My family moved into their San Gabriel Valley home in October 2010. People started knocking at the door ten months ago. Some knockers were neighbors. Some were trick-or-treaters.
I didn’t know who Steve was at the time. I didn’t know he was deceased or that Steve wasn’t his real name.
But, I would find out the story of the gentleman who lived in my home. Despite my attempts to contact his family being unsuccessful, I kept getting knocks, and neighbors filled in the details. One of the larger lessons from the story is that you should consider yourself lucky to live in a haunted home – if you have the right ghost.
Stavros Koutis, whom knockers called Steve, was born in 1909 on the island Ikaria, which was then part of the Ottoman Empire. Ikaria is named after the mythological Icarus who died young from too close contact with the sun. Ikarians are known for their long lives. This is due to their diets being high in vegetables, goat milk, herbal tea, and lifestyles that include walking and socializing.
Stavros would also be blessed with long life and the strength to inspire his California neighbors well into the 21st century. His journey took him far away from his home.
Stavros’ daughter wrote in a tribute in an Ikarian American magazine that her father was unable to be a teacher in the region because of poverty and wars. She said that as a teenager, Stavros started working as a sailor transporting coal around the Aegean. He married in 1938. He joined the merchant navy to support his four children. He jumped ship in the U.S. port in the 1950s and began painting and building in different cities while evading immigration authorities.
The family eventually was allowed to legally immigrate in 1966. According to county records, the family purchased the 1,400-square foot house, where I live, for $20,500 two years later.
Stavros became a community pillar. He spent his time talking with neighbors and visiting friends on long walks. He was also a green thumb. He grew tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and other vegetables on a small plot. He also cared for trees that produced avocados and other citrus fruits. He shared some of the bounties with his neighbors and used the rest to cook.
Stavros, who lost his wife in 1997, decided to remain in his home and he grew up so gracefully that it was a local wonder. It is hard to imagine anyone, regardless of age, being so kind, knowing everyone, and having the energy to work out in his yard. He did over 1,000 repetitions on his rowing bike at the age of 100.
The neighborhood couldn’t believe what happened to him after he died eight days after his 102nd Birthday. This is why many people asked us about Steve eight months after we purchased the house. And why our 2019 block party was still being talked about by his neighbors.
Although I have written about the history of other Californians’ homes, I did not write about my own because I didn’t know the area.
When the pandemic brought me home, I could not help but feel Stavros’ presence. His fruit trees continue to produce, his roses still bloom, and the avocado tree continues to grow in abundance every year. A front stoop is still a place where neighbors can get together.
Our family is not an example of healthy living. We have not been diagnosed with COVID-19. Perhaps it’s luck. Maybe a great ghost from Greece watches over him if you are interested – read more here.