This article was first published in the Odyssey magazine in the Nov.-Dec. 2009 issue, when Eleni was eleven years old.
We publish this article because we consider very important to see our village with the eyes of a Long Island child. The visits to homeland were the big events in her young life. She expresses her feelings: Her agony and anxiety to get there and meet her grandparents and above all her deep love for that place called Richia. I like to thank Eleni for sharing her experiences with us. I also like to congratulate her and tell her that the entire Kokoris family (Σόι) is very proud of her.
By: Eleni Kokoris
18 Doone Drive
Syosset, New York 11791
Tel: (516) 921-6722
I have spent four out of the last five summers in Greece with my parents and my younger sister Anna and have enjoyed getting to know the three different villages that my four grandparents come from. The first time I visited Greece was in August 2000. I was two and half years old and my parents and I went to visit my Papou Yiorgo and Yiayia Eleni Kokoris, my father’s parents, at their house in the small village of Rihea located near Monemvasia, Laconia. Although I was too young to remember where I went and what I did on that trip, the picture album that my parents made for me and the movies that they took have brought back what I can not remember. We were very fortunate to be there that summer and to have spent some quality time with my Papou Yiorgo and Yiayia Eleni. Before I arrived they had bought me toys and a tricycle so I could have things to play with. Looking at the photo album we must have spent a lot of time at the beach. There were many pictures of me in the water with a life preserver and playing in the sand with a bucket and shovel. Everyone also made sure that I always had my fill of ice cream. We also visited relatives in Rihea and the nearby villages of Labokambos and Kyparissi where Papou Niko and Yiayia Anna Manekas, my mother’s parents come from. There were pictures of me on Papou Yiorgo’s shoulders, helping him water the flowers, and pictures of me with Yiayia Eleni lighting the candle at the Agios Nektarios eklisaki. There were even pictures of me on mountains, by boats, with goats, and even chasing chickens. The pictures show that I was having a good time that summer. In the fall of that year, Papou Yiorgo and Yiayia Eleni returned to their home on Long Island. In the following spring Papou Yiorgo passed away. Although I was too young to remember the time I spent with Papou Yiorgo, I do sense his love and caring for me from the pictures in my album and the home movies.
In 2005, I returned to Rihea with my parents and my sister Anna, who was one and a half years old at that time. We spent time with Yiayia Eleni, her brother Thio Panayioti and his wife Thia Georgia. Although I could not remember my first visit to Rihea, I quickly learned where Koulohera Mountain, Agios Dimitrios, Glyfada Beach and the Agora were located and that Niko’s Cafenio sold ice cream and Vageli’s restaurant made delicious french fries for me and souvlaki for Anna. Yiayia Eleni also made us pots and pots of avgolemono soup. We went to the beach almost every day and then came come to that delicious avgolemono soup. For dinner I would love to eat french fries and Anna would love to eat her souvlaki. We would top it off with our daily desert (sometimes we had it two times): delicious Greek ice cream from Niko’s Cafenio. My Dad would pick apples from the trees planted by Papou Yiorgo and cut them up for Anna and me. The apples tasted great and Anna and I affectionately started calling them “Papou Yiorgo Apples”. Papou Yiorgo was known for planting a great garden and he had planted apple trees, pear trees, apricot trees, walnut trees, palm trees and about a dozen different types of grapes at the house. My dad also took us to the Caves in Diro, to the cities of Naufpactos and Sparti, and the castle at Monemvasia. That was also a great vacation with another photo album filled with great memories.
Our next visit was the summer of 2006. Yiayia Eleni had already come down to Rihea a month earlier. When we finally arrived after a five hour trip from Athens we saw Yiayia Eleni standing on the balcony anxiously awaiting us. She had been waiting there for some time watching all the cars pass by until she finally saw our car. She started waving at us and then came running down from the balcony to greet us. She was so happy to see us. She hugged and kissed Anna and me, and afterwards took us into the house for lunch. She had prepared our favorite food, avgolemono soup, which both Anna and I really love. A week later, Papou Niko and Yiayia Anna Manekas also joined us. They were staying in Yiayia Anna’s house in the village of Kyparissi, about half an hour away from Rihea. Kyparissi has a beautiful beach and is surrounded by tall mountains. We drove to Kyparissi to visit Papou Niko and Yiayia Anna. We went to the beach and afterwards had lunch at a restaurant. Anna and I ordered pizza and then had some ice cream. Yiayia Anna then showed us the school that she went to when she was a young girl. She also took us to see the olive trees and Haroupies (Carob trees) in her father’s family property. On the way back to Rihea we stopped in Labokambos, Papou Niko’s home town to take pictures in front of the Manekas family home. Papou Niko then showed as around the village telling stories of his childhood growing up in Labokambos. Anna and I had spent another great summer visiting with our grandparents.
We did not visit Greece again until the summer of 2008. Like the previous times, Yiayia Eleni had already come down to Rihea a couple of weeks earlier. She was very happy to see us and she had prepared the avgolemono soup for Anna and me. We stayed together with Yiayia Eleni for a whole month. We went together to different beaches in Rihea, at Kyparissi and in Monemvasia. We went out to dinner many times and had so much of that delicious ice cream. We also spent a lot of time with Thio Panayioti and Thia Georgia and her brothers Dino and Taso. We would also go hiking to the top of mountains which I loved but my Mom was not crazy about. While Dad, Anna and I hiked she preferred to shop for souvenirs or to wait for us at the cafenio drinking an ice-cold frappe. We all had a great time and especially Yiayia Eleni who could not stop telling people about it. Yiayia Eleni returned to Long Island in October of last year. In November, she passed away suddenly. We all miss her very much, but we were very lucky to have spent those memorable summers with her.
We flew to Greece in July of this year where we rented a car and then drove down to Rihea. After about five hours on the road we finally arrived. However, something was different on this trip than the other previous trips. There was no Yiayia Eleni waiting to greet us. Everything was quiet. There was no avgolemono waiting for us. We took our suitcases in the house and began to unpack. We were all tired from our long trip and went to bed. In the following days we got settled in and then saw Thio Panayioti and Thia Georgia who were glad to see us. We went to the beach in Monemvasia and played with our friends Yiorgo and Eleni Stavropoulos from Florida. We also played with our friends Sophia, Theodora and Theofanis Baktidy from Long Island who we also spent time with in Monemvasia, Rihea and Elafonisos. My aunts, uncles and cousins were also visiting Greece so we also spent time with them. Thia Tina and Thio Jimmy came to Rihea and Kyparissi with my cousins Litsa and Billy and their baby daughter Isabella. Thia Patty and Thio Zaho, and my cousins Anna and Dimitri were also visiting as well. We had tons of french fries, souvlaki and ice cream. Mom and Dad made us avgolemono soup that reminded us of Yiayia Eleni and Dad picked some of those delicious “Papou Yiorgo apples” that Anna and I love. Dad would tell us “Papou Yiorgo stories” and pointed out the locations where papou had gone hunting on Agio Dimitrios or the time he killed a big snake at Glyfada Beach or the many other stories that he knew. Anna would constantly ask my dad to tell her these stories even though she knew them all by heart. Anna and I love coming to Yiayia Eleni’s house in Rihea. We both remember all the great times we spent with Yiayia Eleni. We miss her very much, but we know that when we visit the house in Rihea that she is smiling from heaven, along with Papou Yiorgo, knowing that we have arrived just like she was smiling when she saw us last year and the years before as we pulled into the driveway. Anna and I can not wait to go back to Yiayia Eleni’s and Papou Yiorgo’s house in Rihea next year.