Illegit: A Memoir of Family Intrigue, Wealth, and Cruel Indifference

Illegit: A Memoir of Family Intrigue, Wealth, and Cruel Indifference

by George a. Demoulas

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496933317
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 08/14/2014
Pages: 108
Sales rank: 587,197
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.40(d)

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Illegit

A Memoir of Family Intrigue, Wealth, and Cruel Indifference


By George A. Demoulas

AuthorHouse

Copyright © 2014 George A. DeMoulas
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4969-3331-7


CHAPTER 1

All stories start at the beginning. It is like that for families as well. Families don't just appear in a flash. There is a continuum that reaches back through time to long before the newest members of the family are born. So it is with my story. It all began in Greece with my paternal grandfather, Athanasias Demoulas. He was born in 1883 in a small village in the shadows of the Meteora and the Pindus Mountains, which are located in the central part of the country. The region is renowned for its ancient monasteries and has been described as "the perfect place for Zeus to store his thunderbolts."

When he was twenty-three, Athanasias immigrated to America, landing on Ellis Island in the shadows of the Statue of Liberty on St. Patrick's Day in 1906. At the time of my grandfather's passage to America, his homeland and its neighbors were embroiled in the endemic rivalry that still persists in the Balkans. Serbs, Slavs, Bosnians, Albanians, and Bulgarians all were involved in the ongoing battles, and Greek guerrillas were on a rampage in the mountains of Macedonia. Although I do not know for certain what prompted my grandfather to leave Meteora, his family, and his childhood sweetheart, who was to become my grandmother, it seems evident the sociopolitical turmoil and the harsh economic conditions in his homeland played a role in his decision.

Soon after arriving in New York, Athanasias made his way to Lowell, Massachusetts, following in the footsteps of thousands of immigrants, many Greeks among them. Lowell was then known as Spindle City because of the dozens of textile mills that extended for miles along the edge of the Merrimac River. The Greek, French, Irish, and French-Canadian immigrants who toiled in those mills congregated in a section of Lowell called the Acre, which stretched from Lowell City Hall along Market Street toward the river.

My grandfather soon found work in a tannery as a shoemaker and, within three years, had saved enough money to send for the girl he had left behind in Meteora. Tall and thin and eleven years his junior, my grandmother was Efrosine Souleiman. Shortly after her arrival in Lowell, she and Athanasias were married. At some point along the path to assimilation, my grandfather began to refer to himself as Athas, a name far easier for people to pronounce than Athanasias. Later still, he went by Arthur, a name eventually passed on to two of his grandsons. My mother also gave it to me as my middle name. As I look back on this part of my family history, information I learned only after years of searching public records and gleaning what I could from my mother, I find myself feeling sad sometimes. The story of my grandfather is rich in the stuff of the American dream. I am part of that story, yet it is as if my siblings and I never existed. In that sense, we lived in a world devoid of the grounding most of us depend on for the rudiments of our self-identities. It's a strange and sad place to be when you're adrift and ignored.

My grandfather worked hard in the tannery for years, but his health began to suffer. The working conditions in the factory were awful, and his doctor advised Arthur to leave his job. In 1917, at the age of thirty-four and eleven years after he had arrived in Lowell, my grandfather opened Demoulas Market on Dummer Street in the Acre and began selling meat, produce, and sundries to his fellow émigrés from Greece and other parts of the world. Above the awning on the front of the shop hung a sign advertising "Lamb, Sausages & Pork." Arthur and Efrosine did their own slaughtering, and several times each week, my grandfather drove his battered old Ford truck to the railroad yards to pick up live sheep and pigs. They kept chickens in wooden cages on the sidewalk outside the shop. After selecting a chicken, customers brought it inside to be weighed and then carried it off, alive and squawking, wrapped up in sheets of newspaper. In time, my grandmother became renowned for her roasted pork sandwiches, a specialty favored by the workers who passed by the shop on their way to the mills.

In keeping with the custom among many merchants in immigrant cities, Arthur allowed his customers to buy on credit, and he delivered their purchases free of charge. It was a different time, a different world. I don't want to romanticize those times too much, but it always strikes me that life must have been somehow more wholesome. Of course, life was just as hard then as it is now. With America's entry into the War to End All Wars, Lowell's economy surged, and in 1918, Arthur and Efrosine were able to realize their dream of owning property. They bought a farm in the nearby town of Dracut, where they raised cows, pigs, goats, chickens, and ducks.

Over the next fifteen years or so, the Demoulas Market continued to flourish. My grandparents had several children. My father, John, was born in 1915. His brother George followed in 1919, and Telemachus came along in 1920 and always went by the name of Mike. My grandmother tragically lost three other children due to illness, which was not uncommon back then.

Throughout the 1920s, the store did well. By all accounts, the family was happy. The three boys played in the neighborhood with friends, went to school, and messed about, as all kids do. They also worked in the store, which turned a small profit even in the early part of the Great Depression. However, by 1938, things had taken a turn for the worse. So many of my grandparents' customers were in debt to them that they were unable to pay their own bills. The bank threatened to take their farm unless they paid the $100 they owed on their mortgage. They somehow averted the crisis, but like many of their generation, my grandparents grew even more resistant to moving too fast or wanting too much.

As soon as they graduated from high school, my uncles George and Mike went to work full-time in my grandparents' store. My grandparents allowed John to follow another more-independent path, something he would do throughout his life. In the Greek culture, for centuries, the oldest male child had enjoyed special patriarchal status. As the firstborn, my father was, without question, the favored son, and for his entire life, he was to have an inherited and inherent authority over his two younger brothers and his younger sister.

The miseries of the Great Depression faded into the past with the United States' entrance into World War II. Lowell, as it had been two and a half decades earlier, was the beneficiary of the economic boom brought about by the demands for its contributions to the necessities of battle.

After Pearl Harbor, Uncle George enlisted in the army, and when the war ended, he returned to work in the store alongside his parents and brother Mike. (For reasons unclear to me, neither my father nor Uncle Mike served in the war.)

The late 1940s gave rise to an increasing number of supermarket chains, and because of their superior buying power, these chains were ringing the death knell of the small independents. The bell did not toll for my grandparents, however; the Demoulas Market on Dummer Street in Lowell continued to prosper. Arthur and Efrosine prospered; they continued working long, hard hours at the market and on the farm where they were raising their children. In 1950, they built a new store on the site of the original Demoulas Market and, four years later, sold the business to George and Mike for $15,000. Mike assumed the title of president, and George became treasurer. When Mike and George decided to expand the market two years later, they did so against the advice of several local businessmen, including my grandfather, prompting him to complain to a friend, "What are they doing? Have they lost their minds?"

While Mike and George were focusing on building the business, my father, John, married and opened a restaurant and bar named Marion's Café, after his wife. Sometime thereafter, he purchased a second business, the Golden Nugget Lounge, and then real estate in New Hampshire and Florida. In addition to his obvious skills as a businessman, my father was also handsome, incredibly charming, and remarkably coldhearted—attributes that would ultimately seal my mother's fate and propel her and her illegitimate children into a life of misery.

And it all started because of political and social unrest in Greece at the turn of the last century. My grandparents had established a good business. They'd run it with clear heads and the sweat of hard work, and then they'd passed it down to two of their sons, establishing a legacy they were proud of. They'd also unwittingly planted the seeds that would grow into the oak of a mighty financial empire, though if you'd told them that when they retired, they'd have just laughed.

CHAPTER 2

My mother, Dorothy Bedard, was Irish. She was born in Lowell in 1933, the youngest of ten children. She had beautiful platinum-blonde hair and sparkling green eyes. When I look at pictures taken of her as a young woman, she reminds me of Grace Kelly—beautiful and fragile. It is no surprise that my father was taken with her upon their first meeting. The two of them became caught up in the magic of romance. She was the beautiful blonde, and he was the handsome gentleman of means. He was somewhat short and stocky but debonair, and his thick mustache gave him something of the look of Clark Gable. I think he represented a sort of untouchable to my mother, the kind of man she could only dream of. When he invited her to his bed, she went willingly, and she did not want to leave the fantasy even when the good dream of what she could never have went straight to hell.

I can't blame my mother for what she did, for how she ignored what most sensible people would have finally come to realize. As I said, the story starts with the family continuum. It starts with a circumstance beyond the control of the person, the individual—the group we call family. The conditions my mother grew up with, which included abject poverty and, more significantly, a family incapable of loving, scarred her for life. What would her life have been like if she had been born into a family that cared? What would my life have been like ? Sadly, late at night, when I can't sleep, I look up at the ceiling in the dark of my bedroom, and I can imagine the alternate universe where life might have been different, a little less tortured and full of rage. But the imagined is not the reality any of us face. We face what we have, whether we like it or not.

When she was in sixth grade, my mother was diagnosed with a heart murmur and left school. Thereafter, she stayed home—more often than not, all alone in a cold, dark tenement. When she was fifteen, she forged work papers and took a job as a factory girl at Roby Shoes in Lowell. Every dime she earned went toward supporting her family. Four years later, in the spring of 1952, Sophie Irons, an older woman who had befriended my mother, invited her for a drink after work at Marion's Café. There, on that fateful day, Sophie introduced my mother to the proprietor, my father, John Demoulas.

At the time they met, my father was in his late thirties. Although my mother was aware he was married, she fell hopelessly in love with him. From that moment, she became entangled in a life that was sometimes the stuff of dreams and other times overwhelming and frightening. Perhaps, at age nineteen, she saw in John Demoulas the answer to her prayers—the hope that somehow he might be the answer to her leaving behind the life of misery she saw stretching endlessly ahead. We all face times of desperation and despair. We all cling to the hope that our lives might one day improve. When the hand of possibility reaches out, we take it even though we know in our hearts that we're doing wrong. I think Dorothy knew all along that she was standing on the edge of an emotional cliff when she met and fell in love with John, but she wanted so badly to get into a life with hope that she willingly stepped right off into thin air. She fell, and she held on to John's hand until he let her go.

In retrospect, from my perspective as a grown man, I can say with clarity that my father saw in her an opportunity to take advantage of a naive, desperate, and beautiful young woman. John was a coldhearted son of a bitch. He knew what he wanted when he saw it, and he took it. I know this from my personal experiences with him and his brothers as I grew up in the shadow of a burgeoning family empire. I know this because my mother and I used to talk long into the night about the forces that shaped both of our lives. I know this because I lived it, and I don't think I am alone in what I experienced. Few families are without blemish. Life simply isn't like that. You never know what goes on behind closed doors, even if those doors close the world off from the fortress of a palatial mansion.

Not long after John and Dorothy met, my father gave my mother a job tending bar at the café—a profession she engaged in on and off for the rest of her working days. He then installed her in a rented apartment at 10 Davis Street in Lowell, an address decidedly on the wrong side of the tracks. Confident in his position as the eldest son and a popular and respected figure in his social circles, my father apparently was unconcerned about appearances, at least not among his friends and business associates. I have no way of knowing whether his wife or my grandparents were aware of the relationship at that point in time. I suppose it doesn't matter. I do wonder, though. John was unafraid of most things. I doubt he would have cared if his parents or his brothers had known he was cheating on his wife. My older sister Melveen was in born in Lowell at Shaw Hospital on June 22, 1954, less than two years after my mother and father met. My mother was twenty-one years old.

Dr. Adam Shaw founded the hospital in the early twentieth century as a private maternity hospital, a place where women who found themselves in compromised positions were accepted without questions being asked. A Dr. Vergaropoulos delivered an unnamed baby girl at 12:30 a.m. My mother's name is the only name listed on the birth certificate. According to that document, the baby's father was unknown. My father and his attorney, James Curtis, arranged for the baby girl's placement, and filed in the hospital records along with the birth certificate was an affidavit that gave the right to "the people listed on the legal papers to take our baby daughter."

The affidavit was signed by Dorothy Bedard and John Demoulas and witnessed by G. H. McAllister and Mrs. John Hickey. It is dated June 26, 1954, four days after Melveen was born. Many years later, that piece of paper was to be a critical piece of evidence in a lengthy legal battle played out in a Cambridge, Massachusetts, courtroom. My mother says that when they took her baby away, it was the hardest thing she ever experienced in her life. And for a day or so after the birth, my mother was led to believe that she and John would leave Lowell for California to start a new life together.

According to my mother, it was my father's brother, my uncle Mike, who advanced this plan in order to protect the family name. The Demoulases, of course, were highly respected members of the greater Lowell community. The market was booming, and George and Mike had recently opened a new store. They had great plans for even more expansion. They did not want scandal or responsibility for their older brother's misdeeds. John played both ends, placating his family and my mother. It was a clear case of him wanting to have his cake and eat it, too. When Uncle Mike visited her in the hospital, it soon became clear to my mother that my father had no intention of leaving Lowell.

"I'm warning you, Dorothy," he told her. "Stay away from John."

My mother recalls yelling at him, "Listen, it's John who can't stay away from me! "

There's ample evidence of the truth of her answer. Melveen was only the first of five bastard children to be born to my mother and father. More than forty years would pass before my mother was to see Melveen again.

In 1955, a year after my sister Melveen was born, my uncles Mike and George expanded the superette on Dummer Street once again. This time, the store tripled in size. It comprised 33,600 square feet of display space and two checkout counters. An impressive new sign—DeMoulas Super Market—hung across the facade. For some unknown reason, perhaps to add a bit of distinction, they changed the m in Demoulas to a capital M. The brothers were on their way to fulfilling a promise they had made to each other to build a supermarket empire. Several years later, Mike and George built a second DeMoulas Market on Bridge Street, just a few blocks away from the Dummer Street location. My grandfather Arthur, looking frail and weary, cut the ribbon during the grand-opening ceremony. He died six months later at age seventy-five.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Illegit by George A. Demoulas. Copyright © 2014 George A. DeMoulas. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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Illegit: A Memoir of Family Intrigue, Wealth, and Cruel Indifference 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a fantastic read...very heartfelt... I cried at times. This story of George A. Demoulas and his up hill climb out of poverty, to fight for his name is the best book that I have read in ten years. This will make a great movie...it has all the goods.....absolutely a must read highly recommended.