During the lingering depression years of the 1930’s and 40’s, lentil soup became a soup du jour in our household. For me it was a meal with zero appeal. My young, underdeveloped palate did not enjoy the sight, the texture or the taste of the offering.
As the family sat for dinner at the kitchen table, my father observed the difficulty I was having eating the lentil soup. He saw that each spoonful was a taste and eating challenge for me.
My father seized the moment and decided it was time to tell me about the Golden Greek, Jim Londos. He went on to relate how Jim Londos attributed his amazing strength and energy to his diet – a diet which included frequent meals consisting of generous portions of lentils. He went on to proclaim, as everyone knows, lentils contain ample amounts of the many active minerals, especially, iron!
I listened. I learned about Londos’ strength and about his prowess as a champion – a hall of famer, as a Greco-Roman wrestler. It was an interesting story but it did not make the lentil soup any more appetizing or give the soup more eye appeal.
Some years later, I attended a wedding reception which was being catered in the back room of a Greek restaurant in midtown Manhattan. At one point during the reception, I happened to overhear portions of a conversation between two of the Greek waiters. They were talking about someone that had just entered the restaurant for dinner. They spoke loud enough for me to hear bits and pieces of their interesting discussion. At one point I thought I heard them say “Londos.” Now, was Londos part of a long Greek word I was not familiar with, or was it a family name I heard? Could it have been Jim Londos they were talking about? Or was it another Greek surname that sounded very much like Londos?
I shot up from my chair, walked quickly to the waiters and asked them to verify the name of the diner guest they had just seen enter the restaurant.
As luck would have it, they verified that it was indeed Jim Londos that they had seen. The Golden Greek had entered the restaurant and chose to sit in a booth which afforded him some privacy. He was given a menu and left to plan his meal.
The waiter then pointed out Londos’ booth. I took a deep breath, walked over to the booth, greeted Mr. Londos and introduced myself. I then told him that my father was a big fan and admirer and that I used to wrestle with him when I was younger on our carpeted, dining room floor.
Jim Londos broke out in a big smile, he invited me to sit in the booth across from him and then asked me to tell him about myself.
I began by telling Mr. Londos that both my parents were from Mikra Asia (Asia Minor), that my father was from Pergamos and that my mother was from Magnesia, a town near Smyrna. I told him that I was a student and that I attended New York University and that I was studying engineering. He was pleased to hear that I was studying at a university and then asked what athletic activities I was into? I responded that I played American football with a local team named the Astoria Elms. He smiled approvingly.
Then, a surprise. Jim Londos began telling me his story.
Jim was born in a town called Koutsopodi, a town near the city of Argos in Greece. In english, in America, that town would have been named ‘Limpy’ or better yet, ‘Gimpy’ – the equivalent of Koutsopodi. He was one of thirteen children. In his native Greece, he worked as a shepherd and learned the fundamentals of wrestling from his father, who was an amateur wrestler of considerable reputation. He ran away from home at the age of thirteen and eventually migrated to the U.S.
He worked at doing whatever and wherever he could find work – as a cabin boy on cruise ships, as a laborer on construction projects, as a male model posing in the nude, and as a catcher in a carnival acrobatic trapeze act. That was when he had his big break – where he became aware of the rising popularity of professional wrestling in the 1930’s. He then decided “I can do that and I'll make more money.” He began training and was encouraged by the large immigrant Greek community.
For them, Jim Londos became the Golden Greek. For the wrestling fans at large, he became very popular and amassed over 1,000 victories in his wrestling career.
The stage was set. It was now time to ease into telling strong man, Jim Londos my fakies (lentil) experience. When I completed telling the story, Jim leaned back as he sat and roared with laughter. We had connected. I then asked if he loved to eat lentil soup as my father had described. I wanted to know whether he really enjoyed the taste. To which he smilingly admitted having ordered a bowl of lentil soup that night as his first course. He went on to explain that on his travels to wrestling engagements across the country, he would look for Greek restaurants with the hope that he would find a traditional fakies soup on their menu.
I then informed him that my palate had matured since the lean years of the 30s and 40s and that I now enjoyed a warm bowl of lentil soup accompanied by a quarter wedge of a freshly cut red onion. A moment or two later, the waiter served Jim his bowl of lentil soup. But before the waiter had a chance to turn and walk away, Jim called out, “please bring another bowl of fakies for my young friend here.”
Oh how I wished I still had my father so that I could share this story with him.