The following was written by Campbell’s Caliope Gialousis to her grandchildren. She shared it with The Vindicator. An excerpted version appears in the Easter Sunday issue of The Vindicator. The complete letter is below.
By Caliope Gialousis
When I was young, we had no Greek Orthodox Church in Campbell. We went to the St. Nicholas Church on Walnut Street in Youngstown. That wonderful church is still there and I sometimes still go there.
Every year when Lent starts, and we start preparing for the miracle of the Resurrection of Christ, I can’t help looking back and remembering how we celebrated Easter when I was young. I wish it were possible for the children today to experience what we had many years ago.
My father never owned a car. Actually, I don’t think he had ever learned to drive.
But he wasn’t unique in that respect. A lot of the Greek men of his generation didn’t drive either. We relied on public transportation — the trolleys and the buses.
The trolleys were like buses but they were powered by electricity. There were wires above the routes, something like telephone wires only they were suspended in the middle of the streets. On the roof of the trolleys was a long metal arm that reached from the trolleys to the electric wires.
This is how they got the power to go. Many times that arm would slip off the wires and the trolley would lose power and stop. Then the driver would have to get out and guide the arm back onto the power line and the trolley would be running again. Eventually, the trolleys were replaced by regular gasoline powered buses.
My family and I lived on Gordon Avenue at the bottom of the street.
Someday, you might want to take a ride that way and look at what is there now and remember what was there and how life was so different for children back then. In a way I feel bad that children today. With all that is available to them, they cannot experience that part of growing up. It was so different and so interesting.
Most of our parents were Greek immigrants and they bought to this country so many religious and ethnic traditions.
We fasted for the whole 40 days and everyone wore a “marti” for the whole season. It was a brightly colored embroidery thread twisted together to form a bracelet.
It was called a marti because we put them on the first week on March and took them off on Holy Saturday.
Traditionally they were put on the lamb while it was roasting in the oven. I kind of forget the reasoning for that tradition. Sometimes the kids at school who were not Greek would ask us about them, but soon they became familiar with our traditions and just accepted them.
Our neighborhood was practically all Greek and we were all close — adults and children. There were some people of other nationalities, and some blacks. But we all got along just fine. We really weren’t aware of the color or ethnic differences back then. We were just one big neighborhood.
During the Lenten season, we went to church a lot — especially in my family because my sister Irene was a cantor at the church. She had been doing that since she was a young child and she was a very good cantor.
There was another young cantor — a young boy named Dean and it was truly awesome to hear these two young people chanting together. Every Friday night at the Salutations to the Virgin Mary, my sister would chant “Aspilai Amolintai” in front of Panagia’s icon and Dean would chant, “Kai Dos Imin Despota” in front of Jesus’ icon.
Holy Week was very solemn for all of us.
We fasted very strictly to prepare for Holy Communion on Holy Saturday after the Resurrection. We went to church every night and sometimes twice a day.
You might think it was tiresome going back and forth to Youngstown, riding the bus, but it really wasn’t. It was fun because there were so many of us going at the same time.
The tradition hardly varied from one year to the next. On Holy Wednesday, all the Greek ladies did their baking — Kolourakia and the delicious Easter breads. My mother made such good cookies and bread.
For a while, when I had my own family, I tried her recipes. But somehow my cookies and bread just never came out right.
On Holy Thursday, between church attendance, we dyed the Easter eggs — many colors — not just red. We always did a lot of eggs and to this day, I still make 12 dozen of eggs to color.
I think the children back then took church much more seriously than the children of today. We knew we had to go to church with our parents. And we knew we had to behave in church. And we just did it.
On Holy Thursday, there would be an all-night “agripnia” where people stayed in church all night. If we got tired and sleepy, our mothers would just put our coats or jackets and down on the pews and we would sleep until the next morning.
Because of all the steel mills that were open then, the buses ran all day and night. We had no problem getting transportation to church. We would get on the bus at Wilson Avenue and get off at East Federal Street at Walnut and walk up a pretty steep hill to get to the church.
It was a little difficult getting up the hill, but we were young and didn’t notice it. During the winter, it was very difficult when it snowed. It was hard to get up the hill. After church was even harder and scary because it would be so slippery. We slipped and slid coming down the hill, but we made it and attended church very, very regularly.
For a whole week or more before Easter, the sounds of live lambs could be heard throughout the Greek neighborhoods in the city.
Almost everyone bought a live lamb. We had some Greek butcher shops in Campbell and the owners would take orders for the lambs and then go get them from the farmers. Sometimes, we would go and get them from the farmers. Sometimes we would get a lamb and sometimes two. They were so wonderful and soft to cuddle.
We usually had the whole week off before Easter and when we weren’t in church, we were taking care of our lambs. Somewhere near Penhale School, there were a lot of open fields with lots of trees and green grass.
There were also a lot of huge, abandoned concrete sewer pipes that were left over from the WPA projects. We called them the “barrels.” We took the lambs to the barrels to graze and eat fresh grass.
Picture this: a lot of kids walking down the streets leading their lambs with a rope tied around their necks. It was like a sheep drive that you might see in the movies or on T.V. And all the baaaaaaing — it was so exciting and fun to do. We did this everyday until Holy Saturday.
We took lunches with us too because we usually stayed at the barrels for hours.
We made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We took tomatoes and cucumbers and fresh fruit and anything that we were allowed to eat or drink without breaking the fast.
When we got to barrels, we tied our lambs to a tree trunk to graze and eat grass. Then we played games or just lay under the trees.
At the end of the day, we gathered our lambs and headed for our homes to get ready for church in the evening.
On Holy Saturday morning, my mother and father would get up very early in the morning to prepare the lamb for roasting.
The whole neighborhood smelled of lambs roasting.
We had one teacher that couldn’t wait for us to go back to school because all of us would take him some leftover lamb, and he just loved it.
The evening of Holy Saturday, we had to take a nap before we went to church for the midnight services. After the nap, we couldn’t even drink water because we were to take Holy Communion.
We would really be hungry by then and all of us kids would take an Easter egg to church with us so that we could eat after church on the way to the bus stop. We cracked eggs with each other. After all that fasting, a boiled never tasted so good. Now, the churches pass out eggs after the service, but it wasn’t done then.
Bringing home the holy light from church was really something to see.
We would get out of church around two o’clock in the morning carrying out lit candles.
There were many of us — not just a few, but many families. We carried the candles down the hill to the bus stop. As I look back now, I can’t remember a single time that it rained while we were going home. If the wind blew out someone’s candle, there was always someone near to give them a light.
The bus company knew about our tradition and would allow us to bring the lit candles onto the buses.
Can you imagine trying to do that today?
After the bus reached our stop on Wilson Avenue, we had to walk a couple of blocks to our house and with the lit candle. My father would make the sign of the cross over the front door.
We were wide awake and hungry.
My parents and my sister first ate the traditional lamb soup. My brother and I never ate that. We just didn’t like it.
We waited for the roast lamb and rice stuffing and the fried liver. Since my mother would always roast a whole lamb, there was a lot of lamb and we would eat lamb for days.
Most of the time, we ate leftover lamb and rice fried with eggs and it was so delicious.
Today, very few Greeks still get live lambs.
All the other traditions are still pretty much the same, except for the fireworks after the “Hristos Anesti.”
We never had that until own Archangel Michael Church was built. This is one tradition I really don’t care for.
Somehow, the fireworks just don’t seem to fit in with the holiness and joyfulness of Easter.
I hope all of you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing and going back to such a wonderful time in my life and in the lives of all who were there and shared these times.