Greek-American Families, Videos

Samaras: Chris and Mary Samaras

Chris and Mary Samaras

Chris was born on November 8, 1922 in Cambridge, MD to Daphne & George Samaras, who immigrated here from Trikala, Greece. All of Chris’ siblings, Alice, Charles, Agoura and Nick were born in Greece. They arrived in the US in the early 20’s and first set their home as Cambridge, MD where Papou opened a restaurant that was ransacked by the KKK and during this time, our father, Chris was born. We can remember as children traveling with our family to Ocean City every summer and while passing by Cambridge, Dad would always ask the kids, “Did you see my statue?”, to which we would say “no” and never did we see it. And he would always swear that we passed it already. He said, it was a statue of himself on Race Street with the inscription reading “Chris Samaras, the first Greek born in Cambridge, MD…may he be the last”.

Because of the troubles in Cambridge with the KKK, they sold the restaurant and moved where other relatives lived in Staunton, VA. Dad was only 2 years old when walking down the street with his father, when our Papou suffered a major heart attack and died right in front of him. Our grandmother, Yiayia Samarou, was a young widow in a strange new country left to now raise the children.

As a young man Chris attended Staunton Military Academy for one year and he & his older brother Charlie eventually ran a pool hall in Pearisburg, VA. Dad was a very good pool shooter, but Uncle Charlie was a great one. We remember them both telling us stories about having famed pool shark, Willy Mosconi, come through Pearisburg and play a rack of pool with Uncle Charlie.

In 1941, Chris enlisted in the U.S. Army and was stationed in India and worked on the vital pipeline to support the war efforts. He survived malaria while overseas. Chris didn’t talk about the war much with his children.

Soon after Chris returned from the war, he met the love of his life, Mary, at a Greek convention in South Carolina.

Mary was born in Beckley, West Virginia on October 28, 1927 to Nicholas & Evangeline Kambouris, who also immigrated from the same region of Greece, only 26 kilometers from where Chris’ parents were from, in a town called Karditsa, Thessaly. She was the middle child of three – siblings George & Katherine. Papou & Yiayia owned a diner in their small town, called Nick’s diner. The Beckley Herald wrote an article about their well visited establishment, describing the personalities of our grandparents to a tee. Most enjoyed were the custard pie, strawberry pie and chocolate peanut butter rolls that none of their children, grand-children nor great grand-children have ever been able to re-create. Mary was voted “sweetest girl” in her high school. She went on to graduate from Beckley College and worked for a couple of banking institutions.

We remember mom telling us the story of how she and dad first started dating. Chris came to Beckley with his brother Nick because Nick was dating Christine, who was Mary’s first cousin. They were 2 brothers dating 2 first cousins. Dad was a bit of a playboy, but very smitten with Mary. Mary wasn’t interested initially because of his reputation. But, the Samaras charm prevailed. Mary recalls the day that he won her heart. Dad knowing how much Mary loved her sweets, brought her the biggest box of chocolates she had ever seen. The rest is history. They dated long distance for a couple of years and during that time corresponded through hundreds of love letters.

Chris & Mary tied the knot on September 2, 1951.

[insert video of Chris & Mary Samars wedding]

They established their home in Annapolis, where Mary worked as a bookkeeper for Anne Arundel Hospital and Chris worked with his brother Charlie at the Victory Lunch restaurant on West Washington Street.

In 1952, their first child, Stephen was born. In the Greek tradition, the first born son is named after the paternal grandfather. Chris’ two older brothers, Charlie and Nick named their 2 eldest sons, George after their Papou. Charlies’ son was “Big George” and Nick’s son was “Little George”. So, when it came time to name their son, Mary didn’t want the moniker “Baby George” and put her foot down.

They bought a row house at 8 Union Street and lived there with brother Nick, his wife Christine and their mother, Daphne Samaras, “Yiayia Samarou”, just doors down from the Palaigos family and Charlie & Bessie Samaras.

In 1955, Charlie & Chris joined forces to buy the C&C Grocery at 925 Bay Ridge Road. They lived in homes on either side of the store. Two years later in 1957, their precious daughter Daphne was born. Daphne was named after Yiayia Samarou, but Yiayia was so disappointed after a long stream of boys to carry the Samaras name and girls were too much trouble. After 6 months, our grandfather Nick Kambouris came all the way up from Beckley to bring Yiayia Samarou to her senses. She moved back in and helped to raise the new baby.

In 1963, Mom & Dad had their house built behind the store on the same property where Charlie & Bessie lived. The house was finished just in time to welcome their 3rd child, Evangeline, born in 1964. One unique characteristic of our family was that in all of our family up until now, everyone in our immediate family had an “8” in our birthdays. Not Evangeline, who didn’t want to miss out on anything and came a day early.

From 1955 to 1969, the C&C Grocery thrived, partly due to the close proximity of 2 African American beaches, Carr’s & Sparrow’s Beach, which attracted many popular artists such as Chuck Berry, James Brown, Otis Redding & The Supremes to name a few. Sometimes, cars would line from their location at Edgewood Road all the way to Parole on the then single lane road. C&C Grocery was the last stop before they got to the beach and would come in for sandwiches, picnic lunches and alcoholic refreshments.

Apollo Theater, Atlantic City and Carr’s Beach were the major entertainment venues for the black community. Due to the segregation that existed back then. the white community would drive down and line the “Cat Hole”, the body of water behind the Annapolis Roads swimming pool where the Greeks would celebrate Tis Panayias in August, and sit there to listen to the music coming from across the water at Carr’s Beach.

A few years later, the supermarket industry was becoming more of a competition to the Mom & Pop grocery stores, so the Samaras family decided to convert the grocery store into a full service liquor store. We often revel how a little family owned business turned liquor store was able to support 2 families and send 5 children to college. We also love how so many young men in the community spent time working for our father and uncle. To name a few in our tight knit community: Nick Nikiforou, Vasilis Goudounis, Chris Nicholas, Charlie Chiras, George Brown, Eli & Mike Kosanovitch and Frank Snyder.

Mary & Bessie were not only raising their families and helping their husbands run their business, they also, along with their sister in law Christine, were heavily involved in all church related events, including helping to create and run the Annapolis Greek festival. We were very fortunate to have the love and support of our maternal Grandmother, Big Yiayia, but also the guidance of our mother and 2 aunts who were always around cooking and hosting family events.

After Aunt Christine and Aunt Bessie both lost the loves’ of their lives, Uncle Nick and Uncle Charlie, the 3 sister in laws formed a bond everyone should envy. Although our mother’s sister, Katherine, who continued to live in Beckley, West Virginia would call daily and visit often, our mother also gained 2 other sisters locally who rang the phone off the hook in our household. We could always tell who was calling just by the way mom would answer the phone. It brings back good memories just thinking about it. Dad would never answer the phone because he always knew the calls would be for Mom. Except when it was close to time when Daphne was about to deliver their first grandchild. Very close to the due date, Dad convinced Mom to go to a family wedding in Virginia. Mom only went because Daphne promised she would wait to have the baby when she returned from the weekend away. Of course, we can plan the birth of our babies. Daphne went into labor that Saturday and Mom & Dad rushed home just after she was born to find see their new grand-daughter Marisa who was named for the combination of their names, Mary and Chris.

One special tradition we all share as a Greek community was the importance of the celebration of Name days. None more than the Christmas day celebration of everyone named Chris. Our Mom would prepare for weeks for our open house on Christmas night inviting the entire Greek community for our Dad’s name day.

We are so grateful that our parents instilled in all of us, the importance of family, friends and spending time in celebration together. Even though our parents would only close the store on Christmas day, and kept it open the other 364 days a year, they still managed to create times for us to spend vacations at the beach and in West Virginia to visit our Mom’s family. We even went to Greece for 5 weeks back in the 70’s. Funny story is our brother Stephen did not make it to that trip. He was a lifeguard at Bay Ridge Beach and enjoying his single lifestyle. Thinking about spending weeks with his 15 and 9 year old for 5 weeks didn’t seem as appealing as spending time with those bikini clad 20 year olds. So much for family! LOL. Our dad said to him at that time, “Son, if you don’t go to Greece now, you’ll be my age (52) before you take this trip to the old country.” Although Stephen didn’t believe it, our Dad was right once again. We siblings traveled to Greece in 2009 for the first time together.

As adults we still recognize the importance of celebrations together. Because every member of our family including our spouses all had birthdays in the last few months of the year, getting together for every birthday was challenging. So we would pick one long weekend to travel somewhere together to celebrate. In November of 2005 we spent our weekend in Kingsmill in Williamsburg, VA. Stephen recalls playing golf one morning. The girls were going to the outlets with Dad. Challie, Dan, Mike & Stephen were heading out on the golf course. Dad looked really sad because he had to go shopping with the women. Challie suggested that Dad come and ride along with them instead. Stephen and Dad smoked cigars, drank beers and had a wonderful time that day on the golf course. After the ride back from Kingsmill, Charlie and Stephen dropped Mom & Dad off at home, when saying good night, Dad said to Stephen, “Son, I want to thank you because I had the best time of my life. I have only one regret and that is that I didn’t learn how to play golf. And Stephen then remarked, “Dad, I’ve asked you many times to play golf but you always responded that you weren’t OLD enough, so why now?” And Dad said to Stephen, “because I could have spent more time with you.” With that, he said, “I love you and Good night, son.” Dad passed away that following morning on November 15, 2005.

It was difficult to run a jewelry store after we had to bury our father. We are in a business where people want to celebrate their loved ones and Christmas was right around the corner. I recall how difficult it was for me, especially because so many people would come into the store and tell me to please tell Stephen how sorry they were for his loss, not realizing that I was Stephen’s sister and that I too lost my father. I didn’t know how at 6 months pregnant, I would get through the holidays with any sort of smile on my face.

Ten days later, on Black Friday, Zachary’s Jewelers had a devastating fire and burned to the ground. It’s amazing how you rise to the occasion especially after dealing with the loss of a parent and put things into perspective. We knew our business would survive and we would do what we needed to do to have a successful holiday. I believe to this day, it was our father who “sent the fire our way” and said you all have done enough crying and now need to focus on getting on your two feet and move forward. Our mother even found peace and solace in preparing food around the clock for all of us working 24/7 to rebuild our business.

Little Katherine was born in April and it helped our mom focus on a new sweet grandchild to help take care of. Katherine was named after our mom’s sister Katherine, our aunt from West Virginia who was so prevalent in our lives for so long.

Unfortunately, as in many long loving relationships, it wasn’t long after that Mom followed. She passed the day before his birthday on November 7th, 2011. We still believe she had to get to heaven to bake him his favorite birthday cake.

At her funeral, a beautiful bouquet of roses arrived with a card that said, “It is time for us to dance together again. Our children and grandchildren are good and strong. For all the time we were together, I saw only the beautiful girl on our honeymoon. I have missed your smile and embrace. We will never be far from those we love and they will hear our whispers of pride and love when each warm breeze caresses their faces.” Chris

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Wedding picture of Mary’s parents, Nick & Evangeline Kambouris, here with Mary’s grandfather

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Father of Chris & Charlie Samaras, George Samaras, here pictured with son Charlie & daughter, Agoura

Childhood pictures of Mary and Chris

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Army picture, Chris of far left

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Engagement photo of Mary Kambouris

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Mary Kambouris weds Chris Samaras, September 2, 1951

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Mary & Chris Samaras, Beckley, WV 1951

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Greek party with Bessie & Charlie Samaras, Yiayia (Daphne Samaras), sister Alice Samaras

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The Samaras sister-in-laws always great hostesses and entertaining! 1968

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Mary Kambouris with her mother, Evangelia, father Nick and sister, Katherine

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Chris takes his family to Greece, 1972, here in Santorini

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25th wedding anniversary party, 1976

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25th wedding anniversary surprise party at the Bay Ridge Inn, 1976

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C&C Grocery, 1950’s

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C&C Liquors 1990’s

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First born son, Stephen

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First born daughter, Daphne

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925 Bay Ridge Road, home built, 1964

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3rd child born, Evangeline, here with her Papou from West Virginia

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Greek party with cousins Jim & Lil Bakalis and Mary’s cousin Christine with her husband, Nick Samaras, Chris’ brother

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Chris & Mary devoted to their church family since the 1950’s

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Chris’ Christmas Name day party, here with George Nikiforou, Gus & Mary Leanos, and George Manis

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Another festive event at the Samaras “bar” here with Butchy Pantelides, Nick Nikiforou and Sammy Boutselis

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A birthday party for our Yiayia (Daphne)

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Mary & Chris’ first grand-daughter, Marisa, born September 1993

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Mary & Chris’s 2nd grand-daughter, Katherine, born April 2006

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One of our favorite pictures of our father, Chris