“Don’t let anxiety and heartache kill you.”
Those are the words of Early Greek Australian Spiros Papaemmanuel who just celebrated his 100th birthday surrounded by his loving family, including his four sons, 14 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Mr Papaemmanuel was born in April 1921 in Asclepius, a picturesque little village in the island of Rhodes which was at the time struck by hunger and poverty.
His sick father was unable to work and provide for the family, so it was left up to young Spiros’ mother to raise her six children on her own.
“My father experienced a number of struggles from a really young age. He was one of the eldest in the family, therefore it was left up to him to help his mother bear the burden of raising the family. He was a strong and fearless young boy that worked hard, day and night to provide for his brothers and sisters,” Mr Papaemmanuel’s 72-year-old son, John, who recalls many stories his father told him including stealing flour, chickens and bread and wandering in the forest at night setting deer traps so his sick father and siblings could eat.
Despite all the pain and hardship, Spiros was a happy, life loving man who enjoyed making others laugh and have a good time.
His character made him popular among the young girls in the village, but Spiros found his life partner in the eyes of Despina, a beautiful young girl and daughter of a US migrant.
“My father admired, respected and adored my mother until she passed away fifteen years ago. He actually considered her a blessing and was very humbled by the fact that she chose him to be her partner in life,” John Papaemmanuel told Neos Kosmos.
In the post-war years and despite Rhodes’ integration with Greece, the economic situation on the island didn’t change for the better and unemployment and poverty forced many Rhodians to turn their gaze to the US, Germany and Australia seeking a better future in xenitia.
Spiros Papaemmanouel boarded the ship Begona in 1959 while his wife, Despina, and their four children migrated to Australia a little later.
The family settled in Mile End, one of the most popular “Greek” suburbs in Adelaide.
With the help of other Rhodians, Mr Papaemmanouel managed to slowly stand on his own feet and encouraged his boys to also take on casual work to assist with the family expenses.
Despina held the household reins and Spiros gave her complete freedom in raising her four children without interfering with what the “lady of the house” wanted.
He worked hard but would reminisce about his childhood and missed his family and parents.
Mr Papaemmanouel returned to Greece in 1973 for the first time after migrating to Australia.
After his beloved wife’s passing, Spiros dedicated his life to his children, his grandchildren and his friends.
To this day, the 100-year-old pappou has his own veggie patch that he looks after while also enjoying a game of cards with his sons.
“Even at 100, my father remains happy and positive. He sees life as a wonderful journey with its ups and downs that make the experience worth-while and keeps reminding us to always stay calm, not stress and enjoy the moment. He sure is one of a kind and we are blessed to still have him around and be inspired by him,” John Papaemmanuel said.