Greetings from the south! I must tell you I am not from here originally but consider this my home by choice. My parents were both Greek immigrants and have quite a story they passed down to six children. I am the youngest and I can tell you I did not have the hardship on me that my sisters and brothers had.
This story is about my father who was hidden by his mother so that he would not be taken to fight in the Turkish army. When he was a child it seems that the Turks were in control of Greece and they just would take the boys no matter what age to fight in the army. After she hid him she made arrangements to ship him off to America where he would be free.
He knew no English and I do not know the particulars of just how he got here but when he did he was 17 years old. I really don’t think he knew for sure just how old he was. But he ended up in the army in America. He loved his new country and was proud to be an American. After the army he made his home in Pennsylvania in the coal country working in a candy making process. He worked hard and long hours saving money to send for his brothers and sisters who wanted to come to America. He eventually opened his own candy store in Ashland, Pennsylvania, called Candyland.
His mother and one married sister chose to stay to Greece but two brothers and three sisters came plus many friends who are relatives . My father taught himself to read and write English. Some of the ones he brought over chose not to learn and stayed in the Greek community. My father went back to Greece to marry my mother and brought her brother and two sisters back to America. My father was a worker and paid the expense for all of them. Of course until they could find work he let them help making candy until they went on their own.
He was not satisified to stay in Pennsylvania, because it was getting like the old country he left behind, so he moved bag and baggage planting his family in a small town in New Jersey that was all-Italian. We were the only Greek family and so they called us the “Greasy Greeks” because my father had a family restaurant.
He needed to because he had six children to feed. He and my mother made a name for themselves with their cooking and baking. They had an ongoing waiting list for their pies. It seemed like they were gone before they made it to the customers in the restaurant. I can still taste their coconut custard pie and to this day mine does not compare.
I need to tell you how my father opened up without any money. It wouldn’t happen in this day and age. He went first to scout out the town to make sure it was small, with working class people. Factories that made men and women’s clothing, coats and suits. In fact there is a famous men’s suit called Hammonton Park suits made there and shipped out to expensive men’s clothing outlets. They did not sell any to the local people. My oldest sister was a hand finisher in the factory. They are the ones who hand sew the lining and labels in the jackets. We lived two blocks from the factory.
My father went in to the cigar store and asked the man who owned the building that had a double side that was empty. My dad went in and asked the owner if he could sell hot dogs and sandwiches in his window. They used to build buildings with big deep front windows that they would advertise what they sell like dress shops putting clothes they sell in the windows so people would be enticed to come in to buy items. Now dad did not have any money for rent because he spent what he had on the food to sell. The man was kind and after hearing dads’ story he let him because dad said he would pay him from the sales. Here is the first restaurant, next to the cigar store, around 1936:
That progressed into renting the store next door and opening a restaurant and hiring one waitress while he and mom did the cooking. This quiet life lasted for several years. In the meantime dads’ sister and husband moved into a town just 20 miles away and they too opened a restaurant only theirs wasn’t a small family restaurant. Theirs was a larger and fancier establishment. I wore many of their daughters’ hand me downs which were pretty fancy. My mother made our clothes so you can imagine how I loved getting those hand me downs. I now realize how hard my mother worked making clothes in her spare time after working long hours in the restaurant.
The next phase of my life was a sad time. My dad moved the restaurant across the main street to a larger place that was on a corner right across the street from the train station. Our town was a place that the train had lots of commuters going to Philadelphia and Atlantic City. Our town was located about 30 miles from each. Dad received the contract to sell bus tickets because buses came through town every hour going either way. That helped business because the bus company paid well. The restaurant opened at six am and closed at midnight. They were long hours, as I mentioned before my dad was a hard worker who had a hard working wife by his side. All of us six kids worked in the restaurant. We ate all of our meals in the restaurant. We were never closed except Christmas and Easter days. The only thing we did at home was sleep.
The picture to the right is of me at the restaurant about four years of age...probably working alreadY! I am hoping to share with you this time in my life in future.