Jim’s father, Constandinos “Costas” (Gus) Tallahan, born on May 21, 1894, was from the town of Pavliani, just southwest of Lamia in the mountains of Central Greece. Gus’s mother died when he was young and his early life was spent working on his father’s farm. He hated the farm work and was able to obtain a job as a tailor’s apprentice in Lamia where he earned a bit of money toward his independence and he chanced to meet a man who had been in America. The man told Gus that America was the place to go as there was a job for everyone. Much against his father’s objections, including throwing Gus’s sewing machine off the balcony and, with no real knowledge of the United States, Gus finally convinced his father and sailed on the steamship Martha Washington from Patras, Greece, landing on Ellis Island in New York on March 13, 1911 with all his belongings in a small bag.
Speaking no English, Gus somehow connected with members of the Greek community in New York who provided him with a cot to sleep on and odd jobs including running errands and washing dishes. The manual labor reminded him of stacking stones for walls on the farm in Pavliani. Thus, when he learned of work through a patrioti (countryman) in Sumas, Washington, he rode the rails, under the box cars and sometimes in the box cars, traveling west and stopping to work for a short time in the mines in Utah. Once in Sumas, he met more Roumeliotes (countrymen from his home in the Roumeli area of Greece) including Mike Golfos who worked on the railroad and Nikos Christodoulou, also known as o Nikos o psilos “Big Nick,” who worked in the lumber mills. Most of the men were bachelors who intended to return to Greece once they had made their fortune.
Gus was very outgoing and had many stories to share with his son Jim. One was of a time in 1914 when Gus and Big Nick went to Alaska to find their fortune. Gus said “I was the brains and Nick was the muscle. Can you imagine two Greeks in Alaska in 1914?” In 1918, Gus joined the army to serve in World War I and, along with others from Whatcom County, which includes Sumas and Bellingham, was undergoing basic training at Fort Worden, Washington, (now a conference center) when many men suffered and some even died during the world-wide flu epidemic. Gus noticed that many who went to the infirmary did not return so he stayed outside and didn’t become ill. The war ended about the time he was scheduled to go to France and Gus was not happy because he could not verify the stories he had heard about the seductive French women.
When he finished his military duty with a few dollars in his pocket, he bought a pool table and opened a pool hall in Sumas which evolved into a tavern. When prohibition arrived in the United States (1920-1933) he turned the tavern into “Napoleon’s Ice Cream Parlor.” Sumas being a border town and Gus being a good business man, he literally walked Canadian whiskey across the border as he said many times, “strictly for my customers.” He earned the nickname of Napoleon or “Nap” as he was short in stature and would strike a Napoleonic pose. He wanted to relocate in the town of Bellingham and found a partner, Gus Panos.
They opened the tavern and called it Gus and Naps. The tavern was on Commercial and Railroad Streets until Gus had a falling out with the landlord. The tavern was later moved to Railroad Avenue. It was a “working man’s” tavern and on occasion Gus would come home with his shirt ripped when he had to deal with an unruly customer. When Panos suffered a heart attack and died in the late 1940s, the name of the tavern remained the same as Gus said, “I’m both guys anyway.”
In about 1935 Gus renewed his passport and was planning a trip to Greece to find a bride. He was ready to go when his friend, John Mastors, told him of a man in Vancouver, British Columbia, a short distance across the border from Bellingham, who had an unmarried sister-in-law. They went to Vancouver where Gus met Smaragda Drivas. Smaragda was born on the island of Hydra. Her father’s work as a customs inspector took him to the town of Kyparissi in the Peloponnese where the family lived on the seashore. After a rather uneventful meeting Gus returned three weeks later with a ring. He was now in his late 40s and assumed this 25-year-old woman would accept his proposal. She asked no questions, knew little about him but knew that he drove a nice car. Plus, she made the quick decision to marry Gus partly because she no longer wanted to live with her sisters. They had a large wedding in Vancouver in 1936 and honeymooned in San Francisco, California, where Smaragda had friends from her village in Greece.
Gus had a few habits, attributable to being a bachelor for many years. Smaragda had lived a protected life, never having witnessed such behaviors and she did not approve. But she grew to accept his behavior as his good qualities more than compensated. As an educated woman from the seaside town of Kyparissi, her upbringing was more sophisticated than those who were less educated and came from the mountain villages. Gus and Smaragda lived in an apartment in Bellingham. One day he told her “I buy a house.” When she saw it with garbage all around and paint peeling she refused to live in it. Gus told her not to worry and he had “some guys” clean it up for her plus he totally outfitted the house with furnishings. His basic goodness and desire to please her were very much appreciated. As soon as he was able, Gus began sending money to his father plus enough to send a nephew to medical school and a dowry for his sister. After Gus married, he did the same for Smaragda’s family especially so that her mother would receive proper care. Late in life, Smaragda confided in Jim that Gus had paid off a house mortgage for one of the Greeks in town who was about to lose his house to the bank. He would always help if he could.
Gus and Smaragda had three children, Jim, the oldest, born in 1937, his younger brother John who lives in Bellingham, and his sister JoAnne who lives in Marysville, Washington. Gus passed away on August 6, 1964, and Smaragda in 2004 at age 93.
Jim was an American kid growing up in a Greek house. Gus wanted his children to speak English as he was afraid they might be left behind in school. The Franks and Mastor families were nearby but their children were older than Jim. Jim learned his English from neighbors; there were few Greeks and no Greek Orthodox Church in the area. While his father didn’t seem very old or crotchety as older Greek fathers might be, Jim does remember some harsh responses when he used the questionable English words he had learned. There were visits with Smaragda’s relatives in Vancouver, trips Jim disliked as he had no friends there. He does remember attending both St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Vancouver and St. Demetrios in Seattle. He finished Washington Elementary School and was an “athletic bum” playing baseball and basketball in high school, rather than a scholar. During the summers he worked in a fish cannery to earn money for college. When he planned to follow some older friends to attend the University of Washington, his father said he was not smart enough. Just as Gus had challenged his own father in Greece, Jim did the same and Gus finally relented and even helped with the expense. Jim finished the University in 1960 with studies in economics and business.
GOING TO WORK
Jim’s marriage to a high school and college classmate from Bellingham was short-lived. The young couple lived in San Francisco. However, when the marriage faltered he returned to Seattle to begin his military service in the National Guard and his bachelor life for the next two and one half years. A National Guard colleague told Jim about Harry Lunstead who made fine furniture in a small shop near Seattle University. Still in his 20s, Jim knew nothing about the furniture business but had always wanted to work doing something practical and applied for work in his Brooks Brothers jacket. He was quickly sent away but returned to try again when Harry, a precise engineer with a somewhat volatile personality, was in a frustrated mood having just seen some laminated brass work ruined. Seeing Jim, Harry simply asked if he had any common sense and Jim replied “Yes.” He was hired on the spot. Thus began a 15-year career learning the business, assuming the sales and marketing responsibilities and working with Lunstead. He presently represents two companies using his knowledge of furniture and metal fabrication.
In the 1970s Linda Mason was visiting the Lunstead shop when Jim first met her. Thereafter, when they became a couple, Jim knew it was the best decision he ever made. His only regret is that his father Gus was never able to know her. Linda has adopted the Greek spirit, studied the Greek language with Jim and they have shared the Greek traditions with their daughter Lisa and their two granddaughters, Alexandra and Samantha. Jim fondly remembers his mother’s joy when first seeing her great granddaughter and sharing a very personal moment saying imaste dio koritsia, (we are both girls).
Jim knows his father was treated differently as a Greek but Jim did not feel different from other American children. He did have a moment of realization when speaking to a friend in English and then answering his mother’s call in Greek. He remembers all the bachelors in Sumas and Bellingham who would visit their home where his mother’s mission was to provide a hospitable environment. She was a reader and one who fostered the Greek traditions while his father, though only finishing the second grade, was proud of being smart enough to leave Greece for a better life and run a successful business for 45 years. Jim remembers how his father would lovingly call him “big shot.” Gus enjoyed attending Greek Orthodox Church services primarily to hear the Byzantine chanters but not necessarily the rest of the service.
On their trips to Greece, Jim and Linda have enjoyed the love and hospitality of their cousins. While Jim may wish he had learned to read and write Greek better while growing up as an American kid, his Greek background and traditions remain a significant part of his life.
By John and Joann Nicon, September, 2016
1 Jim Tallahan, 2016
2 Demetrios Talaganis, wife and cousins, 1940s
3 Gus Tallahan’s 1923 passport
4 Boys of Whatcom County (Gus far left on fourth row),circa 1918
5 Gus Tallahan, 1918
6 Gus with half-brother George in the Greek Army and Gus in the American Army (two photos put together), circa 1918
7 Napoleon’s Ice Cream Shop, 1918
8 Gus Tallahan, 1930s
9 Gus & Naps Tavern on Railroad Avenue, Bellingham, 1930s
10 Jim’s grandmother’s and great grandmother’s containers, 1980s
11 Smaragda Drivas family home in Kyparissi, 1971
12 Smaragda and her grandmother, Panagiota, 1920s
13 Gus and Smaragda, 1936
14 Gus and Smaragda wedding (l-r) rear: Chris Kallopas, Kondlion, Gus, Smaragda, John Mastors, Nota Michas, Nick Michas; front: John Michas, Ifegenia, Loukia Michas, 1936
15 Picnic at Birch Bay (l-r) Jim Tallahan, Gus Tallahan, Nick Michas, George Carlos, Loukia Michas, Nota Michas, 1944
16 Jim off the coast of Greece, 1987
17 Linda, Lisa and Jim Tallahan, late 1980s
18 Jim and Linda in Daytona Beach, Florida, late 1980s
19 Gus Tallahan’s quote, timeless
Photos 1, 3 and 19 by John Nicon, all others from Tallahan family collection SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, March 2016