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James Prineas

October 2005

A Tragic Letter from 1936
From: Athena (Tzortzo)Poulos To: Olympia Tzortzopoulos.

Goulburn, 27th March, 1936

Dearest Mother,
greetings, I kiss you for Panayiotis and the children, and I hope my letter finds you all in good health.

I believe my loving mother that you have heard of the tragic death of your Dimitri - my husband. It is very sad mother, one for you, and one hundred for me. You lost your son, whom you have not seen for years, and I myself lost the partner of my life, and carer of the children. His death removed the heart from my body, and my life and health. What will happen? It was my luck to cry.

I want to tell you mother of my sadness and shock. I have had a nervous breakdown. Now I have been suffering with severe pains for five weeks. I cannot sleep from the pain. Half of my chin is numb, and my teeth are throbbing from the pain, and I cannot cope.

Here, where I live, no doctor can help. The previous Sunday, 22nd March, I went to Sydney to do the mimosimo (40 days) for the deceased. I stayed an extra day, and went to see a famous neurologist. He said it was my nerves, and he gave me strong medicine. He told me to take it for 2-3 months. Mother, up to now, I have taken it 10 times, and it has made little difference. In the end he advised me to calm down and not worry. But I cannot easily forget, because I see him wherever I go, his grave, his clothing. God help me to get well. Because I have four young children.

The things are very complicated with the shop. The only thing that was left was £3, which I found after he died. Now I live temporarily with Panayiotis and my older brother. The shop belongs to someone else. Jobs are not easy to find. I will try and get something from the government for the children, as I am a widow. I do not worry that I will be left on the street, but I worry over the loss of my husband. I feel he was killed for nothing, but I do not blame God.

I will tell you how this happened. Hear, my mother, that before he died he went to country towns to find a shop. He went to see shops, but did not like them. “It is better that we stay here. It is a better climate for the children here.”

Eight days later, a Sunday, he went to play cards, and came back at 1am. I was asleep, but woke up, and he said, “tomorrow morning I will go back to the country towns to look for a shop, because, as you know, there are no jobs at all.” I said, “You are leaving so quickly. You should have warned me so I could prepare your clothing”. In the end he got up at 7 am and told me to get up to open the shop as the train was leaving. By the time I got dressed and went down he had taken his coat, and called from a distance “adieu my wife, I’m in a hurry”. That was all.

I waited Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. On Thursday night at 7 pm I was in the bathroom bathing the children. There was a knock on the door, and I saw Panayiotis, and he said, “Get ready to go to the town, Dimitri is in hospital, unconscious.” (There had been a car accident - ed.) My worry and crying I cannot describe. We took a car, George Comino, Tasso, and two more, and we left at 7:00pm and arrived at the hospital at 4 am.

When we got there he was unconscious. I cried out, I pulled at him. The nurse said he knew who I was, and he tried to talk, but within 5 minutes his life left. In the end she took me to another room, and gave me cognac. A head nurse came and I asked “What do the doctors say? Will he recover or remain unconscious? When will he get better?” She said, “He has already died.”

It was a knife stab to my heart. I said, “Let me see him again. I want a second time.” But whatever I said to him, no matter how much I touched him it was too late. He had died. I held him by the arm. He was soaking wet with perspiration. His pyjamas were stuck to his body.

After that, you understand, my mother, my grieving is immense. You gave birth to him, you brought him up, and I had him as a husband 10 years. He left me with four children. My duty is to live, and look after them. I will die a widow. I swear to live for my children.

My disappointment is great, because nobody told me my fortune by coffee, cards, or anything else, no-one told me I would lose my husband so young. I look at his clothes and I ask: is it true that I am a widow at 30 years? Am I dreaming? But it is true. It is not a dream.

That is what I have to write to you.
I kiss you with love,

submitted by Peter Poulos on 15.09.2005
( Within one year of writing this letter, Athena had died of cancer. Uncles, aunts and godparents tried valiantly to keep the 4 children together, with only sporadic success. - ed )

This is one in a series of entries about the Tzortzopoulos family including photographs, oral histories and biographies.

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