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Joe Forte: My name is Joe Forte, and I will be acting as interviewer for this oral history recording session. Our narrators today are Chris Kappas and Maria Kappas. We are in Newman Library on the 13th of May in Blacksburg, Virginia, on the Virginia Tech campus, and it's a quarter after 2:00. Chris and Maria, thanks so much for joining us.

Chris Kappas: Thank you very much.

Maria Kappas: You're welcome.

Joe: Could you each give a brief introduction of yourself, say your full name, where and when you were born? That's pretty much all we need.

Chris: I'll go first. My name is Chris Kappas. I was born in Athens, Greece, on January the 5th, 1938, a date that will live in infamy, probably. [Laughing] I've been in Blacksburg, United States, since 1947. I'm going to turn it over to 1:00my wife so she can introduce herself now.

Maria: My name is Maria Kappas, and--

Chris: Birthday.

Maria: I was born in Víniani Evrytanías, Greece.

Chris: This is a province of Greece now.

Maria: Yes, that's fine.

Chris: Okay.

Maria: That's where I was born.

Chris: Exactly.

Maria: I'm born October the 20th, 1951.

Chris: You introduced yourself. I think that's great. You're not nervous, are you?

Maria: No. I don't know what to say.

Chris: You said it perfectly! [Laughter]

Joe: Well, then, Maria, when did you come to this country, and where into this country did you arrive?

Maria: Yes. I came with my family in 1969 in New York City.


Joe: So you were how old then?

Maria: I was seventeen. Then I met Chris in 1971, and got married, and I moved to Blacksburg.

Joe: How did you guys meet?

Chris: Go ahead.

Maria: It's a long story.

Joe: We got time. [Laughter]

Maria: We met--my parents and Chris' parents knew each other. But we first met in Charlotte, North Carolina in a Greek gathering. We met and we like what each other show, and we continue.

Joe: Charlotte. And what was the nature of the Greek gathering?

Maria: It's once a year, we get together in different cities in the United 3:00States, especially in North Carolina and Virginia. Everybody goes, from the providence, go and meet and see each other for two, three days.

Chris: You're right. Right after World War II, the Greeks that came from the province that Maria and I were from, most of them went to Charlotte, North Carolina for some reason, I don't know what. But anyway, they formed an organization, and the organization is named the Evrytanian Association of America, the name being from the province of Greece called Evrytanía or Evrytanían. Very mountainous, very difficult to get to back in those days. Even now, some of the roads are in bad shape. Anyway, the organization was formed primarily to help the war victims in Greece after the devastating World War II 4:00and later on after the Civil War. So it is a charitable organization to raise funds to help the poorest area of Greece, and the civil part. Since then, actually, the organization has done tremendous things. As a matter of fact, this June, they're having their 75th anniversary. Hopefully, Maria and I will attend. They've not only helped the war victims in Greece in that province, but since then, they've established scholarships, they've established endowment funds, to help needy people in the United States, not necessarily Greek but of all ethnic areas. They've done a marvelous job. It's been my privilege to serve on, a couple of times, on the board of directors. Matter of fact, I look forward to 5:00going there this year, hopefully. But we met on that occasion, and when they get together, they have social events, and that's how I met Maria at one of the social events.

Joe: So the get togethers are largely social, but the organization exists for these charitable or rescue--

Chris: Absolutely.

Joe: What's the name of it?

Chris: Evrytanian Association of America. We have twenty-four chapters in the United States, all the way from Florida up to, maybe Maine, I'm not sure, and in Chicago. So mostly the East Coast.

Joe: There's twenty-four chapters, but you began by describing it as linked to the province from which you both originated.

Chris: Right.

Joe: Does that remain so today, or is it more generally Greece now?

Chris: We still help Greece, especially now with the economic situation that has developed in Greece. We get letters of economic distress from a lot of families, and we have a committee that looks into that. But also, too, we have endowed 6:00scholarships for our Greek-American children that go to universities here in the United States. Like I said, not necessarily from the province in Greece. It's open to everybody. But it certainly would help if your parents or your grandparents were members of this organization, to get an endowed scholarship.

Joe: The year when you guys met, what was the year again?

Chris: The year was June--

Maria: 1971.

Joe: Was this the first of these gatherings that you attended, Maria? You came to this country, when did you say again? [19]60--

Maria: [19]69.

Joe: Yeah. Had you been to one of these previously here?

Maria: No, that was our first time my parents and I went. My father had an uncle in Fort Worth, Texas. So we went and visit them and then we came by Charlotte. 7:00We stayed there for a couple of days. Then we went back to New York, which, after a day, he called me. He wanted to come and visit me in New York.

Joe: Come the next day, huh? [Laughter] So had you been to these gatherings previously?

Chris: Oh, yes. I was quite familiar with them. We'd gone to them with my parents, and along with other friends at times. We would just get together to meet people, and it just happened that we met. Matter of fact, a lot of people, I don't know if they still do Maria, but a lot of people back, even when we met and before that, a lot of people met their spouses--

Maria: Yes.

Chris: At these conventions or social gatherings, which is, I think, great.

Maria: Later on, we took our children along with our friends, and they had fun 8:00being at the nice hotel and pools and nice dinners. It was nice.

Joe: Was there an expectation that one would meet one's spouse, potentially?

Maria: No, no.

Chris: No expectations.

Joe: But it happened a lot.

Chris: But it happened. We were there, I don't know how many times, hundreds of people, Greek bands were going crazy. Everybody was, I think, dancing and stopped, and one of my relatives says, I want you to meet somebody, a cousin. I had a hearing problem with all the noise and everything. I said, I'm sorry, but I can't hear a thing, so can I buy you a coke or a drink somewhere out in the lobby? We went out in the lobby, had a coke, and we spoke. I had no idea she was 9:00a newcomer from Greece. I thought she was a New Yorker the last ten years. I had no clue. Boy was I mistaken!

Maria: But you fell for it, for the Greek girl.

Chris: Anyway, I went back home, and I don't think you gave me a phone number, maybe I'm wrong. Anyway, I called, back in those days, I called person to person. She had three other sisters. I didn't want to talk to everybody in the family. So anyway, I finally talked to her and I said, would you mind if I come up sometimes and meet the family? And she says, wow. [Laughter] This is getting out of hand. [Laughter]. As a matter of fact, the following week or two after this get together, I was supposed to be the best man at a Greek wedding in Sacramento, California. She'd sort of been on my mind, so I tried to get a 10:00flight back from Sacramento into New York and a flight back into Roanoke, but that didn't help, so I flew here back to Roanoke. A couple of weeks later, she said, yeah, if you want to come up, that's fine, and all that sort of stuff. I think sometime in July, I got in my Volkswagen and drove up to New York City. I met the family, nervous as I can be. I didn't know what to expect.

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: And I must say, I met the most wonderful family that I have ever met that I have ever seen. The most humble people I've ever met. The nicest. My future in-laws were just accepting of me. And I must say, their sincerity and their honesty and their humbleness has impressed me, and it still has. Nothing has changed.

Joe: Was he equally impressive?

Maria: Yes, they liked him. [Laughter] They knew his mother, so they were more 11:00secure of that. We didn't know what kind of person he was, but eventually, we got to know him well.

Chris: I think that, not only of the ethnic Greeks, but I think you're talking about, back in the day where families wanted to know where you came from, and who you are, and it wasn't a checking-up-on-you type of thing. But certainly, I think my mother being in grade school with her father in the village, they knew each other. But they didn't communicate or anything like that after they got here, but my mother knew that this family was in New York City. There was some recognition there.

Joe: Yeah. I'm trying to think of the timeline remember from our previous conversations, but you're already in the businesses at this point, correct?


Chris: At this period, I was already in the Greek's restaurant yeah.

Joe: You're at the Cellar, but you haven't done Souvlaki yet, or--?

Chris: No, no. Souvlaki was not even a dream. We'll get to that in a minute. I was involved with the old Greeks restaurant now known as the Cellar restaurant and also involved with another restaurant down the street, I can call that Greek's Two. When I met Maria, those two, actually three restaurants, the Cellar downstairs, the upstairs, and Greek's Two, so there were really three of these. So when I met Maria, I was involved in those businesses with partners, of course. We mentioned the partners before, the Havelos family.

Joe: I'm wondering, this gathering of Greeks in Charlotte--that's where it was, Charlotte, right?

Chris: Um-hm.

Joe: These meetings. Clearly they brought people together socially. Was there an 13:00element of business networking associated with them as well? I mean, you talked about finding suppliers for Greek foods and things like that in different places around. Is that at all linked in with this social network?

Chris: I wasn't involved in any of that. I was four hours away, so I had no business actually with Charlotte or other Greeks or North Carolina or the Washington area. But I'm sure there was business to discuss these things. Obviously there was, because I know a lot of people met each other at these functions and went into business with each other, but that didn't involve me. After I met Maria, that was it.

Maria: No, we kept going! [Laughter] It was fun. [Laughter].

Joe: That time when it was your first visit to one of these, was that also your first trip outside New York after coming to this country, or had you traveled in this country?

Chris: You flew from Texas to Charlotte.

Maria: Yes, just to go and visit my uncle and his family there.


Chris: I think her father suggests, while they're in Texas, well before we go to New York, they are having this get together in Charlotte. Why don't we just stop by and see a lot of people that they know, that they knew, and that's what happened.

Maria: Yeah, the parents always want to get together and introduce their children to other Greek families, which we did the same thing with ours.

Joe: Yeah. But in a similar way, or I'm sure. Was there a less of a tendency, as the generations, changed to lean on your ethnic group or--? I mean, you're talking about the parents wanting to get together and wanting to introduce their children into the community of ethnic origin. Did that--?

Chris: That's a good question.

Maria: Yeah, you wanted your children to meet other Greeks, other families, to 15:00show them to your friends.

Chris: I don't think rearing our children, raising our children, in the traditional Greek family, our church was on our way to Roanoke. We did involve them in a lot of situations where they will go to these events where I met Maria. I don't believe that either Maria and I ever stressed that they date or seek people of our ethnic background or religion or anything like that, even though we may have maybe wished that, subconsciously, we may have wished that. But it certainly--it was not our priority that they found a spouse with the same ethnic background.

Maria: It's always nice. It makes it nicer to be in the same religion.


Joe: Easier.

Maria: It's easier.

Joe: So have they?

Chris: It's easier for maybe families to get together.

Joe: Have your children settled down with--?

Maria: Yes.

Chris: But having said that, I may have mentioned this before, our daughter married a Greek American, a fourth-generation, in Hanover, Pennsylvania, whose parents and grandparents came in like my father did. I think Vicki maybe wanted to marry someone of Greek background.

Maria: She always wanted--

Chris: Don't you think so?

Maria: Both of our kids speak Greek.

Chris: Yeah, they're both fluent in Greek.

Maria: They got their education. Our son went to Virginia Tech and then to Chapel Hill for his PhD. Our daughter went to Radford and then to American University for her master's. Especially Vicki always wanted to meet somebody 17:00Greek, to share all those traditions.

Chris: Yeah, you're probably right. Anyway, but those primary years, we stressed education. Be a good person, be careful who you go out with, you're responsible for your own actions, type of thing. You come from a good family, don't embarrass yourself, don't embarrass your parents, that type of stuff. So, knock on wood, so far they have married well. Our daughter has two children, and our son married a geneticist at Georgetown. They were both at graduate school at the University of North Carolina. She's not of Greek background, but she's certainly grown accustomed to our customs and our traditions, and she's accepted our 18:00family whole, I mean, of who we are, and respects that.

Maria: Yeah, very nice young lady. We're happy.

Chris: She's absolutely beautiful, a beautiful young lady, very happily married. They have two children, and she's got a beautiful tenured position at Georgetown. My son works for a medical company out of New York City, which was nice of them, after she accepted the Georgetown job, it was very nice of them to open up an office for him in D.C., which is really about a block from where they live.

Joe: Oh, that's nice.

Chris: They were brought up in a traditional loving family, and we tried to convey that love to them and now to our grandchildren now.

Joe: Let's step back a second--

Chris: Sure!

Joe: And talk more about, as you guys are meeting and getting to know each other and courting. How long did you court, date?


Maria: A short time [Laughter] compared to these days.

Joe: He comes up in the V.W., [Laughter] meets the family, everybody is impressed with everybody. Then what?

Maria: Then I came down to visit back and forth until my father said, you spend so much money going back and forth, and you're constantly on the phone. So, why don't you set up the wedding so you can get married? Why you have to delay? I said, hm, that's a good idea! I was nineteen then. [Laughter]

Chris: He did say, after my nervousness calmed down. Actually, my father in-law, after my second trip up there or maybe my first, I don't remember, I was so nervous. He said, listen here, you're here of your own freewill, do what you 20:00need to do, whatever, be relaxed. After a couple of trips up there, we decided that we liked each, and met her in June in North Carolina, and we got married on December the 12th in New York City.

Maria: That was short.

Joe: Yeah.

Maria: Compared to these days.

Chris: Six months. Actually, and I flew up there, too. Back in those days, too, Joe, we had an airline called Piedmont Airlines. I don't know if you remember that now or whatever they are now, and you had a special flight from Roanoke on Friday to Monday morning for forty-five dollars round trip.

Joe: That's pretty good.

Chris: Yeah, so that helped a lot. But it was a short, if you want to call it, courtship. A long-distance courtship.

Joe: What about the distance? Was there, in you or in your family, any concern 21:00with the fact that he was from, something, eight hours away?

Maria: Yeah, it was. If I were likely to come to Blacksburg, because I had three siblings, three sisters, and we were all very close, and they were worrying how I'm going to manage to come down, but I adapt to anything.

Joe: Yeah.

Maria: I was very happy they keep coming here and visit me all the time when I was going up. It was nice until the kids start coming, and it was happy, happy days.

Joe: Yeah.

Maria: For everybody. These were the first grandchildren from both sides.

Chris: Like I said, it was short. I didn't know where the time is going. 22:00Forty-eight years now, almost?

Maria: Yeah, long time.

Chris: I don't know about other people's marriages, but we have been blessed, but it's a 110 percent on both sides. You gotta make it work. I think there's a small age difference, but she was so mature. Why not?

Maria: He's right about that. [Laughter]

Chris: And actually, getting to Souvlaki, that's where the dream came from. Actually, it was Maria's idea. We were walking up in Queens in our story of Greektown, New York City, and there's all kinds of food vendors out there, and most of them sell shish kebab on the street. And she says, wouldn't it be a great idea to get a shish kebab cart on College Avenue? This was after three or four years of marriage, I don't remember.

Maria: Something like that, yeah.


Chris: I looked into it with my future brother-in-law, and that's how Souvlaki got started: a shish kebab cart, outdoor grill type of thing. We brought it down here on College Avenue. In the meantime, I had showed a health inspector a picture of what it was. Yeah, bring it down, it will be fine. Have we talked about this before? I don't remember.

Joe: Yeah, you told us this.

Chris: I don't want to bore people about this. [Laughter] But anyway, after the health inspector looked at it, said, I got to talk to my supervisor, by the time I talk to the supervisor, they have to call Richmond. I said, it's an outdoor grill. He said, it's gotta have a sneeze guard. Anyway, we did put the cart out on the street for a couple of times, and then I realized that it might be a good idea to find a place indoors, and that's where I located the first Souvlaki. Back in those days, there was a bookstore called Books, Strings, and Things located where Sharkeys is now. Not Sharkeys, I apologize.

Joe: Yeah, I know what you're talking about right there right across from where 24:00it is now.

Chris: That's it. And then we moved it to present day Souvlaki is. And it was a hard sale, believe me. Nobody knew about pitas, nobody knew about gyros.

Joe: But now they know.

Chris: But we've talked about that. [Laughter] And you worked for me!

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: You don't remember Joe working for us?

Joe: It's a long time ago.

Maria: Long time. [Laughter]

Joe: So Souvlaki was your idea. It was your idea to set up a cart?

Maria: Ah--

Chris: She gave me the idea.

Maria: Where I was from--

Chris: Yeah, she gave me the idea.

Joe: How involved in the businesses were you?

Maria: Not much, because the kids were young then and I wasn't working in the other restaurant either--

Chris: She's--go ahead.

Maria: I decided to stay home and raise the kids because he was not there.

Chris: She's not taking a lot of credit here. [Laughter] She's not taking a lot 25:00of credit. When I first started Souvlaki, the only thing that I bought from a distributor was the pita bread and the gyro meat, and the rest we made. Maria, you made homemade baklava, you made homemade desserts, you made homemade spanakopita, you made homemade tiropita, you made--I mean--

Maria: Whatever I needed to make, I used to make it.

Chris: Because, that small place on Draper Road, we just didn't have a kitchen big enough. So, she would bring things from home, or I would bring it in the morning or late in the evening, and bring it in to sell. But without her, Souvlaki would've never made it, because it was all from scratch. It was incredible, having to do what we have to do. Making a homemade baklava is like building the pyramids or something. [Laughter] That's layer upon layer upon layer.

Joe: Yeah, it does seem complicated!

Chris: Baklava and all kinds of desserts.


Joe: How long did that continue? Was it until you moved into the Doc's location or even after that?

Maria: And afterwards, because then, I had more time. The kids were in high school, so I decided, okay, I'm going to come and see him too, and I started helping, which, he didn't want me to help, but I did.

Joe: You mean at the counter?

Maria: Yeah.

Chris: It's not that I didn't want you to, no, it's not that--

Maria: I was telling him what to do.

Chris: Sometimes it's hard to work with your spouse, but certainly she was the prime movement at Souvlaki. She did a lot.

Joe: When he was first coming to see you, is the fact that he was running an established restaurant somewhere, was that something that your family liked, or 27:00how was that talked about, like what he did for a living?

Maria: Yeah, they were happy. He was inventor, and he was a good provider. We thought he would be good for his family.

Chris: I don't know if Maria, I don't know if you remember this. I told you that either at the airport or the train station, I'm remembering. Basically, I told her that I do work odd hours and that I don't want the phone to be ringing. Where are you? When you coming home? [Laughter] I need my freedom to work. But that freedom is not going to be taken advantage of. I am where I am, and as you know, it's a hard business. If you don't look at it, if you don't look after it, nobody's going to look after it for you. They will, but not as well. But I should have maybe franchised it, but I don't know. And I'm of the old school; if 28:00I'm not there, it won't be done, supposedly, but it worked out.

Maria: I understood that better when I started going and being there. It's hard to get away.

Joe: Yeah.

Maria: Maybe you had to work or talk to your customers, and that was good for the business, too. He had to do what he had to do. He knew he would come home and find his dinner there, the kids, they've been taken care of. [Laughter]

Chris: Well, along those lines, there were times the children were asleep when I got home, and a lot of times I'd be at home at two or three in the morning, and Maria would have my dinner there, waiting for me. Now, where else can I find a wife like that? [Laughter]


Joe: Was it ever a source of strife?

Chris: No, no. I think I personally feel now that I should have spent more time at home, I should have watched the children grow up, I should have gone to more athletic events, because both children were out for track and basketball and soccer. Looking back, I wish I would have participated more in their lives. But it was what it was.

Joe: I can't remember, did they work in the business much?

Chris: Oh my goodness, yeah. Well-- [Laughter] Go ahead, Maria. [Laughter] You wanna tell him what--?

Maria: When they wanted to earn some money, then they would pull the, oh yeah, I put almost ten hours there! I said, ten hours? For half-hour, Vicki, don't tell me that. [Laughter]


Chris: Vicki would do her best try. But when Nick wanted to work, he could work. I'd say by the time he was a junior or a senior in high school, he could pretty well run Souvlaki by himself. After a while, when we had Steppin' Out festivals, I just had Nick handle the outdoor stall 'cause it was more stressful for me. But then there were a lot of times like home games, the place is packed, and I see Nick opening the back door, my son opening the back door with a cooler getting ice. I say, aren't you going to help us? Dad, I've got to go to a tailgate party! [Laughter] I didn't know what a tailgate party was till later on in my life. Now I know why they had tailgate parties.

Maria: I never blamed him. I kept saying, go, go, go!

Chris: He was a true Hokie. Once he made up his mind to go to Virginia Tech, he was a true Hokie. He enjoyed himself, made lots of friends. That's the other 31:00thing too, both of our children. I knew my daughter was not going to hang around Blacksburg, but I wasn't sure about Nick, and I sorta kept an eye on him to see if he had an interest in the business and see, if he's not going to do well academically, then I could make other plans from our future, turn it over to him or them. But like we did earlier, what we said earlier, we stressed education, Joe, and it turned out well. But then again, you get an education, what do you do with it? If you don't take advantage of what you've learned, then it's worthless. But particularly Nick did well with his PhD in biology. Vicki did well with her master's and she got married, she became a full-time mom, and now she does consulting for high school students going into college. It's what you 32:00do with your education that matters.

Joe: I was gonna say, how was it raising them in Blacksburg? But let's step back first and work into that by talking about the way you adapted to Blacksburg. You're coming from New York City, right, and you've been visiting, but then you decide you're married and you move down here and you're gonna make your life in a very different type of area. How was that adjustment?

Maria: It was very easy for me. I had Chris who I love. I had his parents here. They both love me and I love them back. His grandmother was here with them, too. That was plenty for me. I had the love around me. Then I make friends in church and Roanoke. I knew everybody and everybody respect Chris and me. Now, Chris has 33:00nice friends around Blacksburg. Everybody embraced me here, so I felt very comfortable.

Chris: That's a great word. I was going to say accept, but embrace is a perfect word. My parents just adored her. My parents accepted her 100 percent. Just as soon as she stepped into their house, both their faces would just light up. It was something else. The other thing, too, Joe, when her parents visited down here, it was like they were having a family reunion, like they never left the village. [Laughter]

Maria: They were childhood friends.

Joe: Oh, they were?

Chris: It was incredible!

Maria: I would tell my parents, you come and stay with us! You didn't come to go and stay with them! [Laughter] They say, yeah, we're gonna stay up late and 34:00we're gonna talk about different people and different--sometimes, I went there just to listen to what they have to say. And that was fun, to have late tea and [Laughter]

Chris: Greek coffee.

Maria: In the afternoon.

Chris: I can't say enough. It was good. Maria just got into our--I don't wanna say American environment--Blacksburg environment? And just, all my friends accepted her. She just blended in.

Maria: Then I started getting involved with the schools and helped as a volunteer at the elementary school, later on in middle school and high school, and soccer mom and this and that. Then I was in the Junior Women's Club, and 35:00then Garden Clubs, and I was a little involved sometimes.

Joe: You said Junior Women's Club?

Maria: Mm-hm.

Joe: What did they do?

Maria: It was when we had newcomers coming. They joined the club, and we had to do different things, meetings and stuff, just for them to meet other people. I think it's still going on.

Joe: Sort of a welcome wagon.

Maria: It was nice to meet new faces, new people.

Joe: What about the Garden Club?

Chris: Boy, that's another story.

Joe: Is it just straight gardening, or what do you do?

Maria: It became more social. Now, we're left with, everybody dies down. We thought, we're not going to have it anymore. So, once a month, we call each other and we go out to lunch. It is what it is because times change. You can't 36:00bring new young people coming in. Young ladies, now, they work, they have families. It's different times. So, we've given it up, and we go for entertainment. [Laughter] All the clubs become like that.

Joe: It was more organized. There were different community things to join, structured, and you're saying it's less so now?

Maria: Yeah. I was very involved in the church, too. I was the president of the Ladies Club, and we used to and we still do a lot of things. We helped local people. It was Philoptochos, which is, Friend of the Poor. We have a big 37:00organization in New York. That's where it starts. Our archdiocese is from there. We always send money to them and then we keep money for the Roanoke area.

Chris: And you all just gave a substantial amount to Ronald McDonald House in Roanoke.

Maria: Recently, yes.

Chris: A lot of money. Philoptochos in Greek means Friends of the Poor.

Joe: You mentioned cultural ties with these organizations to New York. You mean from where you're from?

Maria: No, that's where the headquarters are, or the archdiocese. Philoptochos is Greek Orthodox.

Chris: It's headquartered in New York City.

Joe: I see.

Chris: It's sort of like the Pope being in Rome, whatever. [Laughter]

Maria: We have ours in Istanbul.

Chris: We have ours in Istanbul. Absolutely.

Maria: The patriarch.

Joe: Did your parents just stay in New York? Did anyone from your family ever 38:00move down to Blacksburg or--?

Maria: My father passed away, but my mother's still in New York, and I have two sisters there with their families and one back in Greece, and now she's--

Joe: Went back, or she had stayed?

Maria: No, no. She came here, all of us came here. But then she met her husband and he finished school and they decided to go back to Greece.

Chris: He is of Greek background.

Maria: Yes.

Chris: Now she is back, because she has a daughter, she has both of her children in the United States.

Maria: She comes back and forth.

Chris: She comes back and forth to see her daughter, and then she's got a grandchild. Matter of fact, we'll be up there in about three weeks because her granddaughter is being baptized, so we're having another family reunion. That's another thing about Maria's family. I must say, after forty something years of 39:00marriage, this family, after all the daughters are married, and grandchildren, husbands and grandchildren, this family has stayed together. It is remarkable that we look forward to a baptism or wedding or a graduation or something.

Maria: Our children are very close.

Chris: They're very close. All the cousins are either professionals and master's and dentists degrees and speech therapists--

Maria: They all did well.

Chris: Doing something!

Maria: Yeah. We vacation all together.

Chris: Oh yeah, that's the other thing. We vacation all together because they look forward to that, because Maria does all the cooking. [Laughter] They're already planning the menu! [Laughter] Usually, we're going to Outer Banks. I 40:00think this year, where are we going? Ocean Island? Somewhere, I can't remember.

Maria: Emerald Isle.

Chris: Emerald Isle. You've been there?

Joe: No.

Chris: Whatever. It's off the Atlantic Coast.

Joe: And your children enjoyed that closeness, always being with extended family?

Chris: Always! Oh, they look forward to that.

Maria: My daughter is coming to New York for the christening, and our son, we're gonna drive to Washington, we're gonna pick them up, and we're all gonna drive. They visit, they're close. My niece is from New York, they go to Washington, they go to Pennsylvania to my daughter. They're back-and-forth.

Joe: That's nice.

Chris: It's a close family, very close. But anyway--

Joe: I'm also curious to step back even further. We talked a lot with Chris about what it was like early on, where he was living with his mother and then 41:00before coming over and stuff. Your family, what was the reason that brought them out of Greece? Was it to do with--?

Maria: First, we grew up in a small village which was wonderful. You knew everybody, everybody look after you as a young person. Then my sister and I move to a bigger city so we can go to high school. From there, my parents decided we should all go to Athens. It was better to have the schools--

Chris: What year was that, Maria? Do you remember?

Maria: The [19]60s. [19]65?

Chris: [19]65.

Maria: [19]66.

Chris: But your father, after you moved to Athens or before you moved to Athens, your father made a trip to Texas.


Maria: Yes, he came.

Chris: Talk about that a little bit.

Maria: My father used to be here. He came in the 1800s.

Chris: In Texas.

Maria: In Texas, and he brought one son. Then, with the wars and everything, my father lost two brothers.

Chris: During the war.

Maria: During the war. He was in Greece, left with his mother, and then we start coming along too after the war. He decide, you know, I'm going to go and check Texas and other cities.

Chris: Visit his brother.

Maria: He came to visit, for a visit. He didn't like Texas that much. He thought it was out of all their families from Greece. For us, he thought it's not going 43:00to be good enough. So, he decide that we're going to stay in New York City if we go.

Chris: Excuse me. But then he came back to Greece and then he decided to come back to the United States with the whole family.

Maria: Yes. Then he talked with his brother and he says, it's going to be the best for me to stay in New York. We had some relatives there too, but it was a lot easier to start with six people in the family. I remember he came maybe a month before he found a place for us to live.

Chris: In Astoria, in Queens.

Maria: In Astoria. He find a job. Then my younger sisters, they were going to elementary school and then to high school. I was out of school by that time. In Greece, my other older sister, she graduate to be a teacher. Everybody had a 44:00program, and till then, the church was very close to the house we lived, because the churches, it was more important to them to be close to, because they didn't have a car to drive, but you have the trains in New York City, and it was more easier for a family to move around.

Chris: From what I understand, he settled in Astoria not only because of the church, but Astoria too is known for its Greek neighborhood. The Italians have their neighborhood, the Greeks have their neighborhood and everything. I think he saw that going anywhere else with four girls would have really been a hardship on him. To this day, I marvel. Talk about immigrants coming into this 45:00country. He is an up-to-date immigrant, as he came here with no language or anything, but he provided for his entire family working as a grill man at restaurants, whatever, and he saw that children still go to school. Maria worked as a seamstress down in the garment factory. But like Maria said, everybody had their own thing to do and support each other. That's what my father-in-law did. I must say, I gave him a tremendous amount of credit. Even though the early Greeks, whenever my father came in they had a horrible, hard time. Even so, talking about forty-five, fifty years ago when my in-laws came to New York City, it was tough to provide for a family of six.


Joe: What did he do? What was his work?

Maria: Back in Greece, he was a shoemaker.

Chris: A cobbler.

Maria: Cobbler?

Chris: Yeah, cobbler. We call them a shoe cobbler.

Joe: Okay. [Laughter]

Chris: Make shoes.

Maria: But sometimes, it was a good occupation to have. But then he came here. But then, back in Greece, they had a lot of land and they work in--but in New York, they just start working in restaurants. He was a worker.

Chris: My mother-in-law worked, too. They all worked. Maria worked, the older sister was going to get her teaching certificate to teach, and the other two youngest were in school.

Maria: But we managed beautifully.

Joe: You worked in a garment factory?

Maria: Yes, down in Manhattan.


Joe: Sewing by hand or working with machine?

Maria: I was working more on wedding gowns. That was nice job.

Joe: Alterations?

Maria: No, no.

Joe: Creating them?

Maria: Taking from beginning. Yeah.

Chris: Maria was an excellent seamstress.

Maria: That's what I learned in Greece.

Joe: That's what you were working at in Greece?

Chris: Yeah, as a seamstress.

Joe: Did you think, like, I have a job, I'm working here, I like it in Greece, or were you think, like, yeah, let's go to America?

Maria: Yeah, let's go for a change or something.

Joe: You were all in? Did anyone speak English?

Maria: Me and my sister, very little. She knew a little bit more, but I was stubborn. My father would pay for private school, and I would say, no. Teach me how to speak, I don't want to learn how to write and read. [Laughter]

Joe: Now you're in Queens, right, and you're all here. Did you speak mostly 48:00Greek at home, or did you make an attempt to--?

Maria: At home, yes, because my parents didn't speak any. And then you turn the radio on and it's a Greek station there.

Chris: You're talking about the home in New York.

Joe: In New York, yeah.

Chris: It was all Greek! I tell you, I learned more Greek from them than anywhere. Absolutely incredible. I grew up in Blacksburg. My Greek was very limited, and boy I tell you, even now, when I go up there, it's all Greek practically.

Joe: Still?

Chris: It's absolutely incredible.

Maria: All the grandkids, they speak perfect Greek.

Joe: Wow.

Chris: On the other side of the family, on your sister's side, yeah.

Maria: Now I beg my daughter and my son to speak to them in Greek because they know both Greek. They know. I used to have a teacher for them, to teach them how 49:00to write and read. Of course, I was always speaking to them in Greek. They know Greek, but now I feel their kids will never learn.

Joe: Here in Blacksburg, you spoke Greek a lot to your children, you're saying.

Chris: We speak Greek and we spoke Greek to them, and then we were lucky enough from some graduate students from Greece, a married couple came in, and she tutored our children in Greek and it helped 100 percent. They revived their Greek more, and matter of fact, we helped her tutor some families in the Greek Orthodox Church in Roanoke, found a couple of families there that she tutored. That helped a lot. Greek is a very difficult language. It's gone through, since ancient times, there's been several changes. Oh my goodness gracious. If I see ancient Greek now, that the New Testament was written in, I could maybe pick out 50:00a word or two, but I can't read it. It's very difficult.

Maria: But if you know and speak the language, take advantage of it. That's what I tell my daughter. And poor Christina, she says, oh, yaya, I understand, grandmother. It's yaya in Greek. Yaya, I understand a lot, keep talking to me in Greek. I said, you need to tell your mother that. [Laughter]

Joe: And you're talking about learning to write as well, right?

Maria: Well, they do. My kids do. Or to pick up a newspaper and read it in Greek, some things we're not going to understand, but you know how to read it.

Joe: Greek because of the family and English because of--


Maria: Where we are.

Joe: Where you are. Does this develop an interest in languages in general in your children or in your family?

Maria: Yes, they both speak Spanish. My daughter, when she was in Radford, her second degree in Spanish.

Chris: Well, she even did a study abroad in Spain. Her Spanish was--I don't know how good it is now--

MK Oh, she was very good.

Chris: But she was very fluent in Spanish.

Maria: They always like to go, my son, to go to the islands in Spain, Ibiza, where it's Italian. We let them explore. [Laughter]

Joe: Do they go back to Greece often? Do you all, as a family, go back?

Maria: Not now. As a family, now, we don't, because--

Chris: We went two years ago--


Maria: Just the two of us.

Chris: But because of the grandchildren, we just always postpone our trips. There is a discussion, maybe next year, as everybody, the whole family might be able to go together at some point in time, if we get everybody together, and rent something over there, a large van and travel a little bit. If not next year, hopefully that's in the plans. Also, because our youngest grandchild is almost four, so we want her to get a little older so she could understand what the trip is all about. The other three grandchildren are old enough now, they're like, oh yeah, that'll be fine. They can understand a lot of stuff.

Maria: They always, especially our daughter, she loves to go, and she's been, even when she was studying in Spain, her breaks were down in Greece visiting my sister. Which is in the coast, so it was a beautiful area to go and visit.


Chris: These sessions have been going. This is maybe our fifth or sixth session?

Joe: Something like that.

Chris: It's really a history of the Kappas family and Blacksburg, and which goes back to 1913 from Roanoke to Blacksburg in 1921. I once felt, you know, I would just write notes, then rewrite them, and I really appreciate, you've mentioned to me several months ago, let's do a recording of the family. And I want my children to hear these recordings and especially my grandchildren, because it means a lot to me, and it would mean a lot to my parents, especially my father who came at thirteen years old. This country has just provided-- no. This 54:00country gave you an opportunity to provide. Nothing was given to him. Let me underscore that. Nothing was given to him. I've always said that this is the Promised Land, in my opinion, but I don't want to go into it. [Laughter]

Joe: Oh, yeah! What about you? I mean, you said, Maria, that you were like, yeah, let's go to America. Have you found it to have been like as Chris describes it?

Maria: To me, it was like leaving the country there and go somewhere else which is better. People used to come back from here to go back to Greece, to the 55:00village, and you can see the wealth they had. I never remember we were poor there because my father and my mother, they were good providers.

Chris: Speak into the mic.

Maria: But it was always good for a better life. We have a good life there, don't take me wrong. Greece is a beautiful country, but after the war, and you didn't have the houses, the way they were destroyed from the wars and stuff. Slowly, they start having electricity, first of all.

Chris: And indoor plumbing.

Maria: And indoor plumbing.

Chris: People that came in after the war and established themselves in the 56:00United States, particularly in our provinces, they went back to their villages and rebuilt their ancestral homes that they grew up in. They put in a lot of money in there, which is good for them, and they go back and visit and all that sort of stuff.

Maria: Yeah, the house we used to live in, it was humongous for the village, because my grandfather went back, and he built a two-story house, but no plumbing. [Laughter]

Joe: So it's generally, economic opportunity but also infrastructure.

Maria: As a young person, you say, okay, we used to go to Athens and visit different relatives, their homes and everything that was much better. I said, 57:00you know, why not us? Unless we come to Athens, which when we lived there, it was good, but then, back in our minds, let's go to the United States. I remember my aunt and my uncle from here always sent us beautiful dresses and beautiful clothes mostly. Nobody had that clothes there except us, especially in the village when we were young.

Chris: I think I'll speak for a lot of people that, till they came to the United States, they saw the poverty that they were brought up in, but at the same time, they didn't realize that they were poor. They didn't realize that they were 58:00living with less because they did have their livestock, they did have their gardens, they had their fruit, they had everything there. They didn't have the conveniences that we're having in this country. Then they go back and say, you know, we were poor, but we didn't realize it, compared to what they have over here. You follow me?

Joe: Yeah

Chris: I've heard a lot of people say, I didn't know I was poor until later on in life. But like I said, this country has given them the opportunity to work on and create wealth and do the things they have done. According to our church statistics, we're going into our fifth generation of Greek Americans, although no more Greeks are coming in because things have changed. Back in those days, you have to have a sponsor like Maria's--

Maria: My uncle.

Chris: In Texas. My father, came in they didn't need sponsors back then, they needed people to work. So that's where my father came in. Till this day, I don't 59:00know how he had the--

Maria: My father never, never went to any agency to ask for money, like, I don't have enough for my rent, or this. Never crossed his mind. But he had a pride, too, to go and ask for charity. He did it all by himself.

Chris: Never asked.

[End of interview]