Although Christos Manzieris did not follow his chosen profession when he came to Seattle, Washington, he was able to use his knowledge and teaching skills by making sure his daughter could competently speak, read and write the Greek language.
The Manzieris ancestors were originally from Italy where the name was spelled Manzieri but subsequently changed to the Greek adaptation. Christos’ father, Frangiskos, was born in 1908 in Thessaloniki, Greece, in a family with seven brothers and sisters. Most of his siblings worked on the international railroad which runs from Berlin, Germany, to Baghdad, Iraq. One of his sisters, Elvira, moved to the United States in the 1930s where she established a successful clothing business in New York City. Elvira occasionally visited her family in Greece, providing them some contact with America. Frangiskos also worked on the railroad for a short time, then with Shell Oil before much of Thessaloniki was destroyed in World War II. Frangiskos was then fortunate to find work in the village of Doxato, near Drama, to the northeast of Thessaloniki. He worked as a mechanic for the industry that supplied water to the towns in the area. Frangiskos wanted his sons to follow his profession or at least work in a trade. Just before retiring he began making children’s toys hoping to open a business where his sons might also be employed. He died in 1996.
Christos’ mother, Kyriaki Voyadzi, was 11 years younger than Frangiskos and was born in Asia Minor in 1920. At that time her family was forced out of Turkey during the exchange of Christians and Muslims. While traveling by horse and oxcart toward the Aegean Sea, Kyriaki’s mother died while giving birth to Kyriaki and was buried alongside the road by Kyriaki’s grandmother. Her grandmother cared for her when the family reached Thessaloniki but the family lived in tents under extreme poverty and Kyriaki was placed in an orphanage in Kavala. Subsequently, she was adopted by a childless couple from Doxato, Christos and Katerina Voyadzi.
Kyriaki is described by her son as a beautiful lady, both outside and in her heart. She was very open, generous and good to those around her. Christos remembers her assisting tobacco farmers whose crops failed during bad weather despite Frangiskos’ admonitions that she could not please everyone. While Frangiskos hoped his sons would follow his line of work, Kyriaki encouraged them to consider the humanities and service to others. She died in 2006.
Christos was born in Thessaloniki on October 22, 1946. His brother, Petros (born in 1954),initially worked with their father and then found employment in the field of electronics. Petros now lives in Thessaloniki and operates a frondistirio (a tutoring facility), providing instruction in foreign languages.
Christos was three years old when the family moved to Doxato, then a village of almost 7,000, for his father’s work. He remembers the faces of his maternal papou (grandfather) and yiayia (grandmother) as he spent much time with them. His papou owned a grocery store in partnership with a baker. Christos still remembers the wonderful aroma of baked goods and stealing koulourakia (a butter-based pastry) from the pans despite the baker’s attempts to stop Christos and Petros. There were many children in the village but few toys so the children used construction material scraps to build towers or invented games with pieces of wood. Doxato’s population, like many other small villages, has decreased to about 2,000 with many leaving for better jobs in Europe, the United States or Australia.
In elementary school, Christos was a good student, although admittedly not a genius. While he was inspired by his mother’s thirst for knowledge, it was mostly his own motivation that brought him success in his studies. He had also learned a few words of English by the time he finished high school. He worked in Thessaloniki until 1966 when he began his military service. He was eligible to become an officer until the military junta governing authorities at the time discovered that Christos, along with many young Greeks, had signed his name in a book supporting the socialist politician Andreas Papandreau. Thus, he was exiled to Kastoria Argos Orestiko, an isolated post for four months and spent the remainder of his two years in the Army as a food supplier for his unit.
When Christos finished his military duty, he decided to fulfill his mother’s (and his own) wish to enrich his mind and become a teacher. He enrolled in the Teacher’s Academy at the University of Thessaloniki and finished an intensive course in 1971. As work in a public school required an appointment by the Greek government, he spent the next four years teaching a variety of subjects in the private sector at Nea Poli Elementary School.
It was at this time he met Kathy Andrias. A mutual friend recognized the possible relationship and introduced Christos to her. Kathy was born in Seattle and moved back to Greece with her mother in 1966 to meet relatives and live there for a while. Her father continued his work and remained in Seattle. Kathy’s mother and brother returned to Seattle but Kathy liked Greece and decided to remain. She was working at Ethyl Hellas, where chemical components are mixed with gasoline. Christos and Kathy dated for the next two years and were married on June 8, 1975. They spent their honeymoon on the island of Kerkyra (Corfu) and began planning for Christos’ visa for his trip to America.
Christos had learned a bit about the United States from his New York thea (aunt) who visited Greece regularly. He recognized that Greece was “pro America” and admired his new country for its discoveries in medical specializations and science. He knew there was considerable wealth in the United States compared to Greece. Regardless, he had mixed feelings about coming to America as he had no friends in his “new country” and would miss his family in Greece. He and Kathy flew on Sabena (the former national airline of Belgium) and he remembers his first taste of sweet gazoza (sparkling water) which he likened to ambrosia. Kathy told him it was simply 7UP, a beverage he enjoys to this day.
When they arrived in Seattle, Kathy and Christos were able to find employment rather quickly and, by living with Kathy’s parents, were also able to save some money. Unfortunately, Kathy’s father passed away eight months after they moved to Seattle. Having completed two years of secretarial/business studies at the American College in Thessaloniki, Kathy was able to begin work with Prudential Mutual Savings Bank. Later she worked as a secretary at the Seattle Public School administrative center until she retired in 2012.
Christos attended the Assumption Greek Orthodox church and developed friendships with Panagiotis Paralis, Peter Vlahos and John Papantoniou, among others. He followed the advice of those he met and took intensive English classes for two years. His father in law helped Christos secure a position at the Kmart store on Delridge Way where he worked nights for the next six years mostly stocking shelves. He knew he needed to find something better and learned that the United States Postal Service had a number of vacancies. In 1982 he passed the required examinations and began as a clerk separating first and second class mail. As mail handling became automated, and he was able to attend training sessions, he gained some seniority and began programming the bar code readers. During his 28 years of employment he declined opportunities to assume management positions, preferring to avoid the politics and personality issues involved. Rather, he chose to continue operating and maintaining the bar code equipment. He retired in 2008.
Christos might have pursued his passion for teaching had not his work and family obligations taken precedence, especially after their daughter, Kyriaki “Kiki,” was born in 1981. As a family, they spoke only Greek at home and did all they could to pass on their Greek traditions. It helped that Kathy’s mother lived with them. In addition, Christos has been able to use his teaching skills with his daughter. She is able to read and write the language fluently, thanks to six years of tutoring, three days a week for two to three hours from her father. Kiki and her husband Robert live nearby and their son, Alexander, is regularly cared for by his grandparents.
A voracious reader, open books can be found on most surfaces in Christos’ home office. He keeps not only his mind active, but has kept his body active through exercise. He played soccer for a while and, with a group of fellow employees at Kmart, maintained a 150 bowling average. As his teammates retired or left the area, bowling activities diminished and Christos now exercises regularly at a facility near his home. While working and in retirement Christos has kept active in his church and has been a member of AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association). He has worked in Greek festivals at both St. Demetrios and Assumption Greek Orthodox Churches and now assists with cooking in the St. John the Almsgiver program at the Assumption, providing meals for those in homeless shelters.
Christos’ most difficult times in Seattle came from not knowing the English language. He was initially treated well, but others seemed to lose interest in speaking with him because of his limited English skills at the time. He believes that, since Seattleites are used to associating with people from many different backgrounds, he did not face any real difficulties. He considers himself lucky to have been born in Greece and is proud of his heritage. However, he knows he cannot simply use his ancestors’ accomplishments as his own, nor brag about his heritage, but can emulate their success and make his own mark in society. While he came from Greece with very high expectations and has had a pleasant life, he credits Kathy with helping him to deal with the reality of life in the United States.
Christos shares a unique perspective when comparing his Greek heritage with his Orthodox Christianity. The religion is based on absolutes through its teachings and dogma while the Greek spirit is one of relativity if not skepticism. He does not believe the two are easily compromised. He remembers his parents as realists who did not pass on fears and negativity to their sons. Rather, they always took the opportunity to make life as pleasant as possible. He knows that actions speak louder than words and tells of an uncle who told him not to smoke while puffing on a cigarette. He recalls being rewarded when told eise tsakali (you are a jackal) meaning he was good and wise, just like the clever animal.By John and Joann Nicon (October, 2016) VIDEO SEGMENTS
1 Christos Manzieris, 2016
2 Christos, Frangiskos, Petros and Kyriaki, circa 1956
3 Frangiskos, Christos, Petros and Kyriaki, circa 1961
4 Christos, 1950
5 Christos, 1954
6 Christos in the Army, 1967
7 Kathy, 1971
8 Christos and Kathy wedding, 1975
9 Kathy and Christos on their honeymoon, 1975
10 Kiki, Stella Andrias, Christos, Kathy, circa 1984
11 Kiki, Kathy and Christos, 1986
12 Christos, Kiki, Kathy, 2012
13 Kiki and Robert wedding (l-r) Kathy, Zacharias Andrias, Kiki, Robert, Christos, 2007
14 Alexander and Christos at Lincoln Park in West Seattle, 2014
Photo 1 by John Nicon, all others from Manzieris family collection SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, April 2016