"It was good for all of us to be there among the natural things, and away for a while from the automobiles, the streetcars, the factory whistles, and all the business. It was good to smell the fresh air and to sit on the grass, and lean my hand upon the soft moist ground."
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The Story of Helenie Farage
Gently smoothing the yellowed silk and soft chiffon of her wedding dress, Helenie David Farage noted that its tunic style and rose point lace trim would fit in nicely with the mode of the present day, and she had worn it as a bride over fifty years before.
Her daughter-in-law said, "It looks as if it would still fit you today, Mother, if you would try it on."
Helenie laid the fold creased gown against her breast and smiled. "My veil just went to pieces years ago. They were illusion silk net in those days, very sheer, and we wore them to the floor, all crumpled against the train of the dress, but they were gone the minute the air got to them. Not like the new nylon they have today. That would last forever."
Her story, she said, was not different from all the stories of her friends. "We came here, most of us young girls and young men, and it was to have a better life than back home.
"But yes, I did have a little harder time at first. You see, I was thirteen when we went from Mashta in Syria, to the Port of Tripoli. I remember that we left Tripoli on July 19, 1910, and it was a long hard trip until we got to Marseilles."
Atullah and Barbara Khattar Jacob
Mrs. Helenie David Farage in her wedding dress which was first worn in 1914 for her marriage to Khalil (Charles) Farage.
It became even more difficult at Marseilles for Helenie David. Her papers were not completely in order and she could not be permitted to enter the United States. "It was a very big problem for my parents. I was the youngest of the family so what should they do? Could they leave me alone in Marseilles, or should we all return to Syria, and try to get back to America again? That would not be easy. It took a long time to save money to bring a family to America."
A relative was finally found who would look after the young girl so that the rest of the family might be able to continue on to Ellis Island and America.
"Then my aunt arrived in Marseilles on her way to Argentina, and she took me with her to South America. When my father sent my papers to Marseilles they wrote back and told him I was in Argentina and then he had to get them to Argentina so that I could come to America to my family. That was something to have those visas and permits travelling from Marseilles in France back to my father in Amherst, Ohio, and then out to Argentina, all to get a young girl into America to her family.
"Well, finally the papers got to South America and I arrived in America in 1912, two years from the time we started out from the Port of Tripoli. I was only with my family in Amherst for two years after all that, you know, or until I was seventeen, when I got married.
Khalil (Charles) Farage was from Colorado. "It was a little town -- maybe you've heard of it, Wallsenburg, that was the name. You know, he had a bad time too for a while. You see, he wanted to get to America, but first he went to South America because that was easier. He was not happy
in South America and what he did then was to get to Mexico. Well then, he got into America from Mexico and went to Wallsenburg. You see he wanted to come to America so much that he couldn't wait for all the papers. He was a wetback and it took him years before he got his papers straightened out."
The Farages stayed only a short while in Amherst then came to Cleveland where there were more job opportunities.
Like many other young Syrian couples, their life in Cleveland began on Bradley Court.
"We had two rooms and a kitchen. Everybody had plain chairs and tables, not like today when couples start out with everything matching."
In those early days, life styles were based on temporary arrangements. Many were not certain they could even make it in America and home decorating was low on the list of priorities.
As jobs grew steady and the family prospered a sense of security and permanence developed.
"I remember one family, the Anters, bought a couch and two chairs that were a set, and everyone went over to see it, and soon the other women started buying couches and chairs that matched."
Life for Helenie and Khalil Farage centered around their religion. They were Orthodox and did not yet have a church of their own.
"Visiting priests would come to Cleveland, and we would have Mass in different homes. Father Sliman Merhis, who married us in Amherst, used
to come here and we would have Divine Liturgy in the Armory on Bolivar Road. We used the billiards room for our services. Yes, there was Father Merhis, and then there was Father Spiridon Massouh who used to come up from Akron. Later he went to Canton and was the priest there for years. They had a big parish in Canton.
"When Father Massouh could not come, Father Atouf would visit us. We had Mass in many places, but Gray's Armory was the central location for a long time."
When no priest could visit, the Orthodox families would share in the services at St. Elias Melkite Church which was then on Webster Avenue near East 9th Street.
"Before we had our own church, we all went to St. Elias. We had weddings and funerals in that church no matter what religion we were. When there was something big happening everybody came -- the Melkites, the Maronites, the Orthodox. The Druze came too. It didn't matter what we were -- even that some were not Christian. It was important that we were all Arabic people and we stayed close to each other. We lived across the street from the church on Webster, and my second son was baptized by Father Mufleh who was the pastor. Oh, he was such a good man. You wouldn't believe how many people he helped. He used to get in trouble with his own people sometimes. You know why? He didn't keep real good books, but they didnít know about some of the good things he was doing. Some of the people who had a real bad time, especially in the Depression later, they knew."
While Khalil and Helenie Farage attended services in other churches, they worked and planned with others of the early Orthodox families for the establishment of a church of their own.
"We did everything. We had bazaars, we had parties, the men had meetings and formed a Council. Even during the hard times, people worked to build the church. And do you know, when we finally had our Church and our Pastor, we were in it only a few years and the church burned. To the ground. Nothing was left, only the walls. We had just decorated it and we had a big party to celebrate -- and the very next day the church burned. It was terrible to see it all gone, just four walls standing. Then everyone just dug in and went to work all over again. It was the middle of the Depression and the men who were plumbers and carpenters went in and put in plumbing and a floor. They finished the basement in a few months so we could have Mass again in our Church. When I look today at our church building, the halls and the school rooms, I think of those people who sacrificed and paid off the mortgage and worked so hard. It was a very good thing, because that way our own religion is not lost in America, and our grandchildren have the church we built.
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