Interview with:   Elias and Mariana Souri
Interview Date:   November 23, 2002 and December 18, 2002
Interviewer:   Hilary Russell
Transcriber:   Janice Kruger, Peggy Pecore, James McMahon
    This interview transcript is the property of the Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project. Not to be reproduced without permission.
   
 
   

[Note: corrections and clarifications were added in brackets by interviewer Hilary Russell during review of this transcript. She also prepared a Souri family genealogy [Souri family tree.pdf] to identify many of the people discussed during the interview.]

TAPE 1/SIDE 1

RUSSELL: You want to spell your names out?

E. SOURI: Sure, my first name is Elias [spells] and that’s S-O-U-R-I.

M. SOURI: And my name is Mariana [spells] and the last name is Souri [spells].

RUSSELL: And we’re at their home at 1125 East Capitol Street SE, on Lincoln Park.

E. SOURI: Washington, DC 20003 [Laughs].

RUSSELL: It’s the 23rd of November 2002, and it’s about 2 in the afternoon on a Saturday. This sets up the whole ambience. I’m a neighbor. I’ve lived next door for three years, almost four, so this is an easygoing, comfortable, and friendly interview. One of the reasons I really wanted to interview you was not only for this reason, but because of the long family history in this house that your grandparents…

M. SOURI: bought in 1927.

RUSSELL: So tell me something about your grandparents [Elias and Karimeh Souri].

E. SOURI: Well, my father’s parents lived in Georgetown on 36th…

M. SOURI: 36th and Prospect. 1234 36th Street.

E. SOURI: Right near Georgetown. Georgetown was right behind them. And my grandfather there had a barbershop.

RUSSELL: And had he come from Lebanon?

E. SOURI: Yes.

M. SOURI: Actually at that time known as Syria.

RUSSELL: Syria. When did he come?

M. SOURI: That’s a good question. [Laughs]. I believe he was over here a couple of times before he came to stay, and from what we can gather he came in through Canada, the upper United States. He worked at lumberjack camps and he was at the Louisiana Exposition. That was in 1902? [1904]

E. SOURI: I don’t know.

M. SOURI: I’m not sure. Anyway if you see the movie “Meet Me in St. Louis” it will give you the year. I don’t know what the year was. And why he came to Washington, I don’t really know. But he settled here I guess basically because cousins were here.

RUSSELL: He settled here because cousins were here. So was it a large extended family?

M. SOURI: Oh very. Most of them actually, the relatives, belonged to my grandmother, his wife [Karimeh Souri, nee Buttash]. They married in 1907.
Paternal grandparents,

 
Elias Souri (photo date 1907) and Karimeh Buttash Souri (undated)

RUSSELL: Did they marry here?

M. SOURI: They married here, at the St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York City.

RUSSELL: So they met in Washington?

M. SOURI: Ah, yeah. I’m assuming it was a match, which is the way most of them worked at that point. They still do that today. They try. [Laughs].

RUSSELL: So your grandparents continued living in Georgetown after they were married?

E. SOURI: They did. And our dad [Nicholas Elias Souri] was born in Georgetown, 1909 or 8?

M. SOURI: 1908.

E. SOURI: 1908, and at one point and… I think we’ve been able to figure when the C & O [Chesapeake & Ohio] Canal closed.

M. SOURI: When the C & O Canal closed, and all the “barge people,” is what they called them, moved into Georgetown, they were considered undesirable so the good people of Georgetown moved out. [Laughs].

E. SOURI: Because at that time Georgetown was considered a slum. And that’s when our grandfather -- our father’s father -- found this place here. He opened up a dry goods store on Pennsylvania Avenue -- pots, pans, corsets, household goods, that sort of thing -- but we don’t know where the store was. We’re just assuming that the store was in walking distance of the house.

RUSSELL: So it would be on Pennsylvania Avenue SE.

M. SOURI: Yes. Probably close to 11th Street. [14th Street] We’re not quite sure. No one can really tell us. We have a picture of the store. [seems to have been where the KFC parking lot is now on Pennsylvania near 14th SE]

E. SOURI: With him standing in the store with all the stuff hanging.

RUSSELL: Oh, I’d love to see that.

E. SOURI: We should have it upstairs somewhere.

M. SOURI: It’s up there in that pile that we haven’t hung yet.

RUSSELL: The Project [Capitol Hill History Project] might like to have a copy, if there is such a possibility.

E. SOURI: Oh, yes, we can get you a copy.

Paternal grandfather Elias Souri in his Pennsylvania Avenue dry goods store, circa 1930s. Some details: on the left, women's blouses for 35 and 50 cents.

RUSSELL: Do you know the name of the store?

E. SOURI: Nothing, nothing. All we know is there’s a picture of him standing in the store, with the gaslights, hanging from the ceiling.

M. SOURI: Actually I still have stuff from his store.

RUSSELL: You do? [Laughs].

M. SOURI: Yeah, I do. It’s up on the third floor in boxes. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I stuck them up on the third floor.

RUSSELL: Those date from when, the things you have?

M. SOURI: 1920s.

RUSSELL: Wow!

M. SOURI: They’re good. I found trimming lace on bolts. I’ve got -- and I can’t remember where I put them -- there are a whole bunch of creamers, the things you put the milk in for coffee. I found cigarette cases: the silver, you know, fancy cigarette cases that people used to use, cufflinks.

E. SOURI: We have two jars, two large jars, of Planter’s [brand name] peanuts for five cents a package. I don’t know how big the packages are.

M. SOURI: They’re up on the third floor.

E. SOURI: They’re upstairs on the third floor.

RUSSELL: Peanuts still in them?

E. SOURI: No, they’re empty now, but they’re about two gallon-size glass jars with glass tops, really very elegant.

RUSSELL: For five cents?

E. SOURI: Five cents for Planter’s peanuts. There’s Mr. Peanut with his cane and his glasses, embossed in the glass jar. They’re upstairs on the third floor.

M. SOURI: Then down, I’d say we have a very brand new round waffle iron, never used, from his store down in the basement.

RUSSELL: Well, the Museum of the City of Washington would be interested [Laughs] in some of these things.

E. SOURI: We have some old irons downstairs as well, the kind that you would have to heat first in order to use.

M. SOURI: That spittoon up there is from the store.

RUSSELL: So tell me, he moved here and opened the store. That’s what you said?

E. SOURI: Yes.

RUSSELL: So before that he didn’t have a…

M. SOURI: He just had the barbershop. So he changed the business.

E. SOURI: Yes.

RUSSELL: And how long did the store stay in operation?

E. SOURI: That’s a good question.

M. SOURI: I really don’t know.

E. SOURI: Probably from the late twenties, I’d say 1927, when this house was bought, which was bought for $13,000. And he retired sometime in the thirties, but I don’t know when that was.

M. SOURI: It would be late, would have been late thirties.

RUSSELL: Late thirties?

E. SOURI: And he died in 1944, but I don’t know when he retired.

RUSSELL: He sold the store when he retired?

E. SOURI: I don’t know.

M. SOURI: I’m pretty sure he did.

RUSSELL: And not to a family member?

E. SOURI: No, we have no trace of it.

RUSSELL: Did family members help in the store?

M. SOURI: I believe my grandmother did. She would work in there. And I think Dad did, because he used to tell me… He told me a story one time that I think a young lady came in to buy female apparel and she wouldn’t talk to him. She waited until my grandmother came out and she would talk to my grandmother, but she wouldn’t ask my father. She needed a bra is what she needed [Laughs] and she wouldn’t go to my father.

RUSSELL: You don’t have any books or account books or documents?

M. SOURI: No, I haven’t found anything like that.

E. SOURI: I’m thinking. There may be something down in the basement in a metal box that I found. Account books or accounting with some entries, but I don’t know if they’re from the store, so I can’t really tell you that. I’d have to look at them, dig them out and look at them, and show them to you. But I don’t know that you can identify them as actually coming from his store.

M. SOURI: I found the original contract for our oil furnace that’s down there now and the tanks that were put in for the oil from Standard Oil. It’s now Griffith Consumer’s or whatever they’re called. What else have we found?

RUSSELL: What date was the furnace, about?

M. SOURI: Off the hand I can’t recall, but I have the paper. What else did we find?

E. SOURI: The house was built in 1892, we know that much. [It was built in 1907]

RUSSELL: How many people were living here at that time?

E. SOURI: There would have been our two grandparents,

M. SOURI: Tita and Jiddo [Arabic for grandmother and grandfather, Elias and Karimeh Souri]

E. SOURI: and then my grandmother’s brother and our uncle [Nestoss Buttash] and then, once my dad got married, then our mom [Mary, nee Salloom], then, of course, the two of us. At one point there, in the early forties until our grandfather died, there were six people in the house, and one bathroom. [LAUGHS]. Can you imagine?

M. SOURI: I guess it never bothered anybody.

E. SOURI: No, I think we just all had to coordinate very well.

RUSSELL: So, I’m jumping ahead a little bit. I’m going to go back, but so you grew up in this house? Both of you?

E. SOURI: Yes.

RUSSELL: And really you’ve never left it.

M. SOURI: I haven’t, no.

E. SOURI: She hasn’t. I have.

RUSSELL: Yes. You were in Chicago, recently anyway. Maybe other places. So you’ve never… That’s great. I knew it had been your grandfather’s house, but I didn’t realize you’d lived here the whole time.

M. SOURI: When my brother got engaged -- I forgot when you got engaged…

E. SOURI: 1971, but that’s recent history.

M. SOURI: And that was after that, I bought the house from my parents for $10. There had to be a money transaction so that’s what they said to do: buy it for $10, so I did. I’m not sure you could do it like that today, but you could in the seventies. [Laughs].

E. SOURI: It was a generous offer.

RUSSELL: That was a deal. So going back to your grandparents, these are from things you not necessarily remember experiencing, but stories that you were told. What are some of the more outstanding memories you have of their residence here that were conveyed by stories or anecdote?

E. SOURI: Well, one of the biggest stories was that our grandfather, our father’s father, was friends with my mother’s father, who was a priest [Job Salloom]. He was ordained in 1912 and became the priest to the Syrian community in Washington, D.C. And the first church was over by the central library. I know the first church was a rented room, but I don’t know where it was.

 

M. SOURI: Off Louisiana [Indiana] Avenue in Northwest. The building is still there, but an actual house was purchased at, where was that, S… it’s in the Mount Vernon Square area, where the new Convention Center’s coming up, so obviously the streets are not there anymore. A house was purchased; our grandfather Souri mortgaged this house to renovate the building that they purchased for a church to make it look like a church.

E. SOURI: And that was Eighth and K or Eighth and L?

M. SOURI: No, it was Eighth Street NW, over in the Mount Vernon Square area. I don’t remember the church that much, to be honest with you. We did not know my mother’s father, and I don’t really remember my father’s father. They both died.

E. SOURI: My mother’s father died in 1936.

M. SOURI: Before we were born.

E. SOURI: And then our father’s father died in 1944, like I said. So we really didn’t know our mother’s father, the priest.

M. SOURI: But we knew our grandmothers very well [Karemeh Souri, nee Buttash, and Debe Salloom].

E. SOURI: They both survived way long after their husbands died.

M. SOURI: They were a lot younger.

E. SOURI: But, in any event, both men knew each other; they were good friends, and they collaborated on the support of the Church. They were big churchgoers and wanted to keep the Syrian community together, and there was a small community here, and there still is. Most of them have moved out into the suburbs now, but at one time they were in Washington, D.C. Then almost everybody was related, one way or another. Cousins, whatever.

M. SOURI: And they still are.

E. SOURI: Oh, yes. So we have an extended family, cousins and second cousins, all over, even out into Delaware.

M. SOURI: Most people don’t know their third, fourth, and fifth cousins. We do. [LAUGHS].

RUSSELL: Was there a Syrian community in Capitol Hill?

M. SOURI: Over on the Maryland Avenue Northeast side, there was quite a large community over there. There were a few over here on 11th Street [Southeast], but the largest part was over on Maryland Avenue, at13th and 14th Maryland Avenue Northeast.

E. SOURI: There were also some on a street called Florence Avenue, but now the name has been changed to 14th Place.

M. SOURI: We went over there the other day, we were curious about it. I remember going over to this little street, and it was dark, and I didn’t like going over there because of all the old people. [Laughs] But we just drove over there a few Sundays ago just to see what it was like, and it’s no longer called Florence Street. But they were very small houses.

E. SOURI: Almost reminds you of Philadelphia, the street is so small.

M. SOURI: Almost like alley houses. It’s really cute. My grandmother, my mother’s mother [Debe Saloom], lived at 1330 Maryland Avenue, and we’d walk back and forth. It’s not that far, about seven blocks. But they came over in about 1902, I think. They came over by boat.

E. SOURI: Our mother’s parents [Job and Debe Salloom]..

M. SOURI: They had one daughter who was born over there, came with them. She [Debe Salloom] was pregnant with my mother when she came here. And they ended up in Philadelphia. My mother was born in Philadelphia.

E. SOURI: By midwife. She never had a birth certificate. She had a very difficult time trying to prove her age when she needed to get her Social Security.

M. SOURI: Let’s see. We lived with my father’s mother [Karimeh Souri].

E. SOURI: And our dad really didn’t have a lot of money. He worked at odd jobs, so he lived with his parents, and then when he got married he moved in with his new wife [Mary, nee Salloom]. They were married in 1936, the same year that my mom’s father died. In fact, my mom’s father married my parents, then I think he died, our grandfather [Job Salloom], five weeks after the wedding. So that was a disastrous occasion. It really affected our mother a lot when her father died. She was very close to him. He was priest at this particular church for 24 years. It was a difficult time for him. He had a very demanding congregation. And everybody involved themselves in everybody else’s lives, so he was forever a peacemaker with disputes among families.

M. SOURI: Since he could read and write, he did all of the correspondence and everything for everybody. He settled disputes between the government and personal and whatever. If anybody needed… someone came over from, at the time, Syria, then he’d try to find them a place to live, make sure they got a job, all kinds of things, and since the community itself didn’t have a lot of money, he would go as far as Pittsburgh to try to get money for the church. And he was also, I guess, an itinerant priest. If somebody needed a wedding or a baptism or a funeral, wherever it was, he would go. So he would travel to New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and I think at one time they said he went to North Carolina, but I can’t prove that.

E. SOURI: I remember hearing that too, that he went to North Carolina.

M. SOURI: And of course my grandmother, his wife [Debe Salloom], couldn’t go with him because she was extremely carsick. We got a story that she literally walked to Philadelphia when they went one time. She couldn’t ride in the car without being extremely car sick, so she got out of the car and walked along the side of the car. And the car just drove slowly.

E. SOURI: I guess I should mention for people who don’t know, the Orthodox Christian priests married. They were not celibate. He had a large family. He had, I don’t know how many daughters -- four? And one son [Edward, and five daughters, including Mary: Nezera, Scandria, Helen, and Futine].

M. SOURI: Six kids.

E. SOURI: Those were the ones that survived. There was a set of twins that died, and I think one other child that died.

M. SOURI: Those were all in the old country.

E. SOURI: But I guess in those days those were accepted facts of life. Not all the children survived.

RUSSELL: And on the other side, how many children?

M. SOURI: Dad was an only child.

RUSSELL: Only child?

M. SOURI: Yeah. My grandmother had some kind of a uterine infection when he was born, and she couldn’t have any other children. So dad was an only child. The reason he stayed here at the house and after he married mom was because his father asked him to look after his mother and not to leave her alone. Dad was a very good son, believe me.

E. SOURI: So, our parents lived in this house from the time that they were married in 1936, and they stayed in this house until they died.



Souri family in 1941. Mariana and Elias with parents Mary and Nicholas

RUSSELL: I know you have a grapeless grapevine from Syria in the back yard.

M. SOURI: I know that it has traveled. I know it came from Georgetown, and I am sure they brought it with them.

RUSSELL: It came to Georgetown and then it was transplanted here.

M. SOURI: It has brothers and sisters all over the District. [LAUGHS]. Pieces have been given to many families. My great uncle even had one at the old church at Mount Vernon Square. He planted one over there for any one who wanted grape leaves.

E. SOURI: Of course, grape leaves are a big staple -- they can be stuffed or rolled with rice and meat and cooked, and it is a very good diet, very healthy.

RUSSELL: I can attest to that.

E. SOURI: So that grapevine is still producing after all this time.

M. SOURI: It was planted in 1927, as far as we know, and it has been surviving. It almost didn’t survive when we had a new garage built. I kept telling those people if they killed it they were in trouble. [Laughs]

RUSSELL: So the Lebanese community was very close knit?

M. SOURI: Oh very.

E. SOURI: Yes they were.

M. SOURI: I would say most of the ones, especially on the Maryland… who lived around Maryland Avenue area were all first cousins with my grandmother Souri. They all came from the same village, and they almost all came at the same time. It was just… I don’t know why they did it other than -- well, persecution was the reason they came. They were being persecuted by the Ottoman Turks. Anybody that was a Christian was in trouble, and most of them, they were basically Turkish of Lebanese descent. We have papers from the Sultan of Turkey from my grandmother when she came over here. Or actually when she went back from Lebanon. They had to… They were -- almost all of them were born in Mersine, Turkey, in the Anatolia.

E. SOURI: M E R S I N E. It is a port city. When I was stationed in Turkey in the sixties, I went by there, but there was nothing that I could recognize.

RUSSELL: No cousins.

E. SOURI: Well, there was no one I could find, so honestly I didn’t really try that hard. There was nowhere I knew where to start, and I doubt there would be many records available anyway. It was just a big port city and that was all.

M. SOURI: Unfortunately, there are no records overseas because they were all burned, but I don’t think there was anybody left over there; I think they all came here. All of them came… They were first cousins and all of the family are still around.

RUSSELL: Not to generalize more than we need to… but what kind of jobs did they have -- the group that you knew, your cousins.

M. SOURI: They did restaurant work. Grocery stores, they peddled…

E. SOURI: Small merchants, just like they would have been had they stayed over there. Wouldn’t have been any different. They just brought the mindset over here to the United States.

RUSSELL: And who were their customers?

M. SOURI: A lot of them were neighborhood people. How do I put it?

E. SOURI: Just within the community.

RUSSELL: The white people.

M. SOURI: Exactly. That is the way that it is. They worked, as a matter of fact; there was a cousin of my grandmother over on Maryland Avenue -- Salloom -- Mr. Brown.

E. SOURI: Yes, Mr. Brown.

M. SOURI: His name actually was Ishaq.

E. SOURI: Isaac, Isaac.

M. SOURI: When he came in through Ellis Island… I guess it more than anybody… he couldn’t spell it. They didn’t know what he was saying, so they called him George Brown, and he was stuck with that name. We didn’t call him that…

E. SOURI: He had a vegetable wagon and a horse, and he would pull the wagon up over here on the corner where the dry cleaners is now.

M. SOURI: But he didn’t have the horse for us… [in our time]

E. SOURI: On 11th and East Capitol.

M. SOURI: But he didn’t have the horse with us.

E. SOURI: I remember hearing about the horse.

M. SOURI: Mom used to tell us about the horse but he…

E. SOURI: I vaguely remember a horse. I don’t think I am imagining that, because I used to be fascinated by the animal because it was probably the first time I ever saw a horse.

M. SOURI: Part of our problem is we have been told some of the stories so many times we don’t know what we know and what we actually experienced. That’s part of our problem.

E. SOURI: I remember, though, his wagon just being so loaded with greens and vegetables and, of course. Mr. Brown would… he would have his customers. He would pull out over here and I guess people would wait for him, and he would sell to them. He was an illiterate. The story I remember was that he really did not know how to read or write, but he could do his arithmetic in his head and he could keep everybody’s tally in his head.

M. SOURI: And he did.

E. SOURI: He could add up whatever it was that they purchased in his head and give them a correct sum so that nobody felt they were getting cheated. But none of this stuff was ever written down. He just did the whole thing in his head.

M. SOURI: He kept tabs of everybody’s grocery bill, but they paid him when they could. And he knew to the penny. He was a big man, at least he was to us. Maybe he wasn’t as big as I thought…

E. SOURI: No, I don’t think he was all that tall. He was big, but he was rotund. But I don’t think he was a very tall individual.

M. SOURI: But he would around with his truck and, you know, deliver the groceries to the people. That was his business.

RUSSELL: So he bought the vegetables.

E. SOURI: We don’t know where he got them. He must have gotten them wholesale some place, then he peddled them around the neighborhood with his horse and wagon. And then there was the story about this: the horse used to be an old fire horse and at one time the horse heard a fire bell -- a siren, I don’t know what -- and took off with the wagon, but that’s all we know. I mean it’s one of those funny things you can imagine how that whole thing could have gone, but I imagine he got the horse back. But eventually he got a truck. I remember the truck too, but the truck really didn’t have the fascination that the horse did. You know, a truck is a truck, [LAUGHS] but a horse is interesting.

RUSSELL: And you are a vet, a veterinarian.

E. SOURI: But I don’t think that had anything to do with it at the time. I was just a little kid and this big animal was very fascinating.

M. SOURI: And this man was fascinating. He was just extremely fascinating.

RUSSELL: So in the racial hierarchy of Washington, how did people from Syria fit in, as far as you knew?

E. SOURI: Well, they weren’t of European descent, so some of them were looked down on, and we used to hear stories about that, but it didn’t matter that much at the time. But we had heard about that, but I don’t know that it had a lasting effect.

M. SOURI: Not on us, but I know that Dad said that when they moved here to this house the next door neighbors moved out.

E. SOURI: We don’t know that had anything to do with…

M. SOURI: Well, they said it because they were foreign-born, foreign-speaking people.

E. SOURI: There goes the neighborhood.

M. SOURI: And I know that they were… there was one beach that we couldn’t go in, I can’t remember whether it was Breezy Point or whatever… Drum Point or whatever.. beach that we weren’t allowed to go in.

RUSSELL: Your parents didn’t allow you, or you just heard that…

M. SOURI: Oh no, we were of an ethnic background and we weren’t allowed in. None of that, you know, it didn’t bother us, basically, because we were in such an enclave of our own people that it didn’t make any difference. And we had more than enough of cousins and other cousins that it didn’t make any difference.

RUSSELL: Sure. This is sort of for the record, and, you know, in terms of how Washington used to be.

M. SOURI: Sure. My mother once told the story that children in the neighborhood on Maryland Avenue would tease her father because they thought he was a Jew. I guess because he looked like one. And he would always… whenever he would pass by a group of kids they would tease him because they thought he was a Jew. This is how my mother put it. Until one day he pulled a cross out from underneath his jacket and showed it to them. And then, I think, thereafter he was left alone. But sure there was prejudice, but we weren’t exposed to it that much -- not as kids.

M. SOURI: As I said, I think we were extremely sheltered with the family.

RUSSELL: I want to probably come back to your grandparents again, but what schools did you go to?

M. SOURI: Hine, Bryan, and.. Bryan, Hine, and Eastern. Bryan School, over here on Independence Avenue, that is becoming condos or townhouses.

E. SOURI: At that time it was called B Street, not Independence Avenue.

M. SOURI: And Hine, over here by Eastern Market.

E. SOURI: At that time, it was not the Hine that is here now. It was a much, much older building with creaky wood floors. Actually, when I think back that building had a lot of class. It’s just a shame it couldn’t have been renovated rather than torn down. When I think back it was a substantial building -- big high ceilings, big doors with transoms, and, of course, the old blackboards, but I remember specifically the creaky halls because I guess the floors were falling apart. But, when I think about it, it was a much nicer building than the one that’s there now.

M. SOURI: And Eastern High School, down here at 17th and East Capitol Street.

RUSSELL: And they were all white schools?

E. SOURI: Yes, at that time.

M. SOURI: Eastern wasn’t.

RUSSELL: Eastern wasn’t?

E. SOURI: Well no, not when we were there. 1954…

M. SOURI: No, later than that.

E. SOURI: Well, we were at Hine when integration started. That was 1954. And I remember the white kids walking out of school and a lot of them stayed out of school for days. It was what they called the strike.

M. SOURI: We didn’t.

E. SOURI: Well no, we didn’t, but it was difficult for us going to school because the kids would be outside jeering and calling us names.

RUSSELL: Which kids were those?

E. SOURI: The white kids, who were basically on strike, who didn’t want to go into the school because the blacks were in there now. And…
[phone rings]

E. SOURI: That went on for a few days, but finally everything did settle down. But there was a lot of resentment for a long time among the white children about the blacks coming in.

RUSSELL: So what year was that?

E. SOURI: 1954.

RUSSELL: 1954. So what grade were you in then?

E. SOURI: I’m not even sure. I guess I was in the seventh grade. It might have been the earliest grade. We were in Bryan up until the sixth grade, and seventh grade we went to Hine. It was probably the seventh grade. Of course, Eisenhower was in office at the time, and, of course, it was during his administration that integration took place.

RUSSELL: Were you both there at the same time?

M. SOURI: Yep, Uh huh.

RUSSELL: So what grade where you in then?

M. SOURI: It was probably eighth.

E. SOURI: You were a grade ahead of me.

RUSSELL: What else do you remember from that period -- the integration period then? What the classroom was like after. Anything like that.

E. SOURI: The white people started to move out.

M. SOURI: Yeah.

E. SOURI: That was the biggest thing that happened. This whole neighborhood changed. And there were complaints that the realtors were doing what is known as blockbusting. As soon as a black family would move in, then the white people started to think about moving out. And, of course, the realtors were blamed for doing that: for encouraging the white people to move out and change the neighborhood. But as soon as blacks started moving in then the neighborhood began to change, and so Kentucky Avenue, 12th, 11th, here on East Capitol, everything started to change because black people were moving in. And of course, the schools changed as well, and Hine within less than two years became a very black school. By the time we got to Eastern there were still white children there, but they diminished more and more and more. By the time I graduated from Eastern -- I was then 16 -- there was a small cluster of white children in an entirely black school. But the neighborhood changed, and they started to go down. There’s just no question about it the neighborhoods were not well kept. The yards, the houses, everything was just badly kept. Lincoln Park was not a very safe place to go into at nighttime, especially on Saturday nights, and the neighborhood didn’t start to come back until whenever. The 70s?

M. SOURI: In the 70s, this area didn’t go. This particular block didn’t go as much as some of the other areas did. A lot of the old families just stayed. They were elderly, and they didn’t really have any place to go.

E. SOURI: And I remember relatives urging my father to move out. Go to Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, because it was so much better there. But I am glad that he didn’t. One of the reasons why he couldn’t was he couldn’t afford it. I mean, this house was paid for. So it was a place to live, and he just simply didn’t have the money to move and go buy a house out in the pristine suburbs, in those days.

M. SOURI: So it didn’t really belong to him yet either; it was still Tita’s [grandmother’s].

E. SOURI: Well, yeah, that’s true until she died. Tita was our grandmother -- a Syrian term for grandmother. But, well, he couldn’t have afforded it even if he wanted to. Just didn’t have the money. To be very honest, I am glad he didn’t.

M. SOURI: Me too.

E. SOURI: Now, the way things have turned out. No one had a clue in those days. But I would say from the late 50s until the early 70s or mid 70s, this area was really pretty much run down. And you could see it. We had blacks for neighbors. Next door, where you live now [1123], was a brother and sister. Their last name was Sacks. I don’t remember what their first names were. But Mr. Sacks, I believe had been married and he had children.

M. SOURI: Yeah, he…

End of TAPE 1/SIDE 1


TAPE 1/SIDE 2

RUSSELL: How do you spell that?

E. SOURI: I think it was S A C K S.

M. SOURI: They were not the black family that moved in. They’d been here… I don’t know how long they were here --

E. SOURI: Well, ever since we were kids.

M. SOURI: I just remember them being here. And the funny thing is she couldn’t say… They used to call each other by their last names, and they would all call my grandmother Missouri.

RUSSELL: Missouri.

M. SOURI: She couldn’t quite say Miss or Mrs. Souri. It came out Missouri, which would tickle me to no end.

E. SOURI: The best thing I can remember about the Sacks was they had a good sense of humor. They would kid with us kids across the porch. They would be on their front porch, and we would be on our front porch, and they just had a good sense of humor, very affable people. Then of course they died, I don’t know who died first, but ultimately both were gone, and Mr. Sacks’s son, I remember, I guess he inherited the property, and so he sold and a black family moved in, and I don’t know how they took care of the house, but I had a feeling they didn’t take care of the house as well as they could. And the house went into a great deal of disrepair. And it stayed that way until they moved out, and I don’t know when all that happened.

E. SOURI: Again, in the 70s.

RUSSELL: The Sacks were African American?

M. SOURI: No, they were white.

E. SOURI: They were Jewish.

M. SOURI: They were Jewish.

RUSSELL: And you said Mrs. Sacks sat on the porch and talked with…

E. SOURI: Miss Sacks. She was unmarried.

M. SOURI: She was not married. Unmarried. She would sit in her rocking chair close to the door, and my grandmother, Tita Souri, would sit over in a chair out there, and they would talk to each other. And I don’t know if anybody understood, but they got along, they were fine.

RUSSELL: Your grandmother didn’t speak much…

M. SOURI: You know, the funny part is for both of my grandmothers, I thought they spoke perfect English.

E. SOURI: But they didn’t.

M. SOURI: They didn’t, I found out later I was just translating it in my head. My grandmother Tita Salloom, my mother’s mother, really didn’t speak any English at all other than “Hello honey, budi a cuppa coffa?” Do you want a cup of coffee?” That’s about the only thing I remember her saying in English.

E. SOURI: But she didn’t have to learn English. Because her entire life was spent within her group; within church, and within her family. So she almost never learned English. Our grandmother Souri…

M. SOURI: She was more worldly…

E. SOURI: Right. She got out more so she could speak English.

M. SOURI: Tita Souri would dress up; she had her routines, and when she dressed up, everything had to be just so. She spoke some English, and I can’t imagine it was very much.

RUSSELL: What language did you speak at home?

M. SOURI: Both, Arabic and English.

E. SOURI: Well, English primarily. Our parents spoke English, so we did too.

M. SOURI: But we understood everything. Tita Souri was the matriarch. Everything had to be done in her fashion as she was from the old county. Monday was laundry day. We still have the boiling tub down there in the basement. The clothes had to be boiled, and we had two galvanized tubs -- one with blue water and one with clear water. That was every Monday. I did not stay out of school on Monday. I did not stay out of school on Thursday or Friday. [Laughs] We had a very good attendance record at school. We did laundry all day on Monday. When Mom finally got a washing machine, my grandmother didn’t trust it -- it wouldn’t get your clothes clean. She still boiled the clothes. She still put them in the blue water, the clear, but she used the wringer on the washing machine to get the water out. It was an ordeal. We actually had this tub which sat on, I guess, a gas burner…

E. SOURI: Yes it was a gas burner.

M. SOURI: To boil water to put your sheets in. We still have the stick that she used to…

E. SOURI: We still have that stick downstairs in the basement. She used to stir the laundry.

M. SOURI: Thursday was cleaning day on the first floor and, I mean, clean. Oh glory, I think everything was removed. It had to be cleaned. Friday was the second-floor cleaning. Spring cleaning was basically everything on the third floor would get moved down to the basement, and the fall everything in the basement would get moved to the third floor. It was just an ordeal. Everything was… We had clothes lines outside. There were pulleys. They went from the garage to the porch. All clothes were hung out there.

E. SOURI: I just want to go back a little bit when we were younger kids. We used to play on the steps of the Lincoln Apartment over on 12th Street, and there was a janitor who lived in the basement…

M. SOURI: Mr. Cunningham.

E. SOURI: Mr. Cunningham, you know, I was trying to think of his name, and he was always bad-tempered, and he wouldn’t like us to play on the steps of the Lincoln Apartment. He would come up out of the basement steps and chase us off. So we might have a few minutes to be able to play on the steps before he showed up, but he was sort of a formidable kind of character, and he would come out and yell at us and we would run off, and it was sort of like a game. Occasionally, we would come back and play on the steps of the Lincoln Apartment again, and he would chase us off again. It was stuff like that I remember as a kid -- those things just stick with you. There used to be an apartment house, there was a residence converted into apartments on Independence and 11th on the north, I can’t think, northwest corner. It’s no longer there now. We used to try to sneak into that place. It was a very dark and foreboding building. Spooky. Kids, you know, kids would just love to get in there and scare themselves. Very disreputable place. Ultimately it was torn down and replaced by the building that is there now. But I remember how dark and foreboding that house used to be. We would go inside -- I don’t think our parents ever knew this -- and try to look into the rooms and see who was there. I am sure we got chased out. But it was seedy. I don’t even know who lived there anymore.

RUSSELL: Were there a lot of children in the neighborhood?
E. and M. SOURI: Yes, there were.

RUSSELL: And you…

E. SOURI: We all played and fought with each other. Oh yeah. And they went to Bryan… [school]

M. SOURI: Yeah, went to Bryan…

E. SOURI: …but, again, after integration came along then a lot of that just passed. All those families just plain moved out. They were gone.

RUSSELL: When black families were moving in, where were they coming from?

E. SOURI: Oh, I don’t know where they came from.

M. SOURI: I have no idea.

RUSSELL: So before integration, if you looked around on the street nearly everybody you saw was white?

M. SOURI: Oh yeah. I think a lot of black people came in from Southwest when they were tearing it down and renovating it. A fair number came up this way because it was an area they knew. They moved here and PG County [Prince George’s].

E. SOURI: But we didn’t see too much hostility -- at least I didn’t -- until we got to Eastern, and there was some. Where, since they were so few white kids left, there were encounters between the blacks and the white kids. I remember some gangs beating up on one of the white kids, for whatever reason; now I don’t know what it was. But there was nothing you could really do about it. I mean everything had changed, and we weren’t about to move to go anywhere. I don’t think I really had that many problems. There were certainly black kids at Eastern who were very good, that I was friends with. I supposed it was a mix. There was some hostility, and there was not. But we weren’t really a part of that. I mean everybody we associated with, white or black, all got along.

RUSSELL: Did you go to school dances and football games and events…?

M. SOURI: Not really. I guess it just wasn’t a part of our culture.

E. SOURI: Some football games I remember going to at Eastern, but dances, no.

M. SOURI: Dances, I know I didn’t go to any. I remember going to a couple of football games, especially on Thanksgiving Day. But that had to be on the morning only, because we had Thanksgiving dinner here at this house, the main meal, and we would go over to Maryland Avenue and have dessert and whatever. Because there would be big gatherings.

RUSSELL: What else did you do for fun? I mean what, where did you go in terms of…

E. SOURI: When we were very young, the first I remember in 1947, we started going to Rehobeth Beach, Delaware. That’s before the bridge went up, and there were still ferries, and we would take the ferry across the Chesapeake Bay to get to the other side. Of course, that was very adventuresome for us because we had never been anywhere. Just the idea of going into another state was like going into another country. So, I remember, we have photographs being at Rehobeth Beach at that time and, of course, Rehobeth was a small town with sandy streets and it was family-oriented. Those were the fun things. We would go for two weeks, and it was a big deal packing up and all that sort of thing, and in the fall we would go up to Skyline Drive, have our big picnic up there at an area called Elk Wallow. And every autumn, in October…

M. SOURI: Every October…

E. SOURI: Like clockwork, the families would get together; not only just us, the Souris, but other relatives that we knew, would sort of like convoy and go up to Elk Wallow and build our fire and…

M. SOURI: My mother’s brother and sisters…

E. SOURI: Have chicken and potato salad and..

M. SOURI: And spaghetti. Those were the American things. Then we also have Arabic food that you have to have. But that was every October. We would go to Glen Echo and go swimming and picnicking…we did a lot of picnicking. We would go to Great Falls.

E. SOURI: And I remember riding to Glen Echo on the streetcar with our uncle.

M. SOURI: I do too.

E. SOURI: We had an uncle who lived here.

M. SOURI: [Laughs] Great uncle.

E. SOURI: and he would take us to Glen Echo on the streetcar, and I remember going over the trestles and how that was, because you could just look right down.

M. SOURI: He was warned by my grandmother, his sister, not to take us anywhere.

E. SOURI: Of course he did.

M. SOURI: Not to do it. We would no sooner leave the front door we would get on a streetcar. He would take us. We practically visited every statue in town. He would… I don’t know whether he was fascinated with them or he wanted us to see them.

E. SOURI: That brings up another point. That would have had to have been in the 40s after the war, and you ought to know that there used to be streetcars out here riding right alongside the park. And the streetcar would come down East Capitol Street, go all the way down East Capitol, I guess to the Car Barn.

M. SOURI: Car Barn and turn around.

E. SOURI: And then turn around. So there was tracks on the other side of Lincoln Park and traffic was two-way; it wasn’t one-way, and I remember that very clearly.

M. SOURI: On each side of the park.

E. SOURI: On each side of the park. So that… and when I look at the street now I don’t know how that was possible, but there was two-way traffic. I don’t know how that worked out, it must have been a mess, plus the streetcars. And the streetcars were fun. Of course they were overhead trolleys.

M. SOURI: No, we never had overhead trolleys here. These were on the ground.

E. SOURI: But I remember seeing overhead trolleys, somewhere, must have been Georgetown.

M. SOURI: In Georgetown, no, wait a minute, no -- I don’t know -- yeah, you’re right, I remember seeing them, but I don’t know where.

E. SOURI: Because the sparks used to fly when the cars went around turns.

M. SOURI: When they go through, whatever that cross section is. No, this was underground over here, actually.

E. SOURI: You are right.

M. SOURI: The rails are still under the street.

E. SOURI: It was underground, that is true.

M. SOURI: Where you see the bus stop right now, the streetcar stop was just across. Of course we used to put marbles and glass under to watch the streetcar crush them. [Laughs]

E. SOURI: That’s right. Remember doing that.

M. SOURI: You know we never thought we could cause harm or derail the streetcar. You know it was just like, to see how we could crush this…

RUSSELL: Did you go to movies?

M. SOURI: Oh yeah.

RUSSELL: In the neighborhood?

M. SOURI: Yeah. The Atlas Theatre on H Street.

RUSSELL: That was your favorite?

M. SOURI: [Laughs] That was the only one we were allowed to go to.

E. SOURI: We had a cousin on Maryland Avenue. So…

M. SOURI: My grandmother lived there. So on Saturday afternoon, I guess, was my mother’s day to go over there or she would go visit her mother. Then we were allowed to go to the movies.

E. SOURI: I think it was two features and a cartoon and a newsreel for 25 cents or something like that.

M. SOURI: I don’t remember the price, but I remember that mother would also make him [Elias] baloney sandwiches because he would get hungry. We would sit in the theatre and he’d rattle that wax paper. It would drive me crazy. I was embarrassed. [Laughs]

E. SOURI: I vaguely remember.

M. SOURI: I remember it.

RUSSELL: Do you remember other theatres in the neighborhood?

E. SOURI: There was one over here.

M. SOURI: There were two actually.

E. SOURI: In fact, the building is still here. I have forgotten what it was called.

M. SOURI: The Penn Theatre.

E. SOURI: The Penn, OK.

M. SOURI: And across the street was the Avenue, and we weren’t allowed to go in that one at all because not the right kind of people went in there. If we were ever caught going in there we would have… I don’t know what they would have done to us.

E. SOURI: Well, some of the theatres were black theatres and some were white theatres. I remember that, and wasn’t there one over here called the Home, just north of us?

M. SOURI: On D Street, C Street?

E. SOURI: Something like that on Northeast. There was a black theatre. And so there were white theatres like the Atlas, and then there were those only the blacks would go to.

M. SOURI: But the Penn Theatre over here. It’s that building…

E. SOURI: It’s not that medical arts building.

M. SOURI: The arcade type of building that used to be a theatre called the Avenue. Of course, we heard all the stories about the Apollo, the one that the roof collapsed during the snow. [Knickerbocker Theatre collapsed January 22, 1926]

E. SOURI: Oh, that one. That was years…

M. SOURI: I think we might even have pictures of it. My parents told us… They remembered that one.

E. SOURI: And then downtown, we used to go to the Capitol, the Keith, oh gosh, what else. There was the Warner.

M. SOURI: Where? Oh the Warner Theatre is still there, though.

E. SOURI: Right.

M. SOURI: Yeah, there was a stage… But there was another one… Palace?

E. SOURI: I believe so.

M. SOURI: The Palace?

E. SOURI: I believe so. But then all of those really folded and, with the rise of the suburbs and the theatres in the outskirts, those… the downtown, the big downtown elaborate theatres the really nice places…

M. SOURI: They were big… similar to the Uptown.

E. SOURI: Nowhere to park so nobody would go any more

RUSSELL: You were saying the building is… you were pointing…

E. SOURI: The building is still there I know it is because I see it every day. It is almost right across from the entrance to the alley here on 11th Street.
(Doorbell rang)

RUSSELL: The doorbell interrupted. So we were talking about this movie theatre in the neighborhood and ones you know, within walking distance.

M. SOURI: Which one, what building?

E. SOURI: This is the Carolina.

M. SOURI: Oh, that’s right, I forgot all ‘bout that. Here at the corner.

E. SOURI: That’s right… the Carolina.

M. SOURI: Oh yeah, I don’t think we ever went in there.

E. SOURI: No. And I think the reason why we didn’t go in that is because it was a black theatre.

M. SOURI: Was it? Or we just didn’t… it showed unsavory movies?

E. SOURI: No I don’t believe that. I really don’t.

M. SOURI: [Laughs] I don’t remember. I just know we weren’t allowed to go in there.

E. SOURI: The Penn, if I recall, or the Avenue, I don’t know which one. One of them started out as a white movie theatre and then was converted to a black movie theatre, but I don’t know which one it was.

M. SOURI: I have a feeling it must have been the Avenue. I can’t believe it was the Penn.

E. SOURI: It could have been. We did not go to the Penn that much; I remember going to the Penn maybe once. We almost always went to the Atlas on H Street.

RUSSELL: What else did you do on H Street?

E. SOURI: Well there were small shops, small merchants. I remember there was an optometrist on H Street that I went to frequently. His shop was destroyed in riots.

RUSSELL: In 68? Or before? It had to have been 68 because it is the only time they had…

E. SOURI: It had to be. That’s right, when King was assassinated. Then H Street changed after that, but for a long time it was mostly white merchants. Small businesses and small grocery stores.

RUSSELL: Did you do a lot of shopping on H Street?

E. SOURI: My mother did.

M. SOURI: I guess Mom did, yeah.

E. SOURI: But I mean we didn’t. We just went along.

RUSSELL: What about Eastern Market? Was that an important place to go?
M. SOURI and E. SOURI: No, No.

E. SOURI: Not like it is today.

M. SOURI: Not like it is now. Very few people went over there.

RUSSELL: Why was that?

M. SOURI: I guess basically it was expensive, and then of course the grocery stores, the Safeway and all came up around and it was easier to go to them and get things that you needed. Where, if you went to Eastern Market you could only get some things, and you would still have to go to another grocery store.

E. SOURI: Eastern Market was not as popular in those days as it is now.

RUSSELL: The same as in your parents’ time?

E. SOURI: Yes.

M. SOURI: I don’t remember them really going over there that much.

E. SOURI: No.

M. SOURI: We would just go there after school; we would walk through or something but we never shopped there.

RUSSELL: So when you were preparing Lebanese delicacies, where did you shop?

M. SOURI: Actually I believe my parents went over to Florida Avenue Market a lot, to a place called Litteri. An Italian store, I believe, is still there, and they would get a lot of the cheeses and things that they would use. And as for Lebanese food, you could basically… any of the grocery stores would get you things, but we did have our own special ethnic stores and there was one at Ninth, again in the Mt. Vernon Square area. I just said the name the other day as my cousin and I were talking about it, because I think she met somebody that was part of that family. It was a Greek-run, and I don’t know if you ever went with us or not. I used to go with Mom.

E. SOURI: I have no recollection.

RUSSELL: That was the closest?

M. SOURI: That was the only one that I am aware of. That’s why we would go to, like, Italian stores or something, because we could get a lot of the stuff, or they could.

RUSSELL: So when you said your grandmother told your uncle don’t take them anywhere, what did that mean?

M. SOURI: It meant he shouldn’t take us on the streetcar, but he did it anyway.

E. SOURI: But he did. He used to have a pass.

M. SOURI: I think we still have them. I found one not too long ago.

E. SOURI: Really?

M. SOURI: Yeah. I don’t think it was his wallet, but I found the streetcar passes.

E. SOURI: …that he would use. He would show the driver and we would get on.

RUSSELL: No, but why did she say don’t take them on the streetcar?

E. SOURI: I think she was afraid that he would get us lost or something. She didn’t trust him.

M. SOURI: You know she was afraid he couldn’t handle us…

E. SOURI: There was no problem.

M. SOURI: But we weren’t going to do anything

RUSSELL: Was she protective of you, particularly?

M. SOURI: I don’t know, maybe.

E. SOURI: I think she was more critical of her brother. [Laughs]
(phone rings)

M. SOURI: I think, basically, that my grandmother was just worried that he couldn’t handle us. That we might get rambunctious and run around him, but I don’t recall us ever doing… I think I was always fascinated with the places he took us.

RUSSELL: I guess I am just asking to figure out whether you had free reign as children to come and go.

E. SOURI: No. Not at all!

M. SOURI: No, we didn’t. Uh Uh.
[Laughs]

E. SOURI: We could go to into Lincoln Park, but we weren’t allowed really to be over there or maybe we snuck over. I know we would go over there to play… But children were not allowed to play in Lincoln Park.

RUSSELL: By whom?

E. SOURI: Well, It was a law at that time. The police would chase us out.

RUSSELL: If you went into Lincoln Park as a child there would be a sign saying “no playing”?

E. SOURI: Well, I remember seeing a sign saying “no ball playing.”

M. SOURI: I remember being chased out.

RUSSELL: A sign saying “no children”?

E. SOURI: Well, I never remember seeing a sign saying “no children,” but I remember being chased out of Lincoln Park by the police.

RUSSELL: Really. This is just right across the street.

E. SOURI: Right across the street.

M. SOURI: Right across the street, right there.

E. SOURI: So I mean it is very tempting for kids to want to go over there and play, so we used to. And I remember how long we would be able to manage until the cops came and chased us out.

M. SOURI: Remember, there was like a wooded area over there that we used to play hide-and-seek in. There were rose buses and all kinds of…

E. SOURI: Thick rose bushes.

M. SOURI: Thick rose buses, and we used to go in…

E. SOURI: From the Lincoln statue over to 11th Street, where Peoples Drug store used to be. And there was a row of thick bushes where we were able to run in and out of.

RUSSELL: Were there dogs there then too?

M. SOURI: Probably.

E. SOURI: I don’t know. Nothing like what you see now, if that’s what you are asking. No. No. No. This is a whole new wrinkle -- people walking their dogs out in Lincoln Park. Before, no, there was nobody out there.

RUSSELL: What did people go there and do?

M. SOURI: They had benches.

E. SOURI: Sit. If you were with adults, you were safe. But if you were a gang of kids, you were not.

M. SOURI: No. They had all kinds of benches. More benches than they have now, just all along the place, where people would go sit. Especially in the summertime, because there would be a breeze over there, and people would go sit and get cool.

RUSSELL: There were any play structure that you remember?

M. SOURI: Oh no, no.

RUSSELL: When did that date from?

E. SOURI: Oh I wouldn’t know. I mean it would have to be from the 40s into the 50s and into the 50s, of course, things started to change with the entire community.

M. SOURI: Right.

E. SOURI: Definitely, in the 40s and early 50s, there was a restriction on kids playing in the park.

RUSSELL: Playing in the park. Interesting. So as kids living on this block what…

E. SOURI: We would play in the alley. We would play on 12th Street and, of course, there would be kids on 12th Street that we went to Bryan School with, and we would play with them. There were kids also on Kentucky Avenue.

M. SOURI: Well, just one.

E. SOURI: Mariana had a very good friend on Kentucky Avenue, and we would mostly play in the alley, play ball, touch football, baseball -- that kind of thing -- chase each other around and play cowboys and Indians, that kind of thing.

M. SOURI: Then we would go over to Maryland Avenue with the rest of our cousins and we would play over there on weekends, Sundays, holidays, whatever.

RUSSELL: The Sladens. The alley that is called Sladen’s.

M. SOURI: Sladen’s Walk.

RUSSELL: Did you know Mr. Sladen?

E. SOURI: Oh sure, sure.

M. SOURI: The one that the alley is named after we knew him better.

E. SOURI: Bill Sladen. [Bruce Sladen]

M. SOURI: Bill Sladen. Of course he had his brother [Milton]. We didn’t really see him too much because he was an invalid. But Bill Sladen would be out there a lot, and we would see him, and he was sort of like the neighborhood leader.

M. SOURI: Watch.

E. SOURI: Somebody you would talk to, he was always there.

RUSSELL: So tell me more. What did he do?

E. SOURI: I don’t know what he did for a living.

RUSSELL: He was old when you know him?

M. SOURI: No. No.

E. SOURI: He was probably middle-age, but, at our age, anybody was old if you are over 30. I just remember him as a very kind gentleman, someone easy to talk to, very friendly…

M. SOURI: He and Dad were good friends.

E. SOURI: …easily approachable. He and Dad would talk a lot. Of course, the alley was a good meeting place for a lot of people because that is where you washed your car and…

M. SOURI: We never used the front. We always used the back. Everything was done in the back. All the neighbors met in the back…

E. SOURI: And he wanted to improve the lot. I remember that, and I know he did some things. The lot at that time did not look as it looks now. It is much more elaborate now than it looked even when Sladen was there. But he is one who first tried to do something for that lot.

M. SOURI: He kept it really clean. He did all of the garden work, everything out there.

E. SOURI: That’s why it ultimately ended up with his name. I don’t know what kind of livelihood that he had.

M. SOURI: I think he worked; he had some capacity in the government, but I don’t know what it was.

E. SOURI: He was unmarried, and his invalid brother was unmarried, and I believe even the parents lived there at one point.

E. SOURI: It was the family home. Actually…

RUSSELL: What was the address. Where did he live?

E. SOURI: It was the house right here in the alley and 11th.

RUSSELL: The alley and 11th?

E. SOURI: Right where the publisher for the Voice [Voice of the Hill newspaper] lives.

M. SOURI: As a matter of fact, they were the oldest family here because they were here 25 years before my grandparents moved here. So they were here, because I remember Milton talking about the neighborhood and saying that he would go over to 13th and East Capitol to a farm to get milk to bring home.

E. SOURI: Milton was the brother.

M. SOURI: He was the brother, yeah.

E. SOURI: He was wheelchair-bound and…

M. SOURI: But not, that was only in later life. He was able to walk but it was difficult.

E. SOURI: I remember him being in a wheelchair.

M. SOURI: He was deformed. He had a hunch back, and it was hard for him to get around but he used to talk about the area and how country it was. Something that just can’t quite envision, I just can’t, because all these buildings were here when we moved here.

RUSSELL: You know, I never did ask you. What did your Dad do?

M. SOURI: He was a dental technician.

E. SOURI: He made false teeth.

RUSSELL: And where did he go to work.? How far did he have to…

E. SOURI: He was a salesman, and so he was a representative for District Dental Laboratories and he had a car that was provided by his business, and he went into Virginia and Maryland and the District. He was in contact with as many dentists as he could in order to sell them on District Dental products, which was making dentures or full sets. I remember our Dad being down in the basement in the evening making molds for dentures. We still have some of the casts down there in the basement.

M. SOURI: I used to help him because I thought it was fun. I didn’t know they were going into people’s mouths [Laughs].

E. SOURI: And he did this almost all of his life, his working life. He worked as a soda jerk.

M. SOURI: He was what they call a food manager at Peoples Drug Store at 14th Street NW. He also worked at Seventh Street NW at Peoples Drug Store, and right over here at the corner of East Capitol and 11th Street was a Peoples Drug Store.

E. SOURI: He worked there too.

RUSSELL: He worked there too?

M. SOURI: I think that was a second job.

RUSSELL: Do you have pictures of that?

M. SOURI: I don’t know.

E. SOURI: Peoples Drug Store? I don’t think so.

M. SOURI: I don’t think so.

E. SOURI: He also worked by the Beverly Theatre, which was on 17th. There was an ice house there, and I remember going to the ice house for ice, and there was a movie theatre called the Beverly. And next to it was a sandwich shop, and he worked behind the counter. He would make sandwiches and milkshakes and I don’t know…

M. SOURI: That’s before he got married.

E. SOURI: Oh yeah, it was. He was much younger.

M. SOURI: District Dental was his job once he got married. All the rest were before he got married.

E. SOURI: Once he got married, then he started in the false teeth business. [Laughs] But before that he was mostly counter- and service-type jobs. He was a very young man then. I suppose that was when the family first moved in here, in the late 20s and early 30s.

M. SOURI: Dad said he was 18 when he moved here. He was a teen. Because he went to Western High School. He graduated from there. It was the only school he ever talked about, so I don’t know what other..

RUSSELL: The marriage to your mother was arranged?

M. SOURI: No, I don’t think so.

E. SOURI: Not in that sense. I think it was encouraged because our mother was the daughter of the parish priest. Of course, the two fathers knew each other, so it wasn’t arranged in the classic sense. I am sure of that..

M. SOURI: All of the young people would gather over on Maryland Avenue. And because there were six kids over there, and then they had friends, and they would all get together. And my father and my mother’s brother were good friends. They palled around, they were like brothers; they palled around and did everything. And I think one day, Dad told me one time, that my uncle Adeeb said to him: “You know, you like my sister don’t you?” And my Dad said yes. He said, “Why don’t you two get married?” Dad said: “oh, maybe.”

E. SOURI: I think it was a very good marriage. It lasted. It was solid, in spite of a lot of difficulties that they had, especially living here in this household with my mother’s in-laws. Who are not really the most comfortable people to live with, but the marriage survived. Mostly I would attribute that to my mother, who had the strength to keep the marriage going. My father had to placate his mother, and she was a very difficult woman to live with. I think, in some ways, she didn’t like the idea of… So in any event my mother’s in-laws, my father’s parents, they were not the easiest people to live with, especially my grandmother, and of course they were all here in this house. My mother was a very diplomatic and tactful individual. But at one point, soon after the marriage, my mother just packed…

E. SOURI: My mother just packed… my mother, she just left and went back to her parents’ home on Maryland Avenue.

M. SOURI: Her mother said “You’re married, go back.” [Laughs]

E. SOURI: And so she did.

M. SOURI: Actually she did it three times more, I gather. She would get mad at my grandparents here because my mother, I guess for the time, was an extremely liberated woman. And that was her upbringing. My… her father made them very independent, and when she came here my mother worked… at the Bureau of Engraving?

E. SOURI: Yes.

M. SOURI: Yes, Mom was like a secretary. She had a very good job, and when she got here and they were married, the first paycheck she got, her father-in-law said, “You have turn your money over to your mother-in-law.” Well, that was NOT going to happen, and my mother said no, this was her money, and she still -- you know, I think -- gave her parents some money, and no, she wasn’t going to do it, so they had a little misunderstanding about that, and mother packed up and went home. [Laughs]

E. SOURI: There were three bedrooms up on the second floor and the big bedroom -- the one that is just above us -- was for my father’s parents, and the middle bedroom was for our parents. The back bedroom was for my grandmother’s brother, who lived with us. And of course, after we were born we were in the middle bedroom with our parents because there really wasn’t a lot of place for us to go.

M. SOURI: No, I was in there until I was six months old, and they, from what I have been told, my grandfather, moved me into…

E. SOURI: …the big bedroom in front of the house.

M. SOURI: He wanted me in there with him. And I’ve been in there ever since.

E. SOURI: Of course, when he died, then there was more space for my sister. My sister then shared the bedroom with our grandmother.

M. SOURI: And then you shared with us. There was another bed in there…

E. SOURI: Yes, I did, that true. There were three beds in that bedroom. But when I was a little kid in the crib, I was in the middle bedroom with my parents. I don‘t know how long that lasted. So it was a crowded house and, like I said, there was one bathroom so at that time nobody thought anything of it.

M. SOURI: And I don’t know that it ever felt crowded.

E. SOURI: No, I was never aware that it was, either. Also, a point that I want to bring up: we also still have the World War II ration books.

RUSSELL: Oh you do?

E. SOURI: That I found one day.

M. SOURI: Yeah.

E. SOURI: For each one of us. And they are still here, and we were looking at them and I was astounded realizing those things… and there were these little stamps that you would use in order to get your rations. And we used to have curtains to black out the house.

RUSSELL: You still have those?

E. SOURI: We don’t have the curtains, but the places where the rods were are still there. I vaguely remember that.

M. SOURI: Yeah, you’re right, vaguely, because I remember -- or think I remember -- the pocket doors being closed in the dining room when we were in there, so we could turn the lights on.

E. SOURI: In case we were attacked.

 
   

 

 
    END OF TAPE 1/SIDE 2  
 
This interview transcript is the property of the Ruth Ann Overbeck
Capitol Hill History Project. Not to be reproduced without permission.