FRANKLIN, TN – The recent lunar eclipse “blood moon” is a rare occasion. Rarer still is the meeting of five Greek-born adoptees all together at the same time at the same place. After all, there were thousands adopted from Greece abroad in the scandal-ridden Cold War decades of the 1950’s and 1960’s, most of them scattered across the United States, from coast to coast and everywhere in between. But last week, the stars aligned perfectly in the heavens, and a rare occasion became reality as Linda Carol Trotter (Franklin, TN), Merrill Jenkins (Cedar Hill, MO), Dimitrios Christo (Atlanta, GA), Anna Sardis (Medina, OH) and Mats Johansson (Sweden) all met together in Franklin, TN, just south of Nashville, for the first time.
The meeting started out as simply a working weekend for Linda Carol and Merrill to prepare for the First Annual Greek Adoptee Reunion, to be hosted by The Eftychia Project in Nashville, August 4-6. The Reunion is the first gathering of its kind for Greek-born adoptees and the Greek families that may be searching for them. But this simple working weekend evolved into an unexpected opportunity for the five Greek-born adoptees to meet and share their stories and lived experiences as adoptees.
Linda Carol, or Eftychia, as she is known by many now, is the president and founder of The Eftychia Project, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that assists and supports, free of charge, Greek-born adoptees searching for their roots and Greek families searching for their children lost to adoption. It also advocates on behalf of all Greek-born adoptees with the Greek government for their birth and identity rights, including their access to birth and adoption records and the restoration of their Greek citizenship. Born Eftychia Noula in the tiny mountain village of Stranoma, near Nafpaktos, Greece, Linda Carol was adopted as an infant from the Athens Municipal Foundling Home by loving American parents, James and Ruth Forrest. And unlike many of her fellow adoptees, she always knew she was adopted and that she was Greek.
“My parents never kept from me the fact that I was adopted,” Linda Carol relates. “They always told me the truth about everything. And they told me what they knew about my biological origins, which wasn’t much.” In fact, the Greek lawyer used by the Forrests had told them that Eftychia was a foundling of unknown parents, that she had been a premature infant weighing only four and a half pounds and that her biological mother had died in childbirth.
None of that turned out to be true when Linda Carol found her biological family five years ago, through circumstances she can only describe as “miraculous”. Her biological mother was alive and well, and she was welcomed with open arms by an army of aunts, uncles and 12 first cousins. Thirty-three trips to Greece later, Linda Carol just cannot stay away from the land of her birth. “Greece is home,” she says. “There I am at peace with the world and everyone in it.”
Merrill Jenkins, treasurer of The Eftychia Project, was adopted from the Patras Municipal Foundling Home by American parents. He was left on the steps of the Pantanassa Church in Patras with a note that said his name was Mitsos and he had been baptized. He was given the name Mitsos Dimitrios by the orphanage and sent to America aboard Flying Tigers. For 11 years, he has searched for that elusive biological family connection, and only recently has he found a close match through DNA, which he is now exploring to discover whatever he can about his origins.
When complimented for his perseverance, Merrill simply shrugs and smiles, “I’d just like to know what happened. What were the circumstances? Where am I from?”
And how does he feel when others find their roots while he still struggles to make that connection? “I’m their biggest cheerleader,” he says with a grin. “I’m happy for them. Their success gives hope to me and all the other adoptees who are searching.”
Newly elected secretary of The Eftychia Project, Dimitrios Christo, is from Atlanta, GA and decided it was not only too good of an opportunity to pass up to meet Merrill in person for the first time, but also to help with the plans for the Reunion. So, he made the four-hour drive from Atlanta to Franklin. Dimitrios was adopted at the age of two and a half in 1972 by a Greek-American couple. And he still has memories of speaking Greek and being cared for in Athens in a foster home.
“I don’t remember when I started speaking English, the transition was sort of seamless. And perhaps the one advantage I have over other adoptees who weren’t adopted by Greek-Americans was that I didn’t lose my connection to my Greek cultural roots and language.”
With the advent of home DNA testing, searching for biological family has become a little easier, and earlier last year, Dimitrios found biological first cousins in the United States. Now it’s a matter of putting their heads together to figure just who his biological parents are.
Anna Sardis was adopted as an infant by Greek-Americans in Cleveland, OH. Searching through her adoption papers, she found her biological mother’s name and the village she was from on her Greek baby passport. On a trip to Greece, she visited a cafe in the village and inquired about her biological mother, saying only that her adoptive mother and biological mother were friends. The owner of the cafe immediately recognized the name and exclaimed that she was a friend of Anna’s biological mother’s daughter.
“My heart was in my throat,” Anna recalls. “This meant that I had a sister. The lady called her, but she was out of town and wouldn’t be back until the next day. And we were leaving to continue our trip. I could kick myself for not going back the next day.”
Back in the States, Anna searched on Facebook and found her sister’s profile. And she bounced back and forth between contacting her sister and not contacting her. When she finally worked up the courage, that Facebook message changed her life. She had not one sister, but three. And they were all waiting on her to come back to Greece. After her first meeting with her sisters in Greece, she did a DNA test at the urging of her children to confirm the relationship. But she never dreamed that with that confirmation, she’d also find a brother through her biological father’s side who had been given up for adoption in Sweden.
Mats Johansson was adopted as a baby from the orphanage Mitera by Swedish parents. Urged by his partner, Thomas, to do his DNA, Mats reluctantly sent his sample to the lab. But he was totally unprepared for the results that proclaimed that he had a sister in Medina, OH. Though he planned to visit Anna at the earliest possible moment, COVID-19 put a damper on his plans for two years. That is, until May 12, 2022, when he arrived in Cleveland, OH to be embraced for the first time by the sister he never knew he had. “Anna is the sweetest, kindest person I have ever known,” Mats says as he smiles through tears. “I will come to visit her in America every year if she will have me.”
Anna and her family had planned a grand adventure for Mats’ first trip to America. But who could have predicted that Anna would decide to bring Mats to Tennessee the same weekend that Linda Carol, Merrill, and Dimitrios were also there together? “I called Eftychia (Linda Carol) to let her know we were coming. And I couldn’t believe that Merrill and Dimitrios were going to be there with her, too. What a wonderful opportunity for me and for Mats, especially, to meet and spend time with other Greek adoptees.”
Wonderful, indeed. Greek adoptees will often tell you that all their stories are different, yet all their stories are the same. Five Greek-born adoptees with five different stories. Five Greek-born adoptees who have lived very different lives. But five Greek-born adoptees whose lives intersected because of the similar circumstances of their births and adoptions against the backdrop of the Cold War, and who share an unshakeable bond of adoptee kinship.
These five are looking forward to August, when the First Annual Greek Adoptee Reunion will bring even more Greek-born adoptees together for the first time, complete with fun, fellowship, insightful presentations by outstanding speakers and adoptees, and fun group activities. Activities will include Greek coffee hours with adoptee story sessions, an adoptee-author book signing event, Adoptee Wall of Fame Museum, fun photo booth, a trip to the world’s only full-size replica of the Parthenon in Nashville’s Centennial Park, and a Greek Taverna night with Greek food, music and dancing.
If you are a Greek-born adoptee or a Greek family searching for an adoptee and would like to attend the Reunion, or would like assistance searching for your biological family, please visit The Eftychia Project’s website at www.theeftychiaproject.org, Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TheEftychiaProject or via email: [email protected].