This is a life story of Cynthia, born in 1956 in Piraeus, Greece. She is of Lebanese Christian background and currently living Maine.
We can start the interview by either letting you talk about your life if you like or we can go through some questions?
O.K., it might be easiest to start off with when my parents were migrating from Lebanon to Australia. They had six children and my mother was pregnant with twins, my sister Corinthia and myself. We were due to be born in Australia but we came early. We were born on the ship and I was named after the ship Cyrenia, and Corinthia got her name from the sister ship. We were born under the Greek flag so we are, I guess, legally Greek citizens. We were known for being born In Piraeus, Greece where the ship hailed from. So when my parents arrived in Australia, they didn’t register us in Australia because they didn’t know any better and that is why we were born under the Greek flag and not as Australian citizens. My parents went to Melbourne, Australia. They had eight children by the time they got there. And they were Lebanese immigrants and that’s how we started our life in Australia.
What were their reasons for going to Australia?
My mother had a brother there, my uncle Peter, and his wife, Georgette. They never had any children. They were unable to have kids. And they were the ones that convinced them to come to Australia for a better life with a large family. And obviously they never regretted going there as much as they loved Lebanon.
And we grew up with all the Lebanese customs and traditions in our family. They were glad to be able to live in Australia to raise us.
Could you tell me anything about your grandparents or the family that you left behind in Lebanon?
Well, I never knew my grandparents. They all died in Lebanon so I never got to meet them. I’ve never been to Lebanon although other members of my family have. On my father’s side, he had three brothers and a sister and my dad’s parents died in Lebanon back in the sixties. And then my mother on her side, her father, my grandfather, had been married twice. She came from the second family, the second wife. He was married for the first time and his wife died. He had a whole family there, remarried my grandmother when he was in his forties and I think my grandmother was eighteen. They had four more children. Three sons and then a daughter, my mother. But otherwise there’s not a whole lot I can tell about them just because I didn’t know them. Mom used to tell us stories, but I really don’t remember them too well.
Describe your parents to me.
Well, my mother first of all was four years older than my father. They both loved music. They loved to sing, you know, the Lebanese song music and the Lebanese, you know, Arabic type dancing. Mom was a very outgoing, very much loved woman amongst family, friends and relatives. Almost a partier at parties. But always a wonderful cook. We grew up always entertaining. Mom was always having people over for meals, for parties, for celebrations because we were a large family so there was always something to celebrate. My father was a very quiet, serious man. On an occasion when I would see him laughing at a party, I used to love it. Or if he was with a friend, I ‘d see that beautiful smile on his face. But he was a bit of a worrier. He had eight children and was kind of a serious man. Dad died very young. He died at the age of 53 back in 1977 and I have always missed him. I knew how much he loved us all. I had two wonderful people. I couldn’t have asked for better parents. They raised us really well. Raised us in the Catholic religion. They were Maronite Catholics. They are very strong Christians. It’s a very strong catholic religion. I had wonderful parents.
Did they have any emotional qualities about them that you admired or things that maybe were the worst in their personalities?
Nothing I think bad in their personalities whatsoever. I always really respected my parents. I learned a lot from them. My parents were wonderful in teaching that you always cared about everybody else, you never hurt feelings. One thing I will always remember my mother telling us, is never to gossip. That is one thing we are teaching our daughters now: Unless you have something nice to say about somebody, you don’t say anything at all. So they always instilled very good morals. They respected other people. That’s the way they raised us. There was nothing negative there.
What kind of feelings come up for you when you think about your parents?
I miss them. I wish they could see our children grow up. I wish they could’ve enjoyed life more, although I know that they did. But especially my father. Like I said earlier, he was he worrier. He was always concerned about his family, and what he could do for them. I wish that he could have enjoyed life more and relaxed a little more. He was very strict. Actually our parents were strict on us when we were younger. Very tough, very protective. Which was a good thing, because they took care of us. But, I learned a lot from them.
Do you feel you inherited so some of their qualities and characteristics?
In how you raise your own children?
Absolutely. In how we raise our children.
Do you have any earliest memory of growing up?
You know, I would have to think of it being when I was three years of age with my twin sister. In the early years, for a short period of time, mom worked and Dad worked a night shift. He worked at General Motors, in Australia. I’m not sure what he did, but it was in the factory. Mom was a seamstress and she would on and off have a job just depending on how the family was doing financially. So during the day she would go to work, and that way dad worked the night shift. I think that there was a period of time where he would have to leave for work and my older brother and sister would actually leave school early to be home for my sister and I while dad went off to work. I can remember dad putting us to bed, saying, ” O.K. take your afternoon nap”, so that he could get ready for work, and I remember, my sister and I pretending we were asleep, then we would get out of bed and run to see if dad was around, and we’d hop back into bed again when he’d come back to check on us. Little things like that.. We must of been two or three years of age. I also remember my second oldest sister, Mona, she used to bathe us in the afternoons when she would come home from school. She must have been about eleven. Her girl friend next door, Michelle, used to come in and I think, Mona used to bathe me and Michelle used to bathe my sister, Corinthia. They’d brush our hair out and do the whole thing. These are very old memories because my sister and I were very little then. One of my oldest sisters was like a mother to us.
Tell me about the makeup of your family.
The oldest was my brother Joe. He was twelve years older than my sister and 1. Then next in line Is my sister, Vivette, who actually was in France at the time, being raised by an uncle and aunt. Then my sister, Mona, then my brother Alec, and then my sister Mary, and then my brother Tony and then my twin sister and I. I was the first born out of the twins.
You talked about your parents’ ethnic, and/or cultural background as being Lebanese and Maronite Catholic and that they emigrated to Australia. Was there any noticeable cultural flavor to your home growing up?
Not, really it was basically a traditional Australian home, I guess. There were little things that perhaps were from Lebanon. Like I know that we had a tapestry up on the wall of the Last Supper which was from Lebanon. We had the usual catholic pictures of Jesus Christ, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and then Mary his mother. We probably had a Lebanese flag in our home. I know we had one of those smoking pipes that you see in the movies sometimes. That was an old fun Lebanese thing. People still did it in Lebanon and so my parents had one of those. They also had a coffee grinder that looked like it was made of gold. It was very heavy. You’d put your coffee beans in it and you ground it. You pushed it around. It was a long circular object and it was very heavy. There were other little bits and pieces if that’s what you mean by things in your home that had a Lebanese flavor.
Could you tell me what was it like growing up in your home or neighborhood in Australia?
It was a lot of fun. We lived in a few different homes throughout the years, but there were always plenty of kids around. We were very much outdoors kids. Growing up in Australia, it’s a very warm climate. We loved the outdoors, we loved the beach, and we loved to play on the playground and at the parks. My parents were very protective of us when we were little because we were immigrants and they didn’t speak English. So they were always very careful of who we were with and who was around. They were always keeping a careful eye. Which you know when looking back now, obviously we didn’t appreciate so much, but they loved us and wanted to take care of us. But otherwise it was very exciting. I had a very happy childhood. We were not well off or comfortable by any means because my parents went to Australia with hardly anything. My dad had to work hard, and mom on and off over the early years any ways to help him. So we were never well off to speak of by any stretch of the imagination for the first twelve years we were there. But then we got to be quite comfortable. You know, just middle class, comfortable, we dressed well and everything. We always did. We always ate well. That was a big thing in our house, eating. But any ways, it’s a Lebanese thing. We always had lots of friends, but you know, my older brothers and sisters really paved the way for us. They went through all the wanting to go out and do everything in their teens, and mom and dad were strict on them initially, but by the time my sister and I got to be in our early teens, it was so much easier for us. We were able to go and do whatever. Most of what we wanted to do anyway.
Were there many cultural or family celebrations traditions or rituals that were important to your family and still remain important to you in your life now?
The baptisms were always a big major thing in the family. A big celebration. You included relatives and friends and everybody you knew to a baptism. Another fun Lebanese custom is, with the first born in each family, which John and I did not do with our family, is when the first baby gets its first tooth there’s actually a party for that. An occasion when special deserts are made. That is actually a very, very fun Lebanese celebration and tradition. It’s mainly done for children and it’s for family. It is a lot of fun but unfortunately, we did not keep it up and I don’t think that my brothers and sisters did either with their children. They may have, it was so many years ago when they all had their first children. They may have, I can’t remember. But I remember those celebrations with the relatives with us. You know, I actually do remember my mother doing it for my first nephew. She did that for David. My sister Mona’s first son David. Mom had the party for David’s first tooth. It’s a lot of fun. There were other occasions like First Holy Communion. Being catholic, these were big celebrations. They were very important. Confirmation is another one. Once again, a catholic sacrament. And of course, weddings and birthdays. I think that growing up in a Lebanese family, it was the catholic events that were those I would have to pick as the most important.
Were there any cultural in addition to the religious beliefs and values you parents tried to teach you?
Well, they were old fashioned in that they taught that you remained a virgin until you were married. That’s not just religious, that is definitely cultural for the Lebanese. It is very important. There was not a whole lot of dating. That was definite. I think that was more so because they were immigrants to Australia. It was that fear again of being in a different country, having a different language. So, that was very hard for my older brothers and sisters. Especially my sisters. For my brothers, they were more lenient. But my sisters had a tough time as far as that was going to go. Dating Australian boys or whatever. We weren’t always allowed to do everything that we would’ve liked to as children, but we got to do most things. There were just some things that we wanted to do that they were probably a little fearful of. It always goes back to the same old
reason: because they were Lebanese and that they were concerned of what was going on.
Were you different than others in your neighborhood? Or did you live in any kind of enclave?
Nah, mostly Australians. There might have been the odd Italian or Greek family. But in Australia, I would have to say, there were mostly Australian Irish or of English decent. But going to a catholic school as I did all my life, there were a lot of Italians at the school. Catholic Italians. That’s rare. In Melbourne, you would have one private catholic school and a whole lot of state public schools. So most of the Catholics: catholic Italians, catholic Greeks or catholic Lebanese would go to that catholic school from all over. They would be transported there for that reason.
So, from the sounds of it you had a major religious atmosphere in your home.
Absolutely. That was what I memorized.
Were you practicing Catholics growing up?
Absolutely. We used to go to mass every Sunday. We went to Holy Communion. We’d go to confession. We went to a catholic school. So, it was part of our daily lives. We had catechism every day. The first subject every day in school. I was very grateful for that upbringing. I feel really very blessed to be able to grow up that way.
So it was important to you as a child?
It was the foundation of our whole lives. And is it important to you now?
Absolutely. Without a doubt. Maybe not the catholic religion, fore say, but definitely the faith is there, Christianity. Without a doubt, it is the foundation of my life now, too.
Are there any cultural influences from either Australia or from your Lebanese background that are still important to you today?
See once again, the cultural is intermingled with the religious, so it’s hard sometimes to distinguish between the two. But the morals, the ideals thing, although I have never been the perfect role model, or the perfect person growing up, but they’re still there. They’re still in me: to want to do the right thing all the time, to try and have high morals and to instill that in our children.
Let’s move on to some social factors in your life. It sounds like you came from a loving home and you had lots of siblings around you. What do you remember most about growing up with siblings? With your sisters and brothers. Did your parents spend a lot of time with you? Did you get along? What kinds of things did you do as a family?
Oh it was great growing up in Australia. For instance, Christmas is in the summertime in Australia. So, I have memories of the big parties outside for Christmas with relatives and friends. On an odd occasion we might even have gone to the beach After Christmas lunch if it was a nice hot day. I had wonderful brothers and sisters. Because my twin sister and I were the youngest, my oldest brother Joe, would throw us up in the air. He was 12 years older. For instance, when I was 4 years of age he was 16 years of age. He used to throw us up in the air and play with us. To my sister Mona, we were like little dolls to her. She used to brush our hair and do all kinds of things with us. My brother Alec was very athletic, and my twin sister Corinthia is very athletic, so they had a real lot in common. He would coach her on sports and everything. My sister Mary loved music and singing. My twin sister and I used to love all that. We got that from her. She would play all the records from the late fifties and early 60’s and we’d be dancing with my sister Mary. Then there was my brother Tony, my sister and I used to pester him a lot. He was only two years older than us and we used to play a lot with him but then we fought a lot, too. He was that brother that we used to pester a lot. Poor Tony. We had a great life growing up. We used to go to the beach. My brother Joe, when he got his license, bought a station wagon. We’d all be in the station wagon with my twin sister and I in the very back. In those days, you could wind down the window in the back, too. My brother Joe was funny because we still had a lot of Lebanese in us and he would yell out Lebanese words that no one else would understand, and he would have us all in stitches. He was in his late teens. It used to be so much fun. He would say things. He’d yell them out to the next car and we used to wave to everyone. Silly little things that kids probably do today, but, they are very strong memories and very fun memories for me. They’re ones I could never forget and always enjoy remembering.
Did your parents spend a lot of time with you?
Yes, they did. Well, Mom had the jobs on and off, but yes. Oh gosh, to go home and just have mom there was a big deal to me. It’s so funny, I wonder sometimes if our kids when they come home from school whether they look at me and are glad to be home and to see me because my mom being the old fashion woman she was, she was wonderful to go home to after school. She would have treats ready for us. Would’ve made something on a hot day that was icy cold for us or in the winter time would have something nice and hot and warm for us to eat arid drink. She was a wonderful mother. She never got involved a real lot in playing games with us. Because by the time we were little kids, mom was in her mid to late forties. She had had us at an older age. And back then, women aged earlier. She was the big old fashion mom, but she was mom. And she was the best mother that anyone could ever wish for. She wasn’t the skinny, fashionable type mother, she was just that old fashioned Lebanese mother who took good care of her family
How was discipline handled in your family?
That was all mom. Dad didn’t want to do the disciplining. He would always call mom. “Mom, your daughters are doing this” or “your son did that”. “Take care of it”. He didn’t want to be the mean one. But if he really had to be stern, he would raise his voice. But otherwise, for us little ones, mom would give us a smack on the behind or something. They were strict.
Did you have other friends beside your family members who were most important to you growing up?
I don’t know that there was anyone most important. Our school friends were our closest friends because that is where we spent all of our time. But it was hard to keep our friendships on the weekends and during the holidays because going to a catholic school, everybody lived miles apart. We used to use buses and trains to get to school. Some kids used to be driven to school. We all came from very different areas to come to this one catholic school. So, we had our friends on the street that we played with on weekends and occasionally after school, then we had our really good friends at school and they were the ones who were really our friends. This was probably because all of us being catholic, we had so much I common. You live a certain way when you’re raised as a catholic than you would like the kids on the street who went to the local public school. You couldn’t care less about them compared to those you were raised with.
What kind of things did you do for fun growing up? Up to your teens?
We were involved in sports with our school a lot. During school and then on the weekends. In Australia we played basketball, I guess it’s called net ball there, but we call it basketball. There were different tournaments that we were involved in, my twin sister and I. We were always together because we were the same age. We both loved it. We used to play for one within the catholic schools during the week. We would practice after school and then we would go during school hours to play against other catholic schools. And then we were in another group of schools which were not catholic schools but were public schools from all around the state of Victoria. We used to be driven all over the place by our coach to play basketball. I wasn’t as athletic as my sister, but I loved team sports. So we did a lot of that growing up until our early teens. Another thing was just to go to the local swimming pool. In Australia they have outdoor swimming pools with lots of gardens, a lawn area and places to buy food hot, cold and everything. It was always a meeting place for all the kids when we were a teenager and younger. You would go and spend the whole day there in the summertime. We spent a lot of our summers like that because it was close to get to. It would be close to your home. Otherwise we spent a lot of your time at the beach. Another wonderful memory is that my parents loved the country and all their friends and relatives did also. So, picnics were a big thing with my family. It wasn’t the family Sunday country drive, it was a whole grouping of maybe a hundred people who would all go for a picnic and we would all meet there. We’d have a car‑ rally to get there. I grew up like that. Just a lot of fun things. A lot of community type things. A lot of it was with Lebanese people because a lot of Lebanese began to emigrate even before my parents did so there was a very large Lebanese community. They were relatives or friends and they used to get together through a catholic church. That’s how everyone got to know everyone. There was a Lebanese catholic church that my parents used to love to go to and very often would take us, too. We didn’t understand one word but we would go sometimes. It was our own Lebanese speaking Catholic Church.
Did your parents speak Lebanese in the home?
Oh Yes, and that’s how we started to learn. We didn’t speak it very well as children. It wasn’t until we got older that we actually concentrated and tried to learn to speak Lebanese. That was tough when we were little. We could hardly understand mom and dad. They were trying to learn English and here we were English speaking and trying to speak Lebanese to them. So we spoke very basic Lebanese.
So, would you consider, yourself bilingual, maybe?
To some degree. The Lebanese language is very broad. Its vocabulary is very broad. There is a written language and a spoken language. It is a very difficult language. But I have learned quite a bit. I can tell when I am hearing something Lebanese or just so something Arabic for instance, but I can’t understand it necessarily.
This is kind of a fun question. What is the most trouble that you got into as a teen?
You know it’s so funny, I don’t know that I really did. See there I go and spoiled your fun. I got to think. You know, I just never wanted to hurt mom and dad’s feelings. I never wanted to get into any real trouble. I was taught by nuns in the catholic school and then you got the mom and dad at home. So, it was really tough to allow myself to get into any real trouble. Just because of what I was being taught on a daily basis. I’m sorry that I spoiled your fun. I never really got into any real trouble.
What was being a teenager like for you then?
It was a lot of fun being a teenager, too. Probably a lot of it was what I have already been saying as far as sports, going to the beach, the swimming pool. We went on retreats with the school which was a lot of fun. Actually that was one of my most favorite things that I did in my teens with our school. To go on weekend retreats. They were held maybe once or twice a year. We only did that a few times, but that was a wonderful experience. Traveling was fun. My oldest brother Joe, by the time we were teens, had married and moved to Sydney. Just hopping on a plane or train and going to visit him was fun. Boys, I guess, I liked them. Yes, there was a boy’s school across the street from the girl’s school that I went to. We went to St. John’s girl’s college and then there was the Christian Brothers catholic boy’s school across the street. We used to have dances. We used to go to mass together. There was one every other week or something. And we used to meet them after school.
Maybe that’s when you might have gotten into trouble!
No, I never did anything that I would’ve been ashamed of. Although my parents may not have cared too much for it, but it was just a lot of fun. Fun teenage stuff. Good, clean fun. Always. That was fun.
Can you tell me about the first experience you had of leaving home?
I remember actually leaving home when I was eighteen. That was short lived. That was very tough on my parents. That was the first time leaving home and then I returned home. I left again to move up to Queensland. I had a brother who moved up to Queens with him family who opened up his own business up there. A big grocery type store and he needed help with that. So I went up north. My twin sister possibly went up before me too. I went up and shared an apartment with my sister. But I’ve left home on and off several more times. My father passed away when i was twenty one and that’s why we spent a lot of time at home with my mother. Basically all our older sisters and brothers had gone off and got married. My brother Tony may have come back home, too, so that we could stay with mom because we didn’t want her to be alone. She was only in her late fifties. She was a bit older than dad. It was a very difficult time in our lives, especially my mother’s life when my dad passed away. So, leaving home on the odd occasion was adventurous and fun. I came to the States when I was twenty four. That was maybe the third or fourth time that I had actually left home. Again, I spent nine months in the United States traveling. I had wonderful experiences traveling, but I always had mom in the back of my mind. I was always checking in with her. Making sure that she was O.K.. We still remained a very close family, even though we were all grown up and everybody was doing their own thing. Still, mom’s home was home base. You’d travel and do things and then you’d always end back at mom’s.
Are there any special people who shaped or influenced you as a person back then, or helped you understand yourself better?
I’ll have to think about that. Apart from mom? She really was the number one person that shaped my life. My mom. Maybe some of the teachers at school. The nuns. I had a favorite nun, Sister Patricia Lynch. She was my homeroom teacher and taught me Italian for two years and was my singing teacher as well. She taught all the newest stuff. We had a very large church attached to our school. We would go to mass a lot with the school and sing in the choirs. She was our music teacher and she would teach us the hymns. She would teach us Italian songs and then she would teach us pop songs. We would do concerts and everything at tho school. She was wonderful. A wonderful person. I would have to say that she was my favorite teacher. I don’t know how she influenced me. I just loved her very much. But my mother is the person that influenced me most.
Did you enjoy school’?
I loved school. The number one thing in my life after my faith and my family was school. I loved it from day one until the teary eyed last day. I loved it. I loved my friends. I loved everybody. In fact, the older you got in school, everybody was your friend in your classroom. You had your few close best friends, but everybody was your friend. We all loved our teachers. We loved the whole socializing thing with school and the boy’s school across the street. I adored athletics. Just everything about school, I loved. I’m always happy to tell everyone, and that is one thing that I find with my own children, that we love school. I
Were there any major accomplishments or awards that you received in school that you are really proud of?
I used to get trophies for basketball. I had received a few of those. I was actually school captain. We used to have our school sports teams. For many years I was the class captain of my particular team and then when I reached the last year of school, was the school captain or the house captain of my team for the whole school. As I said, I wasn’t real athletic, but I did love sports and team sports. I think I always did well in that. So, I had the basketball trophies. The school I went to was actually a school that prepared you for secretarial work. I never went to college but it was like a finishing school for secretarial work with the shorthand, and the typing and all that. I’m proud of this: that I received the highest points in the whole country for secretarial work. Because of that, our school won the top award for the whole country because I had gotten the top score in the whole country. Sounds strange but I excelled in shorthand and typing. I was very good. So I’m proud of that. It was a high distinction as I received the award for our whole secretarial school. I was proud to have received the award. It was an honor, obviously.
Was there any life lesson you learned outside of the classroom that is most important to you that you can relate to as a teenager?
I have to think about this. Just maybe making the most of your family and your loved ones being around you. And your friends, too. Not to take anyone for granted. Never take a good friend for granted. Never take a loved one for granted because soon one or the other are gone. Whether it’s through distance or if you lose them, they pass on. So, it is always important to never leave anything unfinished or undone with someone. Always make up with someone. Don’t hold grudges especially with those that you love and care about, whether it be family or friends. Even a neighbor, too. It’s hard. Maybe that’s a lesson most of us need to learn. But, any ways that’s what comes to mind right now.
We talked about boys, losing loved ones. Let’s go back to teenage years again. Do you remember your first date or first kiss?
I don’t think I kissed a boy until I was thirteen. As far as dating, I really can’t remember. With us, or me, when I was a kid, we used to go out in groups a lot. So really, I really can’t remember what was the first date. I can’t place it, I can’t recall it. There was always group things going on. It might be just you and a boy and another girl and another boy. So I can’t really recall a first date as a kid. And then even older than that, even with a serious first date, I really can’t recall that. Did you have any steady boyfriends?
On several occasions. I guess, but it wasn’t serious. Not like kids do today. You have to remember that going to a catholic school and going to a boy’s catholic school was a lot different than being in public schools. Because once again, you had the teachings all around you between home and school. None of the boys that I was seeing would ever be from public schools because they were so mean to Catholics. If they found out you were catholic, they would rip you to shreds. That’s the way it was when I was a kid. I had things to be concerned about this. I
Would you say that there was a prejudice against you?
Absolutely. There were a lot of rough Australian kids. I don’t know if their parents knew what they were doing but they resented kids who wore uniforms. They knew which catholic schools you went to and there was name calling and things like that. Talk about Christians being persecuted. But as a kid I had to go through that so, all our mixing with boys was always with catholic boys. They were great kids and it was great fun. You knew it was good, clean fun. There was kissing and stuff like that, but that was as far as it went. So that is why I don’t remember any seriousness in it. Oh you may have had a crush or really liked somebody, but in my teens there was a whole lot of innocence there. A lot of holding back. That’s the way it was.
Are you married now?
Could you tell me a little about your courtship with you husband?
My husband is Jonathan Wardwell. He goes by John or “honey”. John is three and one half years younger than me. So, something was there already similar to my parents. I fell in love with John a lot quicker than he did with me. We met in California. I was visiting California with my mother and twin sister. We were visiting my brother, Tony. John was in California from Michigan. He was from Detroit, Michigan. He was there because he had a brother there. Our brothers were best friends. He had just arrived about a month earlier than we did. That’s how we met. He still had a girlfriend back in Michigan, although that didn’t last very long because long distance relationships don’t continue, they very rarely do. But, I found myself really starting to like him very quickly because he came across as a really nice guy. A really neat guy. Not a Californian. He
was from Michigan. We started dating soon after we met. What happened was that we went to a couple of rock concerts first. We went with friends. Then came the first date. He asked me out. I knew that I liked him right away. So we started dating but I knew that within six months that I would marry him. But, obviously he didn’t now that, so I’d say we dated for a year and a half and then he asked me to marry him. Actually, we ended up going back to Michigan to be married because he was from there. We stayed living there and we had three beautiful daughters there.
What was it about him that attracted you to him or made you fall in love with him?
Well, he was very handsome. Obviously, that’s the first thing that you see when you meet someone. So that was very appealing on the outside. But getting to know him on the inside he just seemed to be an old fashioned guy, too. In Australia I had worked in radio for many years and been exposed to a whole other world different than the one in which I was raised. So, when I came to the U.S. and met John, he was just everything like how I was raised. I could see that he had those qualities in him. Just good qualities. I’m not saying that he was a saint and neither was I, but he just had good old fashioned qualities about himself. We enjoyed a lot of the same things. He was just fun to be with and I felt very comfortable with him. I was very attracted to him and at the same time very comfortable with him. It was a very good feeling. A very good feeling.
What does being intimate mean to you?
Intimacy means when we sit down and talk orally with each other and hold each other. He has always been a very comforting source to me when I needed him. He was always there. Hopefully he can always say the same about me. With all the ups and downs that we’ve had in our lives between each other, no marriage is perfect, we’ve always been there for each other no matter what, no matter what. We’re good friends, too. There have been times when we didn’t like each
other. We’ve always loved each other, but you know, there are some times when you just don’t like the other person for a while. I’m sure there were many times when he just didn’t like me, because you go through different periods, throughout a year even. But whenever the times have been tough, that is when we are the closest. But the one good thing, we have always been there for each other through the toughest times. Especially with work over the years. That has been the thing that always brings us back. When work is very difficult for him, he is overwhelmed at times. He might have major problems at work or he has had to travel quite a bit. Sometimes traveling is O.K. and at other times, a difficult thing for him to have to do. Sometimes he’s unsure of how far he wants to go with what he is doing… during those times, hopefully, I have always been there for him and he has been comforted. We always get through things together. Everything we do, we always do it together. Which is a good thing.
You tell me you have three daughters, tell me about them.
Jessica, Melissa and Sarah. I used to say that the happiest day of my life was when John and I were married, but I have to say, that when Jessica was born, that took over as the happiest day. I was in total euphoria. I can remember seeing John’s face. He probably doesn’t realize that he was in total euphoria, too. It was the most exciting, most wonderful, most beautiful time. And then, of course, after that there came Melissa’s birth and then Sarah’s birth. The three most wonderful times of my life and my marriage to John. The most important days of our lives. They are wonderful children. Each one of them is different. Jessica is probably the most like me. Melissa is a combination of a few family members, mostly on John’s side. But, I think, there is a lot of my family in Melissa also. With Jessica, a lot of my family is in her. Then Sarah is a combination. She’s a little rascal. A live wire. Very Lebanese in that she loves to eat. She loves to sit around the table. Actually the three of them are like that. They love to sit around the table and eat and talk. Every night our dinners are like that. They love the whole family thing. They love school. They love having friends. It means a lot to them. We are just so very proud of them and we know that they will do well in life and that they will be good kids. Hopefully, their faith in God and Christ will be the number one thing in their lives and that’s what will shape them when they go out into the world, and we’re secondary. First their faith and then what their dad and I can teach them and instill in them. That will shape them and they will be wonderful people and additions to the world.
What values and lessons do you impart on them that might be most important?
Oh gosh, there are so many. I’m not sure which one is most important.
Any of them, you don’t have to pick the most important.
To love their neighbors as themselves. To treat others as they would want to be treated. To care about other people. Well, first, to care for each other. It’s so important that I teach them to love each other. You know, kids fight, things happen, and that’s so important that I always tell them to be good to each other. Love each other. You’re family. How can you ever love other people if you don’t first love each other? So love each other, and then be good to your friends. Even if friends are hurtful to you. You know, sometimes they would come home crying from school, and I’d tell them to be forgiving to their friends because maybe their friends didn’t mean it or whatever. To be a good friend, is more important than anything. Just you be a good friend and not to hurt anyone is a big deal to me. Not to hurt people. To be respectful of themselves and to be respectful towards others including the elderly. I am just starting on that now. To show them how to be towards older people. When we’re in a store or supermarket or whatever, to be respectful of older people and to help them or see if they need help. And to always tell the truth. That’s very, very, important. To always do your best. It doesn’t matter that if your best falls short of what maybe was expected of you or what you had hoped for yourself, as long as you have tried your hardest, that’s what counts in life. It’s a lot of work every day to remind them and to live by example. To do it yourself. I have to do it to be an example for them.
What role do they play in your life?
I would have to say, after John, the kids have my full attention. But once their dad is home, he becomes the most important one in the home. He’s the one that’s been out working. He’s my soul mate. Without him, they wouldn’t be here. After my faith, once again, there’s John and then the girls, and then my family. Without God we would be nothing any ways. So I will say again, God is first, always. Although I don’t act like it, I forget about God quite a lot of the times, which is very regretful. But first, I have to say that God comes first, then John and then the girls. He is very important for everything. They aren’t my reason for living, but they take most of my life’s time.
Did you have any dreams and ambitions after high school and did you meet them? What kind of things did you do with yourself for work after then?
I didn’t have fantastic dreams about a career or anything. All I knew was that I wanted to get out into the world. To work and meet people. To just enjoy life. Because I came from a secretarial school, I was a stenographer at what was called the Crown Solicitor’s office. The Crown Solicitor in Australia is like the state government law offices. But, in Australia, we are very English so, there was a very old English building that was just beautiful. It was an old, historical building, very stately, with round tops and everything. It was beautiful. I worked there and I loved it. I always loved everything I did in life. I think that was a gift from God. Just to do things and enjoy what you do. I loved being a stenographer. I was taking down war documents in short hand and typing them back up so that they could be used in court. From there I actually thought, God, I should go to law school. We did criminal law, we did breaches of contracts, those types of things. It was exciting and there were all these young lawyers. I had a crush on two of them. They were like in their late twenties and here I was this young stenographer and I loved going in for dictation. It was fun. I had great girls to work with. I was the youngest in the office. We used to socialize. That was wonderful. I did that for two years. However, something silly happened. While I was working there, I used to listen to the radio, a lot. I used to listen to the top radio station in Melbourne. Radio was very popular in Australia, probably more popular than television. Maybe we’re a very music oriented country, I guess. There was a competition on the radio. You had to write in to say, “If you had an opportunity to interview David Cassidy, what would you say? What would your questions be?” And silly me, I did do it. I entered and I won! So here I am‑ I go to the radio station; I’m in the production department; and here was the disc jockey and David Cassidy’s on the phone and I’m interviewing him. You know, back in the seventies, he was very popular. So here we do this interview for an hour and they all thought I was wonderful at the radio station. Then they got me on a Saturday morning talk show, talk for music show. They interviewed me because I interviewed David Cassidy. Here I was this young, innocent girl. I did something silly. I’d never won any thing ever in my life until I entered this competition. So, I got kind of hooked. They called me and let me know that the record librarian position was going to become vacant at the radio station and would I want to interview along with about fifty other girls. I think I was the first one to be interviewed and one of the men in charge, the Program director said why don’t we just hire her and forget the rest. But they did interview everybody, and I got the job. So here I am, I’m leaving one job I really loved to go do something I had never done before. That’s how I got into the music business. I worked my way up a little bit there. Through that job, a whole new life came. I started meeting movie stars, rock stars, people that you know: Rod Stuart, Elton John. It was just a totally different life. I never really got into the drug scene but I experimented a little bit. I never really drank except on the odd occasion. There was those values right there behind me. So, I did that for a few years. I used to program music for the radio station. I took over most of their music programming. That was very exciting. A very exciting part of my life. I’m glad that I did it. I wouldn’t go back to it now, just because I have family and a lot of things have changed. But it was a wonderful time of my life.
Was there anything historical going on during you lifetime that you may have participated in? I know you grew up in the seventies as I did, was there anything historical that you participated in or any critical historical events that you remember vividly what you were doing at the time?
I remember John Kennedy’s assassination. My family and parents loved John Kennedy and we used to watch American politics. I remember that vividly because my parents were devastated. They maybe even cried. I can’t remember. It was a big shock. That would have to be the main one that comes to mind right now. As far as Australian politics go, and you wouldn’t know Australian politics but, as a young woman, the prime minister of Australia was asked to step down. That was a big deal in Australian politics. His name was Gough Whitlam. Actually, my father thought he was wonderful. My parents loved him, but I guess he did something, so the governor general in Australia, representing the queen, for the first time in Australia’s history asked the prime minister to step down. Being catholic, once again, the deaths of a few Popes over the years was always a big deal world wide. I remember Pope Paul VI when he passed away, it was in the sixties. That was a major event. Actually, I remember Pope Pious XXIV. It was in 1964, 1 think. Because I went to a catholic school, and because of my parents, these are things you remember. They were a big deal. Then we had a death of an archbishop in Melbourne, Archbishop Manning. I actually went to the church and went through the procession and I looked at him in the coffin. Viewing him in the coffin was such a big deal. Things like that are coming to mind which I haven’t thought of in years. Oh, I remember when the queen came to Australia with Prince Charles. We saw them in the parade of cars. They drove down Queen’s Parade which is where my school was at. They probably deliberately drove down that road because it was named after her. So the whole school was outside on the road to wave to her and Prince Charles. That was a big deal. A lot of big things that happen in Australia are very minor to the rest of the world. But they are big to Australians. Of course, Nixon. That was a big deal. The Vietnam War played a big part in Australia, too.
Was there any traditional ways that your family prepared foods or ways of healing the sick?
Not really, something that comes to mind is that at Easter, mom always boiled eggs on Holy Thursday or perhaps Saturday. You couldn’t get brown eggs in those days, so she would get white eggs and get the peels of brown onions and boil them with the eggs to get the egg shells to turn brown. She always was successful in doing it that way. Then at midnight on Easter, after going to midnight mass, we would all crack eggs to see who had the strongest egg. What else? Lebanese food. That’s what mostly mom cooked. We used to eat some Australian foods but mostly traditional Lebanese foods. A lot of it is based mostly around lamb and the grain bulgur. You know you have your taboule which is eaten a lot with many different foods. We had lots of beans and legumes. As for spices, they used a lot of allspice and cinnamon along with nutmeg. They use a lot of thyme and marjoram. They used spring onions and garlic. And as I said earlier, with that first tooth, there are so many different deserts that they only prepared when that first baby had it’s first tooth. They didn’t prepare them at any other time. There were only certain specific deserts that they did for that special celebration.
Any traditional healing methods?
Old wives tales. Like for earaches, mom used to put a little warm oil in our ears. When we used to feel nauseous in the car, mom used to make us smell a fresh bar of soap. Nothing much otherwise. It was definitely always the doctor as far as healing was concerned.
Have you had any major changes in the way you view life since you turned forty?
Spiritually maybe I have grown a little more, but then sometimes I feel like I have lost a lot, too. I’m not really focusing enough on that. I seemed to be getting distracted very easily, now that I am forty five. Whereas, when I was forty, I seemed to be a little more focused on what I was doing. I can’t put my finger on why. Whether it is because I have children who are older and need more or have more activities going on. Or, whether it is just my age and that I’m entering into the perimenopausal stage. Sometimes I think that perhaps that’s the reason why. Not being completely settled. Not knowing if we’re coming or going due to my husband’s work. All those things interfere, I think, somewhat with my spirituality. Whereas, if I focused more on being more spiritual, maybe I could handle those things a little bit better. Maybe it’s just a matter of me not making the right choices as far as that goes. I wish I could say that I am a better person spiritually at age forty five but I don’t think that I am. I’m hoping that with time it’ll all come back to me. I just seem to be going through an uncertain stage right now.
Have you had any spiritual experiences in the past that you can relate to?
I have. Some not so good, so I won’t even mention those. Good ones? Gee, I don’t know if you want to hear it. I guess I can say it to you. But I may have told you this before. John knows, and my sister knows. I heard an inaudible voice of Jesus in my ear. I will never forget that. I was lying in bed awake and I was questioning God. I was thinking about my father as he had passed away and I was just lying in bed thinking of my dad. It was a few years ago. I asked God why, in a good way, he took my dad so young. My father was a strong man and very protective of his family and I was twenty‑one at the time he passed away. But I started to think that if dad had not passed away, we probably all would have stayed in Australia. Our faith would not have changed. My sister and I. It was because of me being married in the United States that she decided that she wanted to be in the United States, too. She did have a spiritual thing that took place in her life that she told me about and it really did change my life as well. So we would have been just our old selves back in Australia if dad didn’t pass away. We would have just stayed there. We might have ventured out a little, maybe. We would have been just that usual catholic. Even though we were brought up in a very spiritual family, as young adults we had been like everyone else who were Australian Catholics. Just going to mass on Sundays and not really being spiritual like we were when we were younger. So, while I was figuring this all out in my mind and I was talking to the Lord, I said, “I guess this is why you did take dad early”. And right then He said, “You see, I do love you”. In my ear, my left ear. It was the most wonderful experience. There are other things. God has answered my prayers on many occasions. That only strengthens my faith.
Do you think that you have a spiritual guide within you?
That’s the Holy Spirit. It is the one that convicts me whenever I do something wrong and feel convicted. It’s the Holy Spirit in me. When I know that I need to do something right, to help someone, to make a choice, I know it’s the Holy Spirit in me that convicts me. It’s my conscience. I always believe that being a Christian that my conscience comes from the Holy Spirit because I know that the Holy Spirit is in me. So, I definitely know when I am doing something right and when I’m doing something wrong.
Would you say that that is where your inner strength comes from?
Yes, definitely. I say time and time again, that I would be nothing without God. I’m nobody without God. God created me. So without him, I’m nothing. And I feel that not all people feel that way or recognize or acknowledge that.
Do you think that you have control over your life?
Not always. There are so many things in life that you have no control over. But, there are certain things that I can have control over. I try, but not everything. God, if I had control over everything, I’d be six feet under by now. But, I very often feel that I could’ve done things in my younger years where I might’ve been dead by now, but certainly God was in control, not me.
Are you at peace with yourself right now?
Oh, I am at peace. Yes, I am at peace. I am settled about things going on in my life. But yes, I am at peace. If I die today, I know where I am going. However, I wouldn’t want to die because I have children to raise, a husband I want to help in his life. Yes, I am at peace, I guess. Good question.
Can you think of any crucial decisions that have directed you to where you are now?
Just to make the decision to come to the United States and to stay here. The decision to marry John. The decision to have children. Each birth of a child. John’s moves. They were always decisions we made together. He would never have moved with out me saying, “Yes, let’s do it.” He always very much appreciated that because he has never been sure and he would come to me and I know it is my decision. Each move has been almost like a different lifestyle for us. A different state, different people. You have to change everything every time you move. So it’s been a big deal in our lives every time we had to do that. Some people never leave the state they were born in. I’ve moved from country to country. Moved state to state. I’ve made a lot of major decisions as far as all that goes.
Are you satisfied with your life choices?
Yes, I am. Very much so. I don’t have any regrets. But there was one other thing that I remembered as far as major changes. In my spiritual life, I went from being just a catholic as a way I was as a young adult, to now being just a Christian. I’m not practicing the catholic faith, but trying to be just a strong Christian. That has changed my life a lot and shaped a lot of my life now and even with the way John and I are raising our children, too. They are the major changes. All good changes. No regrets, whatsoever, at all.
How do you feel about yourself at your age right now?
I’m a little more forgiving of myself these days. Growing up in my twenties and thirties, I was hard on myself. We all want to look good and feel good. We all just want to do everything perfectly. But I think now, at age forty five, it’s O.K. if I gain weight. I’m losing hair. I have lines on my face. I wish I were a bit younger. Or, I wish I looked younger. I don’t necessarily wish I were younger. Or, I wish I looked younger and I wish I had more energy. But it’s O.K.. I’m O.K. at forty five. I just want to live a decent length in my life so I can raise the girls and know that they are healthy, strong and independent and that John and I can be around for each other, too. Any worries about the future?
Not so much worries, but insecurities, more than anything. Not knowing what the future holds. But otherwise, trying to live each day as it comes and then giving ourselves something to look forward to is important We always try to do that. Giving ourselves something to look forward to. Something to strive for. Life can get very mundane.
So you and John have goals for life after the children?
Yeah, for life after the children. One goal is to be in a warmer climate when we are older. We don’t want to be in a cold climate. We don’t ski or do many of those things. We have become somewhat of a home body and if you’re going to be a homebody. It’s nice to be a homebody in a warmer climate. You can better enjoy your immediate surroundings. But then really, we want the warmer climate to get us out to do other stuff, too. Then we can continue to enjoy life. That is important to us.
Could you describe your world view?
I worry about the world to be honest. I really do. I think world hunger, which has been tragic for so long, could be fixed, but the world leaders aren’t doing anything about it. I think we could wipe out world hunger. But just the moral state of our whole world. I’m not talking just about sexual promiscuity. Just everything, in general. The lying and the cheating that go on in the world from the world leaders right down to the middle class. I don’t think people have consciences. I know I’m generalizing and that there are a lot of good people in the world, but this is how I feel when I look generally. This is a personal thing. Just like abortion. I’m against that. I just believe that the world is deteriorating bit by bit. I don’t have a personal grudge against people who are homosexuals, but I believe that there are homosexuals who have these parades with people who are disgusting. They are practically naked with things drawn all over their bodies. Then they have these gay processions. It reminds me of the days back in Sodom and Gomorra when God destroyed cities like that because of the way people lived and behaved. So I just find that as the world progresses, we allow more and more. There used to be laws against these things and now everything is O.K.. I think that is a good thing, but the world is becoming a worse place to live and I fear for our children. What is going to be allowed by the time they are adults and when they have children? What’s going to be O.K. ? That’s why I think it is so important for us to raise our children in a particular way so that they will do the same with their children. No matter what is going around them, they will have their own values, morals and ideals. And they will just continue down the line. I do believe that our children will pay the price of the sins of their parents. I think that if you raise your children a certain way, and they continue along that line, that God will always take care of your family and the family line. I do believe that. I am very thankful that I was born into our family line because obviously, many generations ago, that’s how my family tree on both sides raised their children. Yeah, I worry about the world, I do.
Do you feel that your life is fulfilled right now? Do you feel fulfilled? And if not, what do you see doing in the future?
Sometimes I feel fulfilled and sometimes I don’t. It’s a daily thing or a weekly thing, I think. Sometimes I wonder what my role in life is and then I think, “Stop dead in your tracks. You have three children that you’re supposed to be raising”. But at the same time, there are other things that I can be doing, not only to enrich myself but to contribute to the world around me. That’s where I start feeling, not worthless, but not doing as much as I could be doing. I think it is true, though. I do believe that I am lazy. I don’t want to do too much because I don’t want to get too tired. There is a lazy streak in me. I feel that I could be contributing more. I try by volunteering at school, but my heart is not in it when I do that. I feel a little bit about things like that. Instead of looking forward to it, I say, “Oh, I have to go do that”. Then I do what I want to do later on! So, sometimes I feel selfish in that sense. Fulfilled? No, I think I could be doing a lot more but I think those years are ahead of me.
Tell me about that?
I look forward to getting older. It’s so funny, I used to do that or feel that way even when I was a kid. For different reasons. I couldn’t wait to be an old lady in a rocking chair eating a big piece of cake. I used to think that was heaven! Like not having to clean up my room or something. But, I look forward to aging. As long as I am healthy, though. I think I will be doing different things when I’m older. Other things will be more important to me. I’m not sure what. I think it will be socializing with other people; doing gardening; I love decorating; and as you know, I enjoy cooking. I just think that there will be different things just taking over. I have always been the wife who enjoys her husband at home. When John’s home, I actually enjoy it. Most of the time, any ways. So, I look forward to those years where he is actually there. John’s the type of person where he will be happy in retirement. Both of us got a lazy streak to us. We want to enjoy the good life. We want to do fun stuff. So, I look forward to those years. As long as we’re healthy, though. I do hope that I will be doing more. Contributing more. Helping others. I don’t know in what way. But, just helping others. Doing charitable work. I will feel more calm because I won’t
have the responsibility of the kids. I will have time to do that. My priorities will change.
Is there any experience that you would like to have before you die?
There’s a few. I would love to see our three daughters get married. Even though in nowadays, not everyone gets married and a lot of people have careers and everything. But, I’m still old fashioned in that I’d love to see them happily married with men. And I would like to see them have children. I would love to see our daughters have children. I would love to be able to go through that whole process with John in our life. So, I guess that means that I would like to see them get married younger than I did in order to do all that. I’d like to see them successful in some career. No matter how big or small that career might be. Melissa may decide that she wants to be a chef. I would love to see her do that if that is what she wants to do and be happy doing that. Jessica and Sarah, too. Before the marriage thing happened, I’d like to see them go through college or special school for whatever it is they wanted to do. I’d like to see them succeed in that. I’d like them to meet good men. Good, loving, men. Good husbands and good fathers. The usual stuff that mothers would love to see for their children. I’d love for John and I to be living somewhere down south with our daughters nearby. I hope they never do to me and John what we’ve done to our parents. By moving away. I’d love to have our children married and in close proximity, or nearby, I’d love for us to have good friends around us. As we get older, apart from the family life, it is important to be surrounded by good friends. I have to be a good friend. I think that I’ve only learned now, as I get old, on how to really be a good friend. Usually it means putting out more than what you are getting in. And sometimes it’s hard to make friends no matter how much you might want to do for others. You won’t get it back because they don’t want to make friends. I know this from moving around. You have to make friends. You just have to try. Sometimes you find that people want to take but they won’t give back. Hopefully, in our older age when we are settled, wherever it is where we are going to be, we will make good friends. Friends that will keep.
What are three things that you would like people to say about you and your life when you die?
That I was a Christ filled, Godly woman. A loving, dedicated wife and mother. A good, good friend. A loving friend with hopefully, a generous giving of myself. A contributor to everyone around me. Someone who cared and loved other people. Someone who wasn’t selfish. That’s a process you get better at as you get older. That’s another reason why I look forward to getting old. I know that I will become less selfish. Things won’t always be about me: “I need time, need this, I need some space”. It’ll be more of: “What can I do for you?”, “How can I help you?”, “I’m free.” That’s how I would like to see the direction of my life and then how to be remembered. I hope that I will have people at my funeral that loved me and cared about me and were thankful that I was on this earth. My mother, I know, had hundreds of people at her funeral and it was the same when my father passed away. I’m afraid that the way John and I move around, no one is going to know us. I don’t want it to be that way. I want to go and live somewhere where I can contribute and do something in my life. Especially when I get older. I don’t care if there is a lot of people, but I want the people who are at my funeral to say, “We’re glad that she was in our lives.” I want to leave my mark. I don’t want to be insignificant. But a good mom, always.
Do you think I have a fair picture of yourself? Any last comments?
I tried to be as honest as I can. I’m sure that I left a lot of things out. I’d like to say that you’re the best friend that I’ve made here and no matter where we live, I hope you come with us. And that’s the honest truth, Donna.
And I will be at your funeral, Cyrenia, no rnatter where you live. You are a beautiful person.
Thank you. If I’m not at yours first!
I’d like to think that’s something that I learned from my parents. It goes back to them. How to age. I think that if my dad had had the opportunity, he would have aged wonderfully. But my mother taught me how to age. She loved life and always gave of herself right up until the end. Really, even lying In bed, she was always surrounded by people and was able to communicate, at least. Just through communication you can give so much. Mom was a perfect example of that. Yeah, I hope that I can be half the woman that my mother was. Just to grow old and be a contributor, a loving mother, friend.
How do feel after talking about your life?
Very therapeutic. Very much so. I feel better. It made me examine my past and how I feel. In depth questions. It makes me actually look forward to the future by just making me think about it. Something we probably all need to do. Have someone sit down and ask us questions on our thought and feelings. It does help put words to our thoughts and feelings. So I really appreciated this. It was good for me.
lt was wonderful for me and I appreciate you giving me the time today. Hopefully, I will have all of this in writing for you and I will give you a copy and Submit one to the Archive.
I would love it because you know, I can give it to the girls
A legacy. Something you can give to your children.
Yeah, Thank you so much, Donna.
You’re welcome. It was a pleasure to do this.