And like him, she traveled halfway across the continent. With the small group of immigrant Greeks, she boarded a train for Fremont, Nebraska, west of Omaha. It was all mapped out. She was to work as a housekeeper for her Uncle John and Aunt Vasso Petrow and nanny to their three children. John was an entrepreneur who owned a restaurant and a J. C. Penney store in Fremont. It was he who had sent the money for her passage. Venetia quickly learned that she would pay a price for her journey to America. She cleaned house and cared for John and Vasso's children and toiled in his restaurant, too. There was no letup and she, like my father, dreamed of what now seemed like a golden past in Greece. But to return home would have been disloyal, and she forced herself to look ahead. After three and a half years, when she turned twenty-one, Uncle John decided it was time for his ward to marry. This could not have come as bad news to my mother.
The Nebraska Greek community was small and highly interwoven, and John knew where to find likely candidates for marriage to a beautiful and highly eligible young woman. One was my father, whose reputation for making a success of the Central Cafe had spread the 160 miles that separated Kearney from Fremont.
Three bachelors called simultaneously at John Petrow's house that day in late May 1924. One, to hear my mother tell it, was a version of Washington Irving's Ichabod Crane, gawky and tall, all limbs and knees and elbows. The second apparently was not memorable enough to recall. The third was my father, smelling of Aqua Velva aftershave, his jet-black hair combed straight back from his forehead and shining with a dose of Lucky Tiger hair tonic. As the bachelors sat in the Petrow living room, no doubt appraising one another, my mother served them water and fruit drinks and thus had a chance to imagine what might lie ahead.
"Which one do you want?" her uncle asked when she returned to the kitchen with the empty tray.
She and my father were married forty days later.
The Peterson Family Begins
They were married twice, as it turned out. The first time, on July 6, they exchanged vows in the Fremont chambers of a Dodge County judge named Wintersteen. This was legal and official, but it lacked the overarching authority of the Greek church. The church ceremony came a few days later, when the one Greek Orthodox priest for Nebraska and parts of Iowa had a break in his schedule and came out from Omaha. Uncle John Petrow had assembled his Greek friends and relatives in a roped-off section of the J. C. Penney store before it opened. Uncle John gave Venetia away, and a cousin of my father's stood up as his best man. My parents dressed for this one, my father in a rented tuxedo, my mother in a white dress and a fantastic hat made from layers of chiffon. She carried an equally fantastic spray of flowers. By all accounts the -occasion was a joyous one, but the formality of the official wedding portraits seems to have overwhelmed them. Neither looks happy. They stare at the camera with grave, almost grim expressions, in my mother's case perhaps because the Greek Orthodox ceremony places the wife secondary to the husband, who is "head of his wife" in a marriage. After-ward, everyone rode out to the Petrow farm for the wedding lunch.
I imagine those early days were hard. They were two people whose only certain points of common interest were that they were Greek