Giagia’s Journey

A Photo Journal of the life of  

Penelope Benardos Conomos

By Alexa Conomos

PenelopeFamiliy

This photo was taken of Giagia (right) her sister Calliope and brother George during their reunion in Greece in 1951. Calliope had since recovered since almost starving to death during the Axis occupation of Greece in WWII.


Part 13 - November 30, 2016 


In 1951, the former peasant girl who had once only ever travelled by donkey would make yet another journey of a lifetime. Leaving the children with "Papa", she delivered her standard "mis mas kanis rezili!" ('do not bring shame to the family name') and that was that. The now more worldly Giagia hopped a train to New York City, then boarded a cruise liner. Destination: Greece and the beloved mother and siblings she hadn't seen in 18 long years. 

PenelopeSiblings1951

And so after 12 days at sea, she finally set foot on Greek soil and set eyes on those beloved faces again--faces so achingly familiar, yet so very different now. Her mother Damiani had become an old woman, but her beautiful smile and loving arms bespoke the same tender feeling of home. And despite the years, she was still climbing pear trees, working the olive orchards and generously sharing her bounty with fellow villagers. Pictures now adorned the walls of that same stone structure Giagia once called home. Photos of Tasso, Anastasia and Chrysanthy ~ the grandchildren Giagia's mother had never met, yet greatly cherished. She would kiss and pray over those beloved photos every night before she went to sleep inside that lonely home overlooking the Mediterranean.

Damiani

On the left--my great grandmother Damiani. You can see she wears the typical Greek peasant garb, the babushka scarf on her head. On the ground--a bowl with freshly picked vegetables. A cousin is next to her. What a smile she has! (Pic taken by my aunts on their trip to Greece in 1960)

Those lost years were perhaps even harder on Giagia's siblings George and Calliope. Now also parents themselves - they bore the signs of those hard years under WWII Axis occupation. And so too did Giagia's beloved native island of Kythera. After WWII - life had slowed, buildings had crumbled, neighbors had moved away and her beloved donkey 'Keecho' had died. But "such is the life" and so Giagia adapted, endured, and savored every moment of their reunion and the introduction of nephews she'd only ever known through letters. 

Meanwhile back in New Kensington, PA, Papou received an angry letter from -his- family in Kythera. Still hostile toward Giagia after all these years, they claimed she was having 'too good' of a time on the island. Well indeed she was--for she would reminisce about this long awaited reunion for years. It was certainly sweet, but would it ever be enough to compensate for all the years lost? 

And so when she finally, tearfully boarded that return ship for America, she despaired--when would she see her mother again? Well happily a few years later, her daughters Chrysanthy and Anastasia would journey to Greece to meet the loving grandmother they'd heard so much about. 

PenelopeDonkey

 


My great grandmother Damiani (Giagia's beloved mother) travelling side saddle on her donkey through the mountainous area of Agia Anastasia. That's the village on Kythera, Greece where Giagia grew up.





And they too would be the recipients of her abundant love and eager hugs. But as Giagia would painfully discover, -she herself- would never set eyes on or feel the loving arms of her beloved mother again. Such is the life.

Damiani&Chrysss


On the right-my Aunt Chrysanthy (Thea Chrys) as she hugs her Gigia Damiani—my great grandmother Giagia’s mother).

PenFam

Center--Damiani, my great grandmother. Thea Chrys (left), Thea Anne (right). Male cousins on the other side. They travelled to Greece in 1960 to meet her. It was the trip of a lifetime.


Dressed in typical peasant garb, this is my great grandmother Damiani. Giagia's mother was an expert in tending the fields, growing produce during WWII. She helped supply her village with much needed food.

Penelope Part 1


   © KSOCA 2012