Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Magical Mystery Tour - Day 15 (Proof of George Sarris in Crockett, CA!)

(Originally published without the photos on 12-3-14)
Sitting here at the bar of the unexpectedly beautiful The Dead Fish restaurant overlooking the Carquinez Straits in Crockett, CA - and marveling at discoveries made at the Crockett Historical Museum on the last day of my Magical Mystery Tour.

This morning I had set out from Stockton -- via the suddenly familiar CA4 West along the Delta -- for Crockett, to revisit the town where Papou George Sarris lived circa 1920 before marrying Yiayia in San Francisco. Did not know why he was in Crockett or with whom. By that time the C and H sugar refinery was in full operation. All I had was a photo of him in his apron in a candy store/fountain circa 1920. My aunt Libby said he owned the place. Did he really?

You betcha! The museum's Keith Olsen patiently ran the names in the "Crockett Signal" newspaper archive and pulled up ALL the references. Bingo!

George Sarris first shows up in the paper in 1915 donating $1 to charity. Later he was involved with the Louis Sarris Co. candy store/fountain -- also referred to as the "Palace of Treats" and whose opening was postponed, possibly because Papou had "entrained" with 11 other Crockett boys and was at Ft. Kearny for a few months. The series of sweet shop ads run in the Signal were priceless. 

On August 8, 1919, the Signal reported: "Louis Sarris, the popular candy man, has sold his store opposite the Hotel Crockett to his brother, George...Mr. Sarris expects to leave in the near future for Greece to join his family."

Louis Sarris is a newly-discovered step-brother and perhaps the mystery man in several old photos. Still not sure why they went to Crockett or exactly when Papou left there -- eventually for Stockton where his sister Sofia and Bill Demakopoulos owned the Palace Restaurant next to the Fox (now Bob Hope) Theater. There Papou cooked and made the fillings for chocolates hand-dipped by Yiayia Sarris and others.  Just like See's! No pictures of the Palace inside, but I can still close my eyes and see them...And it looked a lot like the Crockett store!

L. Sarris Sweet Shop (circa 1920)

I am very proud of my Papou George Sarris and very happy that my brothers and I all got his cooking gene. Kali Orexi!

NOTE: The Signal also reported that Papou was involved directly in some catch-as-catch-can wrestling matches held in Crockett in 1924 -- then described as George Sarris of San Francisco...So while one mystery was mostly solved, another has cropped up...Stay tuned!

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Magical Mystery Tour: Day 12 (The lost relatives of Ballico)

It started with an empty envelope addressed to my Yiayia Eugenia Sarris & Daughter from Mr. and Mrs. James F. Lolonis in Ballico, CA. Where? It did not ring a bell and I could not make out the date...Google placed Ballico about 8 miles from Turlock. 

The address turned up again handwritten by my Yiayia in a old church directory. Google further informed me that James Lolonis had died last January, leaving behind he wife, Voula, and 4 sons. So I sent Voula Lolonis a card, which was soon answered with a phone call. And then my visit -- even though Mapquest didn't seem to know where the Ballico home address was either!

Voula Lolonis had invited me to visit any time, and I did so on 11/30. She looked very familiar, and it was as if I had known her forever. Her son Peter was there with his family from Oakdale. While they watched TV, I grilled Voula about family history.

Her mother (who died tragically in Greece just after WWII along w/her father and sister due to a German mine) was from Koroni and Yiayia's first cousin, making Voula my mother and aunt Libby Sarris' second cousin. Her mother's sister Voula Huntalas -- related to the owners of San Francisco's Cliff House restaurant -- brought Voula to the States and was one of my Yiayia's best friends since childhood. They went back to Koroni together in 1965.  Of course, I looked at old photos of all of them...

Then her oldest son John arrived and she predictably announced that it was time for dinner. Indeed, everyone pitched in to set the table and serve the meal -- even the kids. Granddaughter Krissy (Chrysoula) is a bonafied martials arts champion since the age of eight, and there is talk of the Olympics one day. What a nice family and warm welcome. The wonderful Sunday meal -- including hilopites, patates fournou and dolmathes! -- was a bonus.

I had come to meet Voula and learn more about my Yiayia's family history. I met a lovely family...and could have stayed a week. (I may well have been there before with my Yiayia. And as I made my way to Crockett 3 days later on low-key CA4 West along the Delta and across a few old draw bridges, it occurred to me that Byron -- once the site of an Orthodox monastery -- had been another Yiayia destination. I kept remembering a religious something, but had some trouble placing it before traveling on that road.) 

Here's the punchline: Voula said that my Yiayia had been wanting to have a family reunion at their farm so that the relatives would know each other in future years. It never happened as such. But there I was, fulfilling my Yiayia's wish on some level more than 35 years years later...To be continued!

NOTE: Voula's dolmathes were a revelation. Needless to say, she has access to grape leaves, but the dolmathes that night were made with Swiss chard and lettuce. Interesting and delicious!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Magical Mystery Tour: Day 11 (Yiayia X's pitta is all about the Crisco!)

Yiayia X . w/me and
cousin Michael Pappas
I remember the good feeling when my father would come home with aluminum foil packages of Yiayia Xanttopulos' Banana Squash Pitta. Sometimes we were lucky enough to get a whole pan full!  Yiayia X. was from Naousa and her pitta was different from and better than everyone else's, as far I was concerned...It was a special treat, now perpetuated by my cousin Helen Bertron, daughter of My Aunt Mary Hlebakos -- and occasionally my brothers George and Bill. Me, not yet, I'm ashamed to say.

Helen and Bob Bertron generously hosted a family dinner the night after Thanksgiving so I could see my Bay Area relatives, including Thea Mary and Helen's 2 daughters, Erica and Jennifer. Bonus guests included Ruby (née Hlebakos) and Dee Corids + their daughter Alexia, who I had not seen for way too many years. Thank you Helen and Bob!

Naousa 1980
The next day, Helen suggested we do what we had talked about for years: MakeYiayia's pitta together from scratch so I could learn. I had a similar lesson about 35 years ago in Naousa from my Aunt (of blessed memory) Alkinoy Lalas. This is no ordinary pitta with commercial filo, and I had truthfully never tried to make it before. It requires a dowel for rolling and lots of time among other things. The secret ingredient is generous gobs of Crisco, along w/butter, of course!

To make this horiatiki"  village) pitta, the dough is mixed and divided in 2. One-half is rolled out w/the dowel, cut into 10 wedges which are then stretched w/Crisco, stacked, and rolled out again -- that's for the bottom of the pan. Repeat the process with the rest of the dough for the top crust. Add the filling (w/melted butter on top), cover, crimp the edges, and drop some more Crisco on top w/some more butter (to be on the safe side). When horiatiki pitta is baked, you can see layers in the crust just like pitta with filo dough - thicker of course, as this is rustic-style pitta created entirely by hand. 
I am going to make one soon, seriously -- stay tuned!

San Mateo 2014
NOTE: In Naousa, we used oil and butter. The stacked segment piles for each crust were chilled for a few hours or overnight before rolling (same advice from Aunt Soula, also from Naousa). And, of course, you can change up the fillings. Yiayia X did also make it w/spinach and feta, occasionally...OPA!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Magical Mystery Tour: Day 8 (Uncle Tony Gust & The Naousa Connection)

What's in crate of lettuce, a few loaves of bread or a plate of stewed chicken? 90-100 years or ago, many Greeks in Stockton were in produce or had grocery stores or restaurants. In fact, the 1927 Stockton telephone directory listed no fewer than 15 Greek-related restaurants/candy stores. And today many of us can trace our roots right back to one of those businesses.

My grandmother Pauline Xanttopulos and her sister Eleni Huntalas were the Koutsoukis sisters from Naousa; another sister, Maria, remained in Greece. Their brother Antonios K. Koutsoukis was in business w/his brother-in-law Gus Huntalas and became a successful produce guy in Stockton with the memorable name of Tony Gust -- probably the combination of his first name and middle initial (father named Kostantinos). Uncle Tony died young in 1945, and until recently I had only vague knowledge of his story.

There were several families in Stockton from Naousa, a small town in the foothills of the Vermion mountains of Macedonia -- about 45 miles from Thessaloniki -- which was not liberated from the Ottoman Empire till 1912. Mitsanis (Mitchell), Lucas, Chiarchianis, Koutsoukis, and later Vezaldenos are Naoussa names. I had heard from Angelo Mitchell a couple of years ago that Uncle Tony was Best Man for his father Stavros, who came from Naousa in 1907 and to Stockton in 1909. And when I visited w/Flossie and Angelaon 11/26 to look at old photographs, I hit the jackpot. There in the the oldest album was a Mitsanis wedding picture w/Uncle Tony Gust (shown in upper left, picture  unfortunately distorted by plastic picked up by my scanner).
Channel St. Produce Mkt. 2014
Uncle Tony was a popular guy who unfortunately (long story) never married, as I'm told by my various aunts. The Huntalases moved to Tracy in 1948, where they had a grocery store. The produce business - first at 133 N. Wilson Way and then at 1620 E. Channel -- was taken over by the Thomas Brothers. My father Steve worked for them and a few other produce people...until he, too, got into the grocery business with his koumbaro, George Marmas (a Chioti from Hibbing, MN), at the S&G Market on Yosemite Street.

Wish I had actually met Uncle Tony Gust, but the Naousa Connection is alive and well in Stockton. Any more families to add to the list? Please let me know!  

NOTE: Have to mention that Flossie and Angela treated me and Gayle Maduros to what they called "Spanakopizza" (with olive oil in the crust) from Joe's Pomodoro Pizza Cafe, which continues the Stockton Greeks & Food Tradition. It was totally awesome and JP's is on my restaurant short-list for my next Stockton visit -- OPA!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Magical Mystery Tour: Day 5 (Sarris Family gathering for fun and historical purposes)

On Sunday 11/23, three cousins came to Stockton to visit my aunt Liberty Sarris. And with that golden opportunity, 7 of us got together to share Sarris Family info and photos.  Our merry little band met for church and then repaired to Papapavlo's Restaurant for lunch and a 3-hour photofest. 

From left to right: Temia Demakopoulos, Kathryn Demas, Jane Demas, Libby Sarris, Sofia Demakopoulos Osborne, Connie Mellis and Paula Xanthopoulou.

Our conversations were all about the families of my Papou George Sarris and his younger sister Sofia (see photo above), plus various cousins also from Kyparissi, Lakonias. Sofia married Bill Demakopoulos, who had the Palace Candy store on Main Street in Stockton next to the old Fox Theater -- and where both George and Evghenia Sarris came to cook and make hand-dipped chocolates. George and Evghenia had two children, Angeline and Liberty. Sofia and Bill were the parents of Evelyn (Mellis), Jim, Nick (Demas), Demie, and Georgia (Johnson). All but Liberty are deceased.

For the record: Connie Mellis, from Aptos (Santa Cruz), is the widow of Evelyn's son and only child, Spiro. Sofia Osborne (born in Stockton) and Temia are the children of Jim and Sylvia. Demie Demakopoulos had no children. Elaine Sampanis of West Chester, OH (Cincinnati area) - and former Grand President of the Daughters of Penelope -- is the daughter of Georgia Johnson, who was a Charter Member of Stockton's  Sparta Chapter No. 18. Her brother Johnny lives in Louisville, KY. Kathy and Jane Demas are the youngest of Sofia Sarris Demakopoulos' seven grandchildren. And Paula Xanthopoulou -- whose brother's are George and Bill Xanttopoulos -- is the oldest of George Sarris' three grandchildren. There you have it.

The research to-date represents five generations of Sarris Family members.  But there is still much work work to be done. We collected some new info and great photos -- now to connect the dots. Stay tuned!

NOTE: A few days later I finally met up with Katherine Lourentzos of Manteca. For a long time I had been curious about research she had done on her own family (from Piana, Arcadia) that resulted in the detailed and Limited Edition 254-page, A Century in America, The Petropoulos Family: From Past to Present (Lourentzos, Poulos and Gaines).  The Book was "Written and compiled from memories, stories, pictures and love" as a result a 1995 reunion of the whole clan. It was published in 2012 in conjunction with Ted Poulos' 85th birthday and a second reunion. I was very moved to see photos of Helen Panagos (nee Poulos), who was my brother Bill's godmother and died tragically of cancer.  Kudos to Katherine and her family, who have set the bar VERY high for the rest of us!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Magical Mystery Tour: Day 2 (The Xepoleoses)

After being treated to "La Boheme" at the SFO the night before by Candace and George, I set out on 11/20 to visit with a distant relative living in a senior community in downtown San Francisco -- hoping to find out more about my Papou George Sarris' early days in California and who his relatives also from Kyparissi were.  The Xepoleoses were his cousins on some level.

Bessy Xepoleos is 92 and darn sharp. As the second wife of Pete Xepoleos, she did not have recollections/photos of the early days. But she did know some of Pete's 6 siblings (Elsie Gogas and Yoda Manolis) and added 2 brothers to my list (John and Steve). The parents, James and Vasiliki (Sarris, I believe now), were married in Kyparissi and 3 sons were born in Greece.  Bessy and Pete visited then land-locked Kyparissi in 1972 with Yoda and Evelyn Mellis...

My SF visit was delightful, including dinner and a good look at the few photos she did have, one of her as a 2 1/2 year-old child. Bessy (also Vasiliki!) was born in Seattle, went to Cephalonia, grew up in Argentina, and then to SF where worked for McKesson Corp. She speaks fluent Spanish, too, but we spoke mostly in Greek. Bessy introduced me to the only other Greek in the place and gave me the grand tour of The Sequoias where she has lived for 15 years. What a gem, so glad I met her!

But there was still no answer as to why the Xepoleoses used to always come -- according to my aunt Liberty -- to Stockton on Memorial Day. So I visited the Rural Cemetery and found out that James Xepoleos, aged 63, had died in Stockton on March 10, 1925. Where was buried? No longer in Stockton, but moved to San Mateo on July 11, 1944 -- which would explain why I have no recollection of the Xepoleoses in Stockton, though I did know Yoda and Elsie as a kid when they lived in Santa Cruz...

I also know that Yoda had been born in SF and "grown up in Stockton," and lo-and-behold the Stockton Telephone Directories list the Xepoleoses from 1920 (when the Demokopoulos also were first listed) through 1926. They lived at 717 E. Channel (no house there now) and 2000 S. San Joaquin, with a now extinct City Free Market at 338 E. Jefferson...Looks like they moved after the father died, perhaps to Pittsburgh. The mother was called "Thea Vasilo," but whose daughter was she?  

Anyone out there know anything more about the Xepoleoses in Stockton???

NOTE: Bessy wanted to know if I had seen "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" w/Penelope Cruz and Nicholas Cage set in Cephalonia. Ordering it from Ebay right now!

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry