This post is about my husband's paternal grandmother, Efstathia. It is written by her grandson John and he explains how this article came to be. I have included my own comments about her after his article along with a picture of her from 1980 with my eldest, Theodore, who was named after her one and only son.
NOTE: John originally wrote this for a group that is working on a book to honor the women who started the Greek Orthodox Church in Cleveland. The original version started John thinking about the many accomplishments of his grandmother, so he added some things to make it more complete.
Efstathia Kavouras was born in Raxes, Gortynias, Greece on 26 October. The year is unclear. It’s been shown as early as 1890, but most likely it was 1895 or 1896. I suppose the official date—the one that counts—is on her passport; but it doesn’t matter. What does a year show now? In her passport picture, she looks young—unbelievably young to one of her later-born grandchildren—she has dark hair and she is wearing a coat with a fur collar. It’s deceiving, because she was not the fur-collar type. She was too practical for that. But the picture shows something more: a young woman with a determined look; a look that said she would face whatever came her way. And she did. It was a look and attitude that anyone who knew her would come to know well.
Efstathia came to the United States in 1930 with her 12-year old son, arriving at the start of the Depression. She joined her husband, Demetrios, who had been working in America for several years, helping build the trans-continental railroad. I can only imagine the awkwardness of becoming reacquainted with her husband after several years’ absence, but she never talked about that. I don’t know how long it took my grandfather to save money, but together they found a way to pay for the passage and have her arrive in a fancy coat.
She was barely able to read in any language—certainly not English—but she didn’t let that stop her. Efstathia quickly became a strong presence in both the Greek community and the church. She lived almost all of her life near the Annunciation church on West 14th St. I didn’t know her when she worked or when she was raising her son. A child has no concept of his parents’ or grandparents’ past. In the world of childhood, I knew she was there, a strong presence in our family. It didn’t matter where she had come from or what she had done. She was my Yaya. But I have many memories of the way she lived her life. She was a philanthropist in every sense of the word. Here are just a few memories her family has of her.
She met a young Greek widow who was struggling financially and who, for several reasons, had been unable to have her five children baptized. Efstathia made arrangements with the Greek priest to get the family to church and have the children baptized; acting as the godmother, she made sure all the children had new clothes for the church service. With assistance from the church, she found financial help for the family, and she was a friend to this woman for many years.
Another time, she found out about an old Greek couple—living on a small income—who needed help. The woman was bedridden and her husband was caring for her alone. Efstathia provided visits and food, but she wanted them to feel connected to the Greek community. She bought them a radio so they could listen to the weekly news and radio programs that were broadcast in Greek.
At Efstathia’s funeral, in 1982, an older woman who I knew vaguely from the Greek Church came to talk to me. “I loved your grandmother,” she said. “When I married my husband many years ago, the women of the church wouldn’t accept me because I wasn’t Greek. Your grandmother was the only one to befriend me and make me feel welcome, and the other women soon followed.” Later, I imagined the scene. The other women would have incurred Efstathia’s considerable wrath if they had continued to snub this woman.
Efstathia’s greatest achievement, however, was raising money for her beloved Annunciation Church. One of her early goals was to buy kitchen equipment so the church could host an annual Greek festival. She did not wait for donations. She called members of the church and asked them for money, often telling them the amount she thought they should give. She was fierce with anyone who tried to put her off. The Greek festival, begun with the money that she raised, continues today.
When the priest visited Efstathia after she had cataract surgery, he questioned her promise that she would be raising more money. “My husband will be my eyes,” she said. “He will make the calls.” And the fund-raising continued—and continued. Through her decades-long efforts, the church thrived, expanded, and built a large church hall.
Efstathia was devoted to her son and his family. She didn’t abandon the family she had left behind in Greece either, constantly sending them clothing and money. I do not think Efstathia ever passed by anyone who was in need. She prepared countless pots and pans of her incomparable food, carefully packing containers and sending her husband to deliver them. When she found out about families in need, she brought them to the attention of the Philoptochos, the women’s organization of the Greek Orthodox Church, and she insisted that the group lend its support.
In 1981, she received the Archdiocese Laity Award from Archbishop Iakavos. It mentions her “untiring record” of more than forty years of service. As I re-read the letter, I thought about the young woman with the dark hair and determined look. The hair had turned gray and wiry, and she probably never owned another fur collar, but the determined look never went away. We who knew her remain inspired.Presbytera's comments
When Yiayia first met me, she did NOT like me at all. First of all, I was not Greek. She had promised a trip to Greece for any of her grandchildren who married someone of Greek descent. She never did have to cough up the money even though she had 7 grandchildren. Secondly, she didn't like me because I wasn't Greek!!!! Once we were married though, she warmed up to me and taught me how to make some Greek pastries. I sat on a couch in her kitchen (yes, the kitchen was used for everything) and warmed up a pound of butter by mixing with my hands until the heat of my hands brought the butter to the correct temperature. I never told Yiayia but whenever I made kourabiathes at home, I just whipped the heck out of the butter with my KitchenAid : )
She was very supportive of us when my husband was in the Seminary. She was very proud that one of her grandchildren was going to be a Lutheran priest.
Whenever we would have the opportunity to visit Cleveland, she always slipped us a twenty dollar bill which in the mid 1970's was a great amount. Her husband Demetrius, who was called Papouli by us, would then be obligated to match her donation to us. It was quite fun to see the two of them in action. She was also very generous to our first born Theo who was named after her son.
Our first year at the seminary, my husband's brother and wife visited us in St Louis. Before they boarded the plane, they needed to make a stop at Yiayia's house. She sent a cooked and hot-from-the-oven leg of lamb along with my brother-in-law. It was dutifully wrapped in layers and layers of newspaper tied with many strings. Imagine the smell going through the airline cabin from his carry-on!
When we later moved to Cleveland, she would call me everyday to ask what I was cooking. Even though she spoke little English, we somehow communicated and I quickly learned to answer that I was cooking casserole (a hot dish). Never, never would I tell her that I was feeding her grandson something like hot dogs!!!