When Aphrodite (Ethel) Turlis Tschida’s first child was born, her love for the baby was overwhelming and she feared that she would not have enough love for future children. Now, with four children, 17 grandchildren, 15 great grandchildren, and four more great grandchildren due before the end of 2011, she knows that love only increases with more.
Ethel’s father George (Georgios) Turlis (Tourles) was orphaned at the age of four and was reportedly a lost soul on a pier in Piraeus, the port of Athens, Greece. He was later placed in a monastery. At age eight he ran away from the monastery and worked as a cabin boy where he was befriended by a cook. At 23, just before traveling to America, he went to the cook’s home to say goodbye and admired the man’s young daughter Vasiliki Kalogeraki who was 13 years old. George asked for a photo of her and said he was going to send for her to be his wife. Vasiliki and her family had moved from their home island of Marmara to Constantinople because of the Turkish rule. She and her sister worked in the olive groves eating the olives and bark from the trees to sustain them. Vasiliki bought an icon of St. George to which she prayed that George would return for her.
George originally went to Portland, Oregon, as he had patriotis (friends from his home town) there and eventually made his way to Tacoma, Washington, where he knew his future bride’s family. He worked for the Northern Pacific Railroad in Tacoma. He served in the Army at what was then Camp Lewis. Ten years went by and he sent Vasiliki a baulo (chest) for the prika (dowry) and tickets for her trip to Tacoma. In 1920, after 14 days on Ellis Island and knowing no English, Vasiliki boarded the train for Tacoma. George had arranged for Red Cross workers to assist her during her travel. At a stopover in Chicago, Illinois, she went into a Greek restaurant and had the surprise of her life when she met the two owners who happened to be from her home in Constantinople. When she reached Tacoma, George bought her a navy blue suit, boots and a pink hat.
Ethel still has the icon on the back of which her mother inscribed family history. George had given the photo of her, and one of him, to a photographer asking that the photos be put together, George at 23 and Vasiliki at 13. The framed picture hangs at Ethel’s daughter’s home today.
Vasiliki stayed with her brothers until she and George were married on June 20, 1920. They first lived in a small house by the railroad. Two sons, Stavro in 1921 and Alexandro in 1923, were born there. George then built a new home on a hill where Ethel was born on January 14, 1927, and Chris was born in 1929. Her dad was so proud to have a girl that he offered the doctor a couple jiggers of his home brew. When Dr. Naceregistered her at city hall, he said the name was “Enfratlutey” which was not discovered until Ethel obtained her birth certificate when she was 18 years old. It was changed to Aphrodite at that time. In the first grade her dad told the teacher her name was Aphro, short for Aphrodite and the teacher changed it to Ethel so that became her new given name.
Being the only girl in the family she was spoiled. Her mother did let her sweep the kitchen floor every day and iron a few hankies. When she got sick, her father would bring her candy. Ethel does remember a few difficult moments. “It embarrassed me some times if my mother and one of my aunts or cousins would speak Greek to each other on the bus or in a store. And we Greeks aren’t quiet. People thought we were talking about them if they heard us talking Greek. But we weren’t and I tried to explain.”
She loved being with both old and young people. She especially loved being with and caring for babies. In Ethel’s words, “It was a very ethnic neighborhood with a good ten nationalities. The men all worked at shops or mills and came home to gardens with fruit trees and rabbits and chickens. Some even raised pigs. The women all spoke their own language but somehow they spoke to each other and became friends and raised all the kids. It was depression time but we all seemed to be happy and well fed.”
“There were always nameday parties with our relatives in south Tacoma. Us kids had 14 or 15 first cousins and we were all together. My Mom’s relatives played an accordion, banjo and clarinet so we learned the songs and dances. Our homes weren’t large but we all managed to fit in. It also seemed we walked to each other’s homes quite often and walking the short cut of the cemetery to return home at midnight.…I can still remember every street, house, alley, etc. It was a wonderful time.”
The Greeks in south Tacoma were often looked down upon by Greeks in the downtown area. When Ethel and her friends could wear bathing suits and attend dances on their own, the downtown girls were watched and restricted much more by their mothers. However, activities at St. Nicholas Church tended to minimize any differences.
Ethel fondly remembers outings with her father. “We’d walk up the hill to the public market and my Dad bought our leg of lamb for Sunday’s dinner when we didn’t have rabbit or chicken. The butcher always gave me a wiener which I loved. Then we would go in the market where you could buy buttermilk and my dad always had a glass. I didn’t like it. Then we’d walk down the hill to Mannings Market and he’d buy me a hamburger. That was like living like the rich people and it was ‘American food.’ Then we’d walk to the city hall and he paid his utility bills, then a few blocks down Pacific Avenue where he stopped at the kafeneo (Greek coffee house) for a cigar and a cup of Greek coffee and visit. Most were his friends (many of them bachelors) and they would hand me a nickel or a dime.The last stop was the cheese place across from the Union Depot and then the bus ride home. What a perfect day!”
Ethel wanted to attend business school but found an office job at Pacific Coast Coal and Oil Company behind Union Station. She really wanted to work in sales and advertising so when the opportunity came to work at Moss Stores, Inc., a womens clothing store, she jumped at the chance. She loved the work, displaying items and providing personal service for her customers. As assistant manager, she enjoyed the trips to Seattle for buying events.
It was a girlfriend who introduced Ethel to Joe Tschida, a Hungarian Catholic. Joe drove a delivery truck for a fish market and his route took him past Moss every day. Their romantic glances from a distance increased and despite their different religions they were married at her brother’s home much to the chagrin of Ethel’s family. However, the family came to love Joe. Her fondest wish was granted when she became pregnant as she always wanted to be a mother. Her children, Stephanie, Joseph John Jr., Gloria Elizabeth and Georgann, certainly fulfilled that wish. Ethel overcame her lack of cooking skills and even participated in a cooking school that demonstrated its culinary skills before a large radio audience. Joe made her dreams of being a mother with a yellow house with lace curtains come true.
Ethel was active at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Tacoma, singing in the choir and teaching Sunday school for 25 years. As Joe was Catholic, they often had 80-day Lenten periods since Orthodox Easter came up to one month later than the Western celebration. Sundays often included an 8am Catholic Mass followed by a 10am Orthodox Liturgy. She enjoyed social activities, one of which was a mothers day event shown here. Ethel recalls being very protected as a young woman, although she sought to do everything her brothers did. While she has passed many Greek traditions on to her children, their happiness is more important than blindly obeying the “old ways.”
Ethel’s love is best displayed when visitors come to her home. Boyfriends and prospective in-laws are greeted with hugs and kisses rather than handshakes. Her mother told her to always have a pound of macaroni, a pound of butter and some grated cheese on hand. So, even if the President of the United States came to visit, she would be ready to feed him. While the President hasn’t come yet, Ethel is ready.
Ethel wants to be remembered as happy, kind and giving and not asking for anything in return- the happy Yiayia (grandmother) with a loving family around her.By John and Joann Nicon, October 2011
1 Ethel (Aphrodite) Turlis Tschida today
2 Vasiliki’s family icon
3 George at 23 and Vasiliki at 13
4 George and Vasiliki Turlis, circa 1920
5 Ethel, circa 1930
6 Boating near Browns Point, 1941: (l-r) Annie Aleck, Bella Apostle, Chris Turlis, Alex Turlis, Ethel
7 Snoqualmie Pass, early 1940s: (l-r) Mary Siridakis, Gloria Hallis, Georgia Constantine, Cleo (last name unknown), Ethel, Evelyn Siridakis
8 Ethel at Moss Stores, Inc. 1947-1949
9 Joe and Ethel cruising
10 Mothers’ day, circa 1940: (l-r) Melpomeni Charuhas, Vasiliki Turlis, Eleni Apostle, Mary Hallis, Olga Siridakis, Katerina Constantine
11 Ethel and her babies, 2011
Photos 1and 2 by John Nicon; all others from Tschida family collection SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, October 2011; Ethel’s journal notes about being Greek in Tacoma; Journal of Gloria Tschida, Summer 1976