By Sophia Skordilis
There were eight children in our family and I was number seven. So, by the time my mother had my younger brother, Pauly, and me, even though she wanted us, she was sick of kids. Mum never rejected us but the drudgery and monotony of keeping a house going often threatened to break her spirit. But she was always a trouper, even though you ran for your life when you knew she was ready to tilt.
She felt extra pressure because we were Greek. Dad had left his Greek village in the mountains and came to Australia when he was sixteen and after experiencing other cities and towns, settled in humid and hot subtropical Brisbane, Highgate Hill in the 1940s. Mum was also Greek but she was born here.
There’s a big difference!
Dad was always working at his café in the city, the Star Milk Bar, and he was always on Mum’s back, ringing her to say someone saw my brothers or my sister doing this or that, or that I was up to no good.
Everyone said I was a tomboy because I had six brothers and only one older sister. I doubt it, I just was. My sister, Antonia, was named after Dad’s mother but for some reason, I can’t remember why, I called her Ansy. She was femininity personified and we were all proud of her style and model good looks. I loved slingshots, bows and arrows, goannas, Astro Boy, Shintaro, skateboards, Dragster bikes with flower-power banana seats and fighting. “Quicker than quick, Stronger than strong” that was my motto just like Gigantor, the robot. I always looked for a good fight.
World Championship Wrestling was one of my favourite TV shows in the sixties. My younger brother Pauly and I would tear home from church like ‘Speedy Gonzales’ (the fastest mouse in all of Mexico) to be in time to see the wrestling. Watching it at twelve o’clock on Sunday was a must and, if my brothers dared to say that wrestlers Spiros Arion, Mario Milano, Killer Carl Cox or Brute Bernard were just pretending to fight, they had better watch out!
We would watch and wrestle and, because I was bigger than Pauly and even though he would try and wriggle out of my grip, I could easily get him into the ‘sleeper hold’ or knock him down on the mat for the count one … two … three … with one of my ‘trip from behind’ moves.
I didn’t like my brothers, especially Bulla, teasing me and calling me ‘“Tom”. I was comfortable being a girl, but wanted to do all the things that boys were allowed to do. I didn’t want to be a boy but rather a gunslinger like Annie Oakley and I was always practising my draws.
I didn’t like being called Tom as I actually liked my name ‘Sophie’ as it meant ‘wisdom’. Greeks would stop me in the street to animatedly share the significance of my name. It just wasn’t about good old average wisdom it was “God’s wisdom”.
They were also keen to enlighten me that western civilisation, democracy and philosophy can be traced back to Ancient Greece. Even though Dad only went to school for a couple of years (he really learned to read by reading the Bible), he would tell me about these wonderful and profound themes and ideals – all Greeks do, regardless of their background.
He was also, proud of his Peloponnesian heritage and loved to tell me about the greatest hero of them all, brave and mighty General Theodoros Kolokotronis (when Dad said his name he said it in a deep and fierce voice) who led the charge against the Ottoman (Turks) Empire to help liberate Greece in the Greek War of Independence, surprisingly not all that long ago in the early eighteenth century.
Well, I was into super heroes and liked hearing all about Kolokotronis. I had seen pictures of him in encyclopaedias and thought he looked very much like my proud and strong Papoú Bellas as he had a similar chiselled out face and stance.
When Dad would hug me sometimes he would sing my name like a religious liturgy and prayer … Sor … phi … aaa … as it must have been chanted throughout the centuries in all the great orthodox churches, such as the most famous and revered Ayia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) in Constantinople (Istanbul) before the Turks turned it into a mosque.
I was drawn to thinking about my name and its various meanings.
Somehow, I think I was a little bit wise as I was interested in understanding people and the world around me, but I certainly had my share of folly – like grabbing a swarm of bees with my hands to listen to their buzzing sounds when I was showing off. Yet, I imagined myself as mythological Goddess Sophia in ancient Grecian clothing, wearing a helmet, and holding an owl in one hand and a sceptre in the other. Or I would have imaginary conversations with Plato and Socrates about philo-sophia – the love of wisdom.
I felt honoured to be given such a divine and immortal name. In Greek, I was called Sophia but I liked being known as Sophie.