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Interview with Maritza Nashopoulos

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A. SPELIOPOULOS: Today is Saturday, October the 24th. I am talking with… the narrator is Angela [unintelligible - 00:00:11] and I am interviewing… what’s your name?
M. NASHOPOULOS: Maritza [unintelligible - 00:00:17].
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay.
M. NASHOPOULOS: My name is Maritza [unintelligible - 00:00:26] and I was born in Chicago, Illinois, 26 and Cottage Grove Avenue on June the 9th, 1904. And I believe I am a first generation American Greek whose parent… my father came from Greece. My father came from Greece to America and Chicago, Illinois in the year 1890. He was 18 years old. His real family name was Theodoros Demetrius [unintelligible - 00:01:04]. But when he arrived in Ellis Island, they could not understand him and so he kept repeating his family name, “[Unintelligible - 00:01:14].” So they gave him the name Tom Bliss and put it on the tag and his destination to Chicago, Illinois to two uncles there that were in the candy kitchen business and that is how he learned the trade. He became an American citizen in October 1900 with the name Tom Bliss. He would not change it for fear that they would send him back to Greece as an illegal alien.

He was born and grew up in a village called Chrysafa, Sparta, Greece, November 14th, 1872. He married Olga [unintelligible - 00:02:08] on September the 14th, 1901 in Chicago, Illinois. They have four children – James Demetrius, myself, Maritza, Christy, and Peter [Panagiotis]. Mother has been raised… mother was born and raised in Chicago of German parents, May the 10th, 1879. My brother James and I were born and baptized in Chicago, Illinois. Christy and Peter were born in Cedar Falls, Iowa. My father’s brother-in-law had a candy kitchen in Cedar Falls, Iowa and he wanted to return to Greece so he sold the business to my father for $600. So we moved by train to Cedar Falls, Iowa. My brother James was two years old and I was three months old.

We all grew up in Iowa and we all were baptized Greek Orthodox. Our home was always a Greek Orthodox home. About the year 1920, the building where we had our candy store was sold in Cedar Falls, Iowa and the owner wouldn’t give our father a chance to buy it by payments. He wanted cash which we did not have that amount, so we had to look for another location. Somebody told my father about a place in a town called Traer, Iowa. It’s about 35 miles south of Cedar Falls. So we moved everything we had by truck and we started over in this little town, population: 1,400. It was a good move for us. It was the only candy store in all of Tama County. In the year 1925, my marriage was arranged by my Uncle George and Aunt Mariva to John [unintelligible - 00:04:44].
A. SPELIOPOULOS: [Unintelligible - 00:04:47]?
M. NASHOPOULOS: We were married on September the 20th, 1925. [00:05:00] John came to the United States in the year 1912. He was born September the 12th, 1897 in a village called Lefkaditi, Greece [unintelligible - 00:05:14]. He went into the restaurant business in Minneapolis in the year 1926. We were in the restaurant business until the year 1962 when he wanted to retire. We did a lot of travelling through US, Europe, and Greece after that. He became ill in the spring of 1975 and he passed away on May the 4th, 1975. He was 78 years old. All of our children… I didn’t say about the children at all.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: [Unintelligible - 00:06:05].
M. NASHOPOULOS: Yeah.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Yes.
M. NASHOPOULOS: I forgot about the children. We had three children, two girls and a boy, the boy Nicholas, Olga, and Lemonia.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: [Unintelligible - 00:06:22].
M. NASHOPOULOS: [Unintelligible - 00:06:27]. Our daughter Olga passed away in 1973 from cancer. We have eight grandchildren. Six are married and I have… and I am a widow now and I have three great grandchildren and another one on the way soon. I’m sorry. I thought I had more. I must have left it at home.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: It’s all right.
M. NASHOPOULOS: My father passed away in Traer, Iowa, April 1931, age 58 years old. He died of cancer. My mother passed away in Minneapolis, Minnesota on April 1970 at the age of 91 years old. I’m sorry but I must have left the others at home. I don’t know what else…
A. SPELIOPOULOS: [Unintelligible - 00:07:27]. I am not reading anything. Okay, now we’re going to relate some cute stories. Okay.
M. NASHOPOULOS: Well, I’m going to tell a cute story about my husband and myself. While we were in the restaurant business in the year, I think it must have been around ‘45 or something, he came into the restaurant one afternoon around the lunch hour. He came strutting in and he says, “Mama, I bought a secondhand Nash.” And I said, “Oh, Daddy, that’s wonderful.” But before I got any more out of my mouth, he pointed a finger at me and he said, “But you are not going to drive it and don’t you ever ask.” Well, I was dumbfounded but later on, we sat down after the lunch hour. I said to him, I said, “Will you please tell me why you do not want me to drive the car?” I said, “Before I married you, I was driving a Model T Ford and a Buick Touring.” My dad… my parents had two cars in Iowa. And he said… his answer was, “I do not want to worry with you behind the wheel and the children in the car.” So I just looked at him and I didn’t say anything and I thought to myself, “Boy, brother, you don’t have confidence in me but I’m going to show you.” So I told him, I said, “If you think that I’m going to get down on my knees and beg you to drive the car, you got another guess coming.” And I never did but he was a very good husband and no matter where we wanted to go, he would always take us.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Go ahead.
M. NASHOPOULOS: So I never asked him to let me drive the car and we sold the Savoy Café right afterwards and then we rested a while and then we went into business next to the Francis [unintelligible - 00:09:37] into a coffee shop. We ran that for five years. We gave it up. We rested again and then we went at 13th and Hennepin. We got into another restaurant there for five years, and we gave that up after five years, and we did a lot of travelling, and in all that time, I never got behind the wheel, never. [00:10:00] We came back from our trip and we went to First Avenue North in a little coffee shop. And this was at… we were there about five years, let’s say about 1962. I was sitting at the counter, drinking a cup of coffee. It was after the lunch rush. He comes up to me out of the blue sky, and he comes up and he says, “Mama, go and get your driver’s license.” I almost dropped that cup of coffee. I looked at him and I said, “Now you want me to get a driver’s license, now at my age?” I said, “My gosh, I’m 60 years old.” He says, “You’ll get it, mama. You’ll get it, I know.”

Well, I did. I studied and I went and took a test and I passed. I got a driver’s license and then I wanted to go to the AAA to get refreshed in driving. But he said no. He says, “I will help you.” I said, “You are going to help me?” I said, “Oh, with that temper of yours?” But I said, “Okay, I’ll go along with you.” Well, he did. And he was very good. He never lost his temper with me. And so that’s how I got behind the wheel again after all those years. And whenever we travelled, he would let me drive on the highway. But when we came to a town, I had to get away from the wheel. He took the wheel. So that is one story about my darling husband and our car and my driving.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: [Laughs] Maritza, why don’t you tell us how you learned how to speak Greek?
M. NASHOPOULOS: Yes, that is an interesting thing. When John and I got engaged… and he lived up in Minneapolis and I was living in Traer, Iowa and when he would come down to visit, he said to me, he said, “Would you like to be able to converse in Greek?” Because our father used to talk to us in Greek, mother not being Greek, she understood. We understood dad when he talked to us kids, but we could not converse. So when John asked me if I would like to know how to converse and to read and write, I was very happy, I said, “Yes, I really would like to be able to converse in Greek.” And he said, “All right.” He says, “When I get back to Minneapolis, I’m going to send you… every day, I’m sending you a piece of paper.” And on the piece of paper, he made three lines. In the first line, he would write – I’m giving you a sample now – he would write, “Today is a nice day,” in the English language. In the second line spot, he would put with phonetics, “[Unintelligible - 0:13:23],” so I could read that. Then in the third line, he wrote it in Greek. And he says, “I’m going to send you 10 sentences.” And he says, “When I come back to visit you,” he says, “I’m going to give you a test.” I said, “All right.” So all the time, every day, instead of love letters, they were Greek lessons. And when he would come down, he would take the paper away from me. We’d be sitting across each other at the table at home, and he would say, “All right, today is a nice day.” He says, “Now, you tell that to me in Greek.” So I would say, “[Unintelligible - 0:14:11].” And he said, “All right, now get your paper and pencil.” And I said, “Well, it’s awfully hard for me write, but is it all right if I print the letters?” And he said, “All right, we’ll start you off printing the Greek letters.” And that is my… those were my lessons. We were engaged six months, so you can imagine [laughs]. But by the time we got married, I really could converse pretty good. I could understand it and I could…
A. SPELIOPOULOS: You did wonderful, Maritza.
M. NASHOPOULOS: And I forgot to mention that during the time we were in the restaurant business, whenever he would sell and we’d retire for a few years or so, we would take a trip. [00:15:00] So we would go back to Greece to visit his brothers and his mother. His father had passed away the year we got married, but I met his mother and I met his brothers, and they were lovely, lovely people. His mother was just a lovely person. And our last trip to Greece, I don’t remember exactly the year, it must have been maybe 1970 was our last trip to Greece, she became ill and they took her to the hospital, or the clinic as they call it there. And the doctor examined her, and he told John, my husband, that he might as well take her home. She is not going to live. She must have had double pneumonia or something. Well, we took her back home, put her in bed, and about two days later, we were sitting by the bedside by her and she looked up at John and she says, “[Unintelligible - 00:16:17].” So when John picked her up, she was nothing but skin and bones. Anyway, she was so tiny, and he put her in his lap and he held her in his arms and she went to sleep right there. It was a beautiful, beautiful death. We had the funeral in Athens and then about two days later, we got on a boat and we came back to Minneapolis.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Tell them how tall John was.
M. NASHOPOULOS: John was 5’11”, almost 6’.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: And how tall are you?
M. NASHOPOULOS: And I was, when I married him, 4’11”. So that was another part of my story of my life with John. And when we were… oh, another little incident. Right after we got engaged, we went for a walk in this little town and went up to the park. And we sat down on the bench, and we’d just gotten engaged then. So he didn’t know me and I didn’t know him too well. We were sitting on the bench and he turns to me and he says, “You know, Maritza, I want to tell you one thing.” And he says, “You’re born here and you don’t maybe understand.” And he says, “I came from Greece. I want you to know,” he says, “that the men in the house are the boss.” And he looked at me and I looked up at him and I kind of smiled a little bit. He says, “Do you agree?” I said, “Sure, I agree.” Inside of me, I was saying, “You dumbbell, what did you think my father was?” [Laughs] That’s another little incident with my John.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Tell them about the 50-50 that you told me about, where your business was 50-50. He wanted your opinion.
M. NASHOPOULOS: I forgot to mention that my husband, John, also was a musician in the Greek folk music. He was a clarinet player. When he came from Greece… no, let me go back a little bit. When he was a little boy growing up in the village, the father talked to his brothers and him and asked them what they would like to do when they grow up, what kind of business. And when it came John’s turn, he says to his son, he says, “[Unintelligible - 00:19:08].” And John answered him and said, “[Unintelligible - 00:19:14].” His father got mad and he said, “[Unintelligible - 00:19:21].” But when John came to the United States and he worked in a factory in Milwaukee, he came to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and he went to work in… his first paycheck that he got, he went to the store that sells a secondhand clarinet and he bought a clarinet. So this is what he spent his first paycheck money, with buying this clarinet. He just loved to play the clarinet. [00:20:00] And he did. Later on as he advanced in [tooting] of himself, he went to Chicago and he took lessons from a musician in Chicago.

Then he formed a group himself and they travelled around the United States. Now this happened way before I ever knew him. I’m talking years ago. But this was his story that he told me. And he traveled from one [unintelligible - 00:20:28] to another in different towns. So he has travelled all towards the western part of the United States in all the [unintelligible - 00:20:35] there. So he was very well known. Then when we got married, he still had his little orchestra, his little band, as you would call it. And whenever there was a Greek wedding or any affair, he was asked to play. He loved his clarinet. And he had three of them. On our last trip to Greece, he must have taken two because after he passed away, I looked for the clarinets and I only found one. And I gave that to our son. Now, our daughter Lemonia wants one and I don’t have one for her.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay, this is Maritza [unintelligible - 00:21:21] and we are continuing her interview.
M. NASHOPOULOS: Well, I have a little bit more of our background that maybe you would like to hear about. In the year 1968, in our community, Father Joseph [unintelligible - 00:21:41] and Father Anthony [unintelligible - 00:21:44] decided that our community needed a senior citizens club. So my husband was elected the first president of St. Mary’s Senior Citizens Club. He held that position until May of 1975 when the dear Lord took him from us. Then the members decided that I should take over, and of course, I accepted. And I held that position for eight years. In 1983, I thought it was time to retire, and the club is still going strong. We have a lot of membership. We have no dues whatsoever. Whatever is given to the club, we only put that aside in a savings account. And when that savings account builds up to over $1,000, then we purchase a senior a certificate and on the certificate, it says, “The St. Mary’s Senior Citizens Club Resident Fund.” So it is a foundation of… so anyway, it’s a foundation set up for the future. Right now, I can’t tell you how many thousands of dollars that they have accumulated since 1968.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Excellent, excellent.
M. NASHOPOULOS: Without dues. People donate memorial gifts or just donated a few dollars here and there. That’s enough about John. Now about me. I am also an active member of the Daughters of Penelope in our community and I have been for many years. And I have also held many positions, but only I refuse to be president. I am a life member of the American Legion Hellenic Post Auxiliary Number129 here in Minneapolis. I joined that through my son. And that also, as I said, I am a life member. So that means that I’ve been here many, many years. I am a member of our Philoptochos Society in our church community. We also have a senior bible study class and we meet twice a month. Father George [unintelligible - 00:24:51] leads us. [Unintelligible - 00:24:54].
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Yeah, that’s fine.
M. NASHOPOULOS: Yeah.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Is that it?
M. NASHOPOULOS: [00:25:00] Yeah. And I believe this is enough of an interview from me. I am over 80 years old now. I am a grandmother of eight. I have eight grandchildren. Six of the grandchildren are married and they so far have produced three great-grandchildren for me, and one more coming around Christmastime. And that is my life story up to now. Thank you ever so much.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Thank you, Maritza./AT/mb