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Columnists

The Canvas Baby Carrier

January 6, 2022
By Peter Nicolelis

On our last visit to Athens, I decided to visit one of my old haunts around the Monastiraki flea market and the large, municipal agora on Odos Athinas to take photos of these two most unique and colorful landmarks of Athens.

I began my tour by walking to the Omonia traffic circle in downtown Athens. From there, I began walking west on Odos Athinas until I arrived at the clearly defined municipal agora building. I entered the building and as I wandered through and photographed the meat and then the seafood displays and the individual animated and vociferous merchants, I came upon a building exit. I made my way out of the agora and found myself walking through a sidewalk kafenio where I decided to take a pitstop. I took hold of an empty chair, sat at a vacant café table and ordered “ena metrio” – one slightly sweet Greek coffee.

As I sat sipping my coffee, I began to visually peruse the shops that were across from the kafenio. My eyes focused on an awning with lettering identifying the shop as the “Big Bazaar.” As I scanned the items hanging from the shop awning, I took a double take at one of the hanging items.

I was shocked to see a blue canvas baby carrier hanging high above the entrance to the shop.

I was amazed to realize that I was looking at a baby carrier that was the exact model, a duplicate of the infant-carrier in which our adopted son had been carried  for his flight from Athens to the International Arrivals Building (IAB) at JFK airport in New York.

Transportation had been arranged beforehand through the Crown Peters travel agency. It was agreed that once the legal adoption formalities had been completed – the most important of which was the court appearance of both birth parents of the infant and my wife, the adoptive parent – the Crown Peters affiliates in Athens would arrange to have a KLM hostess pick up the baby from the Pikpa foster home in Piraeus to escort and to deliver the infant to my wife and me waiting at the JFK airport.

All of this took place in 1960, well before the advent of the internet or the Personal Computer.

In time, we received a call from the agency alerting us of the arrival of the hostess and child. We immediately made plans to drive to the airport. We arrived early and waited in anxious anticipation in the voluminous arrivals-greeting room of the IAB. During our wait, which seemed endless, I had time to study the large Alexander Calder mobile which hung high overhead from the arched ceiling of the international arrivals room.

The sight of that canvas infant carrier hanging from the awning of that Big Bazaar shop in Athens brought back the excitement of those moments waiting beneath the Calder mobile while we waited for our son’s flight to arrive.

He had been carried to America in an identical infant carrier some sixty years earlier.

This is an account of the legal adoption process we followed to a successful conclusion and how it came about.

In 1959 my first wife Irene and I took our first trip to Europe. It included a visit to Greece.

Soon after our return, my wife’s widowed father decided to retire and to live out his retired life in Athens. Several of his children and extended family saw him sail off on the Queen Frederiki steam ship. We wished him smooth sailing on his voyage and for a good retirement life in Greece.

Just days after his arrival in Athens, we received a phone call advising us that my father-in-law had had a stroke, was partially paralized, and was hospitalized.

Phone calls were completed and an emergency meeting of the entire family was arranged to take place later that same day.

At the meeting of the ten siblings, it was decided that one of them had to travel to Athens immediately – the next day if possible – to be at their father’s bedside and to look after his medical care until his condition was stable enough for him to travel back to America.

My wife was the only sibling that had a valid passport. She and I had a brief private discussion and even though there were other unmarried siblings that did not volunteer, we agreed that she would be the one to fly to Athens. Irene would oversee her father’s needs until he was well enough to travel.

We arranged for my wife’s tickets and she was booked on a KLM flight to Athens the very next day. That evening and during our drive to the airport the following morning, we spoke continuously about the responsibility she had taken on.

In the past, we had talked about adopting a child and had begun investigating the adoption process. In fact, we were being evaluated as prospective adoption parent candidates by one agency in America.

Then, during our lingering, final embrace at the air terminal boarding gate, I spoke these private thoughts to her: “After you have confirmed your father’s condition and have  established his  recovery treatments, look into the adoption process in Greece. We’ll have continuous discussions and agree on a course of action as you learn about the process in Greece.”

She agreed and we smiled at the prospect of making a Greek adoption. We kissed and we  completed our parting embrace with the thought that something very meaningful and significant would result from our readiness to take on the responsibility of taking care of her  father’s stroke rehabilitation.

Once her father’s rehabilitation program was determined, my wife made inquiries and learned about Pikpa, Greece’s national adoption agency. She visited the Pikpa offices on Odos Ermou and made it known that she and her husband were interested in adopting an infant boy. She was asked a battery of questions and was then given a list of addresses of Pikpa foster homes where infant boys were being cared for.

It happened that all of the foster homes that were listed were located in Piraeus.

Irene was staying with her uncle Michali Casilopoulos’ family in their apartment on Vasilesis Sophias in Athens. With the able and willing assistance of her niece Argiroula, Irene was guided through the ever-winding, narrow streets of old Piraeus. She visited one foster home after another hoping that she would have a Eureka moment – the sighting of an infant that she would identify with, an infant that she and I would agree to make our own – a child to nurture and to love as our own.

It was a most difficult and emotional experience for her. Each time she entered the nursery of a different foster home, she would wonder, “is this the nursery where I’ll find our infant?” Those thoughts dominated her very being.

As Irene related her experiences to me by phone, I could feel the emotions she felt as she entered yet another nursery, each of which was typically furnished with three wooden baby cribs, a dressing bathinet, and three chairs.

Then, in one nursery she visited, it happened. One of the infants reacted to the sounds of an entry. He took hold of two vertical crib bars and pulled himself erect. He then looked to see who had entered, smiled, and made eye contact with Irene.

Of all the infants Irene had seen in the nurseries of the different foster homes she had visited, this was the only infant that had reacted with such alertness and enthusiasm.

It was his awareness of her presence that qualified this infant as her nominated candidate for adoption. Now we had to agree and then take our next step.

When I heard Irene’s comments about her adoption candidate, I did not question her instincts for a moment…She had found our son.

We agreed on the infant we would adopt. We also agreed that our next step was to advise Pikpa of our decision and to authorize the legal process of adoption as required and as arranged for by the Pikpa offices.

That adopted Greek infant is now Christopher Nicholas Nicolelis, our son.

Christopher was raised as a third generation Greek-American in the home of second generation Greek-American parents, with two sets of loving, first generation grandparents.

Christopher has also found, visited, and bonded with and corresponds with his birth siblings in Greece.

He attended Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Flushing, Queens. He served Father Alexander Karloutsos at St. Nicholas as an acolyte. He was a member of GOYA and played point guard on the Flushing St. Nicholas GOYA basketball team.

He graduated from the American Community School (ACS) High School in Agia Paraskevi, Greece and the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York.

 

 

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