I didn't know my great-grandfather, but I am told that we would have gotten along swimmingly, which is to say that he, too, was restless and very much liked to get into trouble. Back in the 19 aughts, Lucas Christodoulou was a discontented goat herder and a notorious prankster on the tumultuous island nation of Cyprus. The Turkish invasion would not occur until many years later, but Lucas was fiercely proud of his Greek-Cypriot heritage in the face of quiet Turkish encroachment, something he would carry with him until the day he died.
The village of Lysos today
There came a day when Lucas saw his future laid out before him – if he was anything like the majority of his ancestors, he would herd goats, marry, breed, and die on the island, never to have explored the world and its wonders (e.g. indoor plumbing, which had only recently been installed when I visited Lysos in 2000). I can imagine others in the village telling him that he should be grateful for his modest fortune, that he should not leave his family and home, and I very much wish that I could go back and help him with what must have been an extremely difficult decision.
Taking only what he could carry and no knowledge of any language or culture but Greek, Lucas ventured to Egypt to work for a distant uncle (who very well may have been an uncle in name only, as such things go).
A marketplace in Egypt in the 1910s
Apparently this was an oppressive situation that still left him with a dissatisfied malaise, but tales of America and the opportunities that it offered found their way to his ear. Eventually, as he possessed legendary social savvy, Lucas learned of a job at a hotel in a distant, unknown city of iron and slaughterhouses called Chicago.
In the dark of night, without any of the pomp and circumstance of his village's send-off, Lucas stowed away onto an oil freighter bound for America. Given the stories I've read about how miserable and unsanitary general passage across the Atlantic was during this time period, I can only imagine the horrors that my great-grandfather endured during his weeks as a hidden stowaway at sea.
Upon entering Ellis Island, 'Lucas Christodoulou' became 'Chris Lucas,' although his friends still called him Lucas, just the same. With only the name of the aforementioned hotel and of some unmet contact scrawled on a precious scrap of paper to guide him, Lucas made his way to the property, which was one of the city's taller buildings at 7 floors and provided luxurious meals, service, and amenities. He had likely never seen anything like it, especially because the Empire State Building had not yet been built when he passed through New York.
The Palmer House at the turn of the 20th century
In time, he excelled at his job, establishing a Lucas family tradition of working in the hotel industry, and he met and married a delightful Irish woman who made him belly laugh and effortlessly drank him under the table. He taught his children to love ouzo, to cherish family ties, and to never resist the call of adventure.
Just as his family feared, Lucas never returned to Cyprus, but part of me is glad that he did not live to see the bullet-addled wall that has since been built to safely divide the Greek side from the Turkish side of the island.
The unfortunate military presence at the Greek-Turkish divide today
As lovely and fruitful as I believe he found America to be, I don't know that Lucas ever quite managed to stow away all of his heart from home, but then, who does?
Copyright Alexandra Lucas 2016