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What I Remember (9): Effie's View
Transcript of Effie Soter’s Memories
As Told to Tom Soter
Although I did not start a memoir project with my mother, Effie, she did, at times, recall her life. What follows are some of her memories. For more information on Effie, see "Not Me, Kid," at http://www.tomsoter.com/?q=node/437
MOMMY DEAREST, ESQ. (1997 recollection}
Q: Tell me about your mother, how you got along with her.
ES: Not so well, really. I mean, we were not friends.
Q: Why? Is that because you didn’t grow up with her, do you think?
ES: That may be one reason and the other reason was that she was not really interested in the family; she was more interested in running my father’s business, you know, having dates with lawyers and so forth. She was never home. We never saw her. And she spent her afternoons, early evenings, having beer with lawyers. And the thing to me, now that I think of it, was amazing, she hardly finished grammar school and yet she was able to do legal work—because my father had property, houses-that was the income that we grew up with, rentals and my mother was in charge because my father was gone all of the time. She was in charge of dealing with the houses; renting them, repairing them, all those things. With no education, which was amazing—she hardly finished grammar school, you know?
Q: Why do you think she was so good at it?
ES: She was smart and she liked it. She didn’t like so much housework, we had a maid and my grandmother was there when she was there. And housework, forget it, she was pretending she was always sickly, she had a stomach problem.
Q: How did she get along with your father? They were married, was it a marriage of convenience or what was the deal? Was it arranged?
ES: I don’t know, I guess. In those days, you know, you didn’t date, it was a long time ago and she lived in Maine with my grandfather and grandmother.
Q: How did she meet your father?
ES: In Maine. He wanted to finally take a wife and they told him there was a Greek family in Maine, that’s where Xanthe was born. But I don’t think she was ever in love with him and besides, he never stayed long enough in the house in Greece. But then after they got married they came to Greece and they stayed with my grandmother, grandfather and my father decided to go back to the States. He never liked to stay in Greece. He came back and a year or so later my mother went to the States where Peter, Billy, and Stella were born. And they left me with my grandmother, grandfather. I didn’t see them for six, seven, eight years. And as a matter of fact, when I went to grammar school to enroll, my grandfather took me and they asked me my name and I gave my grandfather’s last name as my name. And my grandfather thought it was funny and interestingly, he let it go, Mandripelis instead of Hartocollis. And this went on for a year or two and then my father came and when he saw the papers (laughs)…
Q: He wasn’t happy.
ES: Oh, he went and changed it right away and I became Hartocollis instead of Mandripelis.
Q: How about in later life, you and your mother? Did you get along when you were married?
ES: Not really. I mean, I never had too much – I don’t know, respect for her. I didn’t care for her too much. My grandmother had raised me so I was more fond of my grandmother. I found my mother sort of a flirt, she loved to flirt with men and I found her sort of shallow, you know what I mean? I mean you couldn’t talk to her about anything.
Q: She was not interested in much.
ES: No, she was interested in real estate, she was interested in men, but she didn’t read. She wasn’t educated, she had just finished grammar school. I’m sure she had never gone to high school and yet she must have been intelligent, she was able to deal with lawyers, do legal work and everything, with no education. But I was never that close to her, I was close to Xanthe, her sister, who she wasn’t that much older than I was, but in any case, we were very close. And with my mother, forget it.
Q: Why do you think Xanthe was so much more interesting to you?
ES: She was closer to my age, she liked the same things I liked, you know, and she wasn’t interested in real estate the way my mother was, and men. My mother liked flirting.
Q: Sisters, yet they were so different.
ES: I don’t know, 15 years makes a big difference.
Q: Why was there such a big age discrepancy?
ES: They had other children in between. They died, all of them. There was a son who died and there were two other sisters. They were all working in factories in Maine. And then Xanthe was the last one, she was the youngest and that was the end. My mother was the oldest, there was a brother who died, there were two older sister who also died and then Xanthe was the youngest.
Q: What did the other two sisters die of?
ES: TB, I think, one and the other one probably from venereal disease or something, I don’t know. She liked men.
Q: But even when your mother was older, when she came and stayed with us at the house, you weren’t too fond of her.
ES: No, I never cared for her. I found her very shallow.
Q: What about her relationship with your father? Were they close?
ES: My father liked her very much but the only thing is they never lived long enough together, you know? They were always apart.
I REMEMBER PAPA (1985 recollection)
My mother-in-law was staying with us at the time and my father-in-law and so we had the dinner and my father’s there and he says, “Who cooked the meal?” I said, “I did.” “You can’t cook a meal, you lie.” I said, “I cooked the meal.” He said, “You can’t, you’ve gone to college, you can’t cook a meal. Your mother-in-law cooked it, you’re lying to me.” And I said, “Father, I cooked the meal.” He says, “No, it’s impossible. People who have gone to college cannot cook.” Another thing about my father, we were in Worchester and I decided I was going to be honest. Father objected to smoking, he didn’t like people who smoke. He gave a car to Billy to stop smoking. But I was smoking, I say, I’ll be honest with him and I’ll tell him that I’m smoking. So I said, “Father…” I didn’t say ‘dad,’ you know? “Father, I smoke.” He looked at me, he says, “What did you say?”I said, "I smoke." He said, "You lie. None of my children smoke,” and he got up and left the room. And he never accepted it, never. You know, and every time I tried to say something he says, “None of my children smoke, I don’t know what you're talking about.” In front of him I never smoked, never.
I have to tell you one more thing about my father. George and I got married, we lived in Chicago and we got married in Brooklyn. We had a big, formal wedding in Brooklyn. We got all these presents from the relatives here and friends and millions of presents. And we lived in Chicago so we couldn’t take them with us and we left them for the basement, you know, they had a private home in Brooklyn, my mother and father. We left them there and I get a letter from Stella and Stella says, “Effie, take your wedding presents real fast because they’re disappearing. They’re going away. Whenever there was a wedding, father will go down in the basement, pick up one of the presents and we’ll give it away." So I called him up and said, "Father, what are you doing?" He said, "I paid for the wedding, so I can do what I want with the presents."
ALL MY SIBLINGS (1997 recollection)
Q: What about your siblings?
ES: When Stella came here, she didn’t care for it. She said, “If you give me all the property in Greece, I’ll go back to Greece and get married there and stay there.” The other two, Peter and Bill said, “That’s silly, why should we give her the property? It belongs to all of us.” But I persuaded them, this is what Stella wanted, let her have it. We’re here in the States, we don’t need the property, let her have it. So she got everything. The house became a high rise. And then there was another house down in the country where I grew up, they sold that one, Taki did. She got the house in Athens, a beautiful house, a one-family house where we grew up and other buildings we owned. It was a lot of property and a lot of money and I didn’t get a thing.
Q: Do you regret it that Taki took all that property and just turned it into busses?
ES: Who cares? I don’t know, what can I do? If we had the property, we probably would have sold it and invested, I don’t know.
Q: How did you get along with your brothers and sisters?
ES: Fine, they liked me and I was the oldest sister, I was the smartest one. Peter and I were the smart ones; I say smart because we were number one in school, both of us. Stella and Billy were the playboys and I remember having to tutor Stella and so forth and so on because she wasn’t that good a student and Bill was worse. But Peter and I got along every well because we were interested in the same things. We liked books, we liked reading, we were not too much interested in outside life, you know? But we were very close.
Q: And how did he meet Pitsa?
ES: Well, he came here and he went to Topeka. I don’t remember now; he met her in Topeka or he met her in Greece, I don’t remember. But anyway, they were in Topeka together, and they got married.
Q: Did you get along with Pitsa?
ES: Yeah, I mean we’re not bosom friends, but fine, no problem, you know? What I know is that I found her a little hard, you know what I mean? And there was Maria, forget it, we never had anything to do with each other.
Q: How about Maria; how did Billy meet her?
ES: Bill didn’t like education. Peter and I were the ones who liked school. Bill liked sports and he liked girlfriends. So he came here, he didn’t want to go to school the way we did, go to university or anything and he started working at my father’s place. My father had a restaurant or whatever they’re called, those luncheonettes or whatever. And then when we got married, George Shoral opened a restaurant in Pittsburgh and they asked Bill if he wanted to go and run it. So he said, “Fine.” He didn’t like Brooklyn anyway, so he went to Pittsburgh to work. He became friends with George Shoral, our best man, and he stayed in Pittsburgh working there in the restaurant; he bought it, I think the restaurant was his. And he met Maria , she was the Miss Greece of Pittsburgh, a beauty contest. And he met her at some dance there and they got involved and they got married and he gave up the restaurant and went into real estate.
FAMILY, FRIENDS, AND WHEN TO JUMP OUT THE WINDOW (1997 recollection)
So, what was it like for you coming to New York after being in Chicago? Was it a big change? George told me that when you were coming to New York you were concerned because you didn’t know anyone but also you had stayed in hotels whenever you came here and you thought it would be very expensive to come to New York.
ES: Maybe. I don’t remember.
Q: Do you remember when you first came, raising the kids? When you first had Nicky, what were your experiences?
ES: Having Nicky was in Chicago and it was all right, I don’t remember any difficulty. And then here we had a maid.
Q: You had all the different maids, right? I remember we had a maid named Mary.
ES: Yeah, right.
Q: And then your friends here, you knew Bunny and Irma; did you know them from the park or how did you know them?
ES: From the park. We met in the park and then when George thought of opening Greek Island, Bunny was involved. She had money and she loved everything Greek, you know? She liked Greek things. And so she became a partner. George hated her, he couldn’t stand her. Even today he never wants to talk about her. And anyway, that’s when we got Irma working for us. During the day I was doing the books, the paperwork. And Bunny was very active but she and George couldn’t see eye to eye in a lot of things, couldn’t get along.
Q: In what, the way the business was run?
ES: Yeah, everything, everything.
Q: But George doesn’t like working with a partner, does he?
Q: He likes to be the one to call the shots. Well, how about with Joe LaRosa?
ES: I think that Joe LeRosa asked for a lot of money when he quit, he sold his share of Greek Island and that upset George. And it wasn’t fair, really, under the circumstances. He did get a lot of money.
Q: Where did you find Mrs. Theodore?
ES: Anthe. Because Mrs. Theodore was married to a Greek. Anthe is the one who introduced Mrs. Theodore to us, so she was very nice.
Q: How did you know Anthe, where did you meet her?
ES: Through Stella. Stella and she were at school together in Greece, in grammar school and high school. And then Anthe came here and went to an institute called the Polytechnic Institute to be a civil engineer, and married Teni and stayed here. Anthe’s brother was a very, very close friend of my brother, Peter. He was a lawyer and they were friends. I don’t know what happened, he's still alive, but they used to see each other more. Anthe was always bossy and so forth, but they were friends. Then when we came here, we revived through Stella, I think, the friendship. And she used to come with Teni to take you out, the boys—you and Nicky—out for walks and to the park and so on and so forth. Teni was very fond of children. The only thing is I have to laugh, you know, one time Anthe called me at the office, at work. She was talking about Teni and said he wasn’t very attentive and so forth and then she told me something that I’ll never forget, she said that she never had sex with Teni.
Q: Why didn’t she?
ES: Because she wanted to be like brother and sister, she didn’t want sex. And never slept with him She said, “Let’s be like brother and sister.” And then she had this cousin, her second, third cousin had married this woman and they had two daughters, two children and Anthe and Teni used to take the kids, the girls everywhere. And then as they grew older, of course, Teni got involved with the oldest one. And I remember it was very funny, her mother called me, her mother, the girl’s mother, Rita. Rita was a friend of my mother’s. So she called me and she said, “Did you hear the news? My daughter’s involved with Teni. What would you do if this happened to your daughter?” I said, “I’d jump out the window.” (laughs). My advice to her. Never talked to her again.
Q: Then he got her pregnant.
ES: Right. Rita had married Anthe’s cousin and they had those two girls and since she had no children, they used to take them out, they used to bring them to the house too, Riverside Drive and take them for walks and everything. And then he got involved with the older one and Anthe called me and she said, “You know, I think he has the girl in a house in New Jersey, as a mistress.” He rented a house, she lived there, she left school or whatever she was doing. Anyway, and then they went to South America to get married. And he got a divorce, Anthe finally gave him a divorce. The only way she would give him a divorce, if he signed everything to her. So this house that she has in was theirs, was Teni’s. He signed it over to her and everything they had, all the property in Greece and everything, he signed over to her so that he could marry the girl. Now Anthe says that she has signed the house to his sons—she has no children anyway, she never got married again.
Q: But George didn’t keep up very many of his close friends after he got married, right?
ES: We moved from Chicago so all these people from the University of Chicago went to various places; we couldn’t see them so we had to make new friends when we came here.
Q: And most of the friends came through work? You met Carol through work.
ES: Yeah, or through the park, when I went to the park. Like Bunny, for instance, we met each other when we were at the park together, with children playing. And then Philippe Chang, I met his mother, Denise, there and I felt sorry for her. She had all these kids and no husband, really. I used to bring Phiippe home because I felt sorry for her; she had to go home to a messy house. We had a maid but she didn’t. A messy, small house, so I said, "I'll take Philipe and I’ll send him home around six."
Q: Do you remember the apartment at 420 Riverside Drive?
Q: What did you think when George wanted to move?
ES: Well, we needed more space, we thought, because his mother and father were coming.
Q: That’s when you moved from the first floor to the seventh floor. Because his mother and father died… We moved to 404 in 1966.
ES: And they died…
Q: They died before that. You moved from the first floor, that was small, to the seventh floor, 7C.
ES: The larger place. And then we moved to 404. It was an improvement, too; it was supposed to be one of the nicest buildings in the area. And the thing to me that was still fascinating is that we were the second tenants from 1909 or something, you know? In that apartment, that is.