morning to leave their homes with only that which they could carry with them, to form a line and start walking towards the railway station. Later we learned that they put them in many railway wagons destined for Poland. I returned home with a very heavy heart. Who knows when I’d see Meddy again? We still couldn’t fathom what terrible fate was awaiting their arrival in Poland. We all believed that they were sent to labor camps. The rest of the summer I spent making plans to enroll at the Thessaloniki University, having passed the finals for my graduation from high school; and spending a lot of hours at the rowing club practicing for the regattas between the two city clubs. Our club was also the place where we young people socialized and met our school friends. Besides rowing we also engaged in other sports. We were so ambitious as to also take fencing lessons! One day, a friend at the club approached me and secretly handed me a letter. A letter from Meddy! I couldn’t believe my eyes; Meddy’s handwriting was telling me that she never made it to the railway station and was going to come to the friend’s house from her hiding place on a certain evening, if I could go see her. The events of her escape developed like reading an adventure book: When the Jewish families were ordered to come out of their homes and line up for the railway station, Meddy stood with her mother, father and grandmother in line carrying a backpack, blanket and whatever else. (Her sister Fani had escaped earlier and with her fiancé had joined the guerillas in the mountains.) Across the street from the ghetto lived a Christian friend (my brother’s friend, Demitri Zannas). He ran to the balcony to see what all the commotion was and he saw Meddy standing in line and looking all around her as for the last time. There and then he decided to save her. He ran downstairs into the crowd and walked beside her along with other Greeks who were seeing the Jewish families off for the last time, and among a few German guards. He whispered to her to remove the armband with the
Star of David and hand over her bags to her parents. She looked at her parents for approval, and they in turn, upon recognizing him, nodded for her to do as she was told. She did so and in one turn of the road, Demitri pulled her out of the line and walked among the accompanying neighbors. He decided that the safest place to hide her was at a friend’s farm near the Bulgarian border. To avoid suspicion, his friend, who himself lived elsewhere, told his employees that she was his cousin suffering from tuberculosis and needed to live away from the city and in the healthy atmosphere of the farm. It was a courageous deed as those days were dangerous times: one did not know what informers lived among us and we had to always be cautious. The overseer of the farm, Stratos, who was the brother of the friend who delivered Meddy’s letter to me, was aware of the truth that in fact his boss was bringing an escaped Jewish girl to hide on the farm. He did not like the added burden to living in that isolated place with fear of the Germans and the difficulties that life on the farm entailed. But as time passed with Meddy on the farm, Stratos would look for me at the club whenever he came to town in order to talk about Meddy. He liked to talk about her—how well she adjusted to life on the farm considering the circumstances; how interested she was in helping around the farm with the different chores such as making bread for the farm hands and taking care of the animals. I began to suspect that he was falling in love with her. He liked my company because he liked to talk of her. As 1944 approached, the political scene changed dramatically in favor of the Allies. First, Berlin was bombed and General Eisenhower unleashed the Allied invasion of Normandy; the French troops, led by General DeGaulle, liberated Paris; and soon after the British forces from Egypt, led by General Montgomery, defeated the Germans in El Alamein. By the end of 1943, the US troops advancing from West Africa—Morocco first, then to Algeria and Tunis—jointly with the British, defeated the Germans in North Africa and invaded Italy. Mussolini was deposed and executed by resistance fighters and Italy sided with the Allies. Adolf Hitler committed suicide as Soviet and US troops approached Berlin. Germany surrendered and after atom bombs demolished Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered. The Germans finally left Greece and as
they retreated left the country in ruins; first with starvation of its people, then destroying bridges, railroads, and sinking ships in the ports. The Greek economy was in shambles. I remember how confused we were when currency had to start again from zero. Because of inflation, we had thousands of drachmas in our hands to pay for one bus ticket. Then, with the new currency in which one drachma now equaled 1,000 inflated drachmas, adjustment to the new way of counting was Meddy with infant son, Kostis. confusing. With the liberation, the mood of the people turned to euphoria. Everybody celebrated in the streets; the trucks full of young men and women from the mountains came down as liberators. And Meddy came from her hiding place on the farm with Stratos to reunite with her sister and fiancé also down from hiding in the mountains. What a joyous reunion. Unfortunately, their parents were not to be seen again and poor Meddy, now one of very few survivors from Thessaloniki’s Jewish community, heard the unbelievable stories of the holocaust and her parents’ fate. Meddy soon married Stratos. But in order to marry in the Greek Orthodox Church, she had to be baptized first, which she consented to do and asked me to be her godmother in the ceremony. So I had to polish up on all the prayers a godmother had to recite in a baptism and poor Meddy had to step in the font in her nightgown and the holy water poured all over her from head down. Demitris Zannas who saved her from the holocaust, became their best man at their wedding. Meddy and Stratos eventually got situated with their new jobs on the Anatolia College campus, which was again restored as a recognized secondary school by the Board of Education. Meddy became the secretary of the Girls’ School and Stratos was hired as the Librarian.
Civil War and Rebuilding Greece
oor Greece was still not restored to what one terms as complete liberation. Most of the young men who came from the mountains as liberators were recruited by communist agents from the Soviet Union and indoctrinated to communism. So a bitter civil war erupted between the communists backed by the Greeceâ€™s neighbors and the Soviet Union, and the nationalists backed by the new government and the British. The civil war proved to be as bad as the German occupation, if not worse, as Greeks fought fellow Greeks, brothers against brothers, and all that a civil war entails. Thanks to the aid of the British and their Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the communists finally were defeated.
Dressed in my UNRRA uniform with Elsie.
When WWII and the civil war in Greece ended officially, Greece began to see light at the end of the tunnel. Villages in the northern border, however, continued to suffer from obstinate communists who persistently harassed the villagers and retreated to the neighboring communist countries. Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union had a stronghold on all of Eastern Europe, including the eastern part of Germany. Berlin was cut into two by a wall blocking East Berliners from defecting to the West Zone; thus the “Iron Curtain” was established, suitably named so by Winston Churchill in one of his speeches, and the Cold War started between the USSR and the West. British troops came into Greece as liberators; the United Nations under UNRRA (U.N. Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) together with the U.S. through the Marshall Aid to Greece, poured money and relief workers. As a result, many offices opened; many English-speaking Greeks were employed; many of the Americans who had served in Greece before the War were also sent back to help with the rehabilitation. Dr. Compton, the President of Anatolia College, Charlie House of the Farm School and many others came back. The Lochs came back with Friends Relief Service (Quakers) under UNRRA. I worked for UNRRA as interpreter with relief workers, first of the British Red Cross and then the Friends Service Council. It is then when I traveled all over Northern Greece and learned of what these parts suffered during the War and worse yet, the civil war. The relief work consisted of mostly distribution of food, clothing and medical supplies, practically all sent from America. It gave me a lot of satisfaction to see all the happy faces receiving so many things after the ravages of war and the occupation. I remember when I was first introduced to nylon stockings among the items we were distributing, and many novelties that America enjoyed way before our time. I remember the “nylon” came to mean anything new, of higher quality, and not necessarily stockings! Nylon-books, nylon-strawberries, nylon-apples! I made some good friends among the people I worked with; I was even sent with one Quaker woman to live away from home for almost a year in the town of Berea. Her name was Nora Bishop. We became good friends and enjoyed working together. At that time, the Quakers, with Joice Loch’s suggestion, were making
plans for a domestic training school on the Farm School grounds, in fact using the barracks that were built for us during the occupation. They offered to train me in England for work in that school, but I was not enthusiastic about it at the time, as I liked my job with UNRRA and the social life I had with a group of girls and the British officers who were stationed with their unit in Berea. It was so nice living those days seeing all the improvements taking place around usâ€”happy faces, optimism, job openings and opportunities. My brother Harry had to fulfill his military service and served in the Royal Air Force for two years. Elsie also worked with UNRRA but in different areas. My father continued his English lessons with the British Council, and my mother enjoyed her garden and life in general with her family all together. In 1947 we had the Pan Hellenic Regattas (National) on the island of Rhodes. Rhodes is the chief island of the Dodecaneseâ€”the twelve islands in the south eastern Aegean Sea. It was in the hands of the Italians since WWI and was annexed to Greece at the end of WWII. I became very involved in rowing and took part in the Pan Hellenic races representing our club in the 2-oar and 4-oar seniors racing boats. We came first in both these races! How beautiful the island of Rhodes looked to us. All the colonnades and the looks of the buildings around the central square of the city, in some way retaining the style of the ancestral ruins found here and there on the island. What masters in architecture the Italians are! We reOn top of Mount Olympus. turned triumphantly to Thessaloniki and to our club, and my vanity reached a high point at seeing our photos displayed in the window of a well-known shop! Other sports we engaged into were mountaineering. The English, interested themselves in climbing our mountains, would furnish transportation, a luxury we did not have those days, and we would climb the summits of the mountain ranges we could see across the Bay of Salonika, one of them being Mt. Olympus.
My First Trip Abroad
fter the UNRRA days, I worked as secretary at Anatolia College for one year. The year 1948 was the year of the first Olympic Games to be held in London after the war. The last Games before the war were held in Berlin, Germany in1936. That was the year when Hitler as Chancellor of Germany refused to shake hands with Jesse Owens, the African-American winning sprinter, because of his skin color. He was so obsessed about the superiority of the Aryan race! We had high hopes of participating in the Olympics to represent Greece, since we came first in the Pan Hellenic races, but to our disappointment were informed that women were not admitted to the races; some of our fellow men-rowers from our club, though, were chosen to participate, so our friend Maggie, Elsie and myself decided to save money and travel to England to watch the Games. How excited were we with our plans! Our first trip abroad! And what more, we were going to also meet our many English friends we made and partied with while they were in Greece. Our plans materialized; we even flew together on the same plane with some of the athletes. We were met and stayed with the first UNRRA couple I worked with, Albert and Hilda Glynn, of the British Red Cross. We did attend the opening ceremonies. We could see King George VI of England and family across the stadium officiating in the opening of the games. But I have to confess this is all we attended of the Games. We tried to go to the spot on the River Thames where the regattas were to be held, but we missed seeing our own rowers. We were more excited visiting friends and the beautiful countryside around London. We enjoyed England so much that we did not want to leave it. Elsie and I
decided to try to extend our stay, as the time of our return approached. We learned that unless we had legitimate reasons, as tourists we could only stay the time our visa allowed. We soon found out one possibility. And that was if we could get a job that no one else could do in the whole of London. The Quakers! We immediately visited Friends House (Quaker headquarters) on Euston Road, London. Here was the Friends Relief Service Department that dealt with their relief work overseas and in Greece. We told them of our desire to remain in England and what the law required of foreign citizens to acquire visas in order to remain in the country. They felt that we could both be of help working there as Greek representatives of the new Girls Domestic Training School they had just opened on the Farm School; but it all depended on the approval of their application by the British government. We were elated, and so was my father who always held dear feelings for England and was encouraging us to stay, as was my mother. Well, the government approved, and we remained in England three years. I loved living in England, and we learned to appreciate the Quakers very much. Eventually we moved to their hostel, Woodstock, close to our work where young people lived away from their homes, most of them Quakers working in Friends House along with students among others. Woodstock was in a nice, hilly neighborhood, close to Regents Park and the London Zoo. We would occasionally wake up to the roar
Building road in Germany, American Friends Service Committee with Austrian, Norwegian, Chineese, Greek and German volunteers, 1950.
of the lions and barking seals. We got to know many of our friends’ families and visited their homes and became very active with life. I enrolled in evening classes at the Literary Institute of London: took Appreciation of Music, English Literature (Elizabethan & Jacobean), a phonetics class, and even a Classical Greek class, to learn to read ancient Greek according to the Erasmus pronunciation, which is taught in out-of-Greece schools. Elsie joined the Drama class which Lawrence Olivier attended in his early years. London also enhanced our cultural life. The theaters and other performance centers were close to our living quarters, and the Woodstock residents were good at supplying us with reasonable tickets to all these places. I have fond memories of the shows like “Streetcar Named Desire” with Vivian Lee on stage and the Greek tragedy “Antigone” also with both Vivian Lee and her husband, Lawrence Olivier. In the years we lived in England (1948-1951) there was a lot of work being done by young volunteers as the result of the blitzkrieg (“Lightning War” or The Blitz) when in their preparation to invade Britain, the German Nazis pounded London with bombs for 59 nights (beginning in September 1940) in order to break Britain’s will to resist. By May of 1941, over 43,000 civilians—half of them in London—had been killed and more than a million houses were destroyed or damaged from the bombing. So in our time in London after the war, I joined the International Voluntary Service for
Peace (IVSP) and we would spend weekends leveling bomb sites for reconstruction. I also joined a group from Friends House in 1950 and crossed the Channel to Holland and Germany. In Germany we joined the American Quakers and built a road for displaced persons from East Germany on either side of which there were to be houses built for them. It was fun meeting young people from many countries and working together for a good cause. There were times when we would miss good old Greece and its Mediterranean climate, as it rained a lot in England. We also had concerns for leaving our parents alone. My brother Harry, who was with them at first, found out that his scholarship to study at Cornell University still was honored. He had been awarded the scholarship prior to the German Occupation and was unable to leave Greece. But in spite of the 9-10 years that elapsed due to the war, he finally left for the United States in 1950. Also in 1951, we received a letter from home that informed us that father was having trouble with an inflamed prostate and was having surgery. So, after two years and nine months away, I decided to return home in spite of my parentsâ€™ objections. Friends House was kind enough to give me temporary transfer to their School on the Farm School with my position in London open whenever I wanted to come back. So, leaving Elsie behind, I returned to Greece in April of 1951. Today when I think of it, three years away from Greece and my parents doesnâ€™t seem a long time, but it did so then and it felt so good
Harry with my parents before leaving for USA to attend Cornell University in 1950.
and refreshing to be back and see my old friends and surroundings again. Everything and everybody looked changed and grown. I remember, my cheapest ticket home was by train across the Channel, all the way south to the southern port of Brindisi, Italy, then by ship through the Corinth Canal to Athens. All my impressions mixed with emotions felt so dramatic; stepping on Greek soil!!! Like Odysseus reaching his island of Ithaca! Norman and Doreen Gilbertson, my good friends from my UNRRA days, met me at Piraeus. Doreen was another of my Jewish friends who hid in Athens with friends during the German Occupation, and was spared the holocaust; then worked with the Quakers under UNRRA and met Norman whom she married. They both served at the Girls School for a while. It was so nice to be with my parents again and be able to help them in their preparations for my father’s prostate surgery. Such surgeries were not performed easily those days, but thanks to the encouragement of one of my father’s students who came fresh from Paris with a degree in medicine and offered to perform the surgery, it all went well—thank God—and my father was relieved from months of great discomfort. Since my English had improved significantly during my years in England I decided to avail the opportunity of taking the Cambridge Certificate examination on Proficiency in English that the British Council in Thessaloniki was giving. I was still at the Girls School, trying to decide whether to go back to England where my position was still open or stay home by my parents, when Elsie from London announced that she met and fell in love with a young man from Norway in the IVSP organization and they decided to marry and live in Oslo, Norway. After their decision, with my parents’ consent, I decided to stay home and seek a more permanent job. I worked in the Girls’ School on the Farm School until I decided to remain in Greece. Elsie was married in Oslo to Lars Stuestol in 1951 in the warm presence of his parents and sister, Ingrid, and with the blessings of my parents who could not be there. Eventually I changed jobs and worked as secretary at the British Council where my father also taught. I did revisit England and then Elsie in Norway. My visit to Elsie and Lars was bitter-sweet because of the thought that the sibling companionship was ended and new lives
were beginning for both of us. My brother Harry, in the meantime, who went to America for studies at Cornell University in Agricultural Engineering, graduated and went to California for his practical training. There he met within the Greek social circles a girl from San Francisco, Mary Kassavetis, of Greek parents from Crete. After a few months of dating they decided to marry and settle in Stockton, California. So with Elsie in Norway and Harry in America, my stay in Greece was solidified. After my visit to Norway, I got a job with the agency that took over the work of UNRRA called Mutual Security Agency (MSA), Special Mission to Greece for Economic Cooperation. In those days, we Greeks who spoke English were easily employed for those positions that opened up with such qualifications! But after working in England as secretary for almost three years and being used to taking dictation from British bosses, I had some difficulty getting it accurately, especially if the boss happened to be from Texas with a southern accent. “There is still room for improvement before she approaches the speed of an American secretary,” showed up in my “TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN” introductory letter at the end of my work with MSA. But my boss was very kind and understanding and his letter continued: “The writer highly recommends her for any position which her education and experience qualify her to fill.” Well, my qualification led me to the next job which turned out to be the highlight of all my experiences in the work field. I applied to the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. I was offered the job of escorting Greek migrants to Australia. After the war, openings for migrations started to countries like Australia, the United States, Canada, and countries in South America. Many Greeks, especially those who suffered and were ready for a new life, were the first ones to be accepted. So I was offered the position of Escort/Teacher to 150 immigrants from January to March, 1954, to Melbourne, Australia. After disembarkation of the immigrants we were to continue north to Saigon (today’s Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam to pick up the last French soldiers, after their defeat in Dien Bien Phu, and transport them to Marseilles, France. Before continuing this unforgettable trip, however, I should start a new chapter.
How I Met Ivan
hile working MSA as the receptionist and secretary to the head of my department, Archie Johnston, I met a lot of people, among them American field workers who would stop from time to time to see my boss and the head of the Agriculture Department. Among them was a young man, Ivan Holdeman, agricultural advisor and leader of a team of five young men who were living in a remote village near the Yugoslav-Bulgarian border. This particular village, Panayitsa, was chosen to be the headquarters of his team to serve and advise the villagers who suffered a lot in the civil war. Many of the men were killed by the communists, and the widows and orphaned children needed a lot of help to get their homes and fields restored. Ivan and his team were sent by the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), their churchâ€™s relief agency, to start an agricultural demonstration project in that village, with the financial cooperation of MSA. So, Ivan would come to Thessaloniki to MSA every month and stop at my desk to pick up the check I prepared for their Greek interpreter and also to see and talk business with one of my bosses in the Agriculture Department. Since I worked with the Quakers who also did relief work like the Mennonites, we talked about the work they were doing in Panayitsa and their stand on war and pacifism, so similar to that of the Quakers. He was a very serious young man. He didnâ€™t talk much about his private life other than that he was a teacher tired of his demanding first year of teaching and that he needed a break. One day he came to the office near closing time and after having been served with his check, he stayed on till we started getting ready to leave. He was asked if they could help him with anything
and he said he didn’t need their service until I got up to leave. He then approached me and asked if he could walk with me and visit with me. As I was not acquainted with the meaning of ‘visit’ other than visiting somebody with him, especially with the kind of work I was doing as interpreter, I thought he wanted me to go with him to see someone on business. I told him I needed to go home first and he offered to take me home in his car. When we got home I introduced him to my parents. Right away, my father engaged him in conversation asking about the work they were doing in Panayitsa, the Mennonite Church, and the pacifist stand of their church . . . and the conversation went on and on, and I couldn’t stop them and tell my father that he wanted my services to go somewhere. This was our first date! My father and Ivan sitting on the balcony and talking and Ivan not daring to tell my father that he wanted to take me out for a date! When he returned to the village and his friends asked him how did the date go, he told them he spent the whole evening talking to the “old boy” out on the balcony! After this incident, every time Ivan came to the office and asked me out for a ‘visit,’ I knew it was for a date! We started dating seriously around the summer of 1953. He had already been in Greece since 1951. Previously he worked in Germany with MCC/PAX (Mennonite Central Committee) for six months constructing houses for refugees from East Germany. When MCC decided to start work in Greece, Ivan was sent with the first team as director of the agricultural demonstration project. The PAX work there was so successful that it continued for almost 25 years spreading its type of work manifold in the surrounding western parts of Greek Macedonia and finally on the island of Crete at the invitation of the Greek Orthodox Bishop. To give a brief introduction of Ivan’s background: As I mentioned before, he had decided to work with PAX in Europe after graduating from Goshen College with a major in Natural Science with minors in Education and History. Although he had full intentions to dedicate himself in the teaching field, his first experience in a small Colorado middle school with a meager salary and a lot of expectations of a first-year teacher over and above teaching, proved so discouraging that he quit.
One of very few pictures taken of Ivanâ€™s family, 1936. 13-year-old Ivan is second from the left.
Ivan as a Smokejumper, CPS-103 jumper in Missoula, Montana during the 1945 season. World War II confronted Ivan with a very difficult dilemma (quoting from his autobiography): â€œOn the one hand I had the feelings of patriotism that our nationalistic society had given to its new generation â€“ the feeling that each citizen must be willing to sacrifice himself for society in whatever capacity that society asked the person to serve;
on the other hand, my home and church had passed on to me the conviction that one should not do violence to one’s fellow human beings no matter what the provocation might be; joining the armed forces was in fact submitting myself to an organization the primary function of which was to do violence. By joining I gave my individual right of deciding what cause I would give my life for . . . My family and church values in my case won the day and I opted to follow my religious convictions rather than patriotic feelings. This inner conflict has been a part of my life’s experience to this day. I expect this will always be so.” In 1945 Ivan was drafted and served as a conscientious objector in several CPS (Civilian Public Service) camps. He later was one of the first Smokejumpers in Missoula, Montana trained by Earl Cooley of the National Parks Service. This group of Smokejumpers was formed as an alternative service to the military and was primarily made up of conscientious objectors. “I did not want to jump out of an airplane . . . but I needed to demonstrate to myself that I had not taken my alternative service position to escape danger.” During the summer of 1945 Ivan made 15 jumps. “One of these jumps was made after dark on the Devil’s Farm Creek Fire in the Seven Devil Mountains in Hell Canyon! I’ll never forget it!” As Ivan’s term was coming to an end and our courting was getting serious including plans for marriage, Ivan had to break the news to his family. He had been gone for three years, and no doubt they were anxious to see him home. I’m sure with his five siblings married and with families, his mother was anxious to see him come home and to his church circle and see him marry a nice Mennonite girl and settle down. Ivan, though, was not ready to leave Greece. He first wrote them that he wanted to see more of Greece and Europe before returning, but finally had to confess that he was dating a Greek girl, and that this was partly the reason for delaying his return. As luck would have it, the president of Anatolia College, Dr. Compton, who knew Ivan pretty well for his work in Panayitsa, approached him with an offer to teach the remaining months of the school year in place of a departed teacher due to illness. Of course, Ivan accepted. The question of the marriage, though, brought some problems between us. Ivan was anxious to return with me to his folks soon after school, and I was hesitant to leave my parents right away, especially since
the teaching position was open for Ivan for another year. I thought we would give my parents a little time to get used to the idea of being left behind, especially with my father approaching the age of 82. In the midst of our disagreement whether to leave right away, if we got married, or wait another year, the trip to Australia presented itself, and we both felt it would be wise to part for the two months and think more about it all! Of course, I was secretly hoping Ivan would wait for me and decide to marry me and consent to wait another year before seeing his folks again. We were very much in love and the thought of parting and the indecisions were weighing on us; but we still decided traveling to Australia was a wise move and a rare opportunity for me. Ivan had even entrusted me with his precious Zeiss-Ikon camera he had just bought in Germany and for which he had paid a lot of money. He spent a lot of time teaching me how to use it, and I could tell he was very proud of it, and I felt great that he trusted me to take it with me. We parted with sad feelings for the separation. I flew to Athens and boarded the Norwegian ship Skaubryn on 22 January 1954. It arrived from Germany with German immigrants and two lady escorts. The rest of the crew were our Danish leader escort, two German clergymen, a Greek priest and myself. The captain was Norwegian and the chef and waiters French (French cuisine). What an international conglomerate! Of course, the Norwegians saw me as one of their own, having a sister living in Norway. I liked my cabin pretty well which I shared with the younger of the German escorts, called Elizabeth. The other escort was little older than us and we called her â€˜Miss Eevanâ€™ (Ivan). It took us a little while to get acquainted with the rest of the staff. Besides those I mentioned earlier, there was also a German doctor and two Norwegian officers with their wives (one the purser). My contract read: Escort Teacher, salary: $150 per month plus $5 per diem for uncompleted portion of the month (this was 55 years ago!). Everybody was very congenial and those who had made the trip many times were very helpful. The Greek priest was a little unaccustomed to all that was happening around him; he was young from a small town and untrav-
eled. He seemed to have little education, and I was not sure if he was the right kind of priest for the poor Greek immigrants who seemed to be quite bewildered with the new experiences and the unknown ahead of them. I formed this opinion of him soon with the first Sunday service he planned and invited me to attend. In his sermon he sounded pretty bombastic and patriotic telling them the very things they did not need to hear, such as “like the eagle that cannot live when it is taken away from its beloved high tops of the mountains, so are the Greeks when they have to leave their beloved country!” We headed eastward in the Mediterranean leaving the Aegean islands north of us and Cyprus; and reached our first stop, that of Port Said of Egypt, the gateway to the Suez Canal (Red Sea). Sailing through the canal was very peaceful. The coast of Egypt west of us seemed so close, we could see the farmers working in their fields; the Saudi Arabian coast on our east was in the distance. Soon we reached Yemen and exited the Gulf of Aden to the tip of Somalia, where piracy is taking place in present days. The passengers had quieted down from having been seasick before entering the Suez Canal. My first days after leaving Piraeus, Athens, were very hectic. With the slightest rolling of the ship we had many cases of seasickness and I had to run from cabin to cabin to pacify the immigrants with their children. I had to climb hundreds of steps up and down, and I had at first a hard time finding their cabins on the different floors; they all looked alike without any signs for directions. When the sea was calm I organized classes—mostly for young people—teaching basic English: what we called ‘shopping’ English. After Aden and into the Indian Ocean we headed for the island of Sri Lanka (then as part of India it was called Ceylon). The captain invited us to eat out at Colombo, the capital, in a restaurant high up on the rocks with a beautiful view of the coast below us, lined with palm trees as far as your eye could see. I was all excitement with the whole exotic atmosphere around me; the women looking so graceful in their colorful saris, and eating exotic food. I ate so much curry in my food that my mouth around my lips was burning, giving the sensation I had yellow curry all over my face! The immigrants started feeling emboldened and interested touring the town. Then we sailed southward our long ten-day voyage across the Equator to our first Australian stop, the
city of Perth, at its southwestern tip. When we were crossing the Equator, which was announced over the speaker, the programmers organized the ceremony of the visit of the god of the seas, Neptune, and his entourage. They started throwing us into the swimming pool (mostly staffers) with our clothes on and making a lot of noise. Then they presented all seamen and passengers with the certificate: â€œThe M/S Skaubryn (Oslo) appeared within our Royal domain, and all aboard have been duly inspected and found worthy as our Trusty Shellback, . . . initiated into the SOLEMN MYSTERIES OF THE ANCIENT ORDER OF THE DEEP. February 5, 1954.â€? ~Signed NEPTUNUS REX I still have the certificate rolled up among all my rowing and mountain-climbing certificates! Some of the immigrants understood and enjoyed the meaning of the ceremony, but many saw all the happenings with confusion and needing some explanation. But it was fun. I must add that from the time we entered the Suez Canal we felt the climate getting hotter and hotter, and by the time we reached the Equator it was almost unbearable. I must also add that in spite of the rough seas we encountered, especially in the Indian Ocean, and all the seasickness around me, not once did I get seasick, and this made me believe that often seasickness is psychological. I was dictated by my sense of my duties as escort not to get seasick! As we were approaching Australia, everybody started getting excited at the thought we were reaching the end of our trip, as far as the immigrants were concerned. Five more sailing days to Melbourne and that would make 26 days on the sea, with a few interruptions: Athens to Suez Canal, to Ceylon (1 day), through the Equator to Perth (1 day), to Melbourne.
The Saga of the Zeis-Ikon
las, when returning from Perth to the ship, I realized I lost Ivan’s camera! A great disaster! I am going to copy my letter to Ivan from Melbourne when I decided to confess the loss:
Darling, I have some terrible news to tell you and I might as well tell it right away. Although we stopped in Fremantle (the port of Perth) five days ago and I could have posted a letter to you from there, I didn’t do it. I feel awful, and I’m afraid this will hurt you very, very much… When we got out in Fremantle, my colleague Elizabeth and I took the bus to Perth, a town about ¾ miles from Fremantle. I took with me your camera too. The ship was leaving at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, so we went hurriedly to a tearoom for a sandwich and a cup of tea then went around the town to visit one or two shops. I stopped at a shop and bought the material for my wedding dress (!) and hurriedly again we took the bus for Fremantle. When we arrived at Fremantle, I suddenly realized that I didn’t have your camera. I jumped up immediately and got out of the bus to return to Perth to look for it, but the time was already quarter to four. I didn’t know what to do. For a moment I thought of staying at Fremantle and taking the plane to Melbourne the next day, but then I thought the immigrants would be without an escort for 5 days. A woman who was sit-
ting next to me and saw my distress got out of the bus with me and asked if she could help me in any way. So we went to a telephone box and tried to ring up the shop where I had been to, but the line was engaged and we had to wait, when suddenly I heard the ship funnel blasting the departure warning, so I gave my Melbourne address to the lady, also left some money with her and she promised to look for it and send it to me by air. I was one of the last to board the ship, and I told the captain what happened to me and he asked the pilot who was accompanying us for a short while, to telephone the Perth Police and ask them to look for it in the tearoom and the shop up in Perth. So, Ivan, you can imagine my five-day trip to Melbourne. I had a letter ready to post to you in Fremantle but I kept it with the hope I would find the camera awaiting our arrivalâ€Śâ€? To make the story short (which is already long by now!) I had no news of arrival of the camera on my first of the two days we were to spend in Melbourne. I did go out when an old friend from Thessaloniki met me and took me to the big General Motors plant where he worked and helped the immigrants to find work as they were arriving from Greece. I met quite a few of them already hired. I went to bed that first night with the hope I might still hear about the camera the next day. Well, I did hear from the lady in a letter telling me she found the camera at the shop and was sending it under separate cover. It did not arrive on our last day. We left for Vietnam, but at least I knew it had been found. I could send my letters to Ivan with the peace of mind that he knew I would return with his camera. I informed the Melbourne Messageries Maritimes (the migration company) to re-address the camera to the Ceylon address, which allowed plenty of time on our return via Saigon. So, the knowledge that the camera was found made the rest of my trip lots of fun. The relief for not having the escortâ€™s responsibilities was overwhelming. Now that we were going to sail north, with the climate getting tropical as we were going to cross the Equator again, made us all wanting to relax and make plans to prepare the swimming pool by giving it a new coat of paint and spend our time basking in the
sun, swimming, eating the good food and playing cards (I was introduced to canasta and loved it) with the rest of the staff at the captain’s quarters in the evenings…but what do you know, as soon as our ship sailed out of the Port of Melbourne, with the slightest rolling of the ship, I got seasick! I was seasick for two days and had to lie in bed, while the rest of my friends had a good time on deck,. Again, I do believe sometimes seasickness is psychological. Anyway, I felt better the third day and joined the friends with whom we developed a happy camaraderie. Only my friend the Greek priest was not able to join since he did not speak English, and without the immigrants he spent a lot of time by himself. He was enjoying the new experiences though. We skirted around Australia and sailed north to Saigon through the straits between Sumatra and Java. It was night when we were passing Jakarta, the capital of Java. All we could see was the lights of the city, and soon after, it was announced over the microphone we were passing the famous volcano Krakatau, which caused the tidal waves that killed thousands of people, something like the Tsunami disaster of our days. It is interesting that we were so close to those famous exotic places, like Bali, Jakarta, Singapore and did not stop to visit them. A ship like Skaubryn with a consignment of transporting immigrants or soldiers from war places in a certain bracket of time, is not a tourist ship to entertain passengers for money. We were grateful, though to have had those experiences! To reach Saigon we had to sail on the Mekong River. It was interesting again, like the Red Sea, seeing the villagers so close busy in their fields, and fishing from the little promontories, wearing the famous conical hats made of palm leaves for protection from the tropical sun. What I remember was the jungle on our left and right and suddenly seeing among the palm trees the masts of another ship ahead of us, almost parallel moving the same direction on the narrowly winding curves of the river… Saigon! Such a quaint, busy town. While the ship was taking time to get the new load of passengers, we had the chance to observe over the railings of the ship all the noisy and energetic activities by the water of men and women, children and animals; women washing clothes and dishes side by side in the river; children playing in and out of the water, and at one time (I’ll never forget) a man
bringing a cage with rats in it and dipping it in the water next to all afore mentioned activities, for their last breath! …We had two nights and one day in Saigon. Our day in town was spent riding a cyclo, a threewheeled carriage for two, pedaled in the back by the owner, like a bicycle. Sometimes the poor driver had a hard time to pedal his cyclo when the road was uphill and the passengers heavy, like our head escort; and for very little money! I visited some of the stores and bought a handmade leather pair of sandals for Ivan and locally made little souvenirs, like a set of elephants made of ebony wood, and carved envelope openers of ivory. When we returned to the ship, we found it over-brimming with French soldiers (defeated from the Battle of Dien Bien Phu). We girls headed for our cabins as we were advised by our head escort. “You never know,” he said jokingly, “they have come from the war zone, away from their homes, and besides, they are French!” They proved to be very friendly and polite. They wanted to hear about the rest of the world and I had the opportunity to practice my French that I had studied at school, many years before. The next day we headed for Ceylon. I couldn’t help having the dubious thought lurking in the back of my mind: Ivan’s camera, the Zeis-Ikon, will it be there waiting our arrival or not! What a difference will it make for the rest of the trip. I kept thinking of the famous Greek saying: ‘Kalomeleta, kai erhetai’ (Think positively, and it will happen). I never saw the camera, neither on our half-day stay in Ceylon nor in Cairo, nor in Athens. But the letters from Ivan awaiting me in all these places after learning my dismay about losing the camera, were re-assuring that loss of material things was not all that important to him, as long as I was arriving safe and sound myself! A few days after I returned to Thessaloniki, we got notice from the port customs office that the camera was there and I should go get it after paying the import duty. This was the second entry fee poor Ivan had to pay for his, by now, famous Zeis-Ikon!
The Marriage Begins: Life on the Anatolia Campus
e decided to get married on the Anatolia College campus at Easter time on April 26, 1954—a few weeks after my return in “almond blossom time”. I say “almond” because the almond trees back in my home were blooming abundantly in April with white and pink blooms, like crabapples in Denver in April. In order for our wedding to be recognized legally both by the American Consulate and the Greek authorities, we decided to have a dual wedding. In Greece, state and church work
Opposite, Anna and Ivan engaged, 1954. Our wedding day with my parents. together and unless we marry in the Greek Orthodox Church the authorities will not change my name, and consequently, my name on my passport. But when we visited the Bishop to give us permission to be married in the Greek Church at Easter time—as no weddings were being performed during Easter unless by special permission— we came across other serious decisions we had to consider. The Bishop allowed the wedding to take place during Easter week, provided we signed that our children would be baptized Greek Orthodox. We had not taken this into consideration. Ivan and I had already talked about my attending the Mennonite Church, and exchanged correspondence about my intentions with my future mother-in-law, who was so pleased about it that she couldn’t wait to meet me and have me teach her Greek so she could learn to read the New Testament in its original form! Considerations, considerations! Ivan would not sign for ethical reasons, even though I suggested he should for the sake of changing my name on my Greek passport. After all, I thought, how could we have our children baptized in the future when we wouldn’t even know if there existed a Greek church in Denver, or wherever we were to live in America in the future? We finally decided to forego the Greek wedding altogether.
Cutting the wedding cake with best man, David Redmayne. Ivanâ€™s fellow teachers were all excited about the upcoming wedding in the campus chapel. We arranged for the Protestant Pastor, who was ministering to the Americans in Greece and lived in Athens, to fly to Thessaloniki, and Mrs. Compton, the wife of the Anatolia President offered to organize everything for the wedding. She had the chapel all decorated with lilacs that were blooming profusely on the campus, and the college cook bake two huge wedding cakes for the 75-80 guests who attended the ceremony. The young men from the PAX unit in Panayitsa offered to come and serve as ushers; I had my dressmaker sew my wedding gown with the fabric I brought from Perth, the city where I lost the Zeis-Ikon! Ivan, who was apprehensive about all the preparations and wanted the wedding to be as simple as possible, also got excited when the time came and saw all our friends, Greek and American coming from Thessaloniki and the Farm School. It was a glorious day! I am enclosing the letter my father wrote to Ivanâ€™s mother after
the wedding. This was the first and only wedding my parents attended of their three children. They were so excited! 280 Queen Olga Street Saloniki May 9, 1954 Dear Mrs. Anna Holdeman, This letter should have been written earlier, but the excitement of the great event and the little exertion have told on my old age and made me feel a little tired; so I thought of writing to you when I would feel more composed and more serene. And first of all I must tell you how happy we, father and mother, feel that Ivan has found Anna and Anna has gladly consented to be his wife. We overjoy at the thought that Ivan has found a faithful and loving wife and Anna found the ideal husband. I think this mutual confidence and contentment constitute the basis of a harmonious and happy life. The ceremony of the wedding took place on the 26th of April. It was a solemn and imposing performance and the simplicity and the clearness with which the minister officiated impressed the gathering greatly. It was really touching to see the principal of the Girlsâ€™ School, the wife of the President of Anatolia College, and other ladies from the College circle, eagerly and lovingly carrying flower pots and armfuls of flowers to decorate the Assembly Hall, as a token of their appreciation and esteem for Ivan and affection to Anna whom they have known since her childhood. As I stood before the minister committing my daughter to the tender care and keeping of Ivan, I could not help fancying your soul hovering over the sacred performance and giving your blessing and maternal kiss to the happy couple. The ceremony being over, we all passed to the adjoining spacious veranda where a table was placed with the enormous wedding cake on it. You should have seen the grace and dexterity with which the bride and the bridegroom were cutting the cake, pieces of which with ice cream and wedding sweets were offered to the guests on the veranda. Anatolia College is situated
on a hill and we had a grand view from the veranda, beautiful Saloniki lying stretched below us and the snow capped historic Olympus, sublime and majestic across the blue water of the harbor. Looking at the imposing mountain one would think the twelve Olympian gods sitting on their twelve thrones were gazing admiringly on the gaiety and mirth on the veranda. An hour later the bride and the bridegroom were driving to the aerodrome to take the plane for their wedding trip to Athens. They stayed there for a week visiting the interesting antiquities and now they are with us again half the time at the College and half the time in our house. We found no words to express our happiness having Ivan for our son-in-law. We are constantly hearing good things about him from people who have come in close contact with him but we ourselves appreciate and love him for his gentle ways and his integrity. May the good God bless and keep them healthy and prosperous all their lives. We have greatly appreciated the letter you have written to Anna. Thank you very much for your kind and loving words with which you have accepted her into the bosom of your family. My wife Elisabeth joins with me in sending you our best wishes. Yours lovingly, Father and Mother
After the wedding we flew to Athens for our honeymoon. There, we took the tourist bus to the famous oracle of Delphi, where in ancient times the priestess and prophetess Pythia of the god Apollo in a trance from the smoke of burning herbs in front of her, pronounced the future and fate of famous people. Her pronouncements, though, were ambiguous (hence Delphian = ambiguous, obscure). For instance, some army general ready to go to war visited her to find out what his fate would be, and her answer was, “YOU WILL GO, YOU WILL RETURN, NOT KILLED IN WAR.” or “YOU WILL GO, YOU WILL RETURN NOT, KILLED IN WAR.” It depended where you place the coma! It was the ideal time and place for our honeymoon.
The month of April full of flowering fields, nightingales singing in the night outside our hotel; the marble ruins of the Apollo temple among the olive trees. So romantic! In Athens we visited the museums, parks, the Parthenon and enjoyed each otherâ€™s company.
Our first car, an Anglia Ford.
Elsieâ€™s Norwegian family hosted by the Houses. Top left: Myself, Father, the Houses, the Stuestols, Mother. Front: Lars and Elsie, at the Farm School.
Back on the campus we lived in a nice apartment among our new friends, ate at the teachers’ living quarters and visited my parents and friends in Thessaloniki. The greatest luxury was the little Ford Anglia, one of our PAX friends brought us from Germany, and so commuting back and forth from the campus to Thessaloniki and the surrounding places was a real comfort. Those days having your own transportation was a great luxury. In the summer Elsie and her husband Lars came from Norway, and together we visited the Aegean islands. Lars and Ivan got along marvelously. They already were making plans for the following summer to take us all over Norway on our way to America. My greatest pleasure was being able to travel in our little Anglia with friends on weekends and the following Easter (our wedding anniversary) when we took my parents south to Athens and Peloponnese. How proud my father was of his son-in-law; and what a “great driver he was”!! I was grateful that Ivan accepted to teach another year after we were married (1954-55), and enjoyed that year very much. I worked again at the office as secretary at the Boys’ School of Anatolia College for Dr. Compton, the President. We became close to the Comptons, and to their son’s family, Bill Compton, who also taught at the Boys’ School. My good friend Meddy also lived on the campus with her
My father looking at the sculpture made of him by Norwegian artist Per Ung.
husband Stratos, and by that time they had a son. We had good times together, continuing our close friendship which dated back to about 22 years, when we were fourth graders. She was the receptionist at the Girls’ School and Stratos the Librarian. Anatolia had a curriculum of some classes being taught in English; Ivan taught science and physical history in English and spoke at morning chapel every two weeks (not his favorite assignment!). He worked hard going back to teaching at Anatolia, but it was quite a challenge. It was a good preparation for when he got back to teaching in Denver. But he liked to dwell with the plans of the next summer when we’d stop at Lars and Elsie’s in Norway and together camp all over the beautiful country. But things don’t always work as you plan them. All these dreams were shattered when we discovered I was pregnant and the wise thing would be to leave for America as soon as schools were closed for the summer. Again my Greek nationality played an adverse role: If the child would be a boy, the wise thing would be for him to be born out of Greece, as otherwise automatically would have dual citizenship and the Greek government would claim him for military service, if he would happen to be in Greece around that age. Ivan’s family of two brothers and four sisters and, of course, his mother, were bombarding us with letters of expectation of our arrival and planning a big baby shower at their church, which made Ivan all the more anxious to go and meet all of them. He was very proud of his nephews and nieces who numbered sixteen at the time, and three on the way, including ours.
From left to right, Paul, Ivan, Marge, Menno, Alma, Cleda, Vesta and mother Anna Holdeman.
Goodbye to Thessaloniki
Aboard the ship “Olympia” in 1955 on my first voyage to America.
ne of my most difficult times was when I had to say goodbye to my parents. My father was 83 at the time, and when one was leaving for America in those days it was like leaving for another planet. The ‘au revoirs’ were not easily coming those days. My mother was to accompany us to Athens, and my father decided to stay behind. I remember, in my uncomfortable ninth month of pregnancy, with tears in my eyes telling him my goodbyes, and my father trying to appease me by humming a joyful tune of a song. That was the last time I saw him! We booked our passage on the Greek liner “Olympia” on July 10, 1955. The voyage took fourteen days to New York, westward on the Mediterranean Sea through the Straits of Gibraltar and to the Atlantic Ocean to New York. My Greek obstetrician furnished us with a paper for the ship doctor informing of my condition, since I was close to the delivery date. The baby was not born on the ship, but my condition helped in one thing; and that was whenever we had to stand in line for
whatever passport requirements necessary, we would be placed first in line, to Ivan’s relief! By the way, since my marriage was not recognized by the Greek authorities, my maiden name was on my Greek passport with the visa to America by the American Consulate. My brother Harry, who now lived in California with his wife Mary, had made arrangements with our cousins in New York to meet us on arrival. Cousin Orestis and cousin Bill (Thrasybulus)—remember the names of my uncle Demitrius’ sons? (The oldest brother, Xenophon had passed away and the fourth cousin, Hippolytus, lived in Athens.) Orestis and Bill met us at the ship and drove us all over New York with a big meal in an Armenian restaurant. Then we took the train to Denver with a stop at the Mennonite Central Committee headquarters, in Akron, Pennsylvania. I remember what an impression the famous Statue of Liberty made on me when approaching New York. We were in the waters of the United States! I also observed how fast the cars were moving one behind the other on the pier, like in a funeral or wedding procession, and Ivan had to explain that this is how traffic moves here in America. My first impressions of rapidity of life in America, contrary to the way I experienced it in England in the fifties! In Denver, Paul, Ivan’s younger brother, met us at the station with his two boys, Mark (2) and Tim (3), and took us to their duplex home, next to the Mennonite Church where Paul worked for the church as youth director. We met there his wife Helen and daughter Bonnie. I was so interested to meet Ivan’s family as they started coming one after the other to meet me. His sister Marge brought Ivan’s mother and her children, Janet (4) and Doug (1). Then his eldest sister, Vesta, came with the youngest of their four boys, Harold. What is interesting, all the women mentioned above, including myself, were expecting within the coming eight months (Helen expected Priscilla; Vesta, Ruth; and Marge, Donice). I had Elizabeth ten days after our arrival, on August 2. Very interesting! I had not realized this until this moment writing all of this. All I remember of these days was lots of boy-cousins and girl-cousins and soon babies! In the days of our arrival the method of “natural” childbirth was introduced and became very popular. Dr. Bradley was the famous pioneer obstetrician, so my in-laws introduced him to us and Ivan and I had our first appointment. He lectured us for a long time about
his new practice with great enthusiasm. With this method no shots are given, no biceps; relaxing and deep breathing are very important. He was so enthusiastic he made you feel you wanted to have your baby right away. The husband is to play a big role with being greatly supportive and encouraging by reminding the wife of all the things she was instructed to do during labor. My mother-in-law and the ladies of the church planned to give a baby shower and asked us if August 1st would be a good day. We felt that it was fine, since it was about a week before the calculated date of birth. It was a great party at Frances Cutrell’s home (Helen’s mother). The gifts were fantastic, way beyond my expectations. I was overwhelmed so much so that I began to feel like the first signs of labor discomfort were coming. When I mentioned it to my mother-inlaw, she advised Ivan to take me home right away and get me packed for the hospital, Porter’s Hospital. As soon as we got there my labor pains started, and Ivan sat beside me determined to perform the duties of the supportive husband. It was late at night, about midnight, when he fell asleep in his chair, and every time I made sounds when labor pains would start, he would wake up and try to soothe me by advising me to “relax like a wet gunny sack”—a new expression in my English vocabulary! The deep breathing and Ivan’s encouraging words helped the arrival of our first baby, a 7 lb., 7 oz. girl, Elizabeth Anne, on August 2, 1955. How much I enjoyed my first baby. How proud I was to take Elizabeth to church on Sundays, all dressed up in the cuddly baby clothes and receiving blanket I received at the baby shower. And she was such a friendly baby! How I wished my parents were able to travel and visit us! I used to describe in my letters a lot about every-day life with Elizabeth; and when I wrote about her first triple vaccination she received, they wrote back their concern about the little, baby arm enduring such a thing! Our first house was one we bought for $12,000!! It was a small house close to the church. Ivan was asked to build the youth center building next to the church as his first job, which kept him busy for a year with help of two to three young men who were volunteers from his church. My first year in Denver was quite a difficult year for me, as I felt very lonesome; my in-laws tried to make me feel at home in spite of
Early years with Elizabeth and Bruce at our house on Elati Street in Denver.
Above: both grandmothers with Bruce and youngest, Cynthia, at Red Rocks amphitheater. Below: Ivan with our children on Trail Ridge Road.
their busy lives with their families and away from where we lived. We had a car but I did not know how to drive and Ivan was pretty much occupied with his work. I had a neighbor, Charlotte, who was a good friend and enjoyed baby Elizabeth a lot. So we would put her in her stroller and walk the neighborhood, and occasionally Charlotte would offer to go with me and Elizabeth by bus downtown. She was a good neighbor. Bruce was born on a wintry day on February 12th, two and a half years later. It was a very cold day; the streets were icy, and when the time came our old car wouldn’t start. The young man across the street at the youth center reluctantly refused to drive us to the hospital in his brand new car for fear we would have an accident on the icy roads, and he cared too much for his new car. Finally Marge drove from her home in Lakewood, and our second baby, a boy, was born on the day of Lincoln’s birthday. We almost called him Abe! That time was bitter-sweet because we had learned from Greece that my father was lying in bed in a comma from a stroke after which he died three days later short of 85 years old. Our daughter Cynthia arrived a year and a half after Bruce. We gave her the Greek name Cynthia Diane (Cynthia is adjective to the goddess Diana, who was born at the foot of Mt. Cynthos). At that time my mother was with us, having decided to sell our family house in Greece and move to America after my father’s death. She stayed with us a few months and enjoyed baby Cynthia so much. We called Cynthia “our princess” because mother treated her like a princess. All three of our children were delivered by Dr. Bradley at Porter Hospital (the only hospital allowed to practice natural childbirth). Eventually, Harry and Mary came from California to visit us and took mother with them. They were hoping there among the circle of Greek friends and the Greek Orthodox Church which they were attending, she would feel more at home. One disadvantage was that she did not speak any English and she felt pretty lonesome for Greece. Fortunately Harry was offered the position of Agricultural Engineer at the very Farm School where I was born and raised, and of course the home of my mother, which job he accepted and moved with his family of four (two sons, Terry and Nicolas) and my mother. So Harry lived on the Farm School thirty plus years, and we had such good times traveling with our family to Greece and staying with them and my mother on the Farm School and at their beach house
Living at Grandma’s house on Hoyt Street in Lakewood. in Metamorphosis on the shores of Chalkidiki about two hours away. Ivan started teaching again after the one year that took him to build the youth center. After a couple of years he decided to go back to school and get his Master’s Degree in History. I then decided to work and got a job in a printing shop downtown Denver as a typist-artist producing various brochures and leaflets by typing stencils and duplicating them and also by photo producing them. I really learned a lot in that shop, and my typing experience helped a lot. Life in our family was really hectic with Ivan going back to school, me working full time and raising three kids. Mother Holdeman offered to baby-sit for us, so Ivan would take all three children to her on his way to college in Boulder and I would go to work downtown by bus. Elizabeth at the time started Kindergarten and she walked to school close to Grandma’s. I remember writing to my friend Meddy
in Greece and describing our daily life; she couldn’t believe how hard we worked here in America. Back in Greece those days, hiring maids was quite an accessible thing, especially from the villages, whereas here in the States we never dreamed of hiring one. Eventually, life eased up a little when we decided to move to Grandma’s. She lived in her own house in Lakewood, which Ivan built with his brother-inlaw the summer before he went to Europe. The house had a two-bedroom apartment upstairs which she was renting and she lived in the downstairs basement apartment with her daughter Alma. So we rented the apartment upstairs and Ivan decided to go back to teaching in a school for delinquent boys (Lookout Mountain School for Boys) in Golden where he taught for two years. We had good times in these early years in Colorado with Ivan’s siblings and their families. We loved the family gatherings, picnics, excursions, and reunions. Marge, Eli and their four children lived very close to Grandma’s and we would get together often. Our children’s ages were interwoven and they played together a lot. We would visit Paul’s family in Loveland and Paul had good ideas for day excursions—hiking and fishing in the pretty mountain surroundings between Loveland and Estes Park. Cleda’s family lived on a ranch outside La Junta in the Arkansas Valley. The children had such good times when we were invited to their ranch for family gatherings at Christmas time. I enjoyed going to the ranch, especially in early summer when the fields were greening and the cactus were in bloom. The cousins, David and Melvin, would invite Bruce and Marge’s boys, Doug and Lowell, to spend a few days on the ranch during cattle branding time. I also remember the good time we had camping with Cleda’s family at the Great Sand Dunes in southern Colorado where a vast quantity of sand was trapped by the mountains forming sand hills and streams. The children were so excited playing in the sand and climbing the hills and jumping big jumps fearlessly from the top down as far as they could; also gathering around the big fire in the evenings where forest rangers talked about nature and the formation of these sand dunes. We did a lot of camping in the Rockies in our tent and sleeping bags bought from an army surplus shop.
A Theocharides Family Reunion
n 1960, my brother moved to the Farm School in Greece with his family and my mother. In 1962 we had an invitation from my sister Elsie to visit her family in Norway. We decided to go to Oslo then travel—the two families together in our new Volkswagen microbus—to Greece to Harry’s. I took vacation from my job and we started planning for the trip. How excited I was; seven years after leaving Greece, going back with a complete family of five, first visiting Elsie in Oslo and her complete family of five and driving through Europe to my beloved Farm School and Harry’s family and my mother at their new comfortable home which Harry designed and built. Ivan ordered our Volkswagen microbus to be delivered to us in
Holland. We began the journey by taking a Greyhound bus to New York (the cheapest way). Not yet knowing what such a trip entails, the reaction of our children was interesting to observe. While making our first bus stop at Limon near the Kansas border, Bruce, at four-and-a –half years of age asked Ivan, “Is this Greece?” In New York we boarded the Dutch ocean liner, Groote Beer (Great Bear). As we were leaving port, Ivan was explaining to the children the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean and how many days it would take to cross it. In response, Bruce asked, “But Dad, where are the ducks?” The Groote Beer took us to Amsterdam where the Volkswagen representative met us on board the ship to deliver to us the key to our new microbus. From there we drove via Denmark and south Sweden to Oslo, Norway. It was so exciting driving our new car smelling so new. And it was so exciting meeting Elsie and Lars and their three daughters, Elin (6), Kristin (4), and Dagny (18 mo.)! After Lars took Ivan to a technician and had the bus fixed with sleeping arrangements inside the car and a tent attached on top to the rack that would unroll on the side of the car, we took off to the beautiful countryside of Norway. Elsie, I and the children slept in the car and Ivan and Lars slept in a small tent for two every night all through our journey through Europe to Greece. This was a trip marked by two very somber events. The first event happened while still in Norway prior to driving south through Europe. It being our first time to Norway, Elsie and Lars were enthused to show us the country. With Lars’ parents we drove to their summer cabin built high up on the rocks of a fjord located in the southwest part of Norway. We were having breakfast there while the children, having eaten breakfast before us, left to climb down the path to the sea to play. We suddenly heard them shouting at the top of their voices for us to come. Elsie immediately sensed that something happened to Dagny and in no time she was there jumping from rock to rock. We could recognize from where we were Dagny floating next to the dock with her head down in her red dungarees and Elsie swimming toward her. We were to learn later that the six children had gone out on a small boat dock and were watching a jellyfish in the water. Unwatched, Dagny ran right into the deep water and unable to reach her, the other five children began to scream. When El-
sie brought her out of the water, Dagny was unconscious and in the early stages of drowning. As Elsie tried to get the water out of her mouth, Lars jumped into their motorboat rushing to the closest doctor available in the cabin across the bay. It took a while for the lady doctor to get the water pumped out of Dagny’s stomach and, thank goodness, she was spared the near-drowning tragedy. After Dagny was hospitalized for a few days, we started getting ready for our camping journey south to Greece and headed toward what would be the second serious event. It was quite an experience, our bus load of six children all under the age of seven. We traversed through Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia, and as we were approaching the Greek border, Elsie and I became pretty sentimental and excited singing Greek songs that we used to harmonize together in ‘aulden’ times. At the border Ivan and Lars went into the border post with all our passports. After waiting for a considerable time in the heat of the month of August, we saw them returning to us accompanied by a policeman. Ivan, with a shocked expression on his face told us that he was under arrest because his name was on the Wanted List and it had been there for seven years for violating Law No. so & so that the officers themselves could not decipher!! At first the officer wanted to accompany Ivan by riding with us in the absence of a car of their own; but when he saw how crowded we were and convinced by the promises from Ivan that he would report to police headquarters as soon as he would reach Thessaloniki, he let us go. You can imagine how the rest of the two-hour trip to Harry’s went! Harry immediately hired a lawyer friend to find out about Law No. so & so that was violated, and as soon as the three showed up at the police headquarters as promised, the police ordered Ivan jailed until Monday as on Sunday there was no official available. So, late in the evening Harry comes home without Ivan. Up until then we were all sure Harry would return with Ivan because of some mistake on their part and he would be set free. But the lawyer found out what the violation was: When we left Anatolia College campus in Thessaloniki in 1955 to come to the U.S., we sold our car to a Greek citizen and left without declaring the money in a Greek bank. Leaving the country with Greek money was unlawful in those days, and as soon as the authorities found out, they tried Ivan in absentia and
sentenced him to a year in prison and a thousand dollar fine. The truth was that the drachmas we received from the sale of the car, we had spent in Greece to buy some oriental carpets and our passages on a Greek ship to sail to America. Never once did we think we were smuggling Greek drachmas out of the country. So Ivan spent a night in jail. The lawyer asked the guard to give him a good place to sleep since he was innocent until proven guilty in the trial and the guard assured him of this; instead he gave him a thin mattress and blanket and showed him into an overcrowded room full of occupied bunks (“I was the 26th man in a 23-man cell”). So Ivan had to sleep on the floor. A German cell mate helped Ivan with the language. He was serving time for smuggling nylon stockings and watches into Greece for the Black Market! Ivan had a lot of stories to tell us when Harry brought him home the next day. Anyway, when the time came for his trial, he was released for the fact that seven years had passed, and he was not notified of his sentence even though they had his forwarding address. This was the first trip we took to Greece with our family. So, with Elsie’s family and us at Harry’s, my mother enjoyed all of her children, fourteen of us together. In fact, she enjoyed us so much that when we were to leave Greece and drive back to Norway with Elsie’s family, she did not take too long to be convinced to accompany us to Norway and stay with Elsie for a while. When we returned to Denver with our new Volkswagon microbus, life continued with my job in the printing shop and Ivan teaching and writing his thesis for his Master’s degree in World History—the title was “The Boer War”. After his degree, we felt free to venture a teaching position overseas.
Our Move Overseas, Turkey
One of our many family visits to Pamukkale, Turkey.
t the time of the presidency of J.F. Kennedy, opportunities for such positions opened up with Fulbright grants whereby teachers were appointed to work in foreign countries with their salaries paid by the host country in their respective currency and thus the country would pay back to the U.S. its national debt. So Ivan applied for such a position and was granted one in Izmir (Smyrna), Turkey, to teach in a Turkish-American college, the Maarif Koleji. The pay was equivalent to an American salaryâ€”pretty generous for a country like Turkey with its lower standard of living. Of course, we were very excited for the offer and the change of life,
more comfortable after the hectic life we had raising the family and working full time while Ivan writing his thesis! We started making plans for the move. Our own little house was renovated and rented when we moved to Grandma Holdeman’s house. In the meantime, we had sold our microbus and bought a second-hand 4-door sedan Chevrolet which I learned to drive and soon obtained an international driver’s license. We had to pull the children out of school in the month of June and get our vaccinations and passports; the children, because of their ages were registered in my passport. So in July of 1965 we drove to Washington, D.C. where Ivan entered the Georgetown University with other prospective teachers for preparation of their new teaching positions, and the children and I boarded the Queen Anna Maria and set sail for Athens, Greece. Up to that time, the children did not realize they would be parting from their father, and seeing him below on dock, alone and waving us goodbye as our ship was leaving, could not tolerate the separation and broke to crying uncontrollably. I had a hard time soothing them and explaining that we would soon meet again in Greece. The plan was that my brother Harry whose family was vacationing in Ay Yiannis, my old vacationing YMCA place, would meet us at the port of Piraeus, Athens, and drive us to Ay Yiannis. Ivan, on the other hand, would fly to Germany after his orientation, buy a new car—another Volkswagon microbus—and drive to Greece. Then we would all drive to Istanbul, Turkey—a day’s drive from Thessaloniki—and join the rest of the Fulbrighters for another orientation before dispersing to our assigned towns. All very exciting and a little apprehensive till we all would meet again and get settled in Izmir! We had a good time at Ay Yiannis, being reunited with Harry’s family and my mother and reliving the happy times we had in my younger days with my own parents—this time a generation later. The YMCA camp still there with our evening visits round the camp fire; the beaches and the sea. The children were already familiarized with water and swimming from our thirteen days on the ship and the swimming pool on board. Only I had to watch them playing in the ocean as the water was not as calm as the ship pool and the waves were pretty rough at times. On the Farm School I was anxious to read the accumulated letters that Ivan wrote from Washington after
our separation. I had written almost daily from the ship, Ay Yiannis and the Farm School and to my surprise and dismay all his letters were complaining that he had not been receiving any letters from me and he was getting desperate, and even in his last letter his despair turned to anger and he signed: “Ivan, the father of our children, remember?” I was, of course, dumbfounded and eventually found out from his family in America that he had given me the wrong address at Georgetown University, and finally he found all my letters accumulated in the wrong address! The reunion was doubly happy. We loved seeing Ivan arrive well in the new Volkswagon microbus he bought and drove down from Germany . . . and after our goodbyes and thanks to Harry for having us for two months, we left for Istanbul to meet the rest of the Fulbrighters whom Ivan already knew from Washington. There, at Roberts College, another of the American institutions in the Near East, we had an orientation as families, about the country, culture, customs, etc. The children, nine of them between the ages of two and ten plus three teenagers, would meet us at the end of the day full of excitement, relating all they had learned, songs, poems and stories. The Fulbright representatives did all they could to make our stay as satisfactory as possible. Istanbul, such an interesting city with all its history of centuries: the ancient buildings, the Sultans’ palaces and intriguing stories, the covered market, and the food. For me, as a Greek whose parents came from Turkey, the language was familiar as I had heard it over and over spoken by them—especially when they wanted to talk about something they did not want us to understand (we had never learned Turkish as we were growing). All this experience made Istanbul even more interesting. No wonder I was the best in the Turkish Language class at Orientation! Finally the day came for us to disperse to our assigned towns. Five families went to Izmir (a sixth family returned to the States for health reasons). Our children did well health-wise, except for Elizabeth who had a sensitive stomach and had difficulty adjusting right away to the new food and especially water. We found the hotels full in Izmir and spent our first days in the dormitories of the school campus where Ivan would teach. Elizabeth developed fever and felt pretty miserable. We had to take her to the doctor. When the doctor
examined her and gave her a glass container for a urine test, she, in her high fever, misery and confusion asked if she had to drink it! We still laugh to this day when we repeat this story! We finally settled in a high-rise apartment, on the 4th floor with NATO, U.S. Air Force and Turkish families. Our doorman, Ahmed, lived on the ground floor with his 6-year old son and sick wife. He was good and reliable man and took good care of our Volkswagen which he allowed us to park by the entrance of our building. Our children went to the school where most of the American children went with teachers from the United States. A school bus would stop not far from our home and our own VW microbus served as transportation to Ivanâ€™s school for Ivan and two of the other teachers. Maarif Koleji, the school where Ivan taught, was a bilingual school. The English Department in which he worked also included a British teacher and five young American Peace Corps teachers (3 male, 2 females) whom we almost adopted, as being volunteers they lacked transportation and other amenities that Fulbright teachers enjoyed. Ivan found a good tentmaker in the bazaar (market place) of Izmir who fixed our microbus into a good camping facility with space for sleeping in the back interior area and a three-sided tent that rolled off the rack and formed a room on the side of the car. It was very
Our doorman, Ahmed (left), at his home village in central Turkey.
Our caravan of Volkswagon Microbuses on the beach in Turkey. convenient and the envy of the other teachers who also acquired similar transportation on our second year of stay there. I was the content domestic of the family, learning the quaint and somewhat familiar places in the market place and bazaars (I say familiar places because the refugees who came to Greece from Turkey introduced some of the Turkish ways to Thessaloniki) for my shopping. I even learned that the Greek language was still being used by the old folks in Izmir. As I mentioned earlier, the coastal towns and villages of Asia Minor that were inhabited by Greeks before the Turkish occupation, like Izmir (Smyrna), remained by majority Greek with the language and way of life, as the Turks chose to live inland having come from landlocked lands in Central Asia. So the Greek language was the dominant language for several decades after the Greeks left. So in my first days, when in the market, I entered a little haberdashery shop and tried to tell the old lady serving me what I needed, mostly with gestures and what little Turkish I learned; then she in frustration turned to her husband and whispered in pure Greek that she could not understand what I wanted. You can imagine the great surprise of both of us; I immediately spoke to her in Greek and her first response was in Greek â€œdo you speak Greek?â€? After this incident
I learned that the old folks in Izmir were still speaking Greek and every time I shopped with an old looking salesman I talked to him in Greek. We loved traveling in our Volkswagon and exploring the vicinity around us. Ivan looked forward to the weekends. He was in his element. History was his favorite thing, and Izmir’s surroundings were rich with history and familiar names of his Sunday School teachings; of the Seven Churches of the Revelation; of Saint Paul’s Ephesus and his Epistles; of the Ancient Greeks, Romans and Hittites; of the Holy Land and Egypt south of us. During the first school break, all Fulbright teachers in the country were invited to the capital, Ankara, by the Fulbright Office in celebration of a national holiday, and we had a great time meeting again everybody from our Istanbul days. We were welcomed with a great banquet accompanied by classical music in the background, and then drove to the surrounding sites where the Hittites lived in Old Testament days, and Cappadocia where my mother’s forefathers came from. Our Volkswagon served us beautifully—our mobile home. On the way back we visited the town where the famous dervishes performed the spiritual dancing. Back in Izmir Ivan resumed his teaching. The trouble he had was learning his many students’ names, so foreign to him; so he took photos of each one of them, made an album and wrote their names under each photo and thus tried to acquaint himself. Ephesus, the port city next to Izmir was the place where we would take our visitors to see its famous ruins from Greek and Roman times. St. Paul visited it in his travels, was imprisoned, and wrote his Epistle to the Ephesians. Further south we would visit Pamukkale, the famous hot baths with ancient columns still lying on the bottom of the baths. We loved going there on weekends with the other teachers and their children. That part of the west coast of Turkey was full of ruins; you would see hidden among olive trees and bushes half remaining marble seats of an ancient amphitheater, or standing columns of a temple. In such a temple, we saw in the middle of it also the ruins of a Christian church that the guidebook explained was built before the pagan temple was finished due to the rapid spread of Christianity!! The famous Temple of Artemis, proclaimed one of the
Camel fight Pamukkale
Roman baths at Pamukkale
VW caravan through central Turkey
Hitite Stone carving
Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, was not far from Izmir. Ivan enjoyed very much driving visitors to such places, and when brother Harry’s family came to visit us, his six year old son, Nikos, tired and fed up with these expeditions exclaimed: “Are we going again to these broken houses?” During Ramadan, the big Moslem holiday, we decided to drive south and visit the Holy Land. We had to pull the children out of school again as their school did not celebrate Ramadan, but we figured this would be an educational month-long travel. We stopped the first night at Tarsus, St. Paul’s birthplace, then entered Syria, Lebanon and finally Jerusalem, Bethlehem and many of the biblical sites that were still under Jordan. At that time the political situation between Israel and the Arab countries was so tense that we could not enter any Israeli territory, or else we would not be allowed to re-enter Arabic land. So we had to limit ourselves visiting all the sites in Jerusalem; the Arabs were very touchy about this. Fortunately, when we were there in 1966, the interesting biblical sites were still in Jordanian hands. Hands changed later in the 6-Day War. We visited four Arab countries. Syria with its capital Damascus, Lebanon with its capital Beirut, Jordan with its capital Amman and where the two-thirds of Jerusalem was lying (the one-third in Israel) and Iraq with Baghdad its capital. In Damascus we stayed two days to visit places of biblical significance, like the old walls and the window from which St. Paul escaped. The bazaar with its souvenir shops was very fascinating. In the back room of the stores they had weavers weaving the famous brocades of Damascus. We bought the beautiful brass tray with Arabic carvings from the Koran and the 8-legged support inlaid with mosaics of camel bone and mother of pearl to make our coffee table. We also bought the copper plates for the wall depicting the birth of Jesus. Once in an Arab country, everything around you looked Arab. The men wearing their long robes over their trousers and the square head scarves with the black cords around their heads, many of whom could easily be taken for Lawrence of Arabia, camels and donkeys and mosques. There is a famous mosque in Damascus considered the largest in the world where St. John is believed to have been buried. After Damascus we headed for Baalbek, still in Syria, with classical ruins as beautiful as the Acrop-
olis in Athens. In Jerusalem we walked the street with the seven stations of Christ when carrying the cross. The walls of Jerusalem were very impressive with the closed gates believed to open again with the second coming of Christ, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Solomon Temple. The drive to Bethlehem was interesting with the Field of the Shepherds in sight and the hill path where the three Magi came from. We also drove to the Dead Sea and had our hands washed in the Jordan River. We spent a whole day in Petra south of Jerusalem. “Petra” in Greek means “Stone,” an ancient city carved out of rock walls. To reach it we had to walk and the children on horseback, through a ravine with gigantic rocks around us which opened to a magnificent city with colonnades as facades of houses and tombs. This city prospered because of taxation to caravans traveling through it to reach Aqaba and the Red Sea. What we marveled at was the beautiful colors of the rocks that formed beautiful designs especially on the ceilings of caves and houses. After the Holy Land, although pretty tired from our twelve days of traveling, we were tempted to go on with our friends, the Hixons—Fulbrighters in Istanbul and co-travelers in their own vehicle, to Baghdad, Iraq (the ancient Mesopotamia between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris). We had to drive through a stretch of desert between Jordan and Iraq … and through a desert did we drive! Eighteen hours on a straight narrow road with unending flatland on either side full of black rocks and herds of camels and here and there Bedouin tents. No villages and very few gas stations. To be sure we were carrying gasoline tanks with us. At one point in the middle of the desert road we had to stop because the road was blocked with trucks from both directions. Two Arab drivers to settle their differences between them stopped in the middle of the road, got out of their vehicles, pulled out their curved Arab swords and brandishing them in the air vigorously demonstrated the Arab way of fighting. The drivers of the other trucks started piling behind them and acted like they were taking sides. Without police around us nor any way to drive through and away from the scene, we began to get very concerned. Luckily a car appeared behind us looking like a police or army car, and this helped to open the road and let us pass with great relief. I was truly scared. We decided with Hixons to drive close to
each other, but at one stop for gas or buying fruit from a stand we lost each other, and thinking the other one left first we started driving as fast as we could to catch to the other vehicle. With both families driving Volkswagon microbuses at the very same speed, we did not catch-up to one another reaching Baghdad sooner than we thought. There we visited ancient Babylon where there were the ruins of the palace of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, also we saw the old sight of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, another one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World (the other one was the sight of the Gigantic Colossus that straddled the entrance to the port of the Island of Rhodes). In Baghdad we visited our good friend Miss Mary Ingle from the Anatolia College days, who was now the principal of the Girls American College in Baghdad. For our return we were discouraged to take the route north, along the Tigris River and through the politically disturbed area of Kurdistan straddling Iraq and Turkey. So we had to return through the same boring route! All in all it was wonderful experience and a truly educational trip for the whole family. The next vacation trip was to Egypt. We drove to Beirut and flew to Cairo with our two other female Peace Corps teachers. From Cairo we took the train along the Nile River to Luxor and the Temple of Karnak. We rented bicycles to ride to the temple from our hotel next to the Nile, and also sailed on one of the Nile boats for the experience. And, of course, from Cairo we visited the Pyramids and rode camels. What an experience! As you can guess, we visited my hometown of Thessaloniki and the American Farm School quite often (a dayâ€™s drive from Izmir). The following Christmas we decided to drive to Harryâ€™s and spend Christmas with them and my mother. On the way back, still in Greece, we detoured and drove through the mountains in order to visit Philippi. Snow started falling and it was getting late and the paved road through the mountains was getting icy and slippery and
Our vacation trip through Jordan (opposite) to Egypt. in one turn we slipped finding ourselves in the ditch. Our efforts to push the VW out of the ditch proved unsuccessful, so we decided to spend the night in the camper and wait for the daylight to decide what to do next. No sooner did we get ourselves ready and comfortable for the night to sleep, some villagers from the nearby village came to offer us to pull us out after bringing a pair of horses. We told them it was too late in the night and we would wait till morning. They warned us that it was dangerous and there were wolves around but we convinced them we would be OK. I’m sure they were hoping they would make some money. The next morning, Ivan managed to drive the car out of the ditch and off we went to Philippi and were satisfied that we visited one more site with “broken houses”, as my nephew had called them! After the first school year in Turkey, we decided to spend the summer driving our VW camper through Western Europe. The early part of the summer, the Stuestols (Elsie’s) and a family of friends of theirs, came to visit us in Turkey for two weeks together. After we parted we started our six-week trip to Europe. We drove through Greece and headed northwest of Thessaloniki to Yugoslavia through its beautiful Dalmatian Coast route including Dubrovnik (ancient Roman colony and Greek Byzantine Ragousa). We traveled between
the mountains and along the Adriatic Sea to Trieste—very touristy. Trieste is quite cosmopolitan with the famous Oriental Express running through it from Paris to Istanbul often associated with Agatha Christy’s famous murder stories. From there we drove to Venice, Italy, and took a ride down the Grand Canal to St. Mark’s Square. There we visited the Cathedral and walked back over the Rialto Bridge. After Venice we drove to Florence where we spent two days. There we saw most of the great art works of Michelangelo, including his powerful David. The art rulers, mainly the Medici family, were great patrons of the arts so here were collected art pieces from all over Europe and they had their own great artists. After Florence we visited Rome where we spent four days. We saw the Coliseum, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s and the Vatican, and the Catacombs. During all these escapades we were camping and hardly spent any money in hotels or restaurants; the campsites were plentiful and very accommodating. Camping was the trendy thing, and the northern Europeans, especially Germans and Scandinavians loved to come to these parts and enjoy the more economical South. We visited Pisa and its Leaning Tower and then went along the coast into France. We visited the Palace in Monaco and drove along the French Riviera to Cannes. We spent one morning swimming on The Riviera where we could hardly find a place to sit on the beach because it was so crowded. The water was nice though. After this, we crossed the coastal mountains and along the Loire River Valley visiting historic palaces. Very romantic waking up in the middle of the night and seeing from our VW those palaces on the river all illuminated! In Bourges we saw the greatest cathedral in all of France. Then we drove on to Paris and remained there four days. We visited the Louvre Museum with its many great art collections of the world. We spent about four hours but saw only a fraction of it. We went to see Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, Napoleon’s Tomb on the Seine. In Paris we tried to find my friends Norman and Doreen Gilbertson, but because of the wrong address, we almost gave up the visit when miraculously we ran into Norman in a subway station when we were about to leave Paris. This was one chance in about “eight million,” as Ivan used to comment! We also visited the palace of Versailles and its famous Hall of Mirrors. Then we drove to Munich, Germany, then to Vienna visiting
the Home of the Hapsburgs. We tried to break through the Eastern Block and return through Communist Hungary but their transit visa was too expensive to make the effort worthwhile. Communist Yugoslavia under Tito was the only country that made it easier for travelers through the country without high transit charges. Another year in Turkey passed by rather fast with some of the Fulbrighters gone after their first year. We took the second year more leisurely after all the travels we made in the beginning trying not to miss any opportunities since we did not know for sure if our stay would be extended a second year. During Spring vacation we took a short trip to the Greek island of Rhodes, a few hours from the southwest coast of Turkey, and on our return we started making plans for our return trip to the US. Soon after school (1966-1967), we booked passage on a Dutch liner with our VW that would depart from Rotterdam (Netherland) to New York. We left Turkey by boarding a smaller ship from Turkey to Brindisi, Italy, and from there we drove all the way along the coastal road to Marseilles, France and to Barcelona, Spain. We found a nice camping site with a swimming pool outside Madrid, the capital, and from there we visited the beautiful city of Toledo with its historical sites, one of which was the place where the famous Greek painter El Greco (Theotocopoulos) lived. We also visited the Tomb of the Fallen and famous Roman aqueduct and then headed north through Pamplona (Basque country) where they have the bullsâ€™ chase through its streets, then into France, Belgium, and finally Netherland. I, personally, by that time was exhausted traveling and looked forward to our boarding the ship in Rotterdam. Traveling is very interesting; also camping is so, but after weeks you are rather exhausted, especially as a mother who has to take care of kids and husband every day with cooking, laundry, etc. So I had dreams of getting on board the ship and living the transatlantic crossing in luxuryâ€Ś but it was not supposed to be like this. The shipping company had bad news for us on arrival. The ship we were booked on that would also transport our Volkswagen Microbus, had blown its boilers and would not sail. Unfortunately, there were no other departures at the time from Rotterdam that could take us and our car, but they could transfer us to the Queen Mary, that would depart Southampton for
Cherbourg, France then New York for her last transatlantic voyage. We could depart Europe with our car on the Queen Mary if we would be willing to turn back and drive to France again. We decided to drive back to France, hopefully in two days . . . and the thought of sailing on the Queen Mary, the famous ocean liner, sounded very tempting. So, off we went and started our trip southward. Half the way to Cherbourg, we heard on the radio that the Queen Mary was dry docked in Southampton, England with no explanation why. We drove on to Cherbourg with hopes that it would still sail on time. You can imagine; I by that time was a wreck. I worried so much that I could not sleep the one night we had to spend in our camper. To my surprise, Ivan fell asleep right away, and not only this, he started snoring! I then started philosophizing instead of getting angry at his lack of deep concern. I felt that if he was the wreck that I was, who would drive a dayâ€™s trip the next day? Well things worked out well. We did get to Cherbourg on time and we did see the Queen Mary showing on the horizon and arriving on time. The rest of the trip was bliss! We were delighted to see the Shoemakers (another Fulbright family), who left Izmir at the same time and, like us, drove through Europe to catch the same boat from Rotterdam. Remarkably they, too, found passage for family and car on the Queen Mary where they boarded her in Southampton while she was dry docked. Sailing on the Queen Mary was indeed a great relief!
Life in Denver
e finally reached Denver in our Volkswagon camper and with all our happy memories of our life in Turkey. The children got situated in their schools: Elizabeth her first year in junior high school and Bruce and Cynthia at the elementary school, Prospect Valley. First Mennonite Church welcomed us back and we re-acquainted ourselves with cousins and friends. We bought a house in Wheat Ridge where we lived for five years and at the same time were looking for an ideal building location where Ivan dreamed about building our permanent family houseâ€”big and comfortable with big windows and a full view of the mountains. Our dreams materialized and Ivan, after establishing his position as a World History teacher at Arvada West High School, built his dream house over two summer breaks and the weekends
during school. I helped where I could, and I became an expert in the painting of all the interior climbing tall ladders to reach the high parts. We had lots of fun! The children were happy to each have their own rooms and plenty of room on the main floor for friends and family reunions. We spent the following years seeing, first, Elizabeth entering University of Northern Colorado in 1973 with three months in Florence, Italy; then Bruce entering Colorado State University three years later where he pursued an Engineering degree for two years then switched to Graphic Design; then Cynthia entering University of Colorado at Boulder then transferring to Goshen College in Indiana with three months in China as the first American undergraduates (SST Program). All three graduated in 1981 with degrees in Art – Elizabeth and Bruce from Colorado State University and Cynthia from Goshen College. In between college years we traveled as a family several trips to Europe visiting Elsie’s family in Norway and Harry’s in Greece; the girls participated and counseled in summer camps in Greece with American students; Elizabeth taught in China and the Girls Domestic School on the American Farm School in Greece. Bruce followed
The Theocharides side of the family at a reunion in Colorado when the children were teenagers.
his graduation with a career in Graphic Design and opened his own studio in Denver in an interesting hundred-year two-story bakery building which he and Ivan renovated. Ivan retired after sixteen years of teaching in 1983 and I a few years later. When we first returned from Turkey I had worked five years in the church office and then worked for Jeffco Schools Administration until I retired in 1986. During retirement Ivan built his next dream house up in the mountains together with his brother-in-law, Eli and the house is jointly enjoyed today by our children and Eli and Marge’s children. The other big event is Elizabeth’s wedding to Dan after returning from China. They first met in China and after their return to the US, they met again when Dan came to Denver with a group of his Chinese students who continued their studies in the US, and spent some time in our house in Denver and Star Peak (our mountain home), which visit culminated in the romantic relationship between the two and eventual wedding in our church in 1989. Two years after the wedding, Ivan and I took the overland trip to Alaska with his two sisters and husbands, as I mentioned above, for which I’m grateful because driving overland to Alaska had been one
Elizabeth and Dan’s wedding with me and Ivan in 1989.
Building the house at Starpeak in 1986. of Ivan’s great wishes. This was to be his last trip. In the year that was to follow, Ivan was given the diagnosis for the fatal disease of pancreatic cancer which was discovered months after its existence in his system. The doctors did not give him much time to live; we cabled Elizabeth and Dan to come from Vietnam where they were serving as teachers in one of its universities, and in the presence of all of his family around him, Ivan died on July 2, 1992—twelve weeks after the diagnosis, and at the early age of 69! His death came so prematurely, so unexpectedly! We were still making plans for how we would spend our seventies, and to be together to see the weddings of our other two children. I am so grateful he was with us when Dan and Elizabeth got married… We had a great memorial service at First Mennonite Church, and I’ll end this chapter of our life together with parts of Elizabeth’s reminiscences of “Life with Dad” at his memorial service.
LIFE WITH DAD Elizabeth Holdeman It was around midnight in August of 1955 that my parents rushed to the hospital. My father drowsily coaxed me from my mother’s womb by telling her to “relax like a wet gunny sack.” My mother, having just arrived from Greece, wondered what a “gunny sack” was. I don’t know if she did relax or whether her relaxation resembled a wet gunny sack, but I was born into the romantic story of Ivan and Anna—the story that Bruce, Cynthia, and I have heard told many times with fondness. There were many stories told to us by our parents—the golden coin in the latrine, the shepherd dogs, the evacuation of the Jews from Thessaloniki during the German Occupation, Ivan’s time in a Greek jail, and childhood in Kansas. In particular, I remember lying at bedtime sleepless in Norway where in the summer the sun never sets, my father’s voice telling us one story after another. “Tell me again about Vesta’s hairless cow or how you and Paul popped the heads of grasshoppers.” Some of these stories Cynthia, Bruce, and I could mouth the words, we had heard them so many times. Turkey was a country rich in layers of ancient civilizations. Each weekend we’d get our VW microbus ready for camping and would go to visit these antiquities. Mom and Dad would sit us on a step or fallen column and tell us what happened in this place that we were now visiting. Mom would read from the Blue Book and Dad would help us visualize the armies or the market place or the temple. And then we’d explore. Rarely did we visit the same place twice and never could we return home by the same road we went by. Ivan would wonder where this road went or would guess that this road was a short-cut to that place. It was on one of these short-cuts that we found the road getting narrower and the Volkswagen having to struggle over rocks and out of holes. We were high in the mountains of Turkey. Snow began
to fall and we were running out of gas. We finally came to a village where a family welcomed us in and gave us gas. We were invited to spend the night there in our VW. The family took us into their house for tea, the entire room covered in carpets and pillows, a fire burning in the middle, and a large Turkish family sitting with us. We went to sleep in our camper and at night when I woke and looked out I found that we were surrounded by sheep. My father believed in the goodwill of all people and this love of people and desire to explore would lead us into a rich life of encounters with other cultures. I thank Ivan and Anna for this treasure in our lives. When my parents visited me in China, it was such a delight to travel with Dad at that time. You see, he was a history teacher and he taught a course on Modern China. As we’d travel by train he loved looking out the window at China’s vastness. When we visited places off the beaten tourist track and our translator would relay what the guides would say, my father would remember and he’d elaborate and then we’d look for the secret passages from which one Chinese noble would betray another. Ah yes, my father was a teacher. He felt his highest compliment was when a student’s parent said, “we don’t agree with your politics, but we appreciate that what you say in your history class stimulates the conversation around our dinner table.” My father was a compassionate man. He loved people. He loved being surrounded by people. Cynthia, Bruce, and I were resigned to the fact that we would always be the last to leave church. As long as there was someone there to talk to, we’d still be there. We used to tease Dad that retirement from teaching would be hard because he’d lose his captive audiences. My father would certainly love being here with all of you right now. He cared deeply for all people. The only ones he didn’t care for were certain politicians. His politics were rooted in his compassion. He believed in the “we” and “ours” and not
in the “me” and “mine.” He treasured that aspect of the values handed down to him through his family and the Mennonite Church. Once we were walking to our hotel from the Glenwood Springs Pool. We had spent most of our time that day on the waterslide. My Dad told a group of us as we were walking, “I’ve got a name for that: ‘Reckless Abandon.’” Sometimes I would describe my father’s optimism as that reckless abandon. He would plunge himself and the family in and somehow we’d all come out having accomplished something and thankful for having taken the risk. It has been a privilege to be Ivan’s daughter. My first months after his death were hard to accept. I found myself reliving the days with him. Our life was a happy life together. We had our differences, naturally, but we couldn’t live without each other. I felt we were complementing each other, and were very proud of our children. I felt our children were the projection of Ivan. I saw in them so much of him. Ivan was the first one to die of all the seven siblings. Next died his sister Alma, then Cleda, Menno, Marge and last, Vesta. Paul, who is my age, is the only surviving of the seven siblings, and hopefully will live many more years surrounded by his four children and grandchildren in Loveland. The only living in-laws are Cleda’s husband Herbert and me. I now live at the Covenant Village, a large retirement community in the north of Denver. The Covenant Church is an off-shoot of the Lutheran Church, attracting mainly residents of Scandinavian descent. It was introduced to me by my good friends the Yosts of the Mennonite church; it is a community of many, many activities, and in my ten-plus years here now I have established many friends and it feels a truly second home to me. After Ivan’s death, our family house, “Ivan’s castle” (called so by many) of twenty-two years, felt too big and empty with all kids gone, so after living alone another eleven years there, I decided to move to Covenant Village. I did have an active life in these eleven
Trekking in Napal with Bruce, Elizabeth and Dan, 1993. years though. While Elizabeth and Dan were still here and before returning to Vietnam to complete their three-year appointment with MCC, we traveled to California to visit Danâ€™s folks and friends. The following year Bruce and I traveled to Vietnam to be with Dan and Elizabeth during their last weeks of teaching at the University of Can Tho in the Mekong Delta and joined a farewell trip with their colleagues to Dalat in the Vietnamese Highlands where we celebrated my 69th birthday. The four of us then traveled to Bangkok, Thailand and the island, Koh Samui. We flew to Kathmandu, Nepal and did a three-day trek around Pokhara in the Himalayas. I took two bicycle trips with Elderhostel: one on the east coast of England in 1994; and in 1996 along the Danube River from South Germany through Austria to Vienna. I also flew with a MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Association) group to South America (Paraguay and Peru); and to my brother Harry in Greece where the rest of my family joined along with sister Elsie, her daughters and grandchildren from Norway, and my niece Donice from Ivanâ€™s side of the family, and her husband of Greek descent, John Manos. I also took a cruise of the Inside Passage to Alaska. Not bad!! Elizabeth and Dan lived with me intermittently while Dan
worked on PhD. In 1996 they returned to Vietnam for Dan’s research as a MacArthur Fellow and when they came back, they returned with adopted son and daughter—my first grandchildren, Alex Thanh Yen (1994) and Anna Elizabeth Lan (my namesake, 1997). Cynthia had traveled to Hanoi to be with them in their last weeks as they worked through Annie’s adoption and to help them on their journey home. They lived with me for two years and when they moved on to Canada, Bruce surprised me with a phone call from Peru where he was touring with MEDA and his girlfriend, Jennifer Shelton. They had decided to marry there high up in the ruins of Machu Pichu in the early morning among our friends and a local staff delighted to be part of the ceremony and reception. Bruce is now graphic designer living in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. He and Jennifer have two delightful boys, Theochares (Theo), born in 2001 named for my family name, and Nate (2004). Elizabeth and Dan with their two children now live in Denver after ten years of teaching in Canada, Ohio, and Virginia at Mennonite universities. Dan now teaches at Regis University. Cynthia made her career in the Denver Public Library, traveling to many places abroad like China (part of her college Art degree), Italy, Vietnam, Turkey, and Greece.
My entire family in Denver, 2006.
Cynthia with her dog Obie, 2013.
Bruce, Jennifer, Theo and Nate, 2013.
Elizabeth, Dan, Alex and Annie, 2013. I could not end my memoirs without mentioning the “last” of my travels: the one to my beloved homeland of Greece with all of my family—all ten of them—in the summer of 2010; followed by a trip to California when my brother, Harry, passed away in February, 2011. That Spring I went to sister Elsie in Norway, accompanied by Elizabeth. This trip felt all the more necessary after the passing of Harry and being with his family. Of course, in Norway I visited all of my nieces and their families. Hopefully we’ll see more of them when they come to visit us here in America. I called these trips my “last” ones because as I’m nearing 90 next year, I don’t think I would want to venture long trips such as these again. I felt a great sense of accomplishment to have visited the land of my growing years once again, and to have the opportunity to introduce Greece to my four grandchildren. To be once again with sister
Elsie with whom we grew tightly together till we married our husbands in our late twenties; we have remained close through frequent phone calling, but to be together again was a time to be treasured. Looking back, my whole life has been a blessed one: my life on the Farm School; even the war of the forties that brought the Nazi occupation has been an experience that opened up and enriched the life in front of me with all its tragedies that made my family cling together and fight it through. I am blessed for my opportunities to see the world in and after the world war light; to have met my husband and to have raised such great children â€“ each one with their own gift of personality that brought happiness and pride to my life and Ivanâ€™s life, too. I feel truly blessed.
My entire family in Athens, 2010.
Born in 1924, Anna Theocharides Holdeman describes her life growing up on the American Farm school in Northern Greece, living through the German Occupation, meeting her American husband and raising a family in Turkey and the United States. A personal and historical look at the last three generations of one family.
Boats ready for regatta in front of the White Tower, 1951 (top). Our caravan of Volkswagon Microbuses on the beach in Turkey, 1966 (above). COVER PHOTO: Father, Mother and my family by White Tower in Thessoloniki, 1937.
Born in 1924, Anna Theocharides Holdeman describes her life growing up on the American Farm school in Northern Greece, living through the Ge...
Published on Apr 10, 2018
Born in 1924, Anna Theocharides Holdeman describes her life growing up on the American Farm school in Northern Greece, living through the Ge...