Saturday, November 11, 2006

How The Cokinos Brothers Came To America One At A Time

The Cokinos Brothers came to America one at a time, one after another. The eldest, Adam, came first, and let me tell you, the town they came from was tiny-a one donkey burg-way over the Peloponese Mountains a long way from Athens. Farming and the sea were the top two industries-and still are. Then there is the monastery (the one my father always threatened to send me to if I didn't straighten up. ) They could have used me. When we went to visit in 2005-only three tiny nuns were left, and they weren't spring chickens.

And it just boggled my mind that my Papou and his brothers ever got out of Dodge way back at the turn of the century- over those mountains and down to a port. My grandfather, Panos (Peter) Kokinos came on a steam ship called the Georgia and arrived in America on October 7, 1905. It took him thirty days to get here. The eldest brother, Adam had already arrived and opened a candy store on K Street NW.

They worked together making candy and ice cream by hand in the basement until there was enough money for Peter to open his own store at 1103 H Street NE. In 1909, another brother, Dionisios arrived, but he decided not to stay. In 1916 they sent for their brother, Alec who lived with his brothers until he got married.

Meanwhile back in Greece, legend has it that somewhere in the countryside near Sparta, a man walked out to his yard, and a bullet mowed him down. No one knows why. He left behind a daughter, Panyiota, my Yiya, who was soon shipped off to America to live with her brother, Tom and his wife, Christina in New Jersey. Fortunately someone knew a lonely Greek bachelor in Washington who had a candy shop. Pete got on a train and went to look her over. He was a much older man, but a handsome one. In later years, with every story, he would always get older, and Paniyota much younger. The Greeks never put much weight on actual birthdays. At any rate, at age 30, 35 or 40, Peter wasn’t getting any younger back then. They were married at 3 p.m. on July 30, 1914, and took the 6 p.m. train back to Washington.

My father, George and his older sister Catherine and younger brother Nick were all born at home in a brand new house at 919 11th Street NE-right around the corner from the candy shop. The children weren't allowed to sample the wares, so George took to wearing a big overcoat with lots of pockets-winter and summer-and soon lost all his baby teeth to his sugar habit.

The candy stores did great, but then Woolworth’s moved into the neighborhood around the mid 1920s. Adam had bought a farm way out in Rockville, and Peter had bought property at the end of the trolley line - where the street car turned off Wisconsin Avenue at Macomb Street and went on to American University. Peter built almost a block's worth of storefronts that he rented with apartments upstairs. It was going to be his retirement. You can see this building today - it has big fake cactuses out front and is mostly occupied by the restaurant Cactus Cantina.

Adam also had retirement plans of living on the farm near Tuckerman Lane. Unfortunately, his caretaker smoked in bed, and that was the end of that. Uncle Adam sold his candy store to the Vilanos family and by 1930 moved up to Philadelphia, where his wife Katie was from. He started the Guaranty Coffee Company on South Street and lived there for the rest of his life.

Peter opened another candy shop on Macomb Street, but this time there were no customers. No people lived out there. The workmen building the cathedral would come by though, asking for lunch, so Panyiota ran upstairs and made them soup. Soon the Macomb Cafeteria was born, and they were in business again.

Brother Alec moved uptown with them. Meanwhile, the Haramkapolos brothers had just brought their sister, Koula over from Greece where according to legend, she couldn’t find a man that was good enough to be her husband. Then she met Alec, and when she shook hands with him, she decided he was the one. Koula and Alec were married in 1926 and lived in the apartment over Burka’s liquor, but around 1932 they became the caretakers of St Sophia's church when it was down at 8th and L NW,  and lived right next door.

1 comment:

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