Like many students who attended McKinley (including the Welches, the Glores and the Tocksteins), I had several siblings who also received their high school education there. In fact, I had two brothers and three sisters who were Goldbugs – Tom (47), Dorothy (49), Florence (51), Pete (53), and Angie (56.) My sister, Angie graduated in June ’56 and I began my freshman year in September of that same year - so I was the only one of us who did not have a sibling still at McKinley when I walked those hallowed halls.
Nothing could be truer than the old cliché that you can choose your friends but not your family. If you are lucky your family can also be among your best friends. And if you are really lucky, like I was and am, your family can be among those very few people whom you love and who love you unconditionally. Wonderful people who are there for you in times of trouble or triumph, always defending you (if not your mistakes), and relishing your successes without a hint of envy.
Of course, the key to having supportive and loving siblings is having exceptional parents. There again, I was one lucky guy. Just like many other students at McKinley, my parents were immigrants. My father, who was born in 1890, came to America from Albania in the teens and became a citizen by joining the American army during the First World War. In 1928 he returned to the old country to find a bride. My mother, who was born in 1911, lived in a small town in nearby Greece. Theirs was an arranged marriage, but it happened that they grew to adore one another and after touring Europe, they came to America in 1929. My mother was pregnant with my eldest brother, Tom during that journey.
My parents were virtually penniless, poorly educated, and struggling with a new language in a new land – yet they produced and heroically began to raise a family of five children during the worst years of the Great Depression. I was born in 1942, and although the years of severe poverty and deprivation for my family were over (such as seven people sleeping in one room), we continued to struggle.
The one thing our family had then, and still has to this day, is the sense of security and harmony that comes from being treated kindly and fairly by family members who truly care about you and your well-being. My parents created this atmosphere because of their character, temperament and loving nature.
Somehow by 1945, my mother was able to put aside enough money from my father’s meager earnings to put a down payment on a three- story 55-year old house, with a basement, at 2641 Russell Blvd. This added greatly to our family’s security and comfort. It was the home I remember through my mostly happy childhood, including my years at McKinley. That happiness was shattered by the tragic accidental death of my father in 1952 when I was 10. My father was a kid and gentle man who never raised a hand to me or any of my siblings. He had a terrific sense of humor (although sometimes macabre or ribald) and a zest for life which delighted his many friends as well as his children. As the youngest, I remember always wanting to hold his rough, nicotine-stained fingers and to sit near him when he told stories with his friends, as we listened to the radio or later, watched wrestling on TV.
My mother was constantly in motion. She washed clothes nearly every day with primitive equipment in our dark, dank basement. She was a terrific cook and baker, crocheted not only doilies but also tablecloths and curtains, kept a spotless house, and was a kind and wise councilor to us ALL. After I moved from St. Louis and would come to visit her with my young family, she would cry tears of happiness when we arrived and tears of sadness when we left. She died in 1972 of a massive heart attack.
After my sister Florence graduated from McKinley and found a job, she was in charge of giving me my weekly allowance. A dollar a week doesn’t sound like much now, but back then a Fudgesicle, Coke or box of popcorn were a nickel each. The admission or a kid at the movies was 15 cents, and you could buy a comic book for a dime. Florence was a wonderful sister, a little dynamo. She was a terrific hostess and I stayed many times at her Florida condo which sat on the top floor of a ocean front building in Lauderdale by the Sea. Sadly she died earlier this year after a long illness.
When my father died, my eldest brother, Tom became the titular head of the family at 23. I regret that I did not always make it easy for him to be a father figure. But he tried hard, and I knew he was always in my corner, wishing the best for me. When I graduated university, Tom handed me a folder filled with newspaper clippings of my high school and college athletic careers (such as they were). A kindness I shall never forget.
My sister Dorothy was in charge of me early in my life, and was and is one of the most loving and giving people I have ever met. I do not know a living soul (adult or child) who upon meeting Dorothy is not immediately aware of her sweet and caring nature. Every time I see her smiling face I feel better. It is a rare and special gift.
Angie is the sister closest to me in age. She is the family chronicler and keeps me informed about family matters with e-mails and phone calls. Like my mother and other sisters, she is a terrific cook and hostess and impeccable housekeeper as well as a great mother and grandmother. A constant go-getter, she still works several days a week at a job outside her home.
Last, but certainly not least, is my brother, Pete. Seven years older than me, Pete was my idol as I was growing up. He worked hard, he was a good athlete, he could draw, he always drove a convertible, he was a sharp dresser, and he was good with the girls. As we grew older, the difference in our ages ceased to matter, and his friends became my friends and vice versa. We and our mutual friends play golf together in St. Louis and on golf junkets all over the country. When I visit St. Louis, I usually stay at Pete’s lovely home, although Angie and Florence were always willing to be my host. When Pete comes to visit me at my condo in Indiana, he never fails to fix something that needs repair. No one could ask for a better brother than Pete has been to me. (Spiro wrote this article before Pete’s passing in July of this year.)
My extended family traditionally gets together at least three times a year for a meal, conversation and good cheer – Thanksgiving, Christmas, and what we call Greek Easter. Usually 35 to 50 members of my family come to these celebrations. If everyone came, it would be about 65 people. My siblings and I always have a meal together at a fine restaurant to celebrate milestone birthdays. My brother, Tom’s 85th is coming up next year.
I know all this sibling love and harmony may sound a bit overdone. In fact, the wife of one of my nephews once commented that our family did not seem real because we never argue. Of course, that is not true. Some of us do sometimes have heated discussions about politics or topics of the day. We disagree about “facts” (thank God for “Google” and “fact-checker”) like everyone else. But what we don’t do is walk away mad or hold grudges. I know of families where certain members have not spoken to one another for many years. That has never happened in my family and it is inconceivable to me that it could ever happen. And, I certainly hope it has never happened or never happens in yours.
-- Spiro Athanas