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Matheos Balafas

Matheos Balafas

Restaurant Owner & WWII Survivor

Born: Greece
Heritage: Greek

Be good to each other. Love one another. Get an education and always help your neighbor.

Matheos Balafas

Restaurant Owner & WWII Survivor

My name is Matheos Balafas. I am from Greece. I was born in 1936 in a small, poor village with only 50 homes. People were nice and helpful. You could not survive without your neighbors. We celebrated and worshiped together. We had no cars, telephones or doctors in the village.

I went to a one-room school house, with no bathrooms and five different classes. I went to school for three or four years and then World War II broke out. The Germans went through the country and chased people out of their homes. They burned down homes and schools. They killed the priest and teacher. The teacher was my uncle. The Nazis were threatened by educated people.

I stayed home and worked in the fields with my mother and father. I carried bags of produce to the city’s flea market. This allowed my family to survive. I also helped with planting and harvesting fruits and vegetables. We did not have running water. For fun, we played soccer. We did not have a ball, so we filled up a stocking with grass and leaves.

Then the civil war broke out. They took all the horses and mules away, to be used for the army. We had no way to live from one day to the next. We saw soldiers come and we would hide in the bushes. We were without food and drink for days. We were in bad shape.

In 1956, I came to the United States with no language skills. For a living, I bused and washed dishes. I sent some money back to my mother and father. After 20 years [I] bought a restaurant business with a partner. I worked seven days a week. I quit after seven years so I would be able to spend more time with my family.

I met my wife Delores at Harry’s Cafe downtown. We were reacquainted at Marigold Ballroom and started dancing. We have been dancing ever since. She actually taught me how to drive. We have a son, Dino, a daughter, Maria, and now have four wonderful grandchildren. I attend church every day at the Greek Orthodox Church in Minneapolis.

Instead of birthdays we celebrate Naming Day in Greece. Ninety-nine percent of Greeks are named after saints. A saint is like Christ’s disciples. On Naming Day people come to wish individuals a Happy Naming Day. The women prepare snacks and the neighbors bring wine, and dance. In our tradition we name our boys after their grandfathers and girls after their grandmothers.

I am still learning English. I learned English in the United States through working with others and through my children. I still learn from my grandson, Matthew, everyday. If you do not go to school you do not get the job you want, or advance in life.

Notation: Download PDF

Honoring Matheos Balafas

Always Be Good

Always be good / Help your neighbor
Always be good / Love each other
I was born in a small village
With fifty houses
With no cars, no telephones
Without any doctors
We would walk or we would ride
A horse for transportation
We worked the fields day and night
With help from our neighbors
When I went to school
I walked with friends and siblings
Through ravines and over creeks
That kept rising
When it rained, the water came
Down hills and mountains
Had to wait for hours to cross
Because we had no bridges
With five grades in one room
There was much confusion
When the teacher taught one grade
The other kids kept talking
Without a bathroom
Had to hold it ‘til school
was over
When it was I would run
Back home or to the bushes
The only source of fun
we had
Was playing soccer
Without a ball to kick
We filled up a stocking
With grass and leaves
We kicked the sock all evening
After working in the fields
With mother and father
We were named after saints
Of our parents choosing
It was on Naming Day
Birthdays were celebrated
Mother prepared food and snacks
For the celebration
All the neighbors joined in
With wine, food, and dancing
Then came World War II
The Germans took over
The land of Greece where
I come from
Chasing out the people
Burning down the homes
The schools and the churches
We would hide in the hills
From the German soldiers
Didn’t know if I would live
From one day to the other
When the war was through
My uncle came over
From the United States
From Greece we traveled
To the greatest town on Earth
Minneapolis, Minnesota
From dishwasher to busboy
To become a waiter
A dining room manager
Twenty years later
Bought my own restaurant
Then I got married
With two kids, now have four
Wonderful grandchildren

Words by LARRY LONG with Katie Paulson’s 5th Grade class of Countryside Elementary
(Edina, Minnesota)

© Larry Long / BMI