Feature Story September 1, 2007


CODISH FAMILY - GREEK IMMIGRANTS OF CLARKSBURG, WV



       Marye Codish, daughter of Greek immigrants, now a resident of Lancaster, Pennsyvania, was raised at 50 Lewis Street in Summit Park, east of Clarksburg, Harrison County, West Virginia, where her father had converted a rundown barn into a charming two-story Victorian home with two porches and a cellar, later adding a profitable greenhouse. When Marye thinks back, she compares her cherished childhood experiences to those of "Little House on the Prairie". The Codish homeplace was demolished to make way for Compton Bowling Lanes.

I KNOW A STORY

by Marye Codish
© 2007



       Time and memory have served my eldest sister Carrie well, although she is 99 years old, blind, and in a nursing home; God willing, she will celebrate her 100th birthday in November of this year (2007). As one who experienced the journey, throughout her lifetime, Carrie, has repeated the immigration story of our family as a dutiful mantra; and, as the youngest in our family, I am compelled to put her story to pen, to tell her story one more time, as a tribute to our beloved parents, Costa and Paraskevi(1) Codish, and for the sake of posterity. We children called them "Pop" and "Mom".

       The year was 1910, when my father, a 36 year-old native from the island of Kos in Greece, sailed from the port of Pereaus for America and Clarksburg, West Virginia. Along with many others, he had been recruited to work as a tin cutter at Weirton Steel Mill(2) located on the outskirts of Clarksburg. There was such a flood of Greek immigrants to the community of Summit Park since 1902, that the local natives referred to the section surrounding the tinmill as "Greektown"; the Greeks themselves simply called it "Tin Plate". Several dormitories (boarding houses) were built in an area next to the mill to house workers and their families, and Greek coffeehouses were established to cater to the working men. Like my father, most were married men working toward paying passage for their families to join them.

(1)Translated from Greek, "Paraskevi" means "Friday".
(2) Originally the Jackson Iron & Tinplate Co., which sold (new, never operated) to Pittsburgh partners, James R. Phillips and Ernest T. Weir, and the name was changed to Phillips Sheet & Tinplate Co.. One month after operations began, senior partner J. R. Phillips was killed in a train wreck, ironically, caused by a load of shifting steel. E. T. Weir then took the helm of the company and tinmill became the first Weirton Steel Company



       It took my father five years to earn enough money to bring his family to America. In 1915, Pop returned to Kos, near the Greek mainland, to gather his wife, Paraskevi, and three children under the age of seven: Katrina "Carrie", Michalee "Mike", and Sevameea "Stella". They left beloved family and friends behind, perhaps never to see them again, and set sail for America and their new home in West Virginia.

       Midway across the Atlantic Ocean, on Costa Codish's second crossing of the Atlantic, the ship in which he and his family were sailing began to sink. But by the grace of God, they were successfully transferred to passing vessel, "The Patrice", from which they watched helplessly as their ship disappeared into the black sea waters with all of their most prized belongings. As Pop said, "Better them, than us."

       After 52 days at sea, they arrived at Ellis Island, tired and weary, but glad to be in the "Land of Milk and Honey" and the "Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave".

       With one suitcase, little money, and unable to speak English, our parents, brave and blessed, persevered and built a future.

       Pop was a hard worker. He bought a rundown barn and with his knowledge as a builder of homes, he converted it into a charming two-story Victorian "Home Sweet Home" with two porches and a cellar. Because of the structure's original purpose, there was barely room to stand upright on the second floor - it felt more like a cozy loft. These days, when I think back, I think of our home as the "Little House on the Prairie", and "we" as the pioneers of the time. I have to chuckle, for our house sat by the side of the road and only a quarter mile from the city limits, hardly a prairie, by any means.

       Over time, the Codish family increased in size. In birth order, our den of cubs consisted of Carrie (born 2007), Mike, Stella, Gertrude, and I was Mary without the "e" - the youngest (born 1921). We sisters-four were referred to as "the Codish girls". We grew up poor, but not in human values. We honored and respected our parents and shared that respect with kindness for all. We grew up without life's conveniences, for they were not affordable for us - no plumbing; gaslights, instead of electricity, that came later. Our water came from a drilled pump well. We caught rain water in barrels for other needs, to keep from having to pump, which was hard work itself.

       Pop was "Costa the Lion Hearted" of our Den, not big in stature, but a giant with a heart of pure gold and a pussycat. He didn't fool us with his Roar! Or did he?? I can still see him sitting on the floor with legs crossed, mending his leather apron each night for the next day's work. After working all day at the tin mill, Pop would come home and, with Mom by his side, hoe, dig, plant, and water their large garden. They not only produced enough vegetables for canning and for storing in the cellar, but for a bountiful garden-fresh food supply on our table all summer long.

       Although they called it canning, they used glass jars. Remember Mason jars? Mom had the help of all the siblings, and it was good help… and then there was me! As the youngest, I did what I was told to do, perhaps with a pouted lip and dragging my bare feet, never in a hurry. The canning was done outdoors and lasted most of the day.

       Other days, Mom would rise at dawn to go heaven-knows-where to pick blackberries or mushrooms or dandelion greens or grape leave, later to stuff with rice, ground beef and herb mixture, a delicacy you won't forget. My Mom, dear soul, would come home hours later hot and tired. The berries, if they were the pick-of-the-day, ended up as preserves and jelly; but before that, we had fresh berries with real cream from a real cow - so rich, so fattening - or a cold berry drink to soothe our souls.

       Mom also made wine from those berries. At Sunday dinner, Dad would give us a taste, watered down. We didn't know the difference at our table - you found only water, no sugared drinks of the time.

       Mom made bowls of yogurt, the best I've ever tasted; if friends would order a bowl, she charged 25 or 50 cents according to the size of the bowl. She made feta cheese and put some in her wine for a different taste. That and Manoure (a soft white cheese) were my favorites. Did I tell you she baked bread once a week?

       There was no end to our Mom's handiworks. I remember a little leather drawstring pouch she kept hidden behind a pan in our pantry; that was where her hard earned money was kept. I heard her say many times, when it was close to empty, "The Lord never lets it get empty".

       Summertime meant picnics at Palmers Lake, just over the hill and across the covered bridge that spanned Simpson Creek, where we spent the day with our dearest friends, all gone now. The food was prepared the day before by both families and shared together the next day. The desert was watermelon, the entertainment - music by Pete Panayote and his mandolin. Then some swam, and those that couldn't, waded and flapped their wings.

       When Weirton Steel closed its gates in October 1936, Dad built a greenhouse and sold vegetable plants and flowers until his retirement in 1950.

       Stella, Gertrude, and Marye graduated from Victory High School. Carrie was the first to leave the nest, when a handsome Prince Charming from Lancaster, Pennsylvania - James Speros, owner of Jim's Café, a well-known eating establishment at the time, visited our home with our out-of-town relatives. He swept her off her feet, married her, and brought her back to Lancaster to live happily ever after. They raised a son, Spencer Speros, their pride and joy who brought them much happiness and affection together with his wife, Janet. He is a broker of record and sales manager for American Homeland Realty in Lancaster.

       Two sisters followed, Gertrude married George Mylonas of New York and also settled in Lancaster. George was born in the apartment building that later became Watt & Shand. While working in Lancaster at McCroy's Five and Dime, Gertrude bought and paid for a washing machine to make life easier for her Mom. How did she do that? She walked twelve blocks to and from work year-round. She budgeted her money, but not her love; and two sisters, Carrie and Stella, did their share willingly and with love. Stella married Lester Weinhold of Lancaster.

       After my sisters married and departed from our home in Clarksburg, and with my brother, Mike, away so much of the time, traveling on business, I spent a great deal of my time yearning for them. Poor little ol' me left behind, all alone and lonely. I have some regrets that haunt me and bring sadness and tears to my eyes. It wasn't anything my parents did or didn't do, for their love was there, pure and true; but my black moods would crop up like bad seed …oh! I could be sweet and mellow, you might even say, loveable. ? I'm a grown woman now, 85 going on 86 - as the old folk used to say, older and wiser, too! Along life's way I made excuses for my actions - it must have been the water, full moon, no moon at all.

       When Mom's health began to fail, the Lancaster siblings and sons-in-law persuaded Mom and Pop to retire from produce business and move there in 1950, and, of course, I moved in order to be with family, too. Our Codish family had resided at 50 Lewis Street in Summit Park for 35 years.

       Once settled in Lancaster, and as members of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church on South Queen Street (now at 64 Hershey Avenue), my Dad won a raffle ticket to Greece. I remember him saying numerous times, "If I could see my beloved Kos once again, I will die happy." This was Dad's "once in a lifetime dream come true” and we had to persuade him not to pass up this opportunity to go. He was reluctant because of Mom's health, but Mom insisted more than all of us that he should go.

       He sailed for Greece and spent the summer of 1954 there. On his homeward journey, he died onboard ship and was buried at sea. The same sea that once before made its first attempt on his life finally claimed it 39 years later. He was 80 years old.

       His wife, Paraskevi, our beloved mother, died a year later, believing, as we told her, that Dad was laid to rest on the Isle of Gibraltar, off the coast of Spain. Our love follows them forevermore until we meet again! A day doesn't go by that I don't think of my beloved mother. Today, I want to thank Mom and Pop for giving us the "Gift of Life" and an abundance of love and these precious memories to remember. The memories go forward.

       Even when I was 70, brother Mike would still introduce me as his "baby sister". I'm not a blusher, but I think I did - though secretly, I loved it. How I loved him, gone now, and I have no one to call me "Baby". ? Sadly, our sister Stella, the love of our lives, left us too, to miss her and her endearing ways hereafter.

       I wish I could go back in time to that "Little House on the Prairie", that I so lovingly call it, and ask Mom and Pop to forgive my wayward and rebellious ways and whatever heartaches I gave them. When we meet again, dear hearts, I need to wrap my arms around you and ask you to forgive me one more time.. and I know with those beautiful angelic smiles, you will ask "For what, Meri?" - that is what they called me - "You are loved forevermore".

Surviving Codish Sisters - 2007
Carrie Speros    Marye Codish    Gertrude Mylonas
Author of this article


       Marye's original story was published in Lancaster, Pennsylvania's Sunday News Era on Palm Sunday, April 1, 2007, and in Robert Stealey's "Bob'N'Along" column, Clarksburg Exponent-Telegram, June 1, 2007, and at the Harrison County Genealogical Society website in July, 2007, and will be the feature story on September 1, 2007.

Correspondence welcome:
Miss Marye Codish
33 Farnum Street, Apt. 202
Lancaster, PA 17602


Mrs. Carrie Codish Speros
Hamilton Arms Center
336 South West End Avenue
Lancaster, PA 17603

Or their email contact: Sharon Sprouse Bramhall bram2earth@yahoo.com


Costa & Paraskevi Codish, circa 1950 - courtesy of Marye Codish


Codish house at 50 Lewis Street (Summit Park) Clarksburg (now site of Compton Bowling Lanes)
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