submitted by vasiliki Theocharopoulou on 03.11.2017
My grandfather, John Panaretos, returned from Australia in 1906. He married my grandmother, Eleni Katsouli, who died a year later, 17 days after the birth of my father, Dimitris. The orphan child was then breastfed by Irini Prineas. When my father was three years old, my grandfather remarried and had four children with his second wife. My father had a difficult childhood, always having to do all the chores. He went to Athens, when my grandfather died, and worked at his cousin’s Nikos Koronaios ‘kafenio’. He spent quite a few years working in Athens, where he met my mother, Theodora, who lived there with an aunt of hers. My mother was from Logothetianika, Galakatos family. They married and she got pregnant with me. In 1938, when the whole world was in turmoil, they came to the island for a while. In the meantime World War II had broken out and they ended up staying.
I was born on the 26th October 1938 at home in Agia Triada. Now my paternal home is just a ruin, only a wall remains. My first brother John was born on the 4th March 1940, George on the 23rd April 1943, my sister Irini on the 7th August 1945. In July ’48 my youngest brother Emilios came, who has now sadly passed.
It was destined for our family to separate. Three of my siblings left for Australia, while Emilios and I stayed here. I was eleven years old when I too set out to leave for Australia, papers and passport where all ready. My uncle in Australia though, wanted a signed statement from my father relinquishing him of any responsibility if anything happened to me. My father was angered by his request, tore the letter and I didn’t go anywhere. By the time I was eigh, my brother John was already in Australia and my aunt wanted to take me too. However, my cousin jokingly claimed that he would pass me off as his girlfriend and on hearing this news, my aunt got annoyed and wrote to my father. Her advice was that I should marry first and then go to Australia with my husband to avoid any scandal. So, I married with the prospect of moving to Australia.
My husband Andreas for two years tried to win my attention but I ignored him. Not that he wasn’t handsome, but he liked going out, hunting and the kafenio. He was never at home, whereas I wanted someone interested in a more domestic life. Finally, he approached my father and told him that he liked me and was willing to marry me even without a dowry. My father agreed and advised me: “Elenitsa, marry him, he is a good boy, you’re still young, you can mold him the way you like and as you grow together, everything will be fine”. We married, but we didn’t go to Australia. Instead we lived in my great-grandmother’s house in Panaretianika, where we didn’t even have water or electricity. We stayed there seven years and in that time my first two children, Anastasia and Theodoros were born.
It wasn’t an easy time, apart from the children, I had my fields, I also helped my in-laws with theirs, I sewed and I picked olives. I alone could pick 150 sacks of olives from the beginning of October till the end of February, if they hadn’t already fallen. One year, while picking, an olive branch broke and fell, breaking my leg in two places. At the time, Thodoros was just a baby. I went to Athens where I was told that I had to have my leg operated on, otherwise it would be 4 cm shorter than the other. My husband was afraid and didn’t want me to have the operation, but I was only 26-27 and I wanted to walk and not limp. I went ahead with the operation and I was consequently absent from my family for six months. My mother looked after my children while I was in Athens. When I returned to the island, Anastasia on seeing me with crutches got scared and broke out in tears. Thodoros didn’t recognize me and wouldn’t even talk to me for weeks. He would call his grandmother “mama”. After two months I had to go back to Athens to get the metal removed from my leg. On leaving, Thodoros begged me crying not to be too long, as he didn’t want to forget me again…
Shortly after, I fell pregnant with Dimitra.
My father had a ‘kafenio’ in Potamos where coffee would be roasted and ground. The aroma would fill up the whole square and everyone would say “Let’s go to Panaretos’ for coffee!” People from nearby villages, coming with their donkeys loaded for trade, would stop to enjoy a coffee. During the Occupation, though, everything closed down. There was no money and my father would do all kinds of jobs. One of these jobs was to bring in the nets on a friend’s fishing boat. He would go fishing with him at Lagada, Agia Pelagia. As he owned only one pair of shoes, to get to Pelagia he would often walk barefoot, so as not to ruin them. Only when he would get close to the shore, he would put them on to protect his feet from the thorns and jagged rocks. When the catch came in, the fish would be divided, the owner taking half and the other half shared amongst the workers. My father was considered the first mate, probably due to his strength. The basket where he kept his fish was the gathering spot for neighboring women to make secret exchanges, a hidden pot of oil under an apron, or flour carefully wrapped in a tea towel. For this reason we didn’t go hungry during the Occupation, because we bartered goods. The women of my neighborhood were all hard working. Many owned animals, which they used to plough and tend the fields. All the women of the family worked planting and reaping.
My mother kept having babies. At the age of 4 or 5 I didn’t go to school and she would entrust me with a bundle of soiled baby nappies that I would take to wash in a stream behind the cemetery of Potamos. I would spend the whole day washing nappies-there were no disposables then- as well as having to look over our ewe that I took along to graze. If by any chance I was late, she would come -baby in arms- to the top of the hill to call for me.
I’ve worked since 5 years old. I attended primary school but in my second last year I had to stop when my brother Emilios was born to look after him, as my mother had injured her leg. Emilios would often call me ‘mama’, as it was I who took care of him. When my mother recovered I went back to school, finishing Potamos primary school at the age of 13. School was morning and afternoon then, except Saturdays which was only mornings. Children from Agia Pelagia and Agia Anastasia would spend all day at school, as there was no school bus. They would bring food from home and continue their lessons in the afternoon. There was no pressure on us then to study. I remember our teacher enjoyed organising gymnastic presentations and theatre productions. There were only 3 three teachers at the school, each having two classes to teach. Then the rich kids always got the good marks, if you were a poor kid you probably got a hiding. My father was often maddened by my teacher despite the fact that they were related and one time when the teacher had hit me severely-not to do with my lessons, but with petty village gossip-my dad confronted him and said: “Listen here Teacher! I didn’t bring up my kid so you could punch it around! I will report you even if you are my second cousin! I expect you to guide and properly advise my kid!”
On finishing primary school, I continued my studies in Home Economics at a public school in Potamos. I also did 4 years of dress making and a year of pattern making. I often think I’m
worthless and when my granddaughter hears me she says: “You, yiayia, you do everything for us! You cook, you sew, you bake, and you do so many things! Will I be like you when I grow up?”
My husband was a carpenter and a craftsman. He was always helping his parents, as they were poor farmers. They had two oxen which they used to plough two small fields. They had several more children, it was difficult…
I had asked for work at the hospital, even as a cleaner, as I really was in need of the money. I was finally hired as cook, when the position opened and they requested a reliable person.
I have always been a hard worker. I had my gardens, I tended sheep and goats, I milked them and also made my own cheese, as well as working at the hospital. There was never enough time! Chores, children, work, what could you do? I didn’t go out, not even to the ‘platia’; I only went to church.
When my father died, my mother went to Australia and I no longer had her help around the house. I used to pay a girl to look after the baby. I looked after the other children, cooking for them and tending to them before I would go to work. I admit I had lots of help from my eldest daughter, Tasoula, who by 10 years of age could make a delicious dish of ‘gemista’!
I often would gather wild greens from my garden and serve them to the patients in the hospital, as well as fresh lemons from my tree to make them better. When there was no water, I would carry it from wells or springs so as I could wash and cook. No one helped me. When there was no electricity, I would light a neighboring wood fired oven, so the patients would have bread. I put a lot of personal effort into that job.
After 26 years employment, on my retirement, I realised that only 7 years had been calculated towards my pension. I had worked all those years uninsured and now I have to survive on a miniscule pension.
I first went to Australia in 1987 when my son Theodore got married. I stayed for three months and then again in 2007 for another three months. My last visit was in 2012 only for a short time as I had to return to my husband, who is afraid of flying and never goes anywhere.
When I first went to Australia it was rare to see an Asian, the second time there were considerably more and now they are everywhere. I also observed that a lot of businesses were family run, avoiding costs. Everybody worked, from the youngest to the oldest.
Poverty, though, is everywhere, even in Australia. I remember seeing people in the parks picking up cigarette butts off the ground. Not everyone there is comfortable, only the few are rich. Those who have made lots of money have many jobs and don’t spend a penny, that’s why they have money. Greeks, though, always tended to gamble. My brothers never gambled, but they never got rich either. Not that they didn’t succeed, as they lived well and helped support the family in Greece over the years.
My brother John had left at the age of 13. I hadn’t seen him in 34 years! When I arrived at the airport and he saw me from afar, he tried to jump the security rails to come and greet me, much to the disapproval of the airport personnel. We had kept up correspondence over the years, but not often, because when I got married, I had the kids, chores, you know how it is…
Now and Then
Back then, we were obliged to clear and maintain our land. I still remember my grandfather who would chop and prune his way through walking tracks, paths and gullies, making sure not even a twig was out of place to avoid any chance of fire during the dry summer months. Not like now, where everything has overgrown with thorns and classified as forestry. Now you’re not even allowed to chop wood on your own land!
Because much land now has been abandoned, it’s been classified as forestry; we have no say on our own land. Not to mention the endless boring of water, that has exhausted the island’s natural water supply!
In my day you’d walk out and hear ‘good morning’, a good word; there was poverty, but people valued each other. The boys respected us girls and would never do anything to offend any of us. When we would go to the dances, which were held either at the Astikon School or the Community Hall-which is now the National Bank of Potamos-if a boy wanted to dance with me a ‘tsamiko’, a ‘syrto’ or a waltz, first he would have to ask my father for permission. Now everyone gangs up gossiping about each other, it didn’t use to be like that.
Everyone in the neighborhood watched out for each other. When I was a baby and my mother needed to go and get water she would often leave me under the supervision of the young girls, without payment, a thank you or a treat was more than enough. Nowadays in order to get anyone to do a chore, they’ll want at least 5 euros. Even a ‘good morning’ costs. I used to help the entire neighborhood. There was one old lady with poor eyesight who would wait for me at her door on my return from school and sometimes she would ask me to thread her a needle, other time when she had cleaned potatoes and onions, she would ask me to light the fire and put her meal on to cook. She was on her own and would often ask help from passersby, especially me.
We were poor then, but everyone got along and respected each other. I don’t know what caused people to change so much…
Joys of Life
I’ve been driving from an early age; in 1983 I went to Athens and got my license. My husband didn’t want me to get a car, so I got one secretly. At first he wouldn’t even get in the car, because he was afraid I might kill him. But gradually, he would get me to drive him around for his errands. Now, he says “I go anywhere with my wife driving, its others I’m afraid of”.
Summers, I would take my grandchildren swimming to Avlemonas, Paliopoli, Diakofti, Agia Pelagia-only to Likodimou I wouldn’t go; I was too scared of the winding road. I would take them to Milopotamos to feed the ducks, to the springs at Karavas, to our fields, lots of places. And whenever they would get in the car, they’d all call out “Super Yiayia!”
After getting my pension, I’ve travelled quite a bit. I’ve been almost all around Greece, on school excursions with my grandchildren and extensively with the church group.
I have 9 grandchildren and four great grandchildren. Lots of people, lots of responsibilities, lots of winging and lots of love. I can’t complain, everybody loves me, especially my grandchildren. One time when my granddaughter’s class was asked to write about who they would like to be like when they grow up, most kids wrote about movie stars and famous people, whereas my granddaughter Eleni wrote that she would like to be like her yiaya Eleni, me!
Young people need to have a bit more patience and respect for each other, especially amongst couples. Happiness in life is the birth of your children, the marriage of your children, and their success in education. I feel blessed with my grandchildren. My little Marianthi comes and tells me that I’m the best yiayia in the world! That’s a blessing!
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