‘I looked my fears and doubts right in the face’

When Zaffie Hadiaris was 13, her mother was killed in a car accident. It was then up to her to take care of her two brothers, 6 and 10, and take care of the house for her father.

“My brothers and I bonded. In those days we were the only ones without a mother or a grandmother or an aunt to take care of us. We were only the only Greek family in Kittery,” Hadiaris says.

On Sundays she worked, for no pay, as a soda jerk at her father’s shop, the Kittery Fruit Store, at the entrance of Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. “On Sunday afternoons schoolmates would be out having fun. I worked,” she says. “I began to substitute work for pleasure. I enjoyed the people.”

At age 40, married with four children, Hadiaris went to college to become a teacher. She worked for 29 years as a teaching assistant, not wanting her own classroom so she would be more available for her family. “My one rule in everything I did,” she said, “was that family comes first.”

Her work in the community came after her children were grown. Among other activities, she does publicity for her church and other organizations. She is the hostess at the Greek Heritage Festival in Saco, a member of her church council, and provides day care at a local gym. She writes the “All Around Town” column for the Sun Chronicle newspaper and writes about food for the Biddeford Journal Tribune.

Five years ago she started hosting “Zaffie,” a weekly television talk show on Channel 3 Biddeford public access. “I have great guests. With refreshing honesty and clarity, these guests reveal inspiring stories that pepper the program with peeks into their private lives. While they are educating and often entertaining, we ask, ‘How can we use our talents and resources to enhance our lives?’”

“I never, never expected to be doing any of these thing,” she says. “I moved into some unknown territory and looked my fears and doubts right in the face.”

Hadiaris, in her 80s, lives in Saco.

Q

What do you think are the top characteristics of an innovator – a woman who breaks the mold?

A

An innovator tries to envision something different and better. She would have an open, spacious, free life, freedom to think, feel and believe with faith to focus on herself, her ideas and dreams. It is having an independent free will with the power to take action using a creative imagination. Quiet desperation often leads to innovation. There is nothing as potent as a focused life. When you are wired to do what you believe in, you get good at it. You are enthusiastic, determined and work hard. You have a dream that you want to realize, and you are not afraid to fail to achieve that vision.

You must have perseverance and not be distracted from your goal. You must see the connections between different ideas by exploring new worlds. A woman who breaks the mold would step outside of the box. She would not be inhibited by the fear of failure and she would step into what we call a man’s world.

Q

Who are your role models?

A

I do not have a role model.

Q

Do you or have you had a mentor, and how significant has this person been in helping you achieve your goals?

A

I would say my father and my husband have been my mentors. My father, Harry, came to America from Greece. He taught us the benefit of complex combinations of nutrients. He liked to entertain and he knew the real magic comes when you serve good food. He grew fields and fields of vegetables, fruit orchards and grains. I learned to cook at the age of 13, and I have always been interested in the science of nutrition. I go to class with two doctors who are vegans, so my knowledge came in handy. I am always learning. (Bad point. My father was also a candy maker. We all have a sweet tooth. Did you know white sugar causes wrinkles? It has something to do with how white sugar is processed and the reaction with our cells.)

Also, my father was a talented artist. He spent the last 20 years of his life in Greece. There he painted and sold his pictures. He painted all the icons on the village church. (My youngest brother inherited his talents.) Because of him I appreciate nature and see all the beauty in it, and I developed an interest in artists and art. My father loved America. He read five newspapers a day. We literally inhaled politics. I am extremely interested today. President Roosevelt stopped at our store on his visit to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Baba served him a Coke. Alex, my husband, supported my endeavors. He admired bright, modern women. He taught me about finance, business and real estate.

Q

Have you been thwarted by sexism at any point?

A

Yes, I would say I have been thwarted by sexism. My father favored boys.

My father came to America from Greece. I grew up Greek in America. He brought his traditions and beliefs with him, especially the ones about women: 1. No fingernail polish, no lipstick, do not talk to boys. 2. Males were honored. Even Greek mothers worshipped their sons. 3. Girls worked and fathers or older brothers controlled the money. 4. Father ruled in our home.

Boys were special. They could do anything. Here is a good example: I was tired and I asked my father to tell the boys to hang up their clothes. My father answered, “Boys don’t have to hang up their clothes.” Girls don’t do this and girls don’t do that. Thank goodness he never stopped me from exercising! Boys were honor, I guess. However, just before my father died at the age of 88, I heard him say he was thankful that he had a daughter.

Q

What can mothers do to encourage breaking-the-mold thinking in daughters?

A

Daughters should feel beautiful and value their bodies. Daughters and mothers should communicate, have girlie-girlie talk. They should have self-confidence. They should be allowed to be who they are and follow their dreams. They should be educated and independent, driving and handling their own money. They should be taught to take responsibility and be accountable for their actions. They should know that they are loved and that they’ll always be in their mother’s heart. They should be taught by example to have faith and to believe in themselves.

Zaffie Hadiaris

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