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> DOLMADES FOR LUNCH 11
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> Nicholas Laurantus. Wallet in a sock.
> DOLMADES FOR LUNCH 5
> A Kytherian Shop Anecdote from Werris Creek, NSW
> DOLMADES FOR LUNCH 4
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> DOLMADES FOR LUNCH
> Harry Corones. “G for Jesus, U for onion, N for...
> Big Brother
> A simple idea, and a powerful obsession to...
> The Picnic
> Liaison to Athens
> Letter to Dimitri
> Dad and the Golden Streets.
> Kytherian cafe stories. More of them, please!
|Dad and the Golden Streets.
How to obtain a copy of Harris George's book, By George
My older brother Ted had always been the family historian. According to him, Dad [Dimitri, (James) Kourvoulis Tzortzopoulos (George)], had been the fourth (and last) child of the third wife of my grandfather, Theodoros Tzortzopoulos. Although Dad had been born on an island off the southern coast of Greece, his village, Karava, was not within view of the azure Aegean; instead, Karava was perched high on a mountain in the northern part of Kythera.
Kythera’s coastal villages had, throughout history, been vulnerable to pirates, who sailed the eastern Mediterranean, attacking coastal towns and carrying off Kytherians to be auctioned as slaves in African markets. The haunting remembrance of these marauders still lives in the lore of Kytherian mothers who to this day warn their children to be home before dark, or “the pirates will carry you away.” To avoid the raiders, Kytherians moved inland, into small villages scattered deep in the mountains. Thus was Karava born.
Karava’s village square was at the mountain’s edge, where a romanesque church, St. Charalampos, stood -- behind and alongside of which were the small houses of the villagers and several tiny stores. Looking out from the square, one could behold a grand view of mountains and valleys. The mountains were black and brown with narrow slivers of green. The ancient Greeks had long ago chopped down all of the trees to build ships, and rain and wind had eroded the mountains, exposing the dark rock underneath. The thin slices of green had been created when the Kytherians built rock ledges along the mountainside to trap the dirt being washed down from above and had then planted greenery. There were also green patches in the deep valleys between the mountains where all the erosion had settled.
In contrast to Ireland’s Emerald Isle, Kythera is the Black-Brown Isle, which seems quite appropriate since Kytherian children had always been taught that after God had made the earth in six days, He had some rocks left over, tossed them over His shoulder, and they had become Kythera.
When Dad was four years old, his father died, and, three years later, Dad’s mother died. Dad’s older brother, Peter, who was then eighteen, became father and mother to his two younger sisters and brother. The family was poor, but Peter held it together by working on farms and in olive tree groves. Dad attended the village school for several years, but, when he was ten, he left school to tend sheep and help Peter support the family. Dad’s older sisters cooked and took care of the house, and Peter and Dad worked to earn money.
When Dad was fourteen, he went to live with a relative in Athens so that he could work in a factory manufacturing roof tiles. Dad dutifully sent most of his wages to Peter to help support the family. Peter decided that, when Dad reached sixteen, he should seek opportunity in America. With fifty American dollars (partly earned in the factory but mostly borrowed) and with promise of a job in New York City with an immigrant from Kythera, Dad came to Ellis Island.
Although Dad maintained his strong ties to his Greek heritage in New York City by socializing when he could with other Greek immigrants and regularly attending the Orthodox Church, he had one consuming obsession -- to become a good citizen of America, his new country. Dad insisted upon being called James George instead of Dmitri Tzortzopoulos ("opoulos," in Greek, means "son of"). Dad’s employment was as a busboy at an upscale restaurant owned by a prosperous Greek family whose grandfather had emigrated from Kythera many years before. Dad soon learned that the employees of the Hellespont Restaurant were divided into two classes -- the waiters and chefs were German, and the kitchen workers and busboys were Greek. The great majority of Dad’s earnings he sent to Peter on Kythera.
The Hellespont’s majordomo was Mr. Fritz, a tall, imperious man who spoke English with a German accent. Mr. Fritz had been an officer in the German army, and he commanded the Hellespont staff along military lines. Each morning before the restaurant opened, Mr. Fritz would line up the entire staff, starting with the maitre d' and ending with the most junior kitchen janitor. Each employee was carefully inspected to ensure that he was absolutely cleanshaven, his hair neatly trimmed, and his clothes spotless. Mr. Fritz required each employee to hold out and turn over his hands so that the cleanliness of his fingernails could be checked. Any employee who did not meet Mr. Fritz’s rigorous daily standards was required to leave the restaurant that day without pay. A couple of such days, and he would leave unemployed.
Dad loved having a job, and he worked hard at learning English. As time passed, Dad was promoted to junior waiter. Dad was likable and eager to please. One day he was informed that he was being promoted to become an assistant pastry chef. Mr. Fritz formally introduced Dad to Mr. Helmut, chief pastry chef, whose German accent was even more pronounced than Mr. Fritz’s.
"Jim, you vill learn how to become a goot pastry chef by vatching Mr. Helmut vhenever he makes pastries. If you have questions, ask Mr. Helmut ven he is not busy," instructed Mr. Fritz
Dad was delighted with the opportunity to learn how to make pastries, but Mr. Helmut had other ideas. Instead of instructing Dad, Mr. Helmut would go to extraordinary lengths to keep Dad from learning anything about pastries. As he was about to create a Hellespont specialty, Mr. Helmut would turn his body, blocking Dad’s view, and Mr. Helmut’s hands would begin to work feverishly. When Dad would try to peer around Mr. Helmut, he would move just enough to prevent Dad from seeing what was being done. It was apparent to Dad that Mr. Helmut had no desire to share his secrets, but Dad never complained to Mr. Fritz about Mr. Helmut’s actions. Dad persisted in trying to learn how to make pastries. Eventually, Mr. Helmut was won over by Dad, who was quick to learn the art and science of pastrymaking -- especially how to make delicious chocolate.
Immigrants from Kythera had established communities primarily in three American cities -- Buffalo, New York; Youngstown, Ohio; and Baltimore, Maryland. Although Dad was happy in New York, he yearned to own his own business, and he decided to move to Baltimore where several of his Kytherian acquaintances had settled. Dad borrowed money from several friends, and, in partnership with a cousin, Gus, Dad opened a candy store and soda fountain as the first Greek immigrant businessman to settle in Towson, Maryland. Dad’s Baltimore friends strongly advised against opening a store in Towson, which was bucolic compared to Baltimore City.
“Don’t you know that just eight miles south of Towson on York Road is the bustling city of Baltimore? How can your store make any money in that small town in the middle of nothing but farms and orchards?”
Gus had previously worked in a soda fountain, and Dad knew chocolates. With their combined expertise, and with Dad’s insisting upon Gus’ meeting Mr. Fritz’s standards of cleanliness, the Candy Kitchen, Towson’s very first soda fountain, flourished. It was 1912.
Dad’s homemade chocolates (thanks to Mr. Helmut’s secrets) were an instant success in Towson. During the Easter season, customers besieged the Candy Kitchen to purchase from the large assortment of solid chocolate bunnies. The soda fountain became the vortex of Towson’s young people and their parents. A young lawyer, J. Howard Murray, destined to become one of Baltimore County’s two Circuit Court judges, courted his wife there.
But troubling news was coming from Kythera. Peter was joining the Greek army. For five hundred years the Muslim Turks had ruled the Christian Balkans, and, in 1912, Christian Macedonia was still under Turkish control. Greece, Bulgaria, and Serbia were joining forces to free Macedonia from the Turks (in what was later to be called “The First Balkan War”). Patriotic zeal ignited the Greeks of Baltimore, as it did all Greek immigrant communities in the United States. Hundreds of young Greek men made hasty arrangements to depart the United States to join the Greek army and drive the Turks out of Macedonia.
Dad’s arrangements were simple: Gus would stay in America to run the Candy Kitchen (sending Dad’s share of the profits to Dad’s family on Kythera), and Dad would fight the Turks. With hardly any military training, Dad was ushered into the Greek army, invaded (what is now) southern Albania, and returned to Towson in early 1914 to find Gus, depressed, tired of the American work ethic, and eager to return to Kythera, where he could sleep late, work for a few hours in the morning, take an afternoon siesta, and meet his friends at the coffee house in the evening. There, he could argue politics, listen to Greek music, and play cards. In America, the Candy Kitchen was open for business seven days a week from 11:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m., and there was no time for pleasure or relaxation. Besides, the Candy Kitchen’s business had not been doing well, and Gus informed Dad that America was now requiring its citizens to pay taxes on the income they earned, which Gus thought a repugnant concept.
A deal was struck: Dad purchased Gus’ half of the Candy Kitchen (for one-half of the profits to be earned during the next two years), and Gus elatedly returned to Kythera. Under Dad’s ownership, the Candy Kitchen again prospered, and soon, despite continuing to send substantial monies to Peter on Kythera, Dad was accumulating enough capital to contemplate buying a property in Towson to which he could move the Candy Kitchen. Dad had become thoroughly Americanized. He wanted to stop paying rent and instead use his money to pay off a mortgage. One thing that young Greek immigrants in the early 1900s had brought with them from Greece was an inveterate distrust of banks. In Greece, if you deposited money into a bank, you might never see it again; if, on the other hand, you bought land, it would always be there. Dad wanted to buy land.
The Wescott family, longtime residents of Towson, owned the property on which Dad operated the Candy Kitchen. Mr. and Mrs. Wescott, having had no children of their own, had developed a deep affection for Dad, the immaculately clean and hard-working young man from Greece. When Dad had left Towson to fight the Turks, the Wescotts had missed him as terribly as if their own son had gone to war. Mrs. Wescott had prayed for his safe return. When Dad returned to Towson, he had brought Mrs. Wescott a colorful Greek scarf, and she erupted into tears of gratitude and welcome.
The Wescotts were devastated when Dad first told them that he had begun thinking about moving the Candy Kitchen from their property. After a sleepless night, Mrs. Wescott told Dad that she had come up with a plan: the Wescotts would sell the Candy Kitchen property to Dad, and they would ensure that Dad’s mortgage payments would be low enough to accommodate his budget.
When Dad went to Towson National Bank to borrow a down payment for the Wescotts, he was gratified to learn that, although he had no collateral, the bank would lend him the money he needed. The bankers remembered Dad from his earliest days in Towson, and they knew well his work habits and the type of business he had operated. His reputation was excellent, and the Wescotts and longtime customers of the Candy Kitchen were Dad’s references. The loan papers were signed, and the immigrant orphan who had come to America at sixteen with fifty dollars in his pocket had now become a property owner.
Dad’s love for America had by this time become a consuming passion as he realized the opportunities he had found, only in America. Had he stayed in Kythera, he would have been a peasant or a shepherd. Athens had offered him only meager wages in a factory. In America he had learned about chocolate -- a treat totally unknown to him as a child on Kythera, sampled once or twice in Athens -- and Gus had taught him how to operate a soda fountain (which Gus had learned only in America).
Dad loved the people he had met in America: the Wescotts, who had treated him as if he were their own son; the strangers in the bank, who had trusted him with the bank’s money; and the other immigrants operating businesses in Towson -- Tony Grazziano, Towson’s barber; the Levys, who owned the hardware store; the Lees, from China, who ran the laundry; and the Goldbergs, who had the clothing store. All these immigrant families lived above their stores in Towson, just as Dad did. All had come to America because it was here that they could escape the limitations of their native lands, their humble birth, and their poverty.
When the time came for Dad to pay his first income taxes to the United States government, he paid not only what was due, but an additional amount, accompanied by a handwritten note:
I enclose a check for my income taxes plus an additional amount as sincere thanks for being in this wonderful country.
James T. George
Source: By George