The oldest Son and oldest child
My Father, written by Rhoda Elison Hirsch
My father Jessula Colchamiro aka Jesse Elison the oldest of the family, the first born. Everyone referred to him as the Greek Pasha. He ruled his siblings but did so full of life and love. His laughter, warmth, stories, mandolin playing, singing Greek songs, and his love of dancing made him always ‘the life of the party’. As described in his 1960 Travel Diary, he writes: "I am proud of Greece. It is so beautiful we can't believe it. With the mountains all around as a scenic background, I can say our first view of the land of our parents is one of pride. The two city tours of ancient Greece is indescribably beautiful that we shall only say that no one traveling through Europe should not leave Greece out of their itinerary."
Jesse was passionate - for Opera with his Friday evening subscription to the Metropolitan Opera House; for boating off of Sheepshead Bay on ‘the Ella’; for Art History with weekend winter museum trips with Nancy while I was away at college; and for golf when he retired to Century Village in West Palm Beach.
He always admired scholarship and drilled the necessity for higher education into Nancy and me. His senior thesis, at Long Island University, was on the Civil War (link), and the professor told him this could be a doctoral dissertation. The professor offered to write a letter of recommendation for Jesse to enter graduate school. Jesse was very proud of this accomplishment throughout his life, but as he told it, he had to work. He first taught History and later joined his father’s business, the Nancy Manufacturing Company, manufacturing women’s and children’s pajamas. Uncle Oscar became his partner after returning from service in WW II. Significantly, Jesse saved his college papers throughout the years, treasuring his papers and the comments by his professors (link). As we put together his papers for this website, we realize his enormous talent as a writer.
His admiration for scholarship resurfaced whenever his cousin Rae Dalven [Chair of Classics, Ladycliff College] and an eminent Greek scholar (link) would visit us in Brighton Beach. He would anticipate her visit with eagerness, chatting with her for hours in Greek and English about art, history, Greece, politics, and of course, family.
So why did he change his name? As he told it, his first job after college was as a history teacher. The students could not pronounce his name so he asked his father (Elias) if he could change his name to Eli-son, but it was spelled and pronounced as Elison. (According to their marriage license, Jesse Colchamiro married Dorothy Leventhal on February 9,1941.) A great sense of Jesse Colchamiro as a young man (before he changed his name) is found in his “My Life to the Present” written for his college Psychology class assignment (link).
As a father, he was loving, playful, protective and just wonderful. Our childhood was filled with swims off of Brighton Beach with Uncle Morris and family when he would get home early; summer boating in Sheepshead Bay; “boat talk” during winter evenings; trips to Manhattan to our favorite Greek restaurant “The Paradise”, located on 41st Street across from the Bus Terminal, and then onto the Greek nightclubs on Eight Avenue to hear live Greek bands play for belly dancers!
His dream was that the entire family (all his brothers and sisters) would buy a big house in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn and we would all live together. At that time, the immediate family lived in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn or relatively close by, with Aunt Sara and Elliot living in Flatbush, Brooklyn; Uncle Oscar & Aunt Muriel on Knapp Street. This was all pre-Plainview, Long Island moves. Aunt Dinah & Uncle Nat lived the furthest away in Yonkers, New York. A number of us remember the one-hour car rides with Nona from Brighton for memorable visits to Aunt Dinah in the 1950s, driving north on the then elevated West Side Highway; or the one-hour drives to the potato fields where Uncle Oscar was building a home in Plainview. In 1971, Jesse’s dream became a reality when Jesse & Dotty, Jean & Murray moved to West Palm Beach, Century Village, soon to be followed by Uncle Morris & Aunt Esther, with Oscar and Diane getting Florida homes within a 15-minute drive! Soon afterwards, Aunt Sarah & Uncle Jack, and later Aunt Terry & Uncle Sid moved to Wynmoor about a 45-minute drive away.
To recapture Jesse’s Greek spirit, watch Zorba the Greek (link), Never On Sunday (link), or Our Big Fat Greek Wedding (link).
My Mother, Aunt Dotty was beautiful, loving, kind, positive, always with a big smile and never a bad word to or about anyone. She was always there for her daughters, her in-laws, her nieces and nephews, and her sisters and brothers. She had tremendous inner strength. In Florida, she received a beautiful recognition by the Visiting Nurses Association as a woman of valor, (link).
My Mother became a Greek through my Father’s way of life - with her cooking, her love of Nona and all her in-laws. When Jonathan was born, I asked her how would she like Jonathan to address her. She looked at me, surprised that I did not know, and she said, “Nona”.
Dotty is captured in the words of Alice Hoffman, (p. 354 “The Dovekeepers” Scribner, 2011): “We went along the hall, down the corridor where the frescos of the seven sisters had been painted by masters from Rome. Each of the sisters was more beautiful than the next, yet none were as beautiful as my mother, not even the silver moon.”
PHOTOS of them young and photos on the Ella and at Century Village
Here is a link to a photo album video that was created.