I was asked what kinds of stories I’m looking for. Honestly, after the first few, I stopped trying to predict what I’d find.
With the Kickstarter launch imminent, it’s time to roll out the Inside Scoop video interviews. Here is how Untold Stories got started.
Featuring early interviewee Gus Katsoris
I was referred to Bones because he has lived a lifestyle compared to his surroundings, and is very opinionated. I didn’t expect, however, that I would end up meeting three generations of the family that night in Pass Christian, MS. Though it’s not the intended format of the project, I decided to interview them all, in tandem. With some special instructions to allow for full answers, we accomplished the goal over some iced tea (and I managed to be the one that walked away with several souvenir mosquito bites).
The participants are as follows:
- Charles William “Bones” Rhodes – born July 30, 1947 in Hattiesburg, MS
- Honey Rhodes LeBlanc (daughter) – April 25, 1972 in Hattiesburg, MS
- Rodney LeBlanc (Honey’s husband) – born Sept. 2, 1975 in Houma, LA
- Mark Rhodes (grandson) – born April 1, 1997 in Gulfport, MS
Bones grew up in a family that was considered ‘rich’ for the time period. He stated, however, that his father didn’t tend to spend the money in a way that was extravagant. They didn’t take vacations, wear fancy clothes, or live in a particularly large home. Bones didn’t realize they were wealthy until he got his first job during high school at a local grocery store. He then saw true diversity and began to understand that the things he had taken for granted, though not earmarked as particularly fortunate, were very different from the folks he served at the store. It was this experience that drove him to live a liberal life rather unique to Mississippi.
Bones raised his own family on what they called “The Compound”, a series of homes on a single property that he received from his father. Honey recalled growing up around many families, and riding motorcycles (which Bones loves) beginning at a very young age. Bones was careful to make the distinction that these are not big hog motorcycles – that they’re not “1%-er motorcyclists”.
Alternatively, Rodney grew up a “coon-ass”, hunting, fishing, and playing sports with the other kids in his area. Mark, Rodney and Honey’s son, recalls fighting with his siblings in his youth. He laughed as he said it – “I’m just being honest.”
What really struck me during our conversation was in speaking about school. Honey, a history and algebra teacher, is worried about our youth as they come up surrounded by all the tech. Many of my interviewees have highlighted that young ones have their noses constantly down at a screen, but Honey provided insight to how it’s affecting their very ability to think. The description of her student’s ability to process was haunting.
The family had a really interesting perspective of how technology is affecting us, and where it is coming from. They discuss the laziness and apathy that technology is creating. Bones wonders at who is inventing the tech, and who has access to it based on wealth. Honey refers to the unlimited knowledge we have, but instead we sit and “crush candies”. Rodney talks about watching the men he works with offshore, and how tech has affected their work and social lives. Mark shares a perspective on apathy and global friendships. I think this conversation is a good summary of their thoughts on the matter.
He is pictured by the antique 1928 sewing machine that has been a cornerstone of the business since it opened.
Gus is a mainstay of Eastown Grand Rapids. He owns one of the oldest shops in the area, started by his father after emigrating to the United States from Greece after World War Two. He loves to talk, and gets to know each of his customers well.
Gus was born a first generation Greek-American on July 13, 1947. His mother and father met in Greece during World War II, when the Nazi’s asked his father (George) to take a census. His mother was single, but George knew that if she was listed as such she’d become a bar maid for the Nazis. So George listed her as his fiancée. Here’s the story in full:
Gus’ mother came the United States while pregnant with him as a part of a Truman program to emigrate women out of the war zone. Gus said she threw up the entire voyage; Gus jokes it was he that was sea sick. His father emigrated some time after, for he had been captured by the Nazis as a POW (over a mistaken car ownership).
Gus was drafted to the US Army during the Vietnam era. He said he was proud to go – that it made his parents proud. He was listed for combat, and his father worried Gus would be killed, so he declared his son as the last of his name, or Sole Surviving Son. That should have removed Gus from direct combat, but Gus declined.
He trained in Louisiana for a Vietnam mission, but that’s not where he ended up. Right before they were shipped, North Korea shot down a U2 plane and threatened to declare war. Gus’ regiment was instead directed to the DMZ (demilitarized zone) between North and South Korea from 1969 to 1970. Unfortunately, Gus was stationed directly when and where Agent Orange was dispensed. As with many soldiers from that era, the chemical has had a lasting affect.
Gus returned to Grand Rapids and transitioned into the National Guard. In the late 1980’s, Gus began helping his father at his shoe repair shop, located in Eastown Grand Rapids. Here he speaks about being conned into helping his dad and learning the trade.
Today Gus is known as a mainstay of Eastown, running one its oldest businesses. He is planning to retire soon, due to the cancer that resulted from exposure to Agent Orange. Still, his spirits are high. Neighbors can expect to see him cruising around in one of his two Mustangs for some time to come.