That’s what Terry Xenos Proios said when she and her siblings gathered to tell their story of emigration from Leros, Greece, and life in Seattle, Washington. Three sisters of the nine-member Xenos family are featured here along with remembrances of their family life.
Spyridonos (Spiro) Emanuel Xenos was born on January 19, 1902, on the Dodecanese island of Leros in the Aegean Sea. His wife, Elizabeth (nee Costandaras), was also born on Leros on May 15, 1907. During World War II the family home was bombarded and completely destroyed. Manuel “Manoli”, the oldest son, would have been killed save for the fact that a large beam protected him from falling items. English officers were able to rescue him and the family took refuge in a bomb shelter. Infant Eleftheria “Terry” was swaddled in a sheet and comforted. Elizabeth was resilient as bombing continued and left the shelter only to warm milk for her baby. Spiro was able to rebuild the home.
Shortly thereafter Elizabeth wrote to her brother-in-law, Mike Xenos, in Pennsylvania and asked if he would be willing to sponsor Spiro and their oldest son Manoli (born March 28, 1928) to work in the United States for a short period of time and eventually return to Leros. In the fall of 1946 Spiro and Manoli embarked on their journey leaving Greece for Allquippa, Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, Spiro’s brother, John, lived in Seattle and had written about the beautiful mountains and bodies of water in the area. Plus, a number of other Lerians lived in Seattle. Spiro fell in love with the Northwest and was now close to his brother and patriotes (countrymen) from Leros: Courounes, Cheredes, Cokinakis and Spiro who all lived in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood. (see SORT OF LIKE A VILLAGE and BRINGING THE COOKING BACK HOME)
Back in Leros, Elizabeth was raising her other six children with the help of her second son, Michalis (Mike), who was born on January 14, 1932. The other children were Kalliope (December 1, 1933), Maria (Mary) (February 11, 1936), Eftihia (Effie) (June 12, 1937), George (April 20, 1940) and Eleftheria (Terry) (February 2, 1943). An eighth child died at birth. Manuel, the oldest son is deceased. Kalliope lives in New York. Mike lives in Seattle and George lives in Texas. By 1951 the oldest daughter, Kalliope, had married. So, when Spiro sent for his family, Elizabeth undertook the journey with her five children. While making arrangements in Athens for their trip, they met a priest who had been in the United States and warned them against going. The only thing the children had heard about was the presence of Indians.
With no understanding of English and with little money, the 18-day trip across the ocean on the cruise ship NEA ELLAS was both awe-inspiring and terrifying. After a few days in New York the family began their train trip west. The girls remember the train station in Chicago, Illinois, with Grecian-like columns and nuns passing out Christmas candy. From Chicago to Seattle all the children could see was snow, grasslands and animals. They feared they were being taken to live on a farm. Leaving the train for food or even asking for food was not possible as they spoke no English. When they finally arrived in Seattle, Mary was almost unrecognizable, having lost so much weight during the trip. Terry, a toddler when her father left Greece, saw only strangers. Manuel drove the family to their home at 1409 North 47th Street where they enjoyed avgolemono (egg lemon) soup and a beautifully decorated Christmas tree with colorfully-wrapped gifts strewn about. The girls even had their own bedroom.
Maria (Mary) Spyridonos Xenos, like her sisters, used her father’s first name as her middle name. She was 15 years old in 1951 and disliked the thought of leaving her friends in Greece, living in the United States and knowing no English. When she first arrived in Seattle, she attended Interlake Elementary School for six months as a sixth grader while Effie, one year her junior, was in the fifth grade. Meanwhile, Mary’s teacher asked a young Greek neighbor, Tom Delimitros, to help by reading to Mary in the hallway. However, Tom spoke no Greek and was of little help. The following year Mary enrolled at Alexander Hamilton Junior High School. She found life in Seattle very difficult until she began to master the language. She and Effie graduated together from Lincoln High School in 1958. On October 4, 1959, she married Panagioti (Pete) Economou and assumed his initial (P.) as her middle name.
Pete had been working for a patrioti (countryman) whom he called “uncle” in a tavern and later for the Denos family at the Riverside Garden. (see DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE) He even trained Mary’s brother, Manoli, to be a bartender. Pete also had spent 18 years working for the Boeing Company molding parts for propellers.
When Seattle’s economy declined in the 1970s Pete joined his brother Tom at the Ballard Smoke Shop which resulted in a 30-year partnership. Featured prominently in the book North by Northwestern, the restaurant featured traditional American fare unless Mary made a pastitsio (similar to lasagna) or melomakarona (honey-dipped soft cookies) primarily for the staff during the Christmas holidays. Mary worked in the credit department at the Bon Marche (now Macy’s) in downtown Seattle from 1958 to 1964 until her twin daughters, Evangelia (Eva) and Elizabeth (Liz) were born on May 19, 1964. A third daughter, Christina, followed on April 30, 1969.
When Pete bought into the Smoke Shop in 1972, the family moved to the north end of Seattle. Mary returned to work at the Northgate Shopping Center Bon Marche in 1967 for the Christmas season and remained there for nearly 30 years. In 2001 she lost Pete who she describes as a kind, honest, generous and “big-hearted” human being. When she is not visiting her grandson John Peter in Chicago, Illinois, or her grandson Peter James in Seattle, she can be seen frequently volunteering at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church or briskly walking the path around Greek Lake near her home in Seattle.
Eftihia (Effie) Spyridonos Xenos was also born on Leros on June 12, 1937. She entered Hamilton Junior High as a seventh grader. As she began to understand the English language, school became easier. She skipped the eighth grade and graduated with her sister from Lincoln in 1958. She was very good in mathematics. On one occasion when her algebra teacher was giving instructions, Effie was solving problems without help and the teacher enlisted her assistance in correcting other students’ papers. While she enjoyed the friendships at school, she had to pretend a German friend was Italian as association with a German was not permitted by her family.
Because the girls were very protected, getting married was just about the only way to move out of the home. So it was with some relief that eight months after her older sister Mary’s wedding, Effie married Chris Chriest on June, 26, 1960 and became Effie C. Chriest. The surname in Greek was originally Christo and Christ in English but was changed officially to Chriest (for $180) in order to avoid some confusion with the Almighty. Effie and Chris have three children: Valentina (February 14, 1962), Harry (May 15, 1965) and George (June 28, 1971). Their 10 grandchildren range in age from college to elementary school.
Effie held a number of jobs after high school including one with Skyway Luggage for two years and another with what was then the National Bank of Commerce (NBC) for two and a half years. At the bank, Effie was processing from 18,000 to 20,000 checks per day, the hardest job she ever had. Her manager at NBC was very supportive and when Effie became pregnant but was not showing she was allowed to continue working, despite the work rule prohibition. She left her job on a Friday after a nice baby shower and had her first child on the following Wednesday.
Chris was employed at Doces Majestic Furniture Company where he spent 30 years. Although he did not want his wife to work, Effie stayed at home for only three years after her first child’s birth, before she went to work at the Bon Marche for the next two years. Effie and Chris then purchased the Trolley Tavern with her sister Terry and brother-in-law Tony which operated for 15 years. When Chris became ill, they sold the tavern and Effie cared for him at home for three years. Effie then worked for Zale’s Jewelers in the Northgate Shopping Center for 16 years. Now she spends time with her 10 grandchildren and as a “nurse” when Chris needs assistance. For Effie, “Life is good.”
Eleftheria “Terry” Spyridonos Xenos is the youngest of the family, born February 2, 1943. Had her teachers understood Greek, she might have been called Liberty or Freedom, the more literal translation of her Greek name. She even received a draft notice in 1961 when the name Terry was thought to belong to a male. She was just eight years old when the family arrived in Seattle and remembers her new home in the snow, with berry bushes as a border and being kept very close to home with no concept of the size of the neighborhood or of Seattle. Interlake Elementary School was just two blocks away where she entered the third grade. From the very beginning Terry was active in school and did her utmost to experience life outside the Xenos home. She strove to be a normal teenager participating in square dancing, talent shows and school politics while studying hard and having almost perfect attendance. In high school she was chosen to be Mrs. Lincoln in the Tradition Day celebration held annually on the president’s birthday. She recalls receiving a small Samsonite overnight bag as a graduation present, a gift that served as impetus for her future adventures.
Although work and marriage were expected after graduation, Terry was interested in neither. She unsuccessfully applied for a student loan at the University of Washington, using her status as a Greek minority. However, she declined the opportunity of a loan as a female minority. While working for a year with the Underwood/Olivetti Company she learned about the program at St. Basil Academy in Garrison, New York, where young women could train to be Sunday school and Greek school teachers. New York was a magnet which served her desire to seek adventure and Terry enrolled at St. Basil’s in September of 1962. She loved the school and sharing the experience with other students from Greece and Canada and roomed with another Seattleite, Kaye Stylianopoulos. She enjoyed classes in history and mythology and was kept busy with kitchen work, washing floors and other chores. Terry used notes from her older sister Mary for permission to spend time away from the Academy. One Thanksgiving she and Kaye were visiting in Brooklyn, New York, where Tony Proios was playing the bouzouki (Greek stringed instrument) at a church social event.
Tony said, “Patriotisa (country woman) how is your gaithoura (donkey) Barbara?” She then learned Tony was also from Leros, knew her family (and the donkey) and was also one of seven siblings. A two-year courtship followed until the couple was married on December 12, 1964.
Terry and Tony first lived in Brooklyn, then bought a house on Staten Island and enjoyed a multitude of social and religious events with Tony’s many relatives. Their daughter, Elizabeth, was born on August 4, 1966, and their son, Paul, on August 26, 1972. Tony had a koumbaro (best man or godparent to one’s children) in Florida who encouraged him to move there and for two years the family spent their time in Dunedin, south of Tarpon Springs. Tony was playing at the Pappas Restaurant when Pete Farmasonis (see A GREEK VILLAGE FOR TWO) was attending an AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association) golf tournament and saw Tony playing in the restaurant. Farmasonis invited the band to play at his Seattle restaurant and Tony said to his wife, “Lefty, we’re moving to Seattle,” much to Terry’s dismay in uprooting their children once again.
In October of 1976, Terry joined Tony in Seattle. She worked for the Puget Sound Gillnetters Association from 1976 to 1986 during the political upheaval of the Boldt Decision which lifted the limitations on fishing by Native Americans. Her position as office manager brought her to understand the fishing industry and the hardships that plagued fishermen at sea and on land. The fishing industry remains deep in her heart. In 1982 she lost her husband to cancer. Four years working in a downtown Seattle architectural firm came to an end in 1990 when she was severely injured. A cab hit her on Second Avenue while she was waiting to catch her bus.
In 1992 Terry and her son, Paul, learned that Julia’s 14 Carrot restaurant was for sale in Seattle’s Eastlake neighborhood. It was in an ideal spot and despite her limited restaurant experience, her love of people, a desire to be “my own person” and, a willingness to work hard, Terry opened it as simply the 14 Carrot Café and has continued to operate it to this day. Terry credits her work ethic, freedom to be her own boss and an excellent staff for the restaurant’s success. Her Mexican employees remind her of the Greeks of old who worked hard, saved their money and supported their families in the old country. While the restaurant hours are from 7 am to 3 pm, the place never leaves her mind. While other Greek-owned restaurants have closed, usually with a retirement after a 30-40 year run, Terry has some years to go.
Terry’s children are involved in the arts. Her daughter carried on her father’s musical talent by singing in Greek venues for over 25 years. Her Greek language classes paid off! Her son is also involved in music and theater.
The adjustment to life in the United States was difficult for Mary and Effie (then 16 and 15 years old respectively) until they became comfortable with the English language. It was easier for Terry as she was several years younger. And, after adjusting to the American ways, the two youngest children, Terry and her brother George, were enrolled in Greek school to maintain their original reading and writing skills. They, especially Mary and Effie, operated with two parallel lives. Neither understanding nor receiving any assistance to learn the language, they felt very self-conscious and often thought other students were talking about them. Their only social life was with other Greek families through the church or at Greek night clubs in Seattle. While they yearned to be back on Leros, they also knew that if they had remained in Greece the requirement of a dowry for them would have been impossible for their father to meet. Terry says that if she had remained in Greece, she would have been on the first possible boat to Athens from her small village on Leros.
An adage that the Xenos sisters live by is: “Kane kalo kai rixeto sto gialo” (do good works and throw it in the ocean or don’t brag about what you do). Another is “Papoutsia apo ton ntopo sou kai as ene mpalomena” (keep the shoe from your homeland even if it is patched or marry your own kind). Finally “To leo stin pethera na to akoue e nyfe” (I tell the mother-in-law so that the daughter-in-law can learn what is expected of her in her marriage).
All of their children have remained very close to their ethnic culture and, in varying degrees, their Orthodox Christian faith. Terry travels back and forth to her patretha (homeland) and, as much as she loves Leros, it is always with gratitude and appreciation that she returns to America. When asked, Mary and Effie said they want to be remembered as good people and Terry wishes to be remembered as a free spirit and very loyal to people she loves.By John and Joann Nicon (April, 2015) PHOTOS
1 Terry, Mary, Effie, 2014
2 Elizabeth Costandaras, circa 1916
3 Xenos family: Mary, Effie, Terry, Elizabeth, Mike, Kalliope, George, circa 1948
4 Xenos family: (l-r) rear, Mike, Kalliope, Mary, Effie; front, Effie, Elizabeth, Nickolas Deligiannis, George, circa 1951
5 Elizabeth and Spiro, circa 1960
6 Elizabeth and Spiro, circa 1978
7 Kalliope, Spiro, Elizabeth Deligiannis, 1964
8 Mary, circa 1956
9 Mary, high school graduation, 1958
10 Mary and Pete wedding, 1959
11 Pete Economou family: (l-r) Elizabeth “Liz”, Pete, Christina, Mary, Eva, 1982
12 Pete Economou family: (l-r) Christina, Elizabeth “Liz”, Eva, Mary, Pete, 1990s
13 Mary Economou family: (l-r) Rich Grunder, Peter James Grunder, George Economy, Eva Economou Economy, Mary P. Economou, Elizabeth Economou Hatziantoniou, John Peter Economy, George Hatziantoniou, Christina Economou Grunder, 2014
14 Effie, circa 1950
15 Effie, high school graduation, 1958
16 Effie and Chris wedding, 1960
17 Terry, Elizabeth and George passport photo, 1951
18 Terry at Interlake Elementary, 1955
19 Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln, 1961
20 Terry, high school graduation, 1961
21 Terry and Tony wedding, 1964
22 Tony Proios and Charlie Tsamas, circa 1970
23 Elizabeth, Paul, Terry, 1982
24 Elizabeth, Terry, Paul, 1993
25 Xenos women (l-r) Elizabeth Proios, Elizabeth “Liz” Economou, Terry, Effie, Mary, Christina Economou Grunder, Eva Economou Economy, Valentina Chriest, 2014
26 Xenos family (l-r) Mike, Spiro, Mary, Elizabeth, Effie, George, Terry, 1978
27 Xenos family (l-r) front: Chris Chriest; sitting: Effie Chriest, Christopher Giovannetti, Elizabeth Xenos, Christina Economou, Terry Proios; standing: Troy Chriest, Laurie Chriest, Valentina Giovannetti, Elizabeth Economou, Mary Maciewjewski, Mark Giovannetti, Mike Xenos, Anthony Giovannetti, Eva Economou, John Maciewjewski, Mary Economou, Pete Economou, 1997
Photo 1 by John Nicon; 19 from Seattle Post Intelligencer; all others from Xenos, Economou, Chriest and Proios families SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, July 2014; Concepts and Observations, by Terry Proios