submitted by vasiliki Theocharopoulou on 02.02.2017
My name is Stathoula Souri. I was born on the 20th of August 1929 in Gerakari village. Gerakari is where I got married, Gerakari is where I raised my children. Not at the same house. I was born, raised and married at my father’s house and later on we made our own home, also in Gerakari.
I only went to Primary school. After this I didn’t continue, because the war came. My father had planned for me to become a teacher! Like he had for my brother to become a priest or a teacher so that he would stay in the village! But Occupation came, the war came and everything paused…Then, working the land and cooking is what I did.
The school was in Agios Giannis. Progi ,Petrouni and Gerakari were then all one community and in between these three villages was Agios Giannis. The school used to be close to the church.
At that time people hadn’t left yet and everyone was here! They were all working the land. There were a lot of people on the island generally. There were 12.000 people all over Cerigo when I was going to school. Later on numbers came down to 10.000, ending up to less than 3.000 nowadays…
I’ve known my husband since our childhood, in the village. He was a bit older than me. Well, the romance came when we grew up… He came and asked my father for my hand. It was a fairly good wedding for the times. My dad was playing violin. He even danced with me that night!
We had four children. Minas, Panagiotis, Kosmas and Antonia. I gave birth to three of them at home. A midwife would came from Karavas. We had a doctor come from Chora for Minas, my first one. We paid the doctor one million drachmas! I only gave birth to Antonia at the hospital.
We raised our kids with poor means because my husband, Manolis had been wounded at the army and couldn’t work very well…In September 1948 he was called upon to join the army for more than two years- it was the period of civil war in Greece. He got wounded by the end of the first year and spent 18 months in hospital, in Ioannina and Athens. When he came back we had our first child, Minas.
Life in the Village
We have always been farmers, working in the fields… Life was more tiring then but yet, more light hearted…one was not constantly stressed to pay taxes all the time, nobody checked on how many goats you might have, how much olive oil you gathered. You gathered what you could, but nobody checked on you.
There were rich families, as well. Especially in Karavas, there were a lot who had left for Australia and the U.S.A before the Occupation, made money and came back when transport lines opened and built most of the stately houses that remain well kept in Karavas. But they didn’t have to pay taxes, nobody checked on them.
There were people willing to help and others who took advantage of the poor…as it is today. There were families returning from Australia and the U.S.A. and threw parties every single night! –I know that because my father used to go and play for them, he got paid and all but he would be dead on his feet!
Once there was a wedding and my father left on Thursday morning to Aroniadika from where the bride’s trousseau would be brought to Karavas. He came back home on Monday night! Mind you, there were no phones at the time. My mom was worried “what has happened to that man”, someone finally informed her that her husband had been in Karavas playing the violin…He came back to us Monday night, since Thursday morning…
I don’t remember when a phone was first in use in the village…It was certainly after the 60’s. At first there was a phone at Ag. Giannis, in the school, and anyone who needed to call would go there.
If someone got sick, he’d go to Potamos by any means, there were no cars at the time. I remember my cousin Tasia got hurt. She was about 10 years old and fell down, bumped her head, blood running all over… My mom rode the donkey and took Tasia to the doctor in Potamos.
Like that other time, my Kosmas got hurt…He was about 5 years old,and wasn’t going to school yet. We were cutting wood-it was September- the kid was playing around and he fell off a fence on the stony ground and bumped the back of his neck...we got really scared…I grabbed him in my arms and rode the donkey –it took more than 30 minutes to reach Gerakari!-and then all the way through the woods to the hospital in Potamos. A family friend, Mousouris was there-may he rest in peace- and he helped me around the hospital, I waited for a couple of hours till Kosmas came round and I took him back home.
We didn’t suffer great losses, God bless. We even survived a fire. We also survived that big earthquake, when everybody got out and went to sleep in the fields, outside Gerakari. My children were young; it was around the 50’s when this took place.
My father, Panagiotis, grew up in Piraeus. My grandfather had 9 children and owned a cafenion in Pireaus. As soon as he finished Primary school, my father was trained to become a ship mechanic at a factory, but he was unfortunate from the first year, when he was just thir years old, there was an explosion in the factory and my father got completely blinded. In the explosion his manager died at age 50 . My father was blinded, and at the time there weren’t any means to help him get better. The accident happened in Piraeus and then he came here. He met my mother, here, in Gerakari. When they got married she was 19 years old and he was 23. They had four children. I was the oldest, then my sisters, Kleareti that lives in Australia and Eugenia, who lives in Piraeus. The youngest child is Kosmas my brother, who lives in Australia too.
So, my father came here, because in Piraeus what could he do? He was blind. Here he could do different jobs. He had opened a small shop, there, on the ground level of the house, with different tools and he was making various things, like farming tools, chairs, whatever you asked for, he could make it! He even made a wardrobe and we still have it in Gerakari! My brother has it.
In his shop my father had lots of shelves, with different tools all hung one next to the other and he found them easily. If anyone went to borrow a tool he would say “ you can have it but you will put it back where you found it!!” so that he knew how to reach it.
My father’s family was nicknamed “Dionisianous”, because his grandfather was Dionisi.. and in turn, we were the “Dionisakia”… they also called us the “blind man’s” children, the “Aomatos” children.
Potamos had been the center ever since and Karavas used to be the second center. We were closely connected to Karavas. I remember, my father would send me shopping when I was six years old- once he gave me a bottle, to go to Agios Charalabos in Karavas, to buy oil for his paint so he could paint some chairs he was making. On my way back to Gerakari , I see a girl from Progi, who was 5-6 years older than me, she sees me holding my shopping bag with the bottle of oil in it and she dares me to swing it in circles-she was taller and managed to do it but as I went to spin the bag it touched the ground and the bottle fell out and broke! The oil spilled everywhere! Anyway, I take the shopping bag dripping with oil and go home crying. My father was a logical man… god forgive him… he only knew how, the poor guy… because the money had been wasted, the bottle broke and everything went wrong. He never scolded me for anything, though. Never.
Only one time, there was a misunderstanding. I was waving to my cousin that was passing by in front of my house and she went and said that I was making fun of her and that i was giving her a ‘moutza’ (rude gesture). When they came and told my father, he grabbed my hands and squeezed them so tight that I peed myself out of fear! Meanwhile my mother and grandmother heard all the fuss from upstairs, my grandmother came down and started scolding my father. Ever since, my father used to say:“ let God chop my hands off if I ever hit my children again.” and he never hit us again! I remember it as if it happened yesterday…I was little… but I remember…those things stay with you for good.
Parties and excursions
My father learned to play the violin and the lute from a young age-he used to have lessons with some guy in Potamos. He would play in all big feasts at Karavas. Everybody was asking for Panagiotis, the violinist. And somebody else would accompany him with the lute.
We would not only play traditional island songs, but european music too, tango, waltz,polka, quadrilles… He gave the beat on the violin ‘mpap’ and stopped the music, then the couples would change and the tune went on…
People would gather to each other’s house all the time. We call that ‘vegghera’. We would have ‘veggheras’ very often, not only on special occasions. My father’s ‘koumparos’ (best man) lived in Karavas and we would regularly visit them. Then, they would come to Gerakari to visit us, along with other relatives. At my mother’s name day, Agios Antonis’ celebration, people would stay up all night at our house in Gerakari. All night!
I remember, when I was about seven, eight years old, they had run out of cigarettes and sent me from Gerakari to Petrouni to buy some, ten o’clock it was, nighttime in the heavy winter. Thunders and lightnings! My mum had no idea. She was busy in the kitchen preparing ‘mezedes’ for everyone, after a hard day’s work in the fields, the poor woman. Anyway, at some point she called for me, but I was nowhere near to answer. When they told her where I was, she got panicked! ‘How could you send the kid out all alone, all the way to Petrouni, in the middle of that wild night’? Finally, they came to fetch me. They found me walking in the dark, as the strong wind had blown off my lamp. Imagine that, a seven year’s old kid walking alone all that way…they later on gave me pocket money, less than a drachma…and I felt rich like a queen! I’m thinking about that incident now and I sympathize my mum, poor woman, she must have gone crazy worried that night!
Petrouni and Gerakari were much more lively back then. More than a hundred people would gather around, including twenty kids or more and we would all go to my father and say ‘Do play the violin for us’ and he always did. Even after a hard day’s work at his small shop, he never refused to play for us to dance..
We used to go to Myrtidia, at the celebrations, where my father was playing the violin. I remember once, we rode the donkeys all the way to Myrtidia. There was my father carrying his violin, another one with the lute, my mum, the kids, everyone. They were playing at the upper yard of Myrtidia and the feast lasted all night! Every yard had another music group. There were three groups playing at the same time, until the bell rung for the morning service. Then we left the dance and everyone went to church.
We only had a single dress to wear, washed it and wore it again. We had a pair of everyday shoes and another one for formal occasions. They never let us barefoot, but of course, we didn’t have all that we have today.
As kids we used to go to the beach in the summer. My family had land around Agios Nikolas. We would go to Ammoutsi, to Routsouna and stay by the sea for ten, fif days!
During Occupation, the island was very crowded; people that owned land here, gathered from Athens and Piraeus. I remember being with my grandfather and grandmother-my fathers’s parents –their house was next to ours. We were 6 in the family - 4 kids and 2 parents- and another 2 counting my grandparents, adding up to 8 , and we would end up gathering 20-25 people around the table. We cooked whatever we could. Greens from our gardens, peas, fava beans, thick groats. We grinded wheat and made noodles and tarhana. We all used to make these things at home. We would fill cans with food that lasted us the whole year. We used to say : “Don’t you have any? Take some of mine so you can cook too”! We would also exchange stuff!
We made cheese, too. At times where we didn’t have any bread during Occupation, we cut the cheese as if it was bread and ate it. We had our own cheese from the goats and sheep. Mind you, we all helped with the chores, young and old!
I don’t remember being hungry, God bless my parents they never let us go hungry. I remember that even during Occupation, my father would go to different houses and make tools and they would give him treats—the bread they gave him he would put it in his pocket and bring it home for us.
We made dried fig and carobs, those sweet tamed ones, we boiled them and ate throughout the year . We were really grateful for the carobs and would eat them with olives, we made carob bread, carob pies. We didn’t grow corn here, sometimes during the occupation they gave us food portions of corn flour and we made ‘bobota’. (type of pancake out of corn flour)
At nights, especially during winter where the nights are longer, the neighbors would come over and spend the evening. “ Barba-Panagiotis will you play us the violin?”… and he would start playing and a lot of times we stayed up all night. The next day we gathered at another house, just about every day we came together somewhere and spent the evening together.
When Occupation ended and transport lines opened, I wrote a letter to my uncle, asking him whether he could take me to Australia, but did not receive an answer. Ever since, I never thought of leaving again!
My brother Kosmas was the first one to go to Australia at the age of 14, later on my sister Kleareti followed in 1954, when my child Minas was 2 years old.
Kosmas had left with a cousin of mine, who was 6 months older. They left together, my uncle took them in and start working with the land and the animals. He had a farm, as big as the whole Cerigo! He owned cattle and sheep.
They used to work together with some Italians. They didn’t even know the language, nothing. Once they got really thirsty and asked the Italians for some water, using gestures and all, finally the Italians understood and gave the kids some water.
There, at my uncle’s farm, Kosmas once managed to gather lids from beer bottles and sold them. Kleareti and I then received a letter from him, in which there was a gold pound for each of us.
He first came back from Australia after nine years. He had left in 1950 and he came to visit us at the end of ’59. He had grown into a young man by then, he was thinking about bringing Kleareti back to Kythera and never leave again, he didn’t want to go back to Australia…but then he went again, as he was used to living and working down there and finally, he got married to a very good woman.
Our communication with him and with Kleareti-who also stayed in Australia-, was frequent. We heard from them every month, or more. In the old times we wrote to each other, nowadays we use the phone.
I have no complaints about my life… What more could I wish for, other than being surrounded by my family, my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, seeing everybody well fed and happy. The happiest moments were when my children were getting married and having their own babies…
I wish everyone to be well, in good health and joy!
The secret of feeling fine is to eat, to drink….your wine, your tsipouro…(laughing) and always have something to keep you busy, never to laze.
Teacher, journalist, poet and author, Sydney NSW Australia
‘Andrew’ Anargyros Vretos Fatseas
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