submitted by Kytherian Newsletter Sydney on 12.04.2013
First President of the Kytherian Ladies Auxiliary
Sydney, NSW, Australia
This interesting account of the life of Mrs Caravousanos, was written by her son Andrew, and with his permission we share it with all our members.
On Sunday 24th December 1924, the weather in Carthage Missouri USA was well below zero and considered “the worst winter’s day in the city’s history”. There were no Sunday papers to forecast hopeful improvement so its citizens gathered in churches praying for relief. Yet for Andrew & Stella ( Stamatoula) Khlentzos, warmth was abundant with the birth of their first daughter Saphira(their second child within a calendar year). Andrew was so thrilled that a daughter was born so that he could name her ‘Zafiro’ after his beloved mother in Logothetianika, Kythera, Greece.
With his brothers Andrew Khlentzos, a skilled candy maker, had established candy stores in Wichita and Missouri. Saphira was proud that the site of one of the stores is now part of the baseball diamond of the St Louis Cardinals.
In 1929 , Andrew and Stella ( pregnant with her fifth child) with their then four children ( Michael, Saphira, Helen and Peter) decided to flee the crippling depression of USA and joined Stella’s brothers, Nick and Dave , in Lithgow NSW Australia.
After Mary their third daughter was born in June, Andrew became a partner in the Paragon Café in Hay NSw with Mr Logothetis. The depression spread and Logothetis disappeared leaving Saphira’s father with no money as well as the debts of the business. It was the start of extreme hardship for the family which would last for over ten years. Andrew and Stella lost all their savings and were forced to leave Hay after their sixth child Billy was born in 1932.
The family moved to Sydney, with Stella trying desperately to raise her six children whilst Andrew washed floors and made candy. The two eldest children, Michael and Saphira, went to cricket and football matches at Moore Park selling their father’s homemade candy for 2 pence a stick. The sticks were thick solid candy 2 inches long and came in greaseproof paper wrapping in either strawberry or peppermint flavour.
Moves were many and sadly Andrew died in 1935 of stomach cancer leaving Stella with 6 children, the eldest being 11. There was no food in the house and they had to wait for their Uncle Nick and Aunty Aspa to bring them a loaf of bread to eat. So difficult was their plight that their uncle had to take them in for all to survive. A gesture emphasised by the fact the Uncle Nick was the sole wage earner of the family.
Saphira attended Sydney Girls High School and was a brilliant mathematician. An excellent student also blessed with a mature soprano singing voice, Saphira was forced to leave school and work in her uncle’s business in Lithgow at the age of 14. Saphira was treated harshly by her Uncle Dave’s wife, Aunty Ella and was forced to work in the shop in appalling conditions, without even a heater in heavy winters. A promise to educate her further was never kept. She felt cheated and when she had her own children she provided them all with equal opportunities and encouraged in their education.
Eventually Saphira moved back home and worked in a clothing factory until Charles Caravousanos met her and wanted to marry her. World War II brought more hardship with the conscription of her eldest brother Michael into the Air Force and posting in Papua New Guinea.
On the February 1943 Charles married Saphira at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Surry Hills.
They worked side by side in their business known as the Piccadilly” Café next door to the Capital Theatre. However she was known to disappear next door on occasions to watch her favourite movie stars appearing in a movie during a matinee. Many Greeks in the Australian Army treated the “Piccadilly” as their home away from home. Saphira’s hard-working and dignified manner generated great respect from them.
In May 1944 their first son John was born followed by the birth of their second son Andrew in November 1945. Saphira and Charlie (as many called him now) bought a house in Botany Street Kingsford also sold the “Piccadilly” in 1946.
They then purchased a delicatessen business in Taylor Square but the whispers of a railway station being built involving the actual sight bought concern to Saphira whose past had been proven difficult and they sold it to Nick Potiris.
In 1948 saw the leasing of the Athenian Restaurant in Castlereagh Street Sydney from peter Conomos and eventually purchased by Charles and Saphira in the 1950’s. In November 1950 their daughter Tina was born. The purchase of their new home in Willoughby followed in 1951. Their second daughter Marianne was born in May 1952.
The Athenian Restaurant became a landmark in Sydney in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Its reputation amongst members of the print media and multi-cultural migrants was second to none for its large meals for little money. No other restaurant offered a free loaf of bread with every meal, a pitcher of water and wine by the glass at an affordable price. With its success came Saphira’s selfless task of helping new arrivals from Greece with their job applications, interpreting needs for medical and legal matters and their naturalisation. It was never an issue for Saphira to accompany a young expectant mother or an elderly Greek to interpret for them when visiting a doctor.
She and Charles both loved to party as well as dine out with family, koumbari and friends alike. Latin Quarter, Chequers, The Couchman, La Taverna and the Chevron Silver Spade Room were to name a few, some of their favourite spots.
Her tireless effort in joining and visibly supporting organisations such as the Lyceum and the Young matrons was with purpose and direction. Saphira supported Charlie’s financing (together with Mina Psaltis) of the hire of the Paddington Town Hall to hold dances for the Kytherians who were struggling to create a new life in a new land.
Between them, Charles and Saphira had 48 godchildren. Saphira’s ritual was to open a special bank account at the end of January each year and then 2 weeks prior to Christmas withdraw the amount saved to purchase each one a Christmas present. Saphira not only gave a gift to her Godchild but also to their siblings. Her generosity was renowned.
With the purchase of the Athenian Club, a floor below the restaurant, Saphira became a skilled poker player, much to the awe of her male counterparts!
On the 4th December 1960 Saphira fulfilled a dream that many believed was impossible. Together with Charles, she took her four children on an overseas trip of a lifetime. The sea voyages and the travelling through over 10 countries was first class in every sense of the word, completed with a first class voyage home on the maiden voyage of the ‘Canberra’. Her children to this day cherish the memories of this overseas travel.
Saphira became the first President of the Kytherian Brotherhood Ladies Auxiliary. Through numerous generous gestures of both Saphira and Charlie, and the efforts of many parishioners, St Michael’s Church in Holterman St Crows Nest was built. Saphira made it her quest to be the owner of the initial church key and her generous donation made that a reality. Her love of this church and her deep-seeded religious beliefs were part of her everyday life.
After the sale of both the Athenian Restaurant and Club, Charles and Saphira opened an Athenian Take-Away Coffee Lounge near the Sydney Opera House. However it was sold quite soon after as Charlie’s health was suffering. The 1970’s brought the marriages of her children John, Marianne and Tina. From 1978 until 1991, 7 grandchildren (Charles, Simeon, Angelique, Shani, David, Charles and Michael) were born bringing them great joy.
After periods of overseas and interstate travelling, Saphira and Charles purchased a house in St Ives in 1978. Unfortunately the occasion was marred by Charlie’s sudden stroke the same year prior to them moving out of Willoughby. However in her typical strong manner Saphira was steadfast in her faith and hope that all would be fine. Sadly on 2nd July 1985 Charles died. Saphira never really recovered from her loss.
For the next 28 years Saphira filled her life with her family. Her Zest for life knew no boundaries. Her delight was to travel with children and grandchildren alike, always in style. She celebrated the achievements of her grandchildren which brought her great pride and happiness.
In later years she suffered a horrific accident in a shopping centre when the faulty automatic doors closed suddenly causing serious life-threating injuries. The recovery was slow but her fight and spirit enormous. The marriage of her granddaughter, Shani, to Tony brought her great joy with the crowning glory being the birth of her great-grandson Chase John . Saphira never stopped bragging about this ‘blessed gift’ . The respect for her can easily be measured by the wonderful outpouring of prayers and services held for Saphira during her illness. Saphira was astounded at these enormous acts of love for her. Prayer sessions were held at mosques, synagogues, Hindu and Buddhist temples, shrines, cathedrals and churches all over the world. She was certainly a lady of presence and style who touched the hearts of many, old and young alike.
Her greatest wish was to have all her family around her in those final days. God granted her wish. She will be sorely missed and in our hearts forever.
Teacher, journalist, poet and author, Sydney NSW Australia
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