HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CHRISANTHE!

One hundred and thirty four years ago, on the 12th May, 1882, Konstadine and Stavroula Coroneo welcomed their tenth child and fourth daughter, Chrisanthe.

Their first child was also a daughter, Eleni, born in Potamos, in 1854. Theodora followed in 1856, then their first son, Spero, in 1858. There was a break of a few years till the birth of their second son, Menas (Mick) in 1865. Stamatico was added to their family in 1868… he lived to the quite remarkable age for the time, 91 years and 9 months, passing in 1960.

Marigo followed closely in 1869, Yannis (John) in 1874, Kosma (known as Con, not Charles) was born in 1877, Panagioti (Peter) in 1879… then Chrisanthe.

These details come directly from one of the many notebooks belonging to Papouli – books passed to my father, Vince, youngest son of Chrisanthe and Theo (Papouli).

I know little of the siblings, other than Peter, who came to Australia and raised a family in Perth. I believe others came as well, possibly Stamatico, but I don’t recall meeting any of them. I wonder about the sometimes long gaps between the births of the children. Were there miscarriages or stillborns in between perhaps? That certainly wasn’t unusual in those times.

My grandmother didn’t talk a lot about her childhood, other than to say that she had good parents who did their best for their family. All worked from a very young age – my grandmother never went to school and never learned to read or write. She made sure all her nine children did.

 

catsoulis_beach

Chrisanthe in the middle with cloth cap and cord belt…her family plus friends…

 

She worked spinning cotton from kapok and weaving cloth, which became sheets, rugs, bedcovers, etc. I have been entrusted with one of the very colourful rugs she made, handed down via her daughter, Mary, her granddaughter, Stella and then on to me.

Chrisanthe married the love of her life in April, 1904, in the Holy Virgin Church,  Potamos, on the Greek island of Kythera, also known as Cerigo, when she was 21. They weren’t to be together for very long, as times were really hard on Kythera and Theo decided to leave, along with a group of other young Kytherian men, for the promise of a better future in Australia. He arrived in November, 1904. It would be around six years before his young bride could join him. It must have been very hard for her, coming to a strange land, without speaking any of the language. She would have had to rely on her husband for all communication. Of course, I didn’t realise this as a child, when I was curious as to why my grandmother ‘spoke funny’, not knowing that her broken English was a great achievement.

Among my first memories of Nona, is learning how to make pancakes on the top of her wood stove. Nona was very short, so Papouli had made her a wooden step to make cooking easier.

Here I am, apron and all..

Papouli

 

Aunt Mary showed me how to measure ingredients in cups and didn’t mind a bit when I spilled some flour, though we made sure we cleaned it up very quickly. She and Nona insisted I had a very smooth batter and while Nona dropped spoonfuls on to a highly polished section of the stove surface, I was allowed to stand on the step and turn the pancakes ‘when the bubbles burst’. I was so proud when Papouli was served some of ‘Crissouli’s own cooking’ with his morning tea.

I graduated fairly quickly to making cakes, biscuits, sauces, etc. all with either Nona or Aunt Mary putting things in, on or out of the stove. I remember that the only thing I was disappointed about when I started school, was not being able to spend so much time cooking. I can’t say that I was missing the washing up though.

I learnt far more than cooking in those times – I learnt that my grandmother, and my Aunt, were part of a rather large group of people around me, to whom family was all important. Nona was very generous as far as sharing her skills, and the results of them, with family and friends.

There was always room for more at the large kitchen table and no one ever left without fresh produce or a jar of pickles, chutney, jam or whatever was in the large dresser. Nona couldn’t read a pattern, but that didn’t stop her from crocheting the most intricate patterns and creating everything from doilies to baby wear, tablecloths, bedspreads, collars and clothing… She had quite a number of godchildren, so many layettes to make…

Chrisanthe loved nothing better than either visiting family and friends or having them visit her. This trait stayed with her till her passing on 2nd January, 1965, aged 82 years and 6 months, from complications of diabetes. She’d been widowed for twelve long years and missed Theo terribly…. reunited at last.

 

(c) Crissouli 12th May 2016

 

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