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Interview with John Mercury

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A. SPELIOPOULOS: History on John W. Mercury at 3424, Freeman Avenue South. All right then, John, give me your place and date of birth.
J. MERCURY I was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota and November 16th, 1907.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay and you are married to?
J. MERCURY Rose Mercury.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Alright, and your father’s name?
J. MERCURY He was William Mercury.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: And do you know his date of birth?
J. MERCURY No.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Or year of death?
J. MERCURY Oh, 1968.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay, that’s good, but where was he born?
J. MERCURY He was born in Niata, Greece.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Alright and what did he do for a living?
J. MERCURY He was a grocery man.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay, did he have a nickname?
J. MERCURY No.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: No nickname, okay. Your mother’s maiden name and where was she born?
J. MERCURY She was born in Niata, Greece, her name was Helen [Dobolis].
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay and do you remember when she died?
J. MERCURY She died in 1965.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay and where are your parents buried?
J. MERCURY Buried in the Lakewood cemetery.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay, name your brothers?
J. MERCURY My brothers Andrew Mercury and I have one sister Mary whose American [unintelligible - 00:01:11]
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay and she is now deceased.
J. MERCURY She is deceased.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay, and your brother’s wife’s name.
J. MERCURY My brother’s wife’s name is Helen.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Helen and what was her maiden name?
J. MERCURY [Kalaras].
A. SPELIOPOULOS: And your sister’s husband’s name.
J. MERCURY [Jampain Taitus].
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay, do you remember your grandparents?
J. MERCURY My grandparents, they lived to be 102 years old.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay and do you remember what your father’s mother and father’s name were? I will go back about your father’s father’s name, grandfather his name was?
J. MERCURY John.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: And his wife’s name was?
J. MERCURY Panayota.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay and do you remember what her maiden name was?
J. MERCURY Maheres.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Maheres, okay and do you remember if they were born in Niata?
J. MERCURY Both were born in Niata, Greece.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay and how about your mother’s father?
J. MERCURY My mother’s father was –
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Had a bigger brother, Peter?
J. MERCURY Peter.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay and remember what her name was, his wife?
J. MERCURY [Mareyo].
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay and they were born after in Niata?
J. MERCURY They were both born in Niata, Greece.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: My, goodness gracious. I would like to go to Niata someday.
J. MERCURY Right.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Just to see [unintelligible - 00:02:26]. Okay and do you remember who your Nonno and Nanna was?
J. MERCURY My Nonno was Chris Boosalis.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay and place and date of marriage.
J. MERCURY I was married in [unintelligible - 00:02:41], Minnesota.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: April –
J. MERCURY 27th, 1933.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: That’s good. Did your marriage get arranged or by somebody?
J. MERCURY It was arranged.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: It was – they introduced you?
J. MERCURY Yes.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: With the intention you two should get married?
J. MERCURY That’s right.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay, was there a prikka?
J. MERCURY No prikka, nothing –
A. SPELIOPOULOS: You didn’t get anything?
J. MERCURY Nothing.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Oh my goodness, okay and your wife’s name is Rose?
J. MERCURY Rose Mercury.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay and she – place of birth and date of birth. She was born in Owatonna?
J. MERCURY Yes, she was born in Owatonna, Minnesota. October 26th, 1915
A. SPELIOPOULOS: 1915, okay and does she have a nickname?
J. MERCURY No.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay, do you remember who your compadre was at the wedding?
J. MERCURY Chris Boosalis.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: And do you know your father-in-law’s village is, is from Niata too, right?
J. MERCURY Niata, too.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: And her mother is from Niata too, right?
J. MERCURY Yes.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay. And let’s see, you had one son Peter Mercury who is deceased?
J. MERCURY Yes.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay and then name your child’s godparents. Who baptized Peter?
J. MERCURY Peter was [unintelligible - 00:03:52]
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay, okay. Have you baptized anybody?
J. MERCURY Yes, I baptized one boy, Theodore Phillips, and Paris and Christy, [unintelligible - 00:04:06] and then [Gloris], she was Gloris.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay, now I have a question to ask you. You were born here in the United States. Did you go back to Greece at all in your early days?
J. MERCURY When we were little, when I was five years old, my father sent us off to Greece. And I stayed in Greece 13 years before I came back to United States.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay, why did he send you over to the Greece?
J. MERCURY To learn the Greek language and there were some days, old days, you know, they had to see that all the kids learn some Greek.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Now who did you go over with?
J. MERCURY I went over with my mother, my two – another brother and my sister.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay, so then did your dad come over to visit you though?
J. MERCURY After seven years, he came to Niata and brought me back to United States with my sister, Panayota and I.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay and did your mother stay there?
J. MERCURY My mother and my elder brother stayed in Greece, Andrew,
[00:05:00] and then after about five years we sent for them to come back to the United States.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay, so when you came, how did you come back, on a boat?
J. MERCURY We came back in a boat.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Do you know what the boats name was?
J. MERCURY No, I don’t remember that.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay, all right. But did you always go by Mercury?
J. MERCURY Always, yeah. M-E-I-C-L-Y.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay, that’s interesting. Okay, let’s see. Did you receive any education when you were younger, John?
J. MERCURY I went up to sixth grade, that’s all.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay, in Greece?
J. MERCURY No, in Greece I went to you know same as university there for about till I was 13 years old.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay and what is your occupation?
J. MERCURY My occupation has always been in restaurant business.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Now tell me about the restaurant since you’ve been here.
J. MERCURY Well I was very successful in whatever I have done and then after I sold the restaurant I went to be a chef --
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay.
J. MERCURY For about 25 years.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay, what was the name of the restaurant that you had?
J. MERCURY The most important one was the [Coronet] café in [unintelligible - 00:06:09] and then the El Morocco on [unintelligible - 00:06:11]
A. SPELIOPOULOS: And then you became a chef for --
J. MERCURY For Peter’s Grill for about 10 years and then for [unintelligible - 00:06:21] a barbeque place for 15 years.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay and tell me, your special interests and your skills and your hobbies.
J. MERCURY I used to go fishing, hunting and – but now that I am this old, I don’t do nothing.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: What you do is fishing and hunting now?
J. MERCURY No, last year.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: But you used to?
J. MERCURY I used to, oh yes.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Now, you recently just wrote a book. You want to tell me about the book?
J. MERCURY Oh yes, I work on this book for many years and I finally -- and I think it is one of the best books in the country right now and it’s going very good.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: And what is it?
J. MERCURY Uncle John’s Greek Cuisine book.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay and do you mind telling us where the money goes to?
J. MERCURY All the money that I receive all goes to the St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay, alright. Okay, the next question I have to ask you is important events during your life?
J. MERCURY Yeah, well 1987 was the most successful year of my life. I was honored with to be the AHEPAN of the Year for the district and then the past district governors award me the Past District Governor Award of the Year and the national [unintelligible - 00:07:39]. I was elected to be the AHEPAN of the Year. That was the most important fetes of my life, and then I served all this – as far as the president and chapter president, I served all the officers of the local chapter which I had become the first district governor in – fifth district governor in the 14th District. I have been a member, life member, for 55 years in the Order of AHEPA and I am still active in the membership, which is very successful from 77, I raise it to 181 members.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay, now John, you also have been in the national and the supreme?
J. MERCURY I was a supreme governor in 1957. Supreme Governor in 1960 and ‘61 which I wrote for the National AHEPA Convention and AHEPANS to appreciate me because I was [unintelligible - 00:08:43] about the Order of AHEPA. The most important thing in my life was when my dad came down to Greece to bring us to the United States, my sister and I, and we [unintelligible - 00:08:58] the reason we wanted [unintelligible - 00:09:00] there was two brothers, Mike and George, and my dad helped them to achieve a in a store, candy store in [unintelligible - 00:09:08], Minnesota, and they made an agreement with my dad because my dad sold all the business and agreed with them, and he will pay board and room for us and stayed there for a while he got set up in Minneapolis, set up in Minneapolis. And then, when we got here Uncle Mike was so pleased to see us that he got a place for us to stay, my sister and I, there was a teacher who was retired from the Austin school and then she had a house, a big house. She just lost her husband about two months before that and she was all alone, she was in her 60s. And so she welcomed us with open heart, we didn’t know how to speak English or nothing so
[00:10:00] she had a room for my sister and a room for me. Plus she had her own room and then my uncle took us and dressed us all up in American clothes and we were, like we were running out. I was living like a king. And then she told us what are we supposed to do and how to help and every night she had a special place for us to go and have supper with the teacher. And next two months, the teacher took us and list us into school and she dusted few barns, she was in love with my sister so much that she didn’t want nothing for board and room, and she dressed her up in beautiful clothes. My uncle done the same thing for me but to show us how we had to earn our way, my sister was packing chocolates, because they were making chocolate there, in boxes and then of course she didn’t know the way but they had other girls there with he weighed chocolates. Me I was washing dishes behind the [unintelligible - 00:11:11] behind the solar power and went to with mix up, he didn’t want us; he didn’t want us to talk Greek at all. He wanted us to learn English so we had to talk with other people there. And then, they were making their own ice cream there, and besides that they had a beautiful restaurant, the best in northern Minnesota. And every Sunday, he would talk us out for a ride. He also had a farm, which he had it rented. He had people staying there, not even charge nothing which they raised strawberries and raspberries for the store. So three years raspberry season, my sister and I we would help pick up raspberries and strawberries. And of course one thing he didn’t take us to any churches. You know, so we, we were blind as far as the religion is concerned but everything else; he was so good hearted to us. And to [unintelligible - 00:12:10] all these so many years ago, that now everything comes back to me when I’m 80 years old and I think it’s wonderful. Rose and I, we married 55 years. We had 55 wonderful years together and I want to thank her very much because, of course we had really tragedy. We lost our boy Peter many years ago and it was very hard for both of us.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Okay, tell me now, when you came back to Minneapolis, what made you come to Minneapolis?
J. MERCURY Well, then after three years we were there and I was 15, my sister was 17. Then they brought us back to Minneapolis and my sister, that he put her in you know, there isn't no [unintelligible - 00:12:54] or anything, he just put it in another home to stay with another Greek lady. As far as we concerned, we were – I was staying with my father in one-bedroom apartment. And then for a while there I thought it was terrible, because here we were, living like king and queen in northern Minnesota and we came to Minneapolis to live in the bad condition. But father was –we all listened to the father. I only knew my father only five years and four months. That’s all I know him until I was 15 years old. Well, I went to school. I went to school in the daytime and as soon as I got through, I used to go to the fruit store to help my dad pile up the fruits and putting them up and my dad was very successful fruit man. All these years he had a lot of nerve to open fruit stores every so often and sell them. And, then I would come, then after a while I next [unintelligible - 00:14:03] I grew up, I never knew any Greek boys. All this time that I was in Minneapolis till I was 19 years old. When I became 19 years old, I met a lot of Jewish boys, and then those Jewish boys, they all become successful businessmen. The same time they were going in the gymnasium and exercises. So, when I done, they begged me to come. Finally, my dad allowed us to go with those boys and we were boxing. So, for all these years, for two years I was boxing and, of course I was going to school and helping my dad in the fruit store. So, those boys, I can tell you their names. They were the Fisher brothers, the [unintelligible - 00:14:48] runs a big restaurant here in Minneapolis. There is the Schneider brothers who owned all the news stands in Minneapolis and the fish, and the,
[00:15:00] and the, what was the – who owned its America Fish company. And Uncle Beams thought the world of me; we were just like good friends, so –
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Didn’t you win some awards from boxing?
J. MERCURY No, no I never did.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: You just, you just [unintelligible - 00:15:21].
J. MERCURY It’s just that in one night, you know, I quit just because my mother didn’t want me to box anymore. So I quit. When I was 16 years old, I was -- came from America with the silk pants and everything and all the kids in Niata, they were laughing at me. Yeah.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: Why’d they do it?
J. MERCURY Yeah. Well, they were [unintelligible - 00:15:42] you know and we were so funny, you know, their type. And then when I would never when we were running to school every, after the, first, the fourth grade, we had to go to a different school and that was out of town which was about 25, 30 miles away. And we would walk all the way down to the school and on Friday night we would all get together, it was about 15 of us, and we hike through the mountains to go to Niata greens and bring all our [unintelligible - 00:16:16] and everything and then Sunday afternoon, we’ll leave again to go to [unintelligible - 00:16:25] to school.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: And you had to walk?
J. MERCURY And we had to walk always.
A. SPELIOPOULOS: This is the end of the oral history on John .W. Murphy and [unintelligible - 00:16:36].