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Out of the Balkans

Part 2: Jason's Journey, Recollections and Celebrations

Chapter 2:

My sister, Eleni, was born on 13 September 1931. Her namesake grandmother still lived so little Eleni was called Elenitsa, -nitsa being a diminutive suffix. We called her Nitsa. Her "American" name was Helene. (photo)

Nitsa was two and one half years older than I. While I have warm feelings about our early childhood together, I have only vague recollections of our daily relationship.

One memory results from the fact that we shared a room until I was five or six. When we were sent to bed we would climb half way up the stairs to the second floor, lean over the banister and say in unison "Kali nichta sas kai avrio mai aegia," to Mom and Dad and whomever was in the kitchen with them. (Translated: "Good night and tomorrow good health.")

A few minutes after we were in bed, Mom would come upstairs to tuck us in. The second Mom was out of hearing Nitsa would turn on the radio that sat on the table between our beds and tune at very low volume to "I Love a Mystery" or some other scary show. Sometimes, to my relief, she found a comedy hour. Unfortunately for me, Mom's hearing was excellent. When she arrived on the scene to scold us, she ended up scolding me and slapping my behind. I could not pretend sleep and giggled, while Nitsa was the consummate actress, not moving a finger and breathing deeply. I never told on her.

After Papou(1) remarried in 1940 and left 260 Ovington Avenue, Nitsa moved into his bedroom and gained her privacy.

Nitsa and I spent many hours at the kitchen table with Mom while she taught us to mark a pattern on material and to cut, baste, and sew by hand and at the professional Singer Sewing Machine. Making dresses, skirts and blouses was a game for us, one that filled many rainy Saturday afternoons.

Nitsa was gifted. She earned "A" grades from her first school year through college, but for a "C" in fencing. She was "skipped" twice in elementary school, leapfrogging past two full years and graduating at twelve. She was barely thirteen when she entered the prestigious Hunter College High School on Park Avenue in Manhattan, and just seventeen when she crossed the street to enter Hunter College for Women (now co-ed).

When our mother had her first heart attack, Nitsa took over management of the home. In fact, it was her determination to keep the family together that prevented Dad from moving us to live with relatives and putting Mom into a convalescent home until she was better. I was a willing subordinate and followed Nitsa's orders about my assignments each day. She prepared and I served Mom her breakfast before seven o'clock in the morning. Then Nitsa left for her one hour trip to Hunter College High School.

I was still at the local K-8, P.S. 102, so was home until eight o'clock when our Thea Anastasia arrived to take care of her koumbara, Lily. I was home at lunch and performed whatever chores Thea Anastasia assigned. Then after school I shopped for the items Nitsa had on the list for me. By four-thirty or so Nitsa was home cooking dinner for us all.

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