submitted by vasiliki Theocharopoulou on 14.05.2017
I was born at home, in the village of Potamos, in March 1933, though my birth was registered one year later.My mother suffered from postnatal fever-it was very common back then-and so shetravelled to Piraeus to be treated in the hospital. It took some time for her to come back and register the newborn baby, so 1934 is the official year of birth on my certificate. I was the youngest child in the family. Before me was my sister Chrysoula, who died at the age of 87, and Mimis-Dimitris-,who died aged 64 due to heart failure. He was an architect and cared deeplyfor Cerigo.I remember at that time, Agia Pelagia had notrees. My brother had worked as an architect in Zakynthos during the big earthquakes and he had observed there a special kind of tree that was extremely resistant to drought, the ‘almyriki’. He was the one to bring “almyrikia”trees from Zakynthos to Kythera.He planted the first ones in Agia Pelagia and that’s how the residents got to know these trees and plant them all over the beach.
My parental surname is Zaglanikis. My father was from the village of Zaglanikianika, and my grandfather came from Egypt. My grandfather’sbrother had served as the mayor of Potamos and was in charge ofdesigningPotamo’s square. The Zaglanikis are a modest family… they offered a lot but they did not show off. My grandfather and his brother had brought liras from Egypt so people use tonickname them ‘lirades’. That nickname didn’t pass on to my father, Kostas Zaglanikis, because he immigrated to Africa. When he came back he met my mother, Stamatiko Trifilli from Trifillianika village. It was the time of arranged marriages then, the ‘proksenio’.The relatives would tell him “Marry, marry!” and he replied “Where can I find a woman when all of them are engaged or guarded by father and brother even during the feasts?... You should introduce me to a woman!”The truth is, he had already set his eyes on my mother at the local feast in Trifillianika and started to take a liking to her, even before any introductions. My mother was a very educated woman. She had only attended primary school until the 3rd class, but she was extremely fond of reading.
TheTrifillis family –great benefactors of the island- had nephews in Trifillianika and was sending them plenty of books, which were thrown away after reading. So every morning, my mother went to ‘koprolakos’- a pit where each family would throw their garbage- took the books and read them. She had read more books that any other woman on Cerigo. She read authors like Kazantzakis, Oscar Wilde and all the classics. I remember her citing poetry – Kavafis and others, while riding the donkey on her way to collect wood.
Soon after his return to the island, my father was called to arms and joined the war at the Asia Minor Campaign.After the war, all the money he had earned in Africa and saved up was lost. The country was bankrupt. With the little money that was left, he managed to opena shop in Potamos. You could find everything in that shop fromlumber, panes, ironware, stationary and fabrics to handmade beds! My father was a good merchant, having gained his trading experience in Africa. And so, the family had some financial ease.
During the Occupation, however, my motherworked in the fields. Everybody had to cultivate their fields in those days, in order to survive. After the Occupation came the Civil War. You, young people have to understand how tragic a civil war is. During the guerilla war, 8-10 people were killed on Kythera. There were rebels here coming from Peloponnisos. Everybody is to blame, everybody! The civil war is terrible! Pray to God there is no such thing again. There was great hatred and hostility then. When you are a fanatic on religious or political grounds you hate those who are not like you. And on a small island like this, it is even worse… When you are fanatic and have no patriotic feelings to understand the damage to your own country, whatever side you are on- right or left wing- you do harm.
My parents lived in Potamos. In 1938, when I was about 5 years old, my grandfather died and my grandmother Pagona took me in to keep her company at Trifillianika village. I stayed with her till the age of 12. My memory vividly holds on to those 7 years I spent there. Trifillianika was full of life back then. There must have been around 100 residents in my time.
After school, I would take care of the goat. My grandmother had a sheep, a goat and a donkey. We would take the animals to graze in the meadows of Trifillianika. Three or four families ownedoxenand we all used them to plow our land. We rented them in pairs, we call that the‘zevgarea’. Nowadays we have the tractors for this job. What the ‘zevgarea’ can plow in a day the tractor can do in an hour. All of the plains where plowed then. There were running springs in Trifillianika! It was never as dry as it is today. The spring down the ravine had water all summer running to the small river. We took off our shoes and played in the water. I remember once, I was helping my grandmother to water the garden with the ‘gerani’- a tool to extract water- and I fell in the well! Fortunately the well was shallow and I managed to get out- there were people around watering their gardens and even though I was hurt, I was embarrassed and said that everything was ok! We kids played in the ravine and the mothers and grandmothers were washing the clothes in the troughs down at the spring…
There were companies of people. Old people would sit on the stone benches: gossips, humor, jokes, laughter, teasing and music. One or two people had hidden radios during the Occupation. We had a lot of feasts. We would all come together,grownups, youngsters and about 15 children.
A lot of great people came from Tifilianika, likeNikolaos Trifillis, the great benefactor, who left his fortune to the hospital, the nursing home and for the studies of young people. There were two artists as well. One of them is Kavakos (Manolis Trifillis) who became a sculptor in Paris, France. The other one was my mother’s brother, Dimitrios Trifillis. My mother’s family had an inclination towards education. My uncle became an artist in America and drew the aristocracy of New York. When we later travelled to New York with my husband, we visited William Hirst’s (the editor) villa and we saw there a portrait of a member of the Hirst family that my uncle had drawn. Impressive! To leave Trifillianika and accomplish this was a big deal. Imagine that the first time he wore shoes was when he left Trifillianika to go to America!Also the only recognized poet of Kythera is Panos Fillis who is from Trifillianika as well.
Personally, I am not very artistic. I enjoy literature and classical music. My sister had a flair for violin as a kid. There was a music teacher from Smyrna who taught her to play classical pieces on the violin. I used to listen to her playing and that is how I grew fond of that music.
I remember my childhood days with so much joy;I had a really beautiful time as a kid! My grandmother took me on the donkey from Trifillianika to Potamos to visit my parents until I was 6-7 years old, later I would go on my own, by foot. Everybody had a donkey then. The farmers had more than one to cover their needs.
I attended primary school in Potamos. It was a two-class school. When the Italians and the Germans occupied the school we had classes in someone’s house located at Agia Triada in Potamos.The National Bank also served as a school location for a while. Children of my time were not as poor as those growing up in previous years. Only few were barefoot. That was because immigration had started, first to Smyrna then to America and Australia, so money came to Cerigo. My grandfather-my mother’s father- had gone to America before the war and when he came back, he bought one or two fields here and was able to feed his family. I had clothes and shoes. Nothing new of course, everything was my older sister’s hand-me-downs, but I was well dressed. My father went shopping in Athens and he even brought me galoshes and a waterproof coat!
We ate well, rice with leeks for example and we cooked it with “xinochondro” (a kind of frumenty), very tasty. Now they eat a lot of meat. I don’t like it. My father was a wealthy man so he bought meat from Potamos and we ate twice a week on Sunday-Monday or Saturday-Sunday. Since there was no fridge, my father tied up the meat and hung it in the well to preserve it.
After primary school, I left Trifillianika and went to high school in Chora. During summertime though, I would go back to spend time with my grandmother.In Chora, we lived with my brother as interns in a house andevery week our parents sent us food by truck. We saw our parents only during holidays. Once, on a 3 day holiday of Green Monday, we went to Potamos unexpectedlyand our father scolded us because we spent all this money for transportation only for a 3 day visit. We had to count all this...
With my husband, George Leftheris, we met at school in Chora. When he was in his final year I was in my first. There was a place called Belvedere in Chora where all youngsters would meet. We had walks there looking at the boys. In fact, George was looking at me! Flirting and looking...but at the time I did not notice such things. I was playing with the other girls. I still have a friend from that time, Stella, the principal’s daughter, who now lives in Loutraki. I also have contact with her children.
In the meantime, my sister got married, my brother finished high school since he was older and I left for Piraeus to continue school. It was difficult for me there because one of the main courses was French which I did not like at all. Finally, I went to a night school. There they noticed I was from the province and they were teasing me. I was shy, blushing ... l quit night school and went to the private school of Papaioannou in Piraeus.
My brother joined the army during the guerilla war and then he came back and studied architecture. In Piraeus I lived with my sister, her husband and their children, near the Municipal Theatre. Until I became 32-33 years old I stayed there and worked in my sister’s pastry shop, across the railway station. I also helped with the house chores. When I got married my sister helped me too. We loved and supported each other very much. All these years, I would alwayscome back to the island to help my mother during olive harvest season.
Giorgos had become a captain. He wanted to take as a wife a woman from Kythera. He found out I was still single, so he came to the pastry shop I was working to find me. He waited three whole years till I finally accepted his proposal. Back then I was considered overaged for marriage. My mother was complaining that I would stay a spinster forever. My father, on the other hand, thought I should do whatever I liked.He was raised in Africa with Anglo-Saxons and he was more open- minded. When I lived in Piraeus, the years before I married were not happy ones. The work in the shop was very demanding and I preferred to be free. You see, I was raised by granny in the village and nature became a part of my soul. Now when I’m walking through the poppy flowers, I havehappiness. With Giorgos I felt that I had my freedom. I did whatever I wanted. We got married in Piraeus and stayed there for 6-7 years. My parents were often visiting. The kids came right after the wedding. Panagiotis was first and Katerina three years later.
Andre Maurois writes somewhere“Examine the flaws of who you intend to marry, not only the positive aspects, and ask yourself: can I accept this, can I live with these flaws? Because they can’t be cured, they can’t get better or change.”
While my husband travelled my children and I often went with him. The first trip we went on was for 8 months – Panagiotis was still a baby and the first time he walked was on the ship. As soon as we took him out on the port he sat down because he was dizzy. He had learnt to walk out at sea!
Sometimes we spent a whole month at a port. We went to Australia, Japan, and America and almost everywhere in Europe. I remember a lot of stories!
When the ship owner was traveling with us, he sometimes shouted us dinner. We have dinned in the finest and most expensive restaurant of London! Once in Peru, we stayed in a hotel that was very extravagant, with golden door knobs and those types of exaggerations. The owner of the ship could spend in one night as much as what George earned monthly as a captain!
On the other hand, I also saw great poverty...
In Brazil, you could see on one side of the river, guarded glamorous villas made of black glassand on the other side of the river the people living in huts. Latin America is a whole different world. There are a lot of beggars. I remember a moment that surprised me: A very young baby, with a head so tiny, in its mother’s arms, holding out its hand to ask for money! I have seen small children eating only soft corn... It’s shocking to see those kinds of things. In Peru, I gave Katerina’s old clothes and shoes to a worker at the port. He was so thankful he was kissing the clothes... poor fellow. "Ah”, he said, “I will take these to my child!!" They were bare foot, hungry, living in poverty. Whereas in Venezuela, they have petrol and everything and the foreigners eat it all up! Tell me, is that fair?
There can be corruption amongst rich people. Even the governments and the lobbiesaround them are often corrupted. This doesn't happen in western European countries,there aren’t such inequalities.
In Sweden, for example you will never see a poor person. There are extremely wealthy people of course, but the underprivileged are not as miserable as in Latin America.
A travel agent in Japan had said once: "We worship the factory owners like gods here in Japan, because they gave us jobs and we stopped eating just mussels for dinner!" Businessmen are necessary, because they are talented, they will make a business and bring money. But they should be honest and pay their taxes, not like here in Greece! See, in Sweden, in Holland too, people who are the richest pay 90% of the taxes, that is fair.
In Holland, which is a little bigger than Peloponnesus, with 15.000.000 residents, you see a healthy situation. You never see poor people. One Saturday, George asked some Dutch port workers to stay longer so that the job could finish faster, they would get paid of course. And they say to him "We can’t stay longer, because we sing in a chorus for an orchestra!!" They have different standards of living. In Norway too, the workers are educated people.
I remember a beautiful image at the Suez Canal.There, the ships stand in a single row, one behind the other, waiting their turn to pass through the canal. Do you understand? Around 30 ships! Well, 3 or 4 of those ships where always Greek. I was so happy to seethem and wave at them! It was my nostalgia.
All the Greek people living abroad feel nostalgia for Greece. I spoke to them in America. We all miss our home land.
In the middle of the Pacific Ocean we rarely encountered other ships close by. It if we saw any they would be at least 10 miles away. So, one day we encountered a ship from afar and we didn't know what flag it had.It was a big deal seeing a ship in the middle of the ocean! I then ask George “Did you see that ship?Do you think it’s a Greek one?” He answers me “How should I know?Maybe …”And I ask again “Do you think there are any Kytherians onboard?!”That’s how deep my desire was...
Return to Cerigo
I never had the desire to live abroad. I always remembered the bench in my yiayia’s village. I felt terribly nostalgic. Even though my husband preferred that we lived in Piraeus while he travelled, we decided to go and settle in Kythera. I wanted to take my children out to play, unleash them in nature… and I did it and I achieved what I wanted on the island. Panagiotis was 6 years old at the time. One dayI remember, we went to buy bread from the bakery of Potamos. The next day, I gave him money to go on his own and he returned home joyous with a loaf of bread. ‘Here is your bread and your change!’ he said full of pride. Whereas in Piraeus it was different, we didn’t have that kind of freedom. We would spend all day on the balcony and in the evenings, child clenched tightly in each hand, we would go for a walk as far as Pasalimani.
We lived in my paternal house, in Potamos. The climate was generally dump and we only had a woodstove to warm ourselves. Whereas in Athens, we had central heating. But I didn’t mind in the least. We’ve lived in the house where we are we now, close to Strapodi, since 1987 when Katerina left to study abroad. Panagiotis had already left to study music. The children went to school in Kythera. Katerina got into law school but her mind was set on going to America and she said to her father “Dad you will have to pay my tuition for the first year and then, I will get a scholarship”.That is how it happened, and she ended up graduating as a speech pathologist.
As a grandmother, I am very fond of my grandchildren. However, children, nowadays, don’t have the same bond with their grandparents as we had. I remember my yiayia telling me stories, but these days kids won’t sit and listen to us old folk.
Then and Now
People these days are generally better off, including financially, although money is not everything. You don’t need to be rich, just enough to get by. In my childhood, I remember an old man from Trifillianika who lived in squalid conditions, no heating, a straw mattress on the floor for a bed and to eat a crust of bread with oil, some boiled potatoes… Survival wasn’t easy then, especially for the elderly. Now, we have our medicines, whereas, during the Occupation, we couldn’t even get an aspirin. But even before the war, the little I remember, there was much poverty. That degree of poverty doesn’t exist in Kythera today.
It is important to love your country and support it as much as you can. We don’t support it, nor are we patriots, as we don’t organize for the good of the many; we just think of ourselves… a foreigner will exploit you when you are not united and therefore weak. As Gandhi in India had then said “we will weave with our own wool, we will eat our own produce” and in this way he was able to get rid of the British. Gandhi was a patriot, but they also listened to him…
And we must have patience. Impatience is probably our worst vice as humans.
submitted by Vikki Vrettos Fraioli on 19.09.2022
What a wonderful life story. Thank you for sharing.
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