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Literature

Theodore Tolios on His Book “It Is Fun Riding around the Sun”

August 6, 2021

Theodore Tolios spoke with The National Herald about his book It Is Fun Riding around the Sun: Poems of a Greek Immigrant. Tolios was born in 1935 in a small village, Agios Cosmas, in northwestern Greece. In 1956, he immigrated to the United States and settled in Haverhill, MA, where he currently lives with his wife of 57 years, Erato Kafteranis, surrounded by their children and grandchildren. His book, in Greek and partly in English, includes poems and essays that reflect his life story— the hardships of war, famine, migration, and the joys of family, friends, and community.

Tolios said: “My mother used to walk to a nearby village weekly to get supplies for our home. When she was gone, my grandfather used to watch me, my older brother, and my older sister. When I was four years old, I left my village of Agios Cosmas in the northwest of Greece to follow her on her weekly errand run, without my grandfather realizing I was gone. When I reached the neighboring village, my mother had already left. I walked all day, passing three villages, but made it back home to find my mother and my grandfather crying. Eighty-one years later, my mother’s tears of joy and anger remain indelibly imprinted on my memory.”

“In 1941, Greece was experiencing a famine,” Tolios continued. “My mother served us zucchini and potatoes. I didn’t like zucchini, so I started to complain. My mother started to cry and said, ‘I don’t have anything else to give to you.’ And I said to myself that I would never say no to whatever food is offered to me ever again.”

“In 1945, when I was ten years old, Greeks celebrated the end of World War II only to be immediately submerged in a Civil War that would affect mostly the northern part of Greece. A military conflict ensued in my small village between the nationalists and the communists, and we ran to the fields to avoid the violence. My mother sent me home for much needed supplies. While walking to my village, a communist soldier ordered me to escort another wounded communist soldier to the neighboring village. I was terrified, because the communist soldiers used to take young boys by force and compel them to fight. Luckily, someone saw me and notified my mother. She quickly came to my rescue and fought for my release.”

“We ran into the fields and hid there all night,” Tolios said, adding that “that day my cousin was not as lucky, as he was taken and never returned to Greece. He was sent to Poland, where he lived for the rest of his life. During the Civil War, the national government forced villagers to move into the larger towns and force them to come out of hiding. My family moved to the town of Trikala.”

“While living in Trikala, I was able to attend high school and earn a diploma, which was not easily afforded to Greeks who lived in villages. In school, I wrote my first poem. My teacher was very impressed and said that I had talent, but I didn’t listen nor act on my writing talent because my heart and mind were set on coming to America.”

“In1956, I arrived in the United States, one day before the presidential election between Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson. I settled in Haverhill, Massachusetts and worked in the shoe factories, doubled shifts, from 7 AM to 11 PM. In 1958, I was drafted for military service, and basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey. After I finished, I was sent home with an honorable discharge for not speaking the language fluently.”

“After service, there was no future for me in the shoe factories, so I went to school for hairdressing with goals of opening up a business. In 1963, I met my wife, Erato Kafteranis, and we married. In 1964, I opened a hair salon. My wife went to hairdressing school and the two of us worked together side-by-side for 56 years. We raised two daughters. I eventually listened to my high school teacher and started writing poems mainly to celebrate events, make jokes, and some political, some serious and some satirical.”

“My book reflects my life story— the hardships of war, famine, migration, and the joys of family, friends, and community, by a simple man who left the village and found his way home,” Tolios concluded.

It Is Fun Riding around the Sun: Poems of a Greek Immigrant by Theodore Tolios is available online: shorturl.at/oxAW9

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