My name is John Godulas and I have prepared this story for Greeks in Washington as a tribute to my mother and for the benefit of her children and grandchildren.
My mom, Naouma Filou, was later to became Naouma Godulas. Her story begins in 1918 in the small village of Siatista in the foothills of northern Greece. She said that she was uncertain of the day she was born, so she had just picked a date – September 15.
Her father, a carpenter, traveled from village to village for work. She had two older sisters and a brother.
At the age of eight, her mother died. Her sisters worked in the fields and her brother continued in school. She was needed to take care of the family. When dad went to pull her out of school, her third grade teacher pleaded with him that she stay in school, saying that Naouma was her brightest student. She had loved learning, and this love stayed with her throughout her entire life.
Then a year later her father died, leaving the four young children all alone. They were adopted by a village priest who had no children, and he raised them as his own.
When she was in her early twenties, Greece declared OXI! Greece was at war with Italy, then with Germany. Food, animals and possessions were all taken from them by the occupation forces, leaving them with very little to eat.
One day, hunger over-took her. She ran to a watermelon field. It was surrounded by barbed wire and had a German look-out tower. In broad daylight, she climbed under the wire and crawled in to get a watermelon. The Germans opened fire. Bullets surrounded her and whizzed by, just missing her head.
When we asked her if she had gotten the watermelons home, she replied “O yes.”
The Germans thought that they had killed a little girl, so they gave the villagers two hours to retrieve the body, but a body was not found. That little girl was at home enjoying the watermelon with her sisters that she had gotten away with.
Soon after this, her brother, Triandapholis, ran into George, an army buddy, who, at the time, really wasn’t looking to marry. He told him, “George, if we survive this battle, I have a bride for you.”
When mom was told about this conversation, she became interested. She told us that she would peek through the curtains from the window, watching George parade up and down the sidewalk in front of her house.
She thought that he looked “OK,” so she agreed to an engagement.
At the engagement party, George kissed her on the cheek. You’d think he had done something terrible the way everyone reacted, as that was being quite bold in those days.
The wedding took place two weeks later after a “getting to know you” period so she wouldn’t be marrying a complete stranger. The war continued on, and George was forced to return to the fighting shortly thereafter.
It was during this war torn time, when she felt abandoned, lonely and hungry, that she had her first child.
It was an especially scary time for her, as friends and relatives were being killed and hurt in the war. There came a time when things started to finally settle down for a bit, but then civil war broke out.
This was a most devastating time for her as neighbor turned against neighbor. She did not know anymore who she could trust. She had lost so many who were close to her in the war time years. In the midst of everything, in constant fear, hunger and unbearable loneliness and helplessness, two more children were born. She was forced to sacrifice everything for the welfare of her children.
She lived in fear for the safety of her children’s lives. When planes were heard overhead and machine gun bullets firing, she would gather her children together and cover their bodies with her own, not caring for her own life but as always, only for her children’s. For months on end she didn’t know if George was dead or alive. She said that she just didn’t know what to do; she just wanted it to end.
I remember one winter night we heard a pounding on the front door. We had put a piece of wood in front of the door to keep it shut tight, but we were sure from all of the commotion that it wouldn’t hold. Then shouting started from the other side of the door. We were shocked when my mom ran to the door and opened it. Standing there was a man with long hair and a beard dressed in a dirty uniform. My mother burst out in tears and screamed “George!” Our father had come home from the war. To our consternation, he told us that now the communist army had broken through and was marching on Siatista. We had only two hours to grab what we needed and to get out.
On that cold winter night, Dad took us up into a mountain. We walked for miles, at times walking through enemy lines, stepping over sleeping soldiers, with an infant to keep quiet.
We found a cave to stay in. There was another woman there with some children, but there were no men. We could not have a fire at night, but only during the day time. We were wet, cold and hungry all the time. There was little water, no fire, and no diapers.
Mom told us that we were not dry for the two weeks we had to stay there. At night we could see lights flashing from bullets, and the bombs would shake the ground.
We worried that we would never see our father again.
Finally, dad came to get us from the cave and took us back home, but Siatista was not a safe place for us. We had no food, no money, and seemingly, no hope.
Our parents made the decision to move to Salonica (Thessaloniki) to be with dad’s mother. It was a very small apartment and we were living with people who were complete strangers to us. We hated it there. We had very little food. Everyone throughout Salonica was also starving.
Mom decided to take us back to Siatista where we could at least grow some vegetables. Luckily, dad got a job as a policeman in Salonica. When we went back home, we left him there with his mother to work. After many months, dad eventually got a job as a policeman in Siatista.
We settled into life in Siatista and tried to live normal lives again. We still had so little food. We didn’t eat meat for many months. We lived off the vegetables that mom raised and she sold eggs from the few chickens that we had. She was continually trying to find food for us. Many times she would feed us and go without.
When I was around six years old, my uncle from America came to visit us and talked with mom and dad. Then one day a letter came from him, and we all knew that we would be going to America. Uncle said that he would sponsor us and that he would settle us in Tacoma where one of dad’s brothers was living.
We tried to sell everything that we had to get the needed money for the move, including our grape fields, but there was little money to be found anywhere, and no one could afford to buy them. We left our fields to friends to tend for us. To this day, the fields next to the river are still known as the Godulas Fields.
Mom’s adoptive father gave us some little money for the move and the gold necklace that her mother had given her was sold to pay for trip. Our uncle loaned us money (which we paid back). We left with all that we had – two steamer trunks, four children and very little money.
Mom was once again afraid – for the safety of her children and of not knowing what the future would bring.
On August 4, 1951, we boarded the ship, THE ITALIA. In tears, my mom’s siblings begged us to stay. Mom’s reply was, “I am going to America for my kids.”
We had never seen an ocean liner, and couldn’t believe that something could be so big! We waved down to our relatives and took off for America.
Mom, being from small village, was overwhelmed by all that was going on the ship. Everyone looked strange and different. The kids in Siatista wore short pants, and here the kids were wearing long pants and were talking, but we couldn’t understand what they were saying. Mom let us play with a soccer ball with the other kids, but she watched us like a hawk.
There were two cabins reserved for us but she would only use one of them because she did want us to get separated. She wanted to know where we were every second.
After one week of sailing, we landed at Ellis Island and soon thereafter boarded the train to take us to Tacoma. It was on the other side of the world for all we knew.
With only a few dollars to our name and only able to speak village Greek, we were at the mercy of our uncle. He had an apartment ready for us and had gotten dad a job at St. Regis Lumber Yard grading lumber.
My uncle, Harry Kosta, had gotten dad a job. He had said – “Hurry up and eat your lunch George, you are going to go to work today.”
Mom told him that it would be OK. “You don’t have to talk to the wood.” So, he went to work the very day that we landed in Tacoma.
There we were, left alone again without dad, with mom to feed and comfort her kids.
Mama immediately started looking for work. We were within walking distance of St. Joseph’s Hospital. She went up to a nun that she saw. Using hand gestures, she somehow got the message across that she had four kids who were hungry.
The nun took pity on her and gave her a night shift job as a janitor. She was forced to leave her kids at home while she worked, and worried about us every minute.
Church was also in walking distance and it was there that we got to know some of the Greeks. There was comfort in being able to speak to someone who we could understand and we felt more at home. The Manos family and the Karanasos family made us feel welcome and helped us adjust to life in America. It wasn’t long before Mom became known for her baklava. To this day no one has rivaled her recipe.
Mom eventually blended into the Greek community, learning some English. She went to night school, getting her driver’s license, and a better job. With hard work on the part of my mom and dad, we acquired several houses and an apartment building. My mom handled the entire financial transaction on her own, with her third grade education.
All within a year, she lost both of her sisters – she had not seen them since she left Greece. Our dad died in 1999 and later, in 2009, our sister Tula died. My mom never did recover from the loss of her child. She lived to her 96th year. My other sister, Stella, passed away in 2016, six months after mom’s death.
I will miss the times that mom would come out to where my construction company was working and watch all of the things that were going on. She always took an interest, asking questions and watching how the work was being done. She never did stop trying to learn.
She will be remembered as a loving, giving and humble soul. Above all, she wanted a happy family, and had always put her kids first. She had struggled throughout her whole life ‘for the family’. She had persevered through insurmountable odds. She had struggled and suffered, and had never given up. Her love for us is always present in our hearts, for we are her kids.
May her memory be eternal.by John Godulas, December 2016
1 John and Naouma Godulas, 2015
2 SIATISTA, GREECE, date not indicated
3 (l-r) Mary, Nikos, Esterni, Stella, Naouma, circa 1920s
4 George Godulas, 1948
5 Family passport (l-r) George and Naouma and the children Effie, Tula, Stella, and John, 1951
6 George and Naouma, 50th wedding anniversary, 1991
7 Great grandchldren (l-r) Michael Dooley, Braden Dooley, Elias Hinkle, Andrew, Naouma, baby, Andrew, Kelson Dooley, circa 2013
8 Godulas family photo, 2010
Photo 1 by John Nicon, all others from Godulas family collection SOURCES
Essay by John Godulas; Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, April 2015