The 1950s in Port Angeles, Washington, was a time of assimilation and conformity for Christina Caris (Kakouros) Siaterlis. But living in Greece and a Greek husband have enriched her life and have given her a full appreciation of her Greek heritage.
Christina’s father, Andrew (Andreas) Panayiotis Kakouros, was the second of ten children born in Limnes, Greece, just northeast of Argos in the Peloponnese. The village of Kakouri is about one hour from Limnes near Tripoli and those who came from Kakouri were called the Kakouros, which most likely accounts for the origin of the family name.
Andrew’s mother died at childbirth and his father raised the children. Andrew told stories of his father singing while kneading bread and washing clothes. In 1912, at 16 years of age, Andrew and his cousin boarded a freighter to cross the Atlantic Ocean only to have the cousin turned back due to an eye infection. Once in the United States, Andrew worked his way west laying track for the railroad. He came to Portland, Oregon, where several Limniates (friends from Limnes) had settled. During World War I he served in the army in Alameda, California, where he operated big trucks and heavy equipment, an experience that set the stage for a successful career. In Seattle, Washington, he lived in the University District above the Neptune Theater and delivered ice to restaurants by horse and buggy. He then worked for a short time operating a restaurant in Everett, Washington, before returning to Portland. At the time several Greeks had been hired to work at a paper mill in Camas, Washington. When the Rayonier mill was built in Port Angeles in 1927, Andrew and many of his colleagues moved there and worked at the mill. He made some extra money on the side in an interesting way. Christina tells the story of her father making beer in his bathtub during Prohibition and being arrested. However, as he often sold the beer to the police and judges, when he appeared before the bench, he was fined one dollar and released after the judge winked at him. When several of his friends moved back to Portland, Andrew stayed and purchased a road building company with several pieces of heavy equipment. During World War II he obtained a number of government contracts. He also built several roads west of Port Angeles to Neah Bay and Sekiu. His was a very successful business.
Andrew and a few of his friends knew that many young women wanted to escape the poverty of Greece and sent for “mail-order” brides. One friend in Portland knew Georgia Vasilios Barbas, also from Limnes, and offered toarrange the marriage to Andrew. Georgia had a loom in Greece and was skilled at making beautiful blankets, crocheted linens and clothing. During World War II, Limnes was an outpost for the Andartes (communist Greek resistance fighters) and many in her village were tortured, killed or buried alive. Thus, her desire to go to America was very strong.
While Andrew had seen a photo of Georgia, she had not seen one of him. On the boat from Greece to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, she was very seasick and lost considerable weight. Georgia recalls seeing deep drifts of snow and moose on her train ride across Canada thinking they were mules with horns. She stayed with a family in Vancouver, British Columbia, who took her on as household help. This was a common practice as a means of providing legitimate status for immigrants. The young Greek men, including Andrew, would come north from Portland or Seattle to meet their prospective brides. Andrew had known Georgia’s father, who had been in America from 1900 to 1911, and also knew Georgia’s older siblings. Before they met for the first time, Andrew thought Georgia was her older sister. When they met, Andrew thought Georgia was too young and she thought he was too old. However, a visit to a fortune teller, arranged by Greek ladies, assured Georgia that she would have a happy life with an older, gray-haired man. They were married in Vancouver on January 8, 1951, and several months later she received official papers allowing her to travel to Port Angeles.
For Georgia, life in Port Angeles was a wonderful change and she was quickly able to learn about life in America. There were approximately 35 Greek families living there. Among them were Fenerly, Kravas, Psomas (Christina’s godparents) and Johns. During the 1930s and 40s almost allof the restaurants in Port Angeles were owned by Greeks: Capos, Vasilatos, Gonis, Pappas, Calas and Stamatiou. The Lerick family had a candy store and the Sandas family owned a bakery. During World War II many young men who served in the military married in other locations and did not return. And, with the emphasis on education, many left to attend college.
When Christina was born on July 25, 1952, the number of families had dwindled to about 20. A second daughter Katerina was born in 1955. The sisters loved the Greek activities, AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association) conventions, March 25th (Greek Independence Day) celebrations and visiting family and friends. There was always music and dancing and Andrew would order 78 rpm records from New York to play at home. With no Orthodox church in Port Angeles, many Greek families attended Saint Andrews Episcopal Church, where Mr. Gonis had donated a Byzantine Orthodox icon of St. Andrew (The Caris family, and Georgia later, were among them). During major holidays, the family would travel to Portland to attend Greek Orthodox church services. By Christina’s teenage years she knew of only one other Greek family with children in Port Angeles, the Tsimouris. There were many travels and vacations visiting Greek families: Psomas in Spokane, Pecheos in Yakima, Notaras in Soap Lake and others in Aberdeen, Yakima and Seattle. Relatives in Portland were visited almost monthly. As Christina went everywhere with her parents, the only time she had a baby sitter was when Georgia was in the hospital giving birth to Katerina.
At home it was “all Greek” and Georgia learned English from her daughters. When Christina began the third grade, she felt different and stopped speaking Greek. At home she would respond in English to her parents’ requests. While other children had dogs and cats for pets, Christina had a goat and a lamb and there were chickens in the Caris yard. She attended Washington elementary, Roosevelt middle and Port Angeles high schools. By the end of high school in 1970, the Americanized “Chris” Caris was happy doing all the American things: going to movies, cruising to the A&W and Dairy Queen drive-in restaurants, participating in high school sports. Andrew wanted to take his family to Greece but Christina did not want to go. Andrew even offered to buy her a car if she went, so she reluctantly accepted her father’s offer. She found Greece dry and arid compared to the lush greenery of Port Angeles. She met an aunt with one tooth who “spit” on her saying “ftou, ftou, ftou” to avoid the evil eye. In her father’s village there was no running water, an outhouse and sheep coming in and out of the house. Christina began crying and wanted to return home. Later, she attended the AHEPA convention held in Athens and met a number of young people from the United States and traveled to the islands with them. This changed her attitude about Greece completely and she came to love her parents’ country and her “second life.”
At Washington State University, Christina began studying anthropology and archaeology but later switched to teaching. After two years she transferred to the University of Washington where she majored in physical education with an English minor and completed a fifth year for her teaching credential.
In June of 1975 Christina went to Europe with three girlfriends, bought a car in Germany and wound their way to Greece. Her first cousin’s son, Mimi, hosted them and Mimi’s friend, John Siaterlis, began a relationship with one of Christina’s friends. They went everywhere together. On one visit to a festival in the village of Pulakitha near Nafplion she met John’s older brother Dimitri. Despite Mimi’s protection of his American cousin until he was drafted into the Army, Christina and Dimitri’s romance flourished. Christina stayed in Greece and, when her money ran out, she found employment at the Stratigakis Institute in Piraeus, teaching English as a second language and as a substitute teacher at the American Community School in Agia Paraskevi. When the school year ended, Christina returned to Port Angeles to help care for her family with the intent of returning to Greece when she could. Dimitri would frequently call from a periptero (kiosk) and finally said, “I’m coming over and we’re getting married.” Dimitri and Christina were married at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Portland on December 26, 1976.
Dimitri had studied mathematics at the University of Athens and had planned for their return to Greece. In the meantime he registered at Peninsula College in Port Angeles, where he continued his mathematics studies and improved his English. In the summer of 1977 the couple moved back to Greece with plans to stay. Dimitri took his exams but with professor and student protests, strikes and other interruptions he and Christina decided things would be better in the United States. They returned to Port Angeles in 1978. Dimitri transferred his credits and completed his electrical engineering degree at the University of Washington. He eventually obtained a position with the Bechtel Corporation in San Francisco, California. The couple treasures their time in the Bay Area where they attended the Nativity of Christ Church in Novato and made good friends with many other Greek families. They still visit the area often. Dimitri had experienced earthquakes in Greece and, when one hit the San Francisco area and his building was swaying and bouncing, he feared for his life. That plus Georgia’s aging were impetus for their return to the northwest in 1984 where Dimitri went to work for Elcon Associates. He was transferred to the Seattle ofﬁce and still works for Elcon. He has worked on projects such as the Seattle Monorail, Seattle-Tacoma airport security and other light-rail projects. Christina continued her teaching career in the Northshore School District.
Andrew died in 1974 and Georgia remained in Port Angeles, continuing her sewing, crocheting and baking. She would make fresh bread every week for her gambro (son-in-law). When the Hood Canal Bridge (connecting the Seattle area with the Olympic Peninsula) sunk in a 1979 windstorm, Christina assumed the weekly bread-making for Dimitri. In 2005, Georgia moved to Portland, where she lived in an apartment complex with several other Greek women near Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, to be near her daughter Katerina. Katerina’s daughters, Alexandrea, Courtney and Brittany, whom she loved dearly, would often stay at the apartment to help their yiayia (grandmother). In 2007, at 91, Georgia returned to Sequim, Washington, because she could no longer live alone. She was cared for by Helen McNemar, the daughter of her friend Parthena, until her passing in 2009.
Christina continued her work at Northshore teaching English as a second language until Deanna (Constandina-after her paternal grandfather) was born. Their son Andrew followed two years later. Dimitri and Christina chose to speak only Greek to their children at home and would watch the Greek television channel. When Deanna began kindergarten, she cried not wanting to be different from other children, reacting just as her mother did a generation before. When she and her brother began attending Greek school and were able to share experiences with other Greek children, she became much more comfortable with her two identities. By visiting Greece and their relatives there, both children have developed pride and understanding for the Greek culture and a love for the country.
Looking back at growing up Greek-American in Port Angeles, Christina feels she grew up comfortably as a young person, as did most other Greeks in Port Angeles who also did well with their businesses. There was money when it was needed and Christina remembers dressing in nice clothes when traveling to visit relatives in Portland. She did not feel much different from other children in Port Angeles as she participated in many non-Greek activities. Being Greek has enriched her life even though she felt awkward when in elementary school.
Christina believes her Christian upbringing beginning with the Episcopal Church in Port Angeles plus her Greek Orthodox faith has given her strength. She believes deeply in the golden rule, in the importance of education and hard work and that happiness comes from within. Being Greek has added “a whole second life” for her. She remembers her parents’ advice, pan metron ariston (everything in moderation), and while one should experience many different things, “don’t go overboard.” Another saying, this one Albanian, from her parents is chit a bun chit a mer meaning when things don’t go the way you want, get over it and move on.By John and Joann Nicon, December 2012
1 Christina Siaterlis and her family history, 2012
2 Andrew Caris, 1930s
3 Andrew Caris and his equipment, circa 1968
4 Star Transfer business card, 1940s
5 Georgia’s family in Greece, circa 1921
6 Georgia’s mail-order bride photo, 1949
7 Andrew and Georgia wedding, 1951
8 AHEPA gathering, March 25, 1934
9 AHEPA Port Angeles chapter, circa 1940
10 AHEPA gathering, March 25, 1954
11 At Fenerly farm, (l-r) Georgia, Irini Kravas, May Fenerly, Christina, Jim Kravas, 1952
12 Christina about eight months old, 1953
13 Christina as a flower girl at Rita Fenerly’s wedding, 1955
14 Andrew Caris family, (l-r) Christina, Andrew, Katerina, Georgia, 1957
15 Caris family in Victoria, B.C., (l-r) Georgia, Christina, Andrew, Katerina, 1958
16 Christina in Greece with John Siaterlis during Polytechnic march, 1975
17 Dimitri and Christina wedding, Portland, Oregon, 1976
18 Dimitri and Christina, circa 1977
19 Mother’s traditional dress, late 1930s
20 Deanna, YiaYia Georgia, Andrew, circa 2007
21 Siaterlis family in Greece (l-r) Dimitri, Deanna, Christina, Andrew, 2011
Photo 1 by John Nicon, all others from Caris and Siaterlis family collections SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, November 2012; notes and documents from Siaterlis and Caris families.