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!

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful day and experience. Looking at the photos I think the way everyone is dressed is somewhere between 1948 an 1952