At 92 years of age, Greta Lucas’ appearance, spirit and faith belie her age. The story of her name is just one of several in her interesting life.
Gregoria “Greta” Lucas (nee Geokezas) was born on August 23, 1923, in the small town of Kriekouki (now Erythres), about an hour northwest of Athens, Greece. Her parents, Demetrios and Marianthe, were married in 1922. While fighting against the Turks in 1918 with a friend from a nearby village, her father, Demetrios, and the friend agreed to be each other’s koumbaro (best man and godfather to the first child). After the war, the friend’s brother, Gregory, was dancing with a girl at a wedding and, against her brother’s wishes, told the girl she was beautiful. A knife fight ensued and Gregory was killed. To honor Gregory, Demetrios and Marianthe named their first child Gregoria. Many years later, when she stood before the judge to receive her United States citizenship, the judge said “That’s a difficult name and if you want to change it, now is the time.” As her husband happened to like the actress Greta Garbo, Gregoria became Greta.
Greta’s father, Demetrios, was one of seven children. His father was successful and owned many acres of land. When they came of age, Demetrios and his brothers were all given property by their parents with which to start their own lives. As an established young man, Demetrios was eyed by the parents of many eligible young women. But he fell in love with Marianthe Patelis, when he was visiting her nearby village of Daramari. Greta describes her mother, who was the 11th child after 10 older brothers, as a loving, compassionate and devoutly Christian person.
Typical for a farming family, Greta’s parents worked hard and provided a comfortable life for their children. In addition to Greta, the eldest, this included Stella, Evangelia “Lyoka,” Athansios “Nassos” and Meletios ”Mel.”
The girls were taught to be good housewives with the requisite sewing, cooking and other domestic skills typical for women at that time.
The boys, however, were destined for further education, which meant leaving the village. Greta cannot remember any scolding from her parents. Life for the Geokezas children was rather innocent and protected from outside influences. There were few material possessions, but lots of love from family and relatives in the horio (village). Greta remembers her sister, Stella, crying and begging her father for more education. As a young woman, Greta was not supposed to even look at the boys as her parents would find the appropriate match for her. And, as for the prika (dowry), the bigger its size, the better the choice of a husband.
Greta met Nick Lucas when they were in the fourth grade. Nick’s parents had emigrated to the United States years earlier, where Nick was born in New York in 1923. Due to his mother’s health problems, the family moved back to Greece in 1925 where the climate better agreed with her. Nick and Greta attended school together and liked each other but never openly admitted their interest as this would not be approved of in the time of arranged marriages. As Nick was the youngest of four children from a poor family and as husbands were usually well established and much older than their wives, a relationship for Nick and Greta seemed impossible.
Greta and her family lived a very happy, peaceful and productive life until – like millions of others – life was drastically and forever changed by the tragedy of World War II. Greta was just 16 when the war began. Like many other parts of Europe, her village was occupied first by Italian forces and then by German forces. To make matters much more difficult, partly because of the central location of their home, it became the headquarters of the German occupiers, with the family moved into small rooms on the ground floor of their two-story home. The Germans stayed until they were routed during the end of the war.
Because Nick was a United States citizen, he applied to be repatriated after the war and arrived in Seattle, Washington, to live with his paternal uncle and aunt, John Lucas and Nota Lucas, who were amongst the original founders of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption. Nick arrived in Seattle on Christmas Day, 1946.
While Nick learned to speak English, taking classes at Edison Technical School (now Seattle Central College), he worked as a bus boy at the Olympic Hotel (now Fairmont Olympic) and eventually became a waiter. When his English improved he began working for his uncle’s commercial bakery supply business, the Lucas Flour Company. He and Greta exchanged many letters, sent clandestinely through Greta’s brother Nassos who lived in Athens. Nick wrote to Greta’s parents asking for her hand in marriage but was refused. They did not want to lose their first daughter to America and felt Nick would not be a suitable husband. However, when Nick offered marriage without the customary dowry and promised that Greta would return to visit every other year, her parents reconsidered, realizing that this could result in better marriages for Greta’s younger sisters.
As a result, and in joyful disbelief, Greta sailed from Piraeus to New York on the EXCAMBION in May of 1949. The EXCAMBION was a cargo ship with 100 deluxe passenger suites. Greta knew nothing about America except that it was a wealthy country and she began to experience that wealth on the ship. While the accommodations were very pleasant, Greta spoke no English and the next 21 days at sea were a little lonely for her. She shared meals in a beautiful dining room with two retired American teachers who tried to teach her a few English words. She does remember feasting on the wonderful soft white rolls, unlike the coarser bread from her village. After the ship arrived in New York City, Greta took the train across country and was warmly met at the station in Seattle by Nick and his relatives. A festive party took place that evening with all the Kriekoukioutes (people from her village in Greece). There was even a priest in attendance to exchange their engagement rings.
At the time, immigrants had to be sponsored by a family or be enrolled in college if they were to stay in the United States. So, Greta left the next morning for Vancouver, British Columbia, where she and Nick were legally married by a judge. This enabled Nick to initiate the immigration process to allow Greta to enter the United States legally. Nick and Greta and their families did not consider this a “real” wedding because it was not sanctified in the church. So Greta stayed with relatives in Vancouver until her immigration papers were approved three months later and they courted during this period. While the immigration process was underway, Nick drove to and from Vancouver every weekend in his yellow Plymouth convertible. When Greta eventually came to Seattle a wonderful bridal shower was held at Nick Zanides’ Crawford’s Seafood Grill (see A CLASS ACT AT CRAWFORD’S). Their wedding took place the following Sunday, September 25, 1949.
Greta was deeply touched by the welcome and friendship extended to her by the local Greek community. Like her aunt and uncle, Greta became very active at the Assumption from her first days in Seattle, including joining the Philoptochos (women’s auxiliary). In Greece people would simply light a candle at church and follow the church traditions with little understanding of the faith. Here she found communicants well-versed in the faith. Nick was also active in the church, serving as president during 1961 and 1962 when a new, church building was constructed.
Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood was home for her aunt and uncle as well as for Nota’s sister and brother-in-law, Eva and Tom Conom. This is where Nick and Greta purchased their home in 1952. Greta was still adjusting to her new country and was taking English classes at Edison Technical College, as Nick had before her. She recalls struggling with headaches for the next two years as she constantly used the radio and dictionary trying to understand and learn the language.
Their first child, Sylvia, was born in 1950 and Nota (named after Nick’s aunt) followed in 1953. Speaking only Greek at home, Sylvia came home from school crying and saying “they don’t like me and won’t play with me.” However, Sylvia quickly adapted to school and Greta attended all her children’s school activities, although not always understanding everything that was said. And, as the girls came home with their stories, they also helped their mother learn the language.
In 1956 Greta and Nick were able to bring her brother, Meletios, “Mel” from Greece (see BRING THE COOKING BACK HOME). As he worked on his engineering degree, Mel would be surrounded by books and dictionaries, giving him and his sister an even better grasp of the language. Later, Nick’s brother, Isaiah, was also brought from Greece and joined the family while attending school. Nick had been working in his uncle’s flour business and bought the business when John Lucas had a heart attack. With all these activities, Greta’s first visit to her parents was delayed until 1959 when she was able to take Sylvia and Nota to Greece.
The trip was thrilling for Sylvia and Nota who missed their father and pasteurized milk, but loved meeting their Greek relatives and getting to know the donkey, chickens and pigs living on the family farm.
Nick and Greta lived the traditional life of the times, with Nick being the bread-winner and Greta the homemaker. But Greta decided to work outside the home when her daughters grew up, and began working as a seamstress in 1976 at Littler’s, the clothing boutique. Greta enjoyed the work and was in demand by her customers in part because of her honest approach to their prospective purchases.
In 1980 she enrolled at Seattle Community College to take literature and writing classes. At 56-years old, amongst much younger students, she earned a four-point grade average. She was surprised, if not disappointed, to see younger students not seeming to appreciate the opportunity for education which she had so desired in Greece. She even wrote an essay describing how fortunate people are to be born in the United States, with such access to education, enabling them to succeed with hard work.
Also in 1980, based on encouragement from a friend, Greta took up bridge. She began by taking a class at the community center, fell in love with the game and has played regularly ever since. Since moving to West Seattle in 2012 she has been playing Mondays and Wednesdays at the West Seattle Senior Center; her Monday partner is her brother Mel.
Greta has loved her life in the United States, and considers herself very fortunate to be part of the warm community of the Church of the Assumption. Family continues to be the center of Greta’s life – her daughters Sylvia, with whom she currently lives, and Nota, as well as her brother and sister-in-law Mel and Theodora, and their children and families. Her daughters have both had professional careers in Seattle with Sylvia in medicine and Nota in the public sector. Nick passed away in 2012 after a long illness.
When asked if she had a favorite saying, she replied “Kinese to tensoro kai vrike to kapaki” (the pot rolled out and found its cover) or two people find each other and are happy in their life together. And that certainly fits the relationship she and her husband Nick shared for 63 years.By John and Joann Nicon with Nota Lucas, March, 2016 VIDEO SEGMENTS
1 Greta Lucas, 2015
2 Demetrios and Marianthe Geokezas, circa 1959
3 Greta’s sister Evangelia (center in white dress) with her cousins, circa 1940
4 Greta at school (center with barrett in hair), circa 1937
5 March 25 Celebration in Kreikouki, 1936
6 Greta, 1937
7 Greta, 1940
8 Greta, 1948
9 Nick Lucas, 1948
10 Arriving in Seattle (l-r) rear: Spiro Lucas, Phillip Stamolis, Filitsa Stamolis, Pete Conom, Tom Conom; front: Nick, Greta, Nota Lucas, John Lucas, Molly Conom, baby Tom Conom, Eva Conom, Ruth Apostolou, 1949
11 Engagement party (l-r) Pete Conom, Greta, Nick, Molly Conom, 1949
12 Greta and Nick wedding (l-r) Marion Marino, Anna Dricos, Nick’s cousin Dorothy, Sylvan Stamolis, Dora Dricos, Molly Conom, Greta, Nick, Chrisoula Kanis, Pete Conom, Spiro Lucas, Pete Stephas, unknown, Dino Dricos,, 1949
13 Sylvia, Nick, Greta, Nota Lucas, 1954
14 First trip back to Greece (l-r) rear: George Economou, Stella Economou, Marianthe Geokezas, Greta, Soteria Lokou, Demetrios Geokezas; front: Sylvia and Nota, 1959
15 Stella, cousin Ismini, Greta and cousin Efthemia, 1974
16 Greta, Nick, Sylvia and Nota, late 1970s
17 Greta and her parents, mid 1980s
18 Sylvia, Greta and Nota, circa 2000
All photos from Lucas family collection SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, April 2015