Greek-American Historical Museum of Washington State

THE BOSSY LADY FROM BIRCH BAY

Harieklia Nina Meras-Bryant is a self-proclaimed “bossy lady,” a characteristic that has contributed to her success and her ability to help those less fortunate. She was born in Havre, Montana, to parents George and Stavroula (nee Golemati) on March 26, 1939.

HARIEKLIA’S PARENTS

George John Meras (1897-1973) was born in the town of Thisvi, Greece, on the north side of the Gulf of Corinth. The origin of the Meras name is not known nor is it believed to have been shortened. Thisvi is one of three small villages along with Domvrena and Prodromos (formerly Hostia), northwest of Athens. With many children in his family and few opportunities for their future, he left Thisvi at the age of 12 for the port of Piraeus. Having learned about America he boarded a ship he thought was bound for the United States but landed in Canada instead. In Canada, he secured a job on the railroad being built across the country.

In about 1915 he began walking south, avoiding what he found to be snake holes but was never bitten on his way to Othello, Washington. In Othello. George found a railroad job along with another Greek who had jumped ship. In About 1917 he learned of the construction of a railroad round house in Havre, Montana. In Havre, he began working for the Great Northern Railroad, a career that lasted for 50 years.

George was very active in civic affairs. He was a member of the Odd Fellows fraternal organization and was very comfortable speaking in public, even to the point of being recommended to run for governor of Montana. In 1937 George lost his left arm in an accident while working between two coupling railroad cars. Harieklia says he could do things better than men with two arms.

George knew he needed a wife and preferred one from Greece. He traveled back to Thisvi where he was interested in one woman, but she refused him because he had only one arm. In the nearby village of Domvrena lived a beautiful woman, Stavroula Golemati. Born in 1916, she was 21 years younger than George and was very impressed with his intelligence when she heard him speak. They were married shortly thereafter. George had given Stavroula a beautiful ring and a large baoulo (trunk) to hold her prika (dowry). The couple traveled first class on the Orient Express through Switzerland, Austria and ultimately to Le Havre, France, where they boarded the QUEEN MARY to New York. Harieklia describes her mother as beautiful, generous and extremely astute and perceptive in her understanding of others. She never gossiped and had no need of affirmation from others to make her feel important. When George began bringing his nephews and nieces to Montana from Greece, Stavroula taught them and their wives how to keep house, shop and live the American way. She learned English by using a child’s language book and with the help of her school-teacher neighbors in Havre.

In Havre George and Stavroula were one of only two Greek families in a predominantly Scandinavian town. Prejudice against the Greeks existed for several years until more immigrants came to the area. After Harieklia, came a second daughter, Joanne, who is a retired high school French teacher living in Colorado. A third child, George, was born in 1947. Tragically, when he was seven years old, George and a friend were playing at a school construction site when the dirt collapsed and suffocated the two boys. The family had no idea where their missing son had gone until a friend came to their door and directed them to the site.

HARIEKLIA’S STORY

As a young child during World War II, Harieklia remembers the “black out” curtains in the house to block the interior lights in case of enemy attack. George, with a patriotic desire and his support of the Lutheran/American community in which they lived, told his daughter her name would be Harriet from then on, and it was Harriet for the next almost 50 years. It wasn’t until she was in her 50s and looked at her baptismal certificate that she formally changed her name back to the original, Harieklia. While her mother spoke Greek and Harriet understood the language, English was her more common language. Her use of Greek has diminished but she believes if she were hypnotized the Greek would come back readily and completely.

From the first grade Harieklia was “bossy.” She would wear her Brownie uniform to school, demand to play the cymbals and be in the front row of class photos. In high school, she was very active as president of clubs and was a scholar as well. With no Greek Orthodox Church in Havre and the Lutheran church across the alley from their home, the Meras family attended that church and George became good friends with the Lutheran minister. Stavroula would have to call her husband home as he and the minister were frequently lost in political discussions.

During Harieklia’s teen years, George began to bring his nieces and nephews from Greece. There were four young men, Pete (now in Salt Lake City, Utah), John (in Napa, California), Harry (in San Jose, California) and Thanasi (in Gig Harbor, Washington) plus Stavroula’s sister, Georgia. Two others were Louie Kovanes (now deceased) and Sam Treperinas (see THE BEST WEALTH IS IN YOUR MIND).

With the Lutheran connection, Harieklia was fortunate to receive a scholarship to Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) in Tacoma, Washington. However, PLU was too quiet for the energetic Harieklia. So, she transferred to Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana, where she felt much more at home and studied home economics. However, when she pledged a sorority she overheard women saying they weren’t sure about Harriet because “she’s Greek” and that the national organization would have to be contacted for approval to become a member. Even after receiving a letter of apology, Harieklia decided not to join the sorority. As a result, she and her friend, Darlene, decided to quit college and go to Europe. In 1960, with her father’s approval and some spending money, she and Darlene were off to Europe.

They took a train to New York and a freighter for the ten-day crossing to Rotterdam, Netherlands. They hitchhiked from Rotterdam through Norway, France and Germany. In East Berlin, they heard a voice on a loudspeaker warning all non-Germans to go to West Berlin. They later learned that Gary Powers’ U2 spy plane had been shot down but did not fully understand the implications of the event. In Bavaria they enjoyed the Passion Play at Oberammergau and saw La Boheme in the Vienna opera house. As hitchhiking was illegal in Yugoslavia, they purchased a Fiat 500 in Salzburg, Austria, and drove the gravel road to Thessaloniki, Greece. After a short stay in Athens, they drove to her father’s village where Harieklia was received with great adoration by the villagers including her yiayia (grandmother), papou (grandfather) and theos (uncles) and theas (aunts). Their appreciation for the necessities her father had sent from America during World War II was almost overwhelming.

From Thisvi they drove on treacherous roads to Ioannina and on the ferry to Corfu and on to Bari, Italy. In Bari, repairs for a car accident found them living with Catholic nuns for three weeks. Darlene had received a “now or never” letter from her boyfriend and the trip ended with a quick drive along the French Riviera, through Lourdes, through Spain and to Le Havre where they boarded the SS UNITED STATES for the trip home. Ironically, they sold the Fiat for the same amount of its purchase.

By 1962 Harieklia had finished her studies in home economics and wanted to design dresses in New York. Despite his approval for the European trip, her father did not allow it, so she came to the closest big city, Seattle, Washington. In Seattle, she connected with friends from Bozeman and shared an apartment with them. On an outing to Ocean Shores, Washington, with her friends she shared food and drinks while sleeping on the beach. One of the people, Bob Bryant, flirted with her and asked her to dinner. He was working on a master’s degree and considering a PhD in “something new.” She found him very intelligent and, after dating for some time, they were married on March 27, 1965.

They lived in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood and Harieklia finished her training at the premier Frederick and Nelson department store. Meanwhile a friend told her that Nordstrom needed aggressive young people. Finding Nordstrom a better fit for her personality, she joined the company in 1964 working in its sportswear departments. When the Nordstrom store in Bellevue, Washington, needed a manager in women’s sportswear, Harieklia took that position. She especially enjoyed the freedom and creativity that Nordstrom allowed its employees. In 1969, she became pregnant with their first child and worked through her seventh month.

In 1970, her husband Bob had just finished his PhD and a new job took him to the Naval Weapons Center in China Lake, California. The culture and the sand storms that hit the area were too much for Harieklia, as her boys were constantly ill from the storms. Bob then was hired by the Boeing Company and the family moved back to Bellevue, in 1974 and the boys became healthy once again.

In 1976, Harieklia decided to open a news stand called City News (which evolved into a bookstore) to fulfill her desire for books and magazines and to share this desire. Her marriage at this time began to falter, so she moved to a different address. She credits her sons’ literary interests to the time they spent at City News. Ted, an attorney, his wife Paula and their children Sofia, now attending Notre Dame University, and Alex, who is on the path to a career in baseball, live in Florida. George, in the insurance business, and a musician and his wife Bridget live in the Seattle area. With technology changing people’s buying habits, Harieklia closed City News and Books in 1994. Then, seeking a more active live style, she joined the Target Corporation and worked there for 14 years.

Her mother, Stavroula, had remained in Havre after George’s death in 1973 but later sold her property and moved near Harieklia in 1994. Thus, Harieklia’s introduction to the Greek Orthodox Church began when she and Stavroula attended St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Seattle.

In 1998 Harieklia was on her way to Vancouver, British Columbia, to visit a Monet exhibit when she saw the sign to Birch Bay and her car just seemed to turn in that direction. When she saw Birch Bay, she was so moved that she began to cry. While driving around she saw a sign “For Sale by Owner” on a beach cottage and stopped to inquire. She told the owner she was interested in purchasing the cottage. Harieklia knew of some savings bonds her father had purchased for her. Discovering that the bonds were worth the asking price of the cottage, her decision was made. Stavroula’s reluctance about the purchase ended when Harieklia drove her mother to Birch Bay and, after walking on the pebble beach,Stavroula said “It’s just like the horio (her Greek village). From then Stavroula shared her daughter’s love of the area and lived in Birch Bay until her passing at 96 years of age in 2010. Stavroula was buried in Havre after a service in the Lutheran church officiated by the Greek Orthodox priest from Missoula, Montana.

Along with her mother, Harieklia occasionally attended St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church in Bellingham, Washington, but found the initial reception a bit unwelcoming. Little by little, things improved, and she joined Philoptochos (the women’s auxiliary) about the same time as a new priest came to St. Sophia. Soon the bossy lady from Birch Bay found herself as president of Philoptochos, with little knowledge of or experience with the organization. With support from Philoptochos officers at St. Demetrios and Assumption Churches in Seattle, she made her contributions to others a primary concern.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Aside from her experience pledging a sorority, any difficulties in her life may have been due to Harieklia’s outspoken personality rather than her ethnicity. As a Christian and being raised in a Lutheran environment, she knows she could practice her faith in any denomination, not just Lutheran or Greek Orthodox. She remembers her father telling her not to worry if people talk about you but rather when they stop talking about you. She wishes to be remembered for contributing to the lives of others and as someone who has listened and made a difference in the lives of other human beings.

By John and Joann Nicon, July 2018
VIDEO SEGMENTS
PHOTOS
1 Harieklia Bryant, 2017
2 (l-r) Harieklia’s father Antonios, Stavroula’s grandfather, Stavroula’s uncle, 1897
3 George Meras and friend, 1930
4 George Meras (second from right) with his Odd Fellows, 1950s
5 George John Meras, 1960s
6 Maternal papou, Antonios Golemati, 1909
7 Stavroula Golemati, 1937
8 George and Stavroula wedding, 1937
9 The Meras baoulo, 2014
10 Harieklia and nouno (godfather) George Poulos, 1940
11 George and Harieklia, 1942
12 Stavroula and Harieklia, 1940
13 Harieklia, 1942
14 Portrait of Teddy, 1972
15 Harieklia at City News, circa 1985
16 Ted, George and Harieklia at stadium starting line in Greece, 1988
17 Family photograph on Stavroula’s 80th birthday in Bellevue, Washington (l-r) Thanasi Meras, his wife Pat, their daughters Loukia and Gretchen, Harieklia, Johnny Meras, his daughter Maria, Stavroula, George Meras, Paula Bryant, Joanne Meras, Peter Meras, Sam and Elly Treperinas, Steve Treperinas, Louka Treperinas, Mary Meras, 1996
18 People of Birch Bay, Harieklia at top left of the letter H, 2010
Photos 1 and 9 by John Nicon;14 by Martha Waperhals; all others from Bryant family collection
SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, August 2017