***The Museum has been fortunate to receive an article written by Michail Damianos Katramados in Thessaloniki, Greece, and translated by his daughter Fotoula Katramadou. It pays tribute to Michail’s uncle, Theodosios Katramadou, who immigrated to Tacoma, Washington, during the early 20th century and subsequently became a benefactor for his family in Greece. It is a poignant snapshot of the life and works of an “anonymous” Greek American who touched many lives in the old country, without ever seeing them or expecting anything in return.***
In June 1951 I graduated from elementary school in the island of Ammouliani, Chalkidiki. At that time it was not expected at all that I would continue going to high school. The island of Ammouliani was almost totally isolated with regard to transportation. The nearest high school was in the village of Arnea. Therefore in the first twenty-five years after the refugees from Gallimi settled in the island (1925-1950), only a few children did actually study. Their main concern was to secure their survival, since they were wandering for three years after their coming through many parts of Greece (Skopelos, Oreoi in Evia, Elefsina, Aigio)
It was a difficult era for Greece suffering from many historical changes: the destruction of Smyrna in 1922 – the greatest tragedy in Greek history, the continuous changes that took place in the 1930s, the dictatorship of 4th August (1936), the Second World War, the Greek-Italian war in 1940-1941, the invasion of Germany in 1941, Greece being under German dominance (1941-1944) and the “fratricidal” civil war (1946-1949). All these tragic events left Greece in ruins.
It was extremely difficult to leave the island of Ammouliani. There was a road from Ierissos to Thessaloniki, essentially a dirt road, where landmines from the war were planted and explosions often killed the travelers. When it was absolutely necessary to travel to Thessaloniki, due to medical conditions mainly, people had to cross the sea, travelling by Petros Avdimiotis’ ship named : “VAGGELISTRA” , Spyros Avdimiotis’ ship named “AGIOS NIKOLAOS” (MAKRELO), and later on Sotiris Malasiotis’ ship named “AGIOS GEORGIOS”, and Anestis Malasiotis’ ship named “AGIOS IOANNIS”. These were timber carrying ships from Agion Oros (The Holy Mountain), serving as well for trading goods from Thessaloniki to Agion Oros and Ammouliani. The sea trip lasted more than twenty hours, since the ships had to navigate round the peninsula of Chalkidiki. It is an honor to their memories to state hereby that none of them took fees of any kind.
However there were many dangers as this was a difficult course with bad weather and the ships were small and often overloaded. Furthermore, the island of Ammouliani was in a poor financial state.
This is why only a few children managed to study, going to high schools in Arnea or Thessaloniki. Only a
handful of children received higher education despite the financial difficulties, the dangers and hardships. The rest of the children followed the family occupations. The majority became fishermen; fewer became farmers, some traders and a few sheep breeders. Their few sheep were difficult to sustain in a barren island without built corrals. Most of the sheep died during the winter from cold and hunger. In the summer time, the animals had to be transferred by rowing boats to the mountain areas of Arnea and the Cholomontas mountain in pursuit of pasture.
My family’s only income derived from breeding sheep. From the early age of five, every day after school I went to the mountains and helped with their feeding. I loved them and knew each one of them by name. Later at night, I returned home and studied my homework under an oil lamp. I was eager to learn, though, and wanted to be a good student.
In Elementary school, us, children of all grades were taught together in one classroom, by a single teacher. She was the, never to be forgotten, late Stella Panagi.
When I finished elementary school, there were no doubts about my future. I was to become a breeder as well, as my father was, as the family tradition was. However there was no future in breeding sheep in the island. No matter how hard my father struggled, the income was trivial, outweighed by the expenses. Loans given by the Agricultural Bank of Greece were necessary to cover the debts. It was determined that I would become either a breeder, or an unskilled worker. However the grace of God proved otherwise.
As soon as I finished Elementary school, my mother stated against all odds “Lakis (Michael) will go to school” meaning Arnea’s High School. My father was surprised and opposed with the logical argument about money. Although he was initially adamant, after discussing the matter thoroughly, he finally condescended that I would start my studies, under the term that my going to school would be subject to our fiscal condition the following year.
During the summer of 1951, I was studying for the High School admission exams, while my parents were trying to find arrangements regarding my accommodation in Arnea for the years to come. We knew no one living in Arnea and due to our non-existing budget we could not find any solutions.
One night, we noticed our father coming home, pleased to announce that a relative of ours, Charalambos Tartoufis (known as Mpelias), told him of his friend Angelos Kalaitzis, living in Arnea. Next day, my mother left for Arnea to meet him. She came home happy: Angelos Kalaitzis with his wife Rina (Aikaterini Kalaitzi) agreed on me boarding in their house through High School. The amount would be just 200 drachmas (200.000 drachmas before the devaluation). They already had one two-year-old daughter and they were expecting another child. God gave us the best solution.
I could keep on studying for the exams. I will always remember my above mentioned teacher Stella Panagi, who helped me and two other fellow students during the summer, with private lessons, without taking any tuition-fees. In September, I passed the exams and I had no problem at all adjusting to life in Arnea and High School.
It did not take long to me to find out that I was living with good hearted people, living righteous as God’s people. Although I left home at the age of twelve, I found a warm place, people with love and kindness, who took care of me like family. They were always nice to me, smiling, showing great concern for my needs. Though sixty whole years have passed by, I recall them with my mind and soul, as holy people, Uncle Angelos and Aunt Rina, as I called them, and I am still moved by these memories.
They possessed church books, such as the Great Horologion and some others brought to them from the Holy Mountain. I was greatly surprised, when I found a library in their living room with many interesting books. They also had a copy of the famous “HELIOS” encyclopaedia-lexicon, which I studied thoroughly and claimed valuable knowledge. Mitsos, the brother of uncle Angelos, created this library. He was a law graduate, working for the State Tobacco Industry in Drama. He also got to study thanks to Uncle Angelos, who did manual labours receiving a minimum daily wage. I could write so many things regarding my life next to this blessed family. I only state what his fellow citizens said about Uncle Angelos, some years after his death: “He was a Holy Man of Arnea.”
My studies in Arnea’s High School had started. Konstantinos Koumantos from Crete was our headmaster. He loved us all and treated us kindly. Due to the lack of teachers, the classes were overcrowded. Eighty two children and I attended the First Class of High School, all in a single room. I am deeply moved as I remember my first teacher of Ancient Greek, Efrosini Kestekidou: how hard she worked during classes to control a crowd of so many young children. She came always prepared and equipped for the tasks. I remember her and all our teachers there, who put their souls in, to help us, to educate us.
Arnea’s High School also had a small school library, which as I was excited to find out was also a lending library. This is where I first came in touch with the prominent lexicon Liddell & Scott, a standard lexicographical work of the ancient Greek language, my guidance in linguistic issues through life.
Time had gone by pretty fast, the school year was over. The peaceful first year was about to end and the future was not at all promising. Uncle Angelos and Aunt Rina had their second child and due to health issues they had, I would not be able to continue my stay there.
In the summer of 1952, I was feeding the sheep at the mountains near Ierissos. I was responsible for them every morning, from dawn till noon and in the afternoon, until sunset. When the sun is high in the sky, the sheep have to be under a shade, until the heat is gone, so they can eat at night. During the noon time, I used to read books from the library and study books from the Church Community Center in Arnea.
It was already August and there was no chance of me continuing my school studies. My family’s financials were deteriorating and we looked in vain for a solution. And then came a “deus ex machina”:
One afternoon, as my father was returning from an area in Ammouliani called Kalopiga do, in the road
near Mr Bilamis field, he run into father Arkadios Manolidis, the priest and the spiritual father of everyone in the region, as he went to take care of his olive trees. There, the following dialogue took place, a dialogue that determined my future:
“Your blessings, Father
Praise the Lord, my son. How are you doing? I came to know that your older son is good at school. Well done! Well done!
He sure is, Father, but he cannot go on further. He has to discontinue. I need a shepherd for my sheep, or if he goes to school again, I would have to hire one, which will double my expenses. I do not have the money, Father.
You may not have, but God has (έχει ο Θεός) and will make a way. I know you have a cousin living in the States, Theodosios Katramados. Are you two in touch?
Not since we left our homes, father, not since we left Gallimi, thirty years ago. I do not know where he is and how he fares.
I will find his address and write to him . I believe God will guide him.
Thank you, Father.
God bless you, son.”
A month later, a child came knocking on our door. Father Arkadios wants to see Mr. Damianos Katramados, he said. My father went right away. He came back, with tears in his eyes, holding a letter. It was a letter from the States, from Theodosios Katramados: “Father Arkadios, I received your letter and I was pleased to see that my cousin, Damianos, has a nice family. It was also very good to know that he has a son Michail, who is doing well in school. His son is named after our Uncle Michael. I remember him in Gallimi, he loved me very much and when I was little he used to take me to his “vigla” (i.e. where they keep the sheep). I am not rich. I live on my pension, but I have some income. I will help Michael, as much as I can, so that he can study. With respect, Theodosios Katramados”.
A week later, a registered mail from the States arrived. The name of sender was Theodosios Katramados, and the name of the receiver was Damianos Katramados, my father. We anticipated it; when we opened it there was a short letter and a bank check with enough money for the expenses of three months of school in Arnea. The letter ended: “Please write to me, as soon as you get it, to know it has arrived.” Now we had to write a thank you letter. No member of our family could do that. Once again we headed to father Arkadios looking for his help. He replied: “I will compose the letter. You will copy it, put your name on and mail it.” And so we did.
This is the great solution God gave to our hardest problem. The road was open for my studies. Uncle Theodosios always remembered to send money regularly, more than enough for my studies. In the years 1953-1954, when the US Dollar- Drachma exchange rate went from 15 drachmas/1 dollar, to 30 drachmas/1 dollar, the money my Uncle sent me was enough for my studies and for the family to pay the debts.
As I felt a moral obligation, I sent my Uncle all the Awards and Prizes I won during my studies. Many years later, a man from Tacoma, who knew my Uncle, told me that he was proud of me and showed them to his friends.
My uncle was very pleased to know that I passed the exams and was accepted in the University, in the School of Philosophy of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. He raised then my grant, to live in Thessaloniki.
I did not mention above, that in the first letter my Uncle sent us, he wrote: “in a few days, you will receive some clothes as well”. Indeed, a week later, we received several packages containing clothes and shoes for the whole family. For a whole decade, my Uncle never forgot to also send clothes and shoes, which were then so valuable to us.
In 1957, my father had to sell the few sheep left and go to the Holy Mountain to find employment. Thank God, our Uncle consistently sent us money and clothes and I was able to finish my university studies in Thessaloniki.
As soon as I took the last graduation exams and took the oath at my graduation ceremony, I wanted to send a warm thank you letter to my benefactor, my Uncle, to whom, after God, I owed everything. With great gratitude, I recalled his unique help for ten years (1952-1962).
The graduation ceremony took place on March 17th, 1962, in the presence of the Dean of the University and the Chairman of the School of Philosophy. I was the one to recite the Oath and the graduation speech for all the graduates during the ceremony. I was ready to become a Professor, having a future of my own. I thanked God and my Benefactor Uncle with all my heart. At this happiest time of my life, a relative from Ammouliani told me that my beloved and respected Uncle had passed a month ago. My family knew it but did not tell me, so as not to disturb my graduation exams.
I was devastated. All my happiness was gone, turned into grief.
Fifty years have gone by. In those years I have never stopped and I never will stop thanking him for all he did. I always pray to God to rest his soul.
In holy memory of Archimandrite Arkadios Manolidis and Theodosios Katramados, fifty years after their death.By Michael Katramados, December 2012, and translated from the Greek by his daughter, Fotoula Katramadou