Pelagia Iakovidou (née Pavlidou), recently turned 100. Her long life is part of the narrative of modern Greek history.
Still in her mother’s womb in the summer of 1922, her parents fled Haciosman, a village in Asia Minor, along with other Greeks. Most originated from Pontus, and were forced to abandon their homes during the Asia Minor Catastrophe for a second time. Over 1.5 million Greeks were ethnically cleansed from Asia Minor, now Turkey, in that bloody period.
Pelagia, who celebrated her 100th birthday in Melbourne a few days ago, was born on July 23, 1922, as her parents crossed Thrace with a caravan of refugees.
Her mother and Pelagia, her newborn infant, still had hundreds of miles to travel before reaching their final destination, Apsalos, where they would rebuild their lives from scratch.
“The only thing her mother had told her about that journey of uprooting was that they were hiding in daylight, and only travelled on at night so that they wouldn’t be caught by the Turks,” her daughter, Sophia Pavlidis, tells Neos Kosmos.
Life was hard in those early years in Apsalos, a village in the prefecture of Pella, in northern Greece, where many refugees fled during the Asia Minor Catastrophe.
“They didn’t have a lot of money. They didn’t have a lot of food. But things got better once they were given a property there and they started growing their own produce.”
Pelagia was only 18 years old when she married Iraklis Iakovidis who was then 30.
“My mother and father’s families were from the same village, but they were also refugees from Haciosman,” Sophia explains. Her father was uprooted twice. Once from Trabzon when he was 9-years-old and then again when he fled for Apsalos in 1922.
“It was of course an arranged marriage, as was the custom in those days.” People said that her father was from a rich family and she was beautiful.
It was a good match, though their life together started ominously, with the outbreak of World War II and the departure of the newlywed groom to the front.
They overcame those difficult years, and in 1954, the couple, who by now had four children, decided to start again, making their way to Australia, where many young people of the village had also escaped, hoping for a better life.
During those first years in Melbourne, Sophia who was two at the time, recalls that they lived altogether with other migrants from Apsalos in one apartment in Melbourne.
Since then, 67 years have passed.
Pelagia gave birth to her fifth child in Australia, she worked, and she travelled back to Greece a few times to see family and friends. She was happy here as she had siblings and cousins living close to her and she is grateful that even her mother was able to come out for a visit.
Today she continues to enjoy family moments with her children, her seven grandchildren and her three great grandkids!
“She never thought she would outlive everyone. But she has. She gets a bit despondent sometimes thinking that all her friends are gone. And her siblings are all gone, and she does get down a bit. But when the grandkids get together, she’s fine”.
Pelagia is the oldest woman of Apsalos, according to the local press, who did a feature to celebrate her 100th birthday.
Despite her years, she lives in her own home, with her son, and the rest of her children nearby to take care of all her needs.
Her secret? Inner peace and the simple Greek, rustic cuisine.
“‘Don’t let anything stress you’ is my mum’s motto. No matter what happened, mum would sit and crochet and knit. She never let anything stress or worry her. There was always an alternative solution to every problem. If someone got upset with her, she could let things go, and wouldn’t worry about a thing.”
“And of course, another thing was the Greek food. They always ate the traditional dishes with vegetables and fruit from the garden, that was exactly like what they had back home. With grapevines, figs, fruit trees, potatoes, fasolakia, and anything you can imagine!”
And as Pelagia Iakovidou and her family celebrate this amazing milestone, we wish her a very “Happy Birthday”, and may she continue to thrive for years to come inspiring her descendants with her incredible life journey.