Aliki (Alice) Veneti Mandros
My grandmother, or Yiayia, was born in the small village of Lia in Northern Epirus, Greece in 1937. She was the youngest of six children, four girls and twin boys. At six months old, one of her twin brothers passed away because there was not enough food for both of the twins, leaving five siblings. This was only the beginning of the tales of hardships my grandmother and her family faced throughout their years of living in her village. My Yiayia was just eleven years old when the civil war in Greece reached the village. A communist group, the Communist Guerillas, forced each family to move to different communist countries in eastern Europe. When her village had surrendered to the guerillas, both her father and brother left to work as postmen in a nearby city, separating them from the rest of the family. My Yiayia was then taken to Albania where they were forced into camps with horrific living conditions. A year later, they were moved to a different camp in Hungary for about five more years. Soon after, the communist guerillas took one of her sisters, who was only sixteen years old at the time, and sent her to fight in the war. For twenty-eight years, my grandmother and the rest of her family were unable to see her. In 1954, my Yiayia, her mother, and two sisters, were finally able to return to their home in the village of Lia. They were one of the first families to return back to their village, soon reuniting with her brother and father after six long and drastic years. However, she still worried for her sister that was taken, later finding out that she was moved to Russia.
Later that year at the age of seventeen, my Yiayia began corresponding with my grandfather, or Pappou. At that time, my Pappou had been working hard in the United States for five years. In 1958, four years and many letters later, my grandfather went back to Greece to meet my grandmother. That’s right! They had never even seen each other, and they were married a few days after they met. One year and a transatlantic boat ride later, my grandparents came to the United States through Ellis Island and settled in New York for fifteen years. There, they had their three daughters, Maria, Sotiria (Tina), and Sophia. My Pappou worked three jobs to support the family while they lived in New York and eventually, in 1975, they moved to Fall River, Massachusetts and started a business. On Rhode Island Avenue, they opened up the first A-1 Pizza. Over the years, my Yiayia has told me quite a few unbelievable stories from their time working in the pizzeria in Fall River! One night, my grandfather wasn’t at the store and a fight broke out at the bar. Yiayia grabbed a baseball bat that my Pappou had in the store, specifically for situations like that, and started swinging it around and yelling at everyone to get out! Two years later, in 1977, they decided that the city life was no longer for them and they moved to the beautiful town of Little Compton. In 1982, A-1 Pizza opened its doors. My grandparents handed the business over to my mother, Tina, in 1993, after her and my father, Bill Kyros, were married. My grandparents retired to Cocoa Beach, Florida. Yiayia always talks about how much she loves Little Compton and how amazing it was raising her children here. My grandmother is now eighty-three years old and still flies up to Rhode Island every single summer to come visit her grandchildren and work at the pizzeria!
My admiration and everlasting love for my Yiayia started as early as I can remember. Every year since I was born, my parents and siblings have gone down to Florida to visit my grandparents. I can remember the pure joy I had when I walked out of the doors at the airport and saw her standing there with open arms. My Yiayia helped teach me how to swim at her pool, and I can’t even recall how many times she would take all of us out to get ice cream. My grandmother is one of the best cooks ever. She can take anything and make it into a delicious meal (just ask all my co-workers at A-1). She taught me how to sew but whenever I am with her I leave the sewing to the professional. Trying to keep up with Yiayia when it comes to bowling is an impossible task. If I am unfamiliar with a Greek word, Yiayia is the best dictionary out there! She knows the map around Disney like the back of her hand because of all the trips she has taken with all 8 of her grandchildren. She has instilled within all of us that family is the most important part of life and I will cherish all of these, and so many more memories for the rest of my existence. My adoration for my grandmother is never-ending, and all of the happiness and life-lessons she has given me will forever be a part of me.
Vasiliki Kyros, Granddaughter