Easter in Heaven

My family often celebrated Greek Easter at the home of my parents or my mother’s sister (Bertha Pappas Pouletsos and her husband, Nick). It was always Dad’s job to carve the lamb.

Andrew Kostakos carving Easter lamb, 1992.

Andrew Kostakos carving Easter lamb, 1992, Kensington, Maryland

When Aunt Bertha and Uncle Nick traveled from Long Island to our house in Maryland, the celebration was even more special.

Catherine Kostakos, Carol Kostakos Petraek, Bertha Pappas Pouletsos, Mabel Mercer Wirth, 1981, Kensington, Maryland

Catherine Kostakos, Carol Kostakos Petraek, Bertha Pappas Pouletsos, Mabel Mercer Petranek Wirth, 1981, Kensington, Maryland

Andrew Kostakos, Bertha Pappas Pouletsos, Gary Petranek, 1978, Kensington, Maryland

Andrew Kostakos, Bertha Pappas Pouletsos, Gary Petranek, 1978, Kensington, Maryland

I grew up living close to Aunt Bertha and Uncle Nick in the small community of Hillsdale, New Jersey. My brother and I shared many special times with our cousins, John and Louis; and to this day, we refer to our mothers as “two peas in a pod.” Mom and Bertha were the best of sisters and the best of friends.

Bertha and Catherine Pappas, Hoboken, New Jersey, about 1945

Bertha and Catherine Pappas, about 1944-45, Hoboken, New Jersey

Old photos unleash a plethora of memories for me — a lifetime of family gatherings and activities. After the deaths of Mom, Dad, Aunt Bertha and Uncle Nick, my Easter table was bereft of these beloved people. However, I found consolation in knowing that my grandparents’ table was now complete — mother and father with their sons and daughters — a loving family on earth, now reunited in heaven.

My parents and their siblings traveled to be together on holidays, and now it is my turn. Yesterday, Gary and I drove to Lewes, Delaware, to have Greek Easter with cousin Louie Pouletsos, his wife, Debbie, and their children, Nikki and Maddison. We shared memories of our parents and even poked a little fun at our mothers. We missed them.

l-r: Louis, Maddison, Nicki, Debbie Pouletsos; Gary Petranek, Lewes, Delaware, 2016

l-r: Louis, Maddison, Nicki, Debbie Pouletsos; Gary Petranek, 2016, Lewes, Delaware

2016 Easter, Carol-Gary Petranek, Debbie-Lou Pouletsos

Carol and Gary Petranek, Debbie and Louie Pouletsos, 2016, Lewes, Delaware

As our parents celebrate in Easter heaven, we now carry on their traditions on earth. We cling to familial and cultural patterns as our anchor of tradition, and to the Savior as our anchor of faith.

  • Our traditional Easter dinner of roast lamb symbolizes the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.
  • Our recitation of “Christos Anesti,” (Christ has Risen) attests to the reality of the resurrection.
  • Bright red eggs “kokkina avga” on the table symbolize the blood of Christ that was shed for each of us.
  • The breaking of eggs symbolizes Christ breaking the bands of death and coming forth from the tomb. Each person takes a red egg and cracks the ends with another person. This proceeds around the table until one individual is left with an unbroken egg, and he/she can expect to have good luck throughout the year.
  • Partaking of the “tsoureki,” or Easter bread, reminds us that Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life. (John 6:48: “I am that bread of life.”)

It is tempting to speculate how our departed families will celebrate Easter in heaven. One thing I know is that they will:  “Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.” (Romans 6:8)

Christos anesti to you and your family!

My Grandmother on the S.S. Nea Hellas

Several members of my family traveled on the Nea Hellas when they returned to Greece to visit their family. In 1940, my paternal grandmother, Harikleia Aridas Kostakos and her daughter, Aphrodite, crossed the ocean on the Nea Hellas when they went to Sparta. Hariklia suffered from Parkinson’s disease and returned to her land of birth to access “healing waters.”

1948 Kostakos, Hariklia and granddaughter Carol Harriet Kostakos (now Petranek), Brooklyn, New York

1948 Kostakos, Hariklia and granddaughter Carol Harriet Kostakos (now Petranek), Brooklyn, New York

With World War II exploding, I can only imagine the anxiety on both sides of the Atlantic as Hitler’s forces threatened Greece. What was my grandfather feeling, knowing his invalid wife and young daughter were an ocean away? What thoughts crossed the minds of the Aridas family in Agios Ioannis, Sparta, as Hariklia and Aphrodite left the village for Piraeus? On March 16, 1940, mother and daughter departed Piraeus on the Nea Hellas  — one of the last boats to leave before the ports were closed! They arrived at Ellis Island on April 2, 1940.

This card as Nea Hellas was published by F.Cali of Genova. Source: http://www.simplonpc.co.uk/GreekLinePCs.html

Their ship manifest shows they traveled second class (lines 6 & 7).

1940 Kostakos, Hariklia-Aphrodite Pass Ship Apr 2 pg1

The handwriting on page 2 indicates my grandmother’s medical condition: partial paralysis, Parkinson’s syndrome.

1940 Kostakos, Hariklia-Aphrodite Pass Ship Apr 2 pg2

My grandmother was detained at the the Ellis Island medical facility while her case was reviewed by a Special Inquiry Board. The Cause of Detention was noted as:  Med. Cert. LPC & Phys. Def. LPC means “aliens likely to become public charges.” Hariklia was married with children, so she was certainly not likely become a “public charge;” however, her physical condition and protocol required her to be examined.

The manifest columns on the far right show that Hariklia and Aphrodite were detained for 2 days: their meals were 2 breakfasts, 4 dinners, and 2 suppers; and they were released on April 4.

1940 Kostakos, Hariklia-Aphrodite PassShip Apr 2 p3


This video of the Nea Hellas, posted today on Facebook, brought me to tears. The faces of hope and anticipation reflect the strength and resolve of our ancestor immigrants in looking forward to a new life, not only for themselves, but primarily for their posterity.


This website, Memories of the Nea Hellas, has a touching collection of many personal experiences.

This website, Greek Line ships, has a brief history and photos of the following boats that brought many thousands of Greeks to America:
Arkadia – Canberra – Columbia – Lakonia – Katoomba – Nea Hellas – Neptunia –
New York – Olympia – Queen Anna Maria


The new road from Athens to Sparta

During my first visit to Sparta years ago, the main road from Athens to Sparta was winding and narrow, making the trip long (over 4 hours) but picturesque as I drove over the Corinth Canal and through the many villages.

In 2014, a new road extended from Athens to Tripoli. It bypassed Corinth and the villages to Tripoli. It was a breeze to drive the smoothly paved, new superhighway; however, I had to exit onto local roads to continue from Tripoli to Sparta.

Now, the new highway is competed, cutting the travel time down to 2-1/2 hours. Today (April 8, 2016), Eleftharia online posted a video of the new road with this brief description (google translated):  Within the next ten days awaiting delivery motorway Lefktro – Sparta (A71), which will reduce the distance of laconic capital from Kalamata, Tripoli and Athens. The Eleftheriaonline.gr visited the motorway and publish shots of the new road, the statue of Leonidas, the municipal stadium, but also a panoramic view of Sparta …

Finished just in time for my next visit! I loved seeing the new road I will soon be traversing. Enjoy the view with me!


My Third Cousins, The Revelos Family of Middletown, Ohio

Several years ago, a Greek research friend put me in touch with George Nicholas Revelos whose mother, Effrosyni, was a Michalakakos/Aridas from Agios Ioannis (St. Johns, Sparta). Although we never met in person, we became great friends as we wove together the various threads of our extended families. George and I are third cousins. Our common ancestor is Michail Aridas and his wife, Stamatina, who were born in the early 1800’s in Agios Ioannis. We descend from two of Michail’s sons — George is from Christos, and I am from Georgios.

George N. Revelos, undated.

George N. Revelos, undated.

During my first trip to Sparta some years back, an archivist told me that Aridas was a very unusual name and not native to Laconia. That got me thinking (dangerous!) how the name came to be. When I received a Town Register for the Aridas family from the Archives in Sparta, I saw the name “Konstandinos Michalakakos” listed with the family. (see first family listed)

Dimotologion (Town Register) family of Michail and Eleni Aridas with Konstandinos Michalakakos; General Archives of Sparta

Dimotologion (Town Register) family of Michail Christos and Eleni Leakakos Aridas with Konstandinos Michalakakos; General Archives of Sparta

Thanks to George, I learned the origins of the Aridas name, which was Michalakakos. In an email dated 2009, George related, ” My uncle wrote my mother back in the late 1940’s that he had uncovered the real name for Aridas as Mihalakakos.  He said that one of the ancestors had long legs which is what Aridas translates to from arida (leg). It was a nickname (παρατσουκλι) that stuck.  So, there for a while we were saying that mom was a Mihalakakos.  It didn’t take long for that to disappear.”

George related many interesting stories about his family. His grandfather, Nicholas George Revelos, immigrated from Kosma in 1906 and with his brothers, opened a confectionery store in Middletown.

James, John, Nick, Charles Revelos, undated.

James, John, Nick, Charles Revelos, undated. Source: Greek Ancestry in Middletown, Ohio.

The store, Elite Ice Cream and Candy Company, was a huge success and one of the cornerstone businesses of Middletown. Businesses like this played an important role during the Depression of the 1930’s, as they were not only sources of tax revenue for ailing governments but also places of refuge for families seeking relief from the sadness and difficulties of life.

Elite Ice Cream Store, Middletown, Ohio. undated.

Elite Ice Cream Store, Middletown, Ohio. undated. Source: Greek Ancestry in Middletown, Ohio.

George’s brother, Mike Revelos, wrote a fascinating and extensive history of his family and the Elite Ice Cream Store, which can be accessed here: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ohgaim/EliteCandyCo.htm
More info about the business is here: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ohgaim/BusinessHistory.htm

A newspaper article in the Middletown Journal, October 9, 2010, gives a brief history of the business and relates how George rescued an eight foot sign with the store name: history: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ohgaim/images/EliteStory.pdf

Stories and photos about the Revelos family, and the many other Greek families in Middletown, can be found by scrolling through homepage of the website, Greek Ancestry in Middletown, Ohio:  http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ohgaim/index.htm. This website is a treasure-trove of genealogical and historical information for anyone with Greek ancestry from Middletown and its surrounding area. Photos, histories, business information and even a link to Ohio death certificates for the city are included.

I was thrilled to come across this site which gave me new insights into my third cousins and their families. I miss George, but I can feel him cheering me on as I prepare for another trip to Sparta this summer to learn more about our Aridas family roots.





A Photo, A Story, and A Surprise

My parents moved from bustling, multi-cultural Brooklyn to the all-American Norman Rockwell-ish town of Hillsdale, New Jersey, when I was almost five. I grew up there with my Mom’s side of the family (Pappas/Papagiannakos) who lived nearby, but we didn’t get back to Brooklyn very often to see my Dad’s side (Kostakos).

My Dad (Andrew) had four sisters; only two are living:  Aunt Georgia Kostakos Doukas, and Aunt Alice Kostakos. Last Sunday, these two aunts and three of my cousins gathered at Aunt Georgia’s where we shared a lot of memories.


l-r: Alice Kostakos, Georgia Kostakos Doukas, Carol Kostakos Petranek, March 6, 2016

My cousin, John Stakis, and Aunt Alice share a two-family home that my grandfather, John Andrew Kostakos, built in Brooklyn. Two years ago, Hurricane Sandy flooded the basement of that house and everything was lost — including many family photos. John mentioned seeing one with my grandmother and my father when he was 2 years old, standing in front of a kiosk that my grandfather had just opened in Coney Island. The year was 1919.

1919 Coney Island, kiosk of John Andrew Kostakos. left: Hariklia Aridas Kostakos and in front of her, Andrew John Kostakos, my father

1919 Coney Island, kiosk of John Andrew Kostakos. left: Hariklia Aridas Kostakos and in front of her, Andrew John Kostakos, my father; woman in black is Paraskevi Panagakos Drivas (married to Konstandinos Drivas) and her daughter, Pauline who married Leonidas Papagiannakos (Pappas). Others in the photo are unknown.

I was stunned, as I have not one photo of my father (Andrew John) as a child. John took a picture of this photo when he returned home, and sent it to me. What a treasure!

The story behind this photo is a huge surprise to me — something I had never heard previously. Aunt Georgia related that my grandfather had initially gone to Lowell, Massachusetts after he “got off the boat” at Ellis Island. His older brother, Vaselios (William or Bill), who was the first to emigrate to America, was living there and John went to join him. Aunt Georgia referred to Lowell as “the hub” of the Greeks in the U.S. in the early 1900’s. But this hub did not appeal to John and Bill. The brothers left Lowell and went to Brooklyn. There is a contradiction to this part of the story:  my father had told me “when my father first came over in 1899 through Ellis Island, he had a hard time finding work but he got a job at General Electric in Pittsburgh. After a short time, he left because the work wasn’t steady.  In the morning, men would line up for work and the foreman would pick out the ones who would be able to work that day, and the rest were sent home. My father then made his way to Brooklyn and began working as a fruit peddler. He and his future brother-in-law, Peter Stavracos, peddled during the day, and at night they shared a furnished room with other men.”

John sold fruit from a push cart and after some time, he opened a stand, like a kiosk, in Coney Island in 1919. Unfortunately, that was the summer of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit system (B.R.T.) train strike that paralyzed mass transit in Brooklyn and its surrounding areas — including Coney Island.

I found an article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 19, 1919, about the ending of this strike. August 19 is the end of summer, and the end of tourist season. For three months, there were no trains, no tourists, and no income for the vendors. In a stroke of bad luck, John went out of business, bankrupt.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug, 10, 1919

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug, 10, 1919

Train Strike-Brooklyn_Daily_Eagle_Sun__Aug_10__1919 p4

This devastating incident convinced my grandfather that he would never work in a business where conditions beyond his control would determine whether he would succeed or fail. He eventually opened his own seafood restaurant in Brooklyn which was a successful venture.

This story has my head spinning for a couple of reasons. First — this was the first time I ever heard that my grandfather was in Lowell, Massachusetts. He and his brother, Bill, eventually went into the restaurant business. I’m thinking that the factories and mills in Lowell were not to their liking, which is why they headed south to Brooklyn.

Second, I know that my grandfather was a brilliant businessman. He owned a thriving restaurant in Brooklyn and invested in several real estate properties, both in Brooklyn and on Long Island. He made enough money to provide for himself, his invalid wife, and his daughter for the rest of her life. Hearing of this difficult and rocky start in his new homeland has given me even more respect for his determination to achieve the “American dream” and make it a reality for himself and his family.

What a tremendous legacy of perseverance and fortitude. Thank you, Papou.