With over 80 years of sewing experience Clara Nicon (nee Chakos) was asked why she never considered selling her work. Her reply? “Never, never. I think of it as sharing my talents.” Her sewing began with the help of a high school sewing teacher and a 1934 wedding present of a portable Singer sewing machine. She uses that machine to this day. She made her engagement and wedding dresses with the help of a Rhodes of Seattle department store (no longer existing) employee who gave her the confidence to put the scissors to the beautiful satin material. She has sewn garments for friends, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, baby blankets, lap quilts for AIDS patients, aprons, dishtowels and napkins for church fundraisers. At the time of this writing she had received a shipment of three dozen plain dishtowels which will receive her expert touches and then be donated or given as gifts. The video, Clara’s Sewing, tells the whole story.
Clara’s parents, Christos and Polixeni (nee Mingas) Chakos (also spelled Tsakos) were from Avariko, a small village near Agrinion in northern Greece. Theirs was not an arranged marriage but one of being in love with each other. Christos came to the United States in 1906 without his family. Polixeni later told her husband that he needed to bring them to the United States as she was being called an “Americanitha” and was being given a bad time. He responded and brought her and their three children, Cleopatra, Efthemia (Effie) and George to Everett, Washington. A son, Jim, was born in 1911 and Clara was born on June 8, 1914. Her birth record was destroyed in a hospital fire and she was issued a “delayed certificate” after her birth was attested to by friends of the family.
In the early 1900s Everett was a rough western mill town and life in the Riverside area of Everett was very difficult. Many Greek families lived there in poverty and often earned their living by questionable if not illegal means. Her baby bottle was a nipple on the end of a whiskey bottle. Just before Polixeni died of cancer in 1915, she handed Clara to Effie who was 14 years her senior and Effie assumed the parental role. Christos died a year later and the five children were cared for by an uncle, John “Shushu” Chakos. Cleopatra married Peter Karas and Effie married Peter Wells in 1920.
Peter Wells moved with his bride and the other children to Seattle. The family lived at Sixth and James Streets, then on 23rd and Madison. In 1924 they all moved to a new home, fondly referred to by its address “4326” in Seattle’s University district. Clara never felt orphaned or unloved. Her sister Effie filled the parent gap and other family members were always loving and supportive. As a young Greek woman, the only restriction Clara recalls was her family’s protectiveness when she sought to be with her future husband. With two children born to Effie and Pete and a niece adopted following her parents’ tragic death in an Everett house fire, there were nine people living in this home. “4326” became a meeting place and often a temporary residence for many friends and relatives.
Pete Wells owned the Lotus Café in downtown Seattle where almost all of the family members worked at one time or another. Pete and the Lotus provided food and an income for the family even during the Depression.
Clara and her future husband, Spiro Nicon, secretly met when he would pick her up from the bus stop outside the restaurant. They married in 1934. When Spiro started his tavern business in 1947, Clara initially worked with him. At home, she prepared sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs for the tavern. With two children, Spiro felt that she was of little help to him as her mind was on the children and told her to go home and be with them. From there Clara found her calling as a homemaker. After establishing their own home, Spiro, Clara and their two children, Faye and John, returned to live at the Wells home from 1946 until 1959. Life during those years was full of activity with relatives, friends, holiday celebrations and what Clara calls “comers and stayers.”
At school Clara only liked home economics, especially sewing. She never sought additional formal education despite her brother-in-law’s encouragement. Clara’s “work” included cooking for the family at home, raising her children, teaching Sunday school, and participating in Parent Teacher Associations (PTA). She was PTA president from elementary through high school in the schools her children attended. But, her leadership skills really came to the front through her Church activities. She was president of Philoptochos (the ladies auxiliary) and was elected the first woman president of the Parish Council of which she remains a member to this date.
She is a devoted Seattle Mariners baseball fan. She never wears black. She enjoys a glass of wine or a vodka tonic before dinner. She never has a bad word for anyone. Clara wants to be remembered as enjoying life to the point of sharing what she has in talents, money and love with those with whom she comes in contact.By John Nicon, July 2011
1 Clara with her sewing
2 Clara at her Singer
3 Christos and Polixeni Chakos
4 Clara as a young woman
5 Family at 4326: front – Pat Chakos, Christ Chakos, Mary Francis Sterios; middle – Gene Cazone, Faye Nicon, Marihelen Cazone, John Nicon; standing – George Diafos, Pete Wells, Pauline Wells, Clara, unknown visitor, Emmy Cazone, Spiro Nicon, John Chakos, Effie Wells, Lois Chakos.
6 Spiro and Clara circa 1950
7 Clara at a Mariners game
Photos 1, 2 and 7 by John Nicon; all others from Nicon family collection SOURCES
Video interview by John Nicon July 2011; Audio interview by John Nicon, January 2006; Audio interview by Elizabeth Lott, June 2006