From Greece to Georgetown—one woman’s journey
Panyiotis Dimopoulous swooped Sousanna, his youngest child, up in his arms. She always felt secure when her father swaddled her this way. “I love you,” he whispered through her sun-bleached curls.
Panyiotis adored all four of his children, but from the moment Sousanna was born, he knew his affection for her would be different. Perhaps he instinctively believed that Sousanna would be the last child born to him.
“You are the best of my children.” Her father had whispered these words to her many mornings before leaving to work in the vegetable fields of Pyrgos, Greece. But this morning his tone was different. Tragic. Final. “And you will live like a queen, I promise,” he said.
Sousanna searched her father’s eyes—eyes the color of the Aegean Sea. She saw the sadness. He gave her the egg he had boiled for her breakfast and hugged her again. This last hug and the certainty of her father’s love would help fortify Sousanna for the journey ahead.
A Wrenching Decision
Weeks earlier, Panyiotis had come home from the fields to find a man waiting for him in the small courtyard entrance of his one-room mud brick home. Mr. Georgatos (a pseudonym) was tall and wore a suit and Panama hat. He eyed the Dimopoulous children, especially little Sousanna. He was a Greek-American lawyer on a mission to take Greek children back to America for illegal adoption.
“Let me take Sousanna to America. You are just a poor farmer who cannot take care of your family. She will be treated like a queen in America,” he coaxed. Panyiotis threw Mr. Georgatos off his property. “Never come back here,” he said.
Mr. Georgatos did come back, several times. And each time, after Panyiotis said “No,” he surveyed the meager one-room homes in his village, the war-torn churches, the pillaged burial sites. World War II and the civil war had ended just a decade earlier, and the land still ached with poverty and starvation.
Is this all my little Sousanna has to look forward to? The best of my children? At least in America, she could get food and shelter, he reasoned. Besides, this Mr. Georgatos promised to return Sousanna to Greece in two years when recovery would surely be under way in Pyrgos.
Panyiotis reluctantly agreed to let Sousanna go to America. She will have food and be treated like a queen there.
The following morning, Emilia Dimopoulous squeezed Sousanna’s hand until it hurt.
Why is Mama holding my hand so tight? Sousanna wondered as they stared down the empty road. Her mother had always been so gentle. Then a green convertible painted with white lightning bolts stirred the dirt as it came down the road toward Sousanna and her mother. Mr. Georgatos vaulted out of his car, sporting a crisp white suit and panama hat.
“Hello, Sousanna, are you ready to go?” he asked the child.
Sousanna’s mother held her hand tighter.
“You must come now, Sousanna.” Mr. Georgatos gestured toward the car, where Sousanna spotted a doll in the back seat. The doll was as big as Sousanna and had beautiful blonde curls, crystal blue eyes, and pretty lace socks. Sousanna stared in amazement. This is to be mine?
Mr. Georgatos opened the car door, and Sousanna climbed in the back seat and grabbed the doll. As the car accelerated down the street, Sousanna heard her name. She turned around to see her mother chasing the car. But in moments, her mother was out of sight.
Sousanna and several other Greek children were taken to a home in Patra, about three hours northwest of Pyrgos, where they were taught a few English words and some American customs. She landed in Oklahoma a few months later where her new parents, Retha and Buddy Knox, and their previously adopted Greek son, Jay, met her. The Knox family paid Mr. Georgatos $5,000 for Sousanna.
New Life in America
Retha changed six-year-old Sousanna’s name to Veta Knox and took her to Sears for American clothes. The new crinoline slip reminded Sousanna of the doll in the green car.
Retha wanted a daughter who would love and adore her. But Sousanna—now Veta—couldn’t love Retha like that. The only mother she loved was in Greece.
Veta cried herself to sleep every night. She didn’t understand why she had to leave her family in Greece to live in a strange country. She didn’t know English and couldn’t understand why everyone lived in separate rooms.
Don’t cry, Sousanna, the best of my children. You will be treated like a queen.
Veta didn’t know what a queen was or why it felt so bad to be treated like one. The new clothes were pretty, but Veta was miserable. She clung to the memory of her father’s words and the love her family in Greece had lavished on her.
Retha enrolled Veta in kindergarten, and she gradually learned to speak English. Veta made good grades and stayed out of trouble. The love she had received from her parents in Greece, though now far away, sustained her. Though she never fit in with her American family, she knew that on the other side of the world, she had people who loved her, and this kept her spirits up when discouragement threatened to overwhelm her. At eighteen, she left the Knox home to enter Texas A&M.
News from Home
One day, when Veta checked her campus mailbox, she found a letter with jagged handwriting and a Greek stamp. Excitement rose from her stomach to her throat. She sprinted across campus to find her fiancé, Bob Stratmann, so they could read the letter together. The letter was from Nikos, Veta’s brother in Greece. He had been searching for her since the “bad man tricked our father” fifteen years earlier. He had even taken an oath not to marry until he found his baby sister.
Three years later, Veta and her Greek family were reunited in Pyrgos. Since then, Veta and her husband, Bob, have made several trips to Greece, taking time off from the dance classes she teaches at Arts Avenue Studio in Georgetown. And Veta’s mother, Emilia, and her family have visited Veta and Bob here in Georgetown.
Veta’s father died soon after Nikos found Veta in Texas. “But,” Veta says, “he died peacefully, knowing that I, the best of his children, had been well cared for in America.”
By Alicea Jones
Photos by Rudy Ximenez and Provided by the Family