“Yesterdays are history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is God’s gift of love, that is why it is called the present.” Katheren (Aikatereni) Armatas (nee Sarantinos) used this quote at the end of a video she prepared. However, it is fitting to place the quote at the beginning of this exhibit as it so aptly describes the inspiration for her work. That work includes several contributions to two volumes about Tacoma, Washington; a book about her family’s journey and experiences titled A Lingering Breeze from Marmara Sea; a video of early Greek immigrants in Tacoma; and a video of her own poetry, writings and reminiscences. Because of her prolific and wonderfully descriptive prose and poetry, much of this exhibit will consist of direct quotes from Katheren’s work.
Galimi, a town on the island of Marmara, was under Turkish rule when Katheren’s father was born there. Faced with serving in the Turkish military, Lascos Antonios Sarantinos left his homeland in 1907 and travelled through Ellis Island ultimately to Tacoma. Patriotes (countrymen) from Marmara were already in Tacoma and had sent stories of the fishing, lumbering and beauty of the area. Lascos worked his way across the United States and spent some time working in Alaska. In Tacoma he worked for the St. Paul (later St. Regis) sawmill then managed restaurants, coffee houses and fish markets with his brother Photios (Frank). He even taught roller skating. In 1918 he was drafted into the U. S. Army and served in England and France during World War I rising to the rank of sergeant.
Lascos had a good friend, Gus Zarkades, who travelled to Vancouver, British Columbia, to wed Eleni Foundoukakis (meaning lover of hazel nuts). The Foundoukakis name was somehow changed to Victor when the family settled in Tacoma. Eleni, with her older sister Maria, had come from Greece through Halifax, Nova Scotia, and then to Vancouver. Gus’ desires were thwarted as Maria (as Greek custom dictates) had not yet married. Gus called his friend Lasco who travelled north to meet Maria. The friends married in a double civil ceremony in Canada and later in a double sacramental ceremony at St. Nicholas Church in Tacoma on June 5, 1927. Angelo (Evangelos) Sarantinos was born on April 19, 1926, and Katheren on October 24, 1930.
Katheren was fortunate to have her grandparents, Georgios and Smaro Foundoukakis, living in the family home until she was a young teenager. As Katheren wrote, “I learned that the Turks drove them from their homes twice, first in 1914 and finally in 1922. Craftily, Smaro had sewn into the linings of her children’s coats all their gold and silver coins and any jewels they had. The family returned silently to their home and resumed life there until the final 1922 exile. With money sewn into their coats a second time, they were able to leave Ammouliani, Greece, until they arrived, all separately, on U. S. soil.” In Katheren’s poetic memory, she tells this story of her grandmother:
“A toddler, I, by a bad dream awakened—
A chocolate piece taken—
Moving pear leaves,
Near darkened window, rustling—
A crying child’s fussing.”
Before entering elementary school Katheren spoke only Greek except for a few words learned from her older brother Angelo. With the help of her papou (grandfather) and Greek school taught by Fr. Germanos Tsoumanis at McCarver Junior High, she learned the Greek alphabet, grammar, spelling and writing. Her first impression of public school was the smell of furniture polish and varnish. She sang “like a canary” and received an “A” in music which compensated for the “D”s in other subjects. It was her perception that the teachers simply didn’t understand Greek.
Lascos and his brother Photios had a grocery store at 11th and K Streets in Tacoma. He “worked all the time,” often up until midnight while Maria was a housewife. “It took Maria a while to understand English, but her neighbors, Mrs. Schrieber and Mrs. Griffin, with sign language and nods, managed to convey their thoughts. I believe after we children started American school, Mama’s English improved just as mine did.”
Maria would pack Lasco’s dinner and walk with Katheren down the alley and up the block to deliver the meal. The store and the Sarantinos home were a few blocks away from Tacoma’s Greek Row. ”Just as many Polish families lived on Portland Avenue near their Catholic church, many Greek families congregated near St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at 16th and Yakima Avenue. Let me list a few names, many known in the business world then and some in later years, through marriage or family connections: Davis & Arger (The Yakima Boys Fruit Stand), Manthou (Kreme Krust Bakery), Orfanos (Tacoma Parks and Bimbos), Formouzis (Louis Fish), Sarantinos (Bay St Mkt), Manolides (Western Fish), Papas, Evans (Evans Bakery), Manousos, Kalivas, Basil (grocery), Pangis (grocery), Angelos-Kouklis (Michal’s Deli), Batanadis (Arthur became a movie star), Halkides (my Aunt Poula), Lagonaris (Paradise grocery), Nitos, Martigopoulos (Summer grocery), Dionas, Zacharias, Politakis (PSNB), Apostle, etc.”
While Katheren envied her more sophisticated cousins with their high heels and frilly dresses, she often followed her older brother and found success in singing and sports including baseball, badminton and track. She was good in mathematics and thought about pursuing a business career. She started writing because “I was good at making things up.” And, a companion at Central Elementary School introduced her to the Tacoma Public Library. She recalls bringing stacks of books home. As a child she would visit the Rexall Drug Store next to Sarantinos Grocery and read comic books in the magazine section. For an assignment at Stadium High School, she was to look at a picture and write about it. She chose the reflection of the sun in a window as her inspiration.
Having seen Katheren’s test scores, a high school counselor recommended she consider pharmacy as a field of study. Again inspired by her brother, a chemistry major, she entered the University of Washington School of Pharmacy and completed her studies there. She worked at the St. Joseph Hospital pharmacy from 1953 to 1962.
“In 1953, my papa brought home a serviceman for breakfast. (Paul J. Armatas was destined to become my husband, July 25, 1954.) Dad was always a warm-hearted, friendly person who greeted everyone new at church. Why he brought Paul home with him I still don’t know. Paul’s version of why he came was that he saw this friendly old gent and struck up a conversation with him in Greek. He accepted Lasco’s invitation, just to make ‘this gentle old bachelor’ happy.”
Katheren’s work was briefly interrupted by the birth of her son, Jonathan Randie (from “Sarandi,” a derivative of the Sarantinos family name). Next came Roxanne in 1959 and Daniel Paul in 1965. Until she retired in 1994, Katheren spent over 43 years working in a variety of hospital, retail and clinical pharmacies in the greater Tacoma area, including an interesting and fulfilling 13 years working in the Puyallup Indian Tribe Clinic on their reservation. By then she wanted to spend more time with her husband (who passed away in 1995 following a series of heart problems). Katheren’s eight grandchildren and one great grandchild give her continuing family joy.
Katheren’s writing began in earnest in 1980. Her father had passed away and she wanted to write about her family. She learned about a Living History Project called “All My Somedays” sponsored by the Pierce County and Tacoma Libraries under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. She attended a gathering of about 100 people intended to help the average person with ideas on how to write. These meetings were the inspiration for A Lingering Breeze from Marmara Sea, her 142-page story of her grandparents’ persecution under the Turks, her family’s life in Tacoma and her own memories. An outgrowth of this experience was the formation of Tacoma Historical Writers. Katheren contributed two articles to a publication by this group, Tacoma Voices of the Past, and several more to a second volume. After presenting her slides and stories at a number of civic gatherings, her daughter Roxanne recorded the presentation onto a DVD titled Early Greek Immigrants in Tacoma. Katheren made a second DVD of her writings, her poetry and a narrated tour of her life in Tacoma.
Katheren modestly says she has no words of wisdom or favorite quotes to share. She wishes simply to be remembered as a mother, grandmother and for her life and love with her husband Paul. Of course, there are three books and two DVDs full of her writings, her memories and her good wishes for her family and friends. She hopes that by recording “all her somedays” others will be inspired to write their stories.By John and Joann Nicon, November 2011
1 Katheren Sarantinos Armatas today
2 St. Nicholas Society 22nd Anniversary, December 6, 1930
3 Katheren and brother Angelo, circa 1933
4 Katheren and Angelo, circa 2000
5.Sarantinos Brothers grocery outside
6 Sarantinos Brothers grocery inside (l-r) Lascos, a young candy customer and Photios
7 Lascos, Angelo, Maria and Katheren Sarantinos, circa 1950
8 Katheren and Paul at their wedding, 1954
9 Paul and Katheren in Greece, 1990
Photo 1 by John Nicon; all others from Armatas family collection SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, November 2011; A Lingering Breeze from Marmara Sea, Katheren Armatas, 1982; Tacoma Voices of the Past, Tacoma School District Printing and Graphics, June 1988; Tacoma Voices of the Past Volume II, Tacoma Historical Writers, 1999