Life Stories- Meglaohori

Maria Vounatsos (1912- 1995)

by Mercina Viatos

Migrant Profile

Maria Vounatsos was born on 19th February 1912 in Megalo Horion Plomari Mytilene. Maria’s grandfather, Panagioti Simos (also known as Valako) was a heavy gambler.  He would load his mules in Plomari and stop off at a kafenion to gamble sending his mules home by themselves!  He died in 1928 aged 105.

Dimitrios Vounatsos, Maria’s father, was a shepherd and owned property around Megalo Horion.  He was  very tall wearing a size 10 shoe whereas Amersoutha, his wife, was short in stature.  She was a seamstress and judging by her thimble had tiny hands. Dimitrios was a romantic. He serenaded Amersouda, never allowing her to go to the fields or to gather olives.

Maria attended school in Megalo Horion   She enjoyed reading and embroidery.  She, along with all the girls of the time, used their spare time to embroider filling their “glory boxes” for when they would marry. 

In 1938 Maria was chosen by Ioannis and Permathia Ververi as a bride for their son Peter who had immigrated to New Zealand in 1930.  She was excited to be traveling so far away.  Maria was accompanied by Kleoniki, Peter’s sister.

They left Piraeus on 3rd January 1939, on the Escolino arriving in Wellington 28th February 1939.  On the ship, the food was tasteless. Maria wanted an egg.  She formed the shape of an egg with her hands and made the “Ka Ka Ka” sound of the chicken to make herself understood!

Maria stayed with Mr and Mrs Aristithis Asprolopos (Aspros) until her marriage on June 2nd 1939. They were married by Father Bates an Anglican Priest. They were later remarried by visiting Archbishop Evangelinidis from Australia.

Their first home was shared with Mr & Mrs George Soteros.  One day Maria wanted parsley.  She went to the Chinese green grocer and said “something smells.”  He showed her lots of different items to no avail.  In the end he took her to the back of the shop into his garden and there Maria found her “something smells!”

Above: At the Races. L-R: Maria herself, Katina Yianaki, Kleoniki Ververi and Mercina Bares (Ververi). 

Maria became pregnant soon after her marriage. She named the baby Mercina after her mother as is the custom in Mytilene naming the first girl after the wife’s side of the family and the first boy after the husband’s side of the family. 

John was born the following year and named after Peter’s father.  He had a very dark complexion.  Maria called him “Πιπινα” translated dark boy. When Jim was born, he was named after Maria’s father. An interesting fact was that Maria recorded all these births, dates and time in a little book.

They built a house in Brooklyn moving there in 1941– 42.  Maria was plagued by small kitchens in all the homes she had except for one.  This one was possibly the smallest.

For business reasons Peter shifted his family to Palmerston North.  So that Maria would not feel lonely, he bought a home next to Mr and Mrs Andis, another Greek family.

Above: Maria, with her husband, Peter, an their children outside the Royale Dutch, Palmerston Nth. 

Maria worked at the Royale Dutch.  All her years of working she wore a fawn overall with a vivid green collar and cuffs.  She never wore a cardigan even in winter.  She would leave home at 7-30am with Peter and return when the children finished school.

Peter renovated the shop making it into a self service buffet style, the front remaining as a Milk Bar.  Woe betide a customer who ordered a penny ice cream being served by Maria.  She was not at all generous. Her position at the Royale Dutch was to man the cash register and make teas and coffees.

After shifting to Palmerston North, they made trips to Wellington on Sundays.  The journey took 2½ hours each way. To keep her children amused Maria sang her favourite Greek songs. One in particular “Το Γελεκακη Που Φορας” still brings tears to my eyes.  Approaching Wellington she would say “Φθασαμε στα μεγαλα χτηρια”. The day was spent visiting relatives and friends. 

For Maria Vounatsos' Life Story: Part 2