FRIENDS, FAMILY, AND NOSTALGIA:
Remembering the Clinton Avenue of Yesteryear
by William Balamaci
Nicholas Shola, Peter Costulas, and John Cook grew up together in the St. Dimitrie Romanian Orthodox Church in Bridgeport, Connecticut, sons of immigrants from far away towns and villages located what is now Albania and northern Greece. Nick moved to St. Luis, Missouri, and thereafter kept in touch with his old buddies through a series of letters and tape recordings. Following are excerpts from some of Nick's letters written in 1982 and 1983; we thank Pete Costulas for allowing us to publish them:
"Imagine my surprise when I received your thoughtful Christmas card? The sentiment expressed brought a lump to my throat and harkened back to years of our youth on the beautiful promenade, Clinton Avenue (Anywhere, USA).
Nostalgia can be a blessing or a curse. Those of us who are in the 40-plus part of life find ourselves more often recalling the good old days. We tend to let our thoughts return to holidays, because they seem so rich in memories. If there was one day that we honored as Macedonians... [a day that] has fond recollections for many of us, it had to be name days. This was a special day that many of our non-Macedonian friends could never appreciate, but it brought us closer as friends and family.
Pete, you should encourage your 87-year old father to record his recollections of our ethnic life before all men of his age group are gone. A recorded tape ... would be of interest to our progeny to warm over and appreciate their ethnic background and forbearers. Someday we are going to realize that some part of our history was lost, because no one endeavored to record on tape or paper all that can be recalled from the past.
Our children may never the know the feeling of family our group retained growing up together in our Romanian Macedonian Community. The Stavri Coca and Ted Giambazi families were my mentors. I was not only an employee of theirs at the Seaside Grocery, I was treated like Stavri and Ted's son. They tutored me in business, and they also filled in for my Dad who died too soon. They lent a paternal nuance to my teens just as my older brothers did.
Wouldn't it be great if we had taken a talking movie of one Saturday's action at the Seaside Grocery or the Colonial Bakery at Cherry Street and Howard Avenue? Have you ever tasted a better apple turnover than the ones made by Gus Janella, Bill Ciufecu, Chris Pippa, Vanghel Janellu, Pete Shola, John Ghianuly, Jim Carameta, Nick Nicola, Vasil, Pulia, Gica, Cleo and Charlie Kressu? I would love to see Chris Michaels selling peanuts from his push cart at the baseball games at Seaside Park; the busy barber shops owned by Mike Costulas, Petra Fatse and Ghitsa Caciavely; Pulia Koch's elegant shoe shine stand at the Stratfield Hotel; John and George Ghianuly's beautiful ice cream parlor at the Fox Poli theater.
Father Hrista Vasilescu should have been given a Medal of Valor for his efforts in teaching us to read and write Romanian. Do you remember the fun we had at the annual Romanian Church picnics held at Kuhn's Farm in Fairfield? How about the major league-type play of Vasil Michaels at second base for our church baseball team; the brilliant outfielding and hitting by Pete Koch or Tom Dumitre hitting home runs on diamond No. 9 at Seaside Park?
That special feeling of belonging to an ethnic group as we sat at the Roxy Hall watching a drama unfold on stage is difficult for our children to appreciate. We were fortunate to be able to speak Macedonian fluently and understand what our parents were going through as they were striving to establish themselves in a new world quite different from KorÁŽ, Pleasa, and Breznitsa in the old country. Here in America, our past culture, traditions and lifestyles are quickly disappearing. Our children do not cherish the same feelings of awe and respect for family and extended family relationships we did -- Teta, Lale, Papu, Muma, Cushurine, Nunu, etc.
To get our gang together one more time to relive those "good old days" with our children would be a dream come true. It may be the only way they could truly learn the value of their ethnic heritage."
Editors note: Nick had two brothers, Chris and Mike, and their family was very active in the community. Mike lives in Stratford; both Nick and Chris have since died.