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‘I won’t leave you’

By SARA K. TAYLOR

Staff writer

Her whole life, Asimina Gressis, has been searching.

After her mother died when Gressis was 3, her father, Louis Glinos, cut the girl’s ties with her older half-siblings, Richard and Irene Torres, who were teens at the time of their mother’s death.

Richard and Irene took care of Gressis when she was a baby while her parents worked in Glinos’ place, “The Center Cafe.”

Glinos, a Greek immigrant, ran the restaurant in Washington, D.C. Stella, also a Greek immigrant who came to the states with her parents when she was young, worked with him.

She was overworked to hear Gressis tell it.

“Women were a thing to him,” Gressis said about her father, who remarried when she was about 5. “He didn’t want me to know my family.”

Gressis had hazy memories of a funeral — she believes it was her mother’s — she remembers her older brother and sister; they took care of her.

She remembered that she felt loved when she was with them, a feeling she didn’t have until she married her husband, Peter, and had a family of her own, including children, Stella, Joseph and Dennis.

Still, there was something missing.

When her father was dying in 1991, she asked him once again for the names of her siblings.

He wouldn’t tell her, he would die never giving her their names.

“Even though I haven’t seen them in 55 years … I have a bond with them, I feel it. It never stopped,” said Gressis, who splits her time between Santorini, Greece, and La Plata.

Irene Torres Casella and her brother, Richard, still wondered about their little sister.

“We’ve thought about her for decades,” said Richard Torres, who lives in Las Vegas. “… Wondering about where she was. Was she still alive? Was she married, things like that.”

Casella knew her sister-in-law was interested in genealogy.

One day she asked her to try to dig up information about Casella’s family.

“She said she always ran into dead ends,” said Casella, calling from Henderson, Nev., where she lives. “‘You guys don’t exist,’ she told me.”

Casella did her own search.

She went to Ancestry.com, and put in her stepfather’s name.

He showed up linked to Stella Solomon, Casella’s mother.

From them, another link showed up — one to an A. Gressis.

Gressis had started a genealogy page earlier but didn’t get too far before she abandoned it. Casella picked up her trail and went to Facebook to snoop around.

Casella likes to watch crime shows; she likes to see the puzzle pieces fit together to form a picture.

Asimina was an unusual name. Maybe Casella would have some luck tracking down her kid sister.

She stumbled onto a couple of profiles. One wasn’t much help, the other would unlock the Asimina mystery she and her brother were wondering about for more than five decades.

“I saw a picture of this woman in a yellow blouse and a man sitting close to her,” Casella said. “That’s got to be her. She looks just like my mother, she looks like my grandmother.”

Casella and Torres started to piece things together.

According to the Facebook profile, Gressis had a dog named Louis (like their stepfather), she had a daughter named Stella (like their mother). This was like circumstantial evidence adding up to an overall picture. Casella watched those crime shows, she knew it wasn’t concrete, but it was a good lead.

“The different puzzle pieces were put together,” she said.

She sent Gressis a friend request on Facebook but didn’t hear anything back.

Gressis, who runs a tour company in Santorini with her daughter and restaurants Ouzo’s in La Plata and OBO Pizza in Waldorf and Indian Head, is a busy woman.

The message must have fallen through the cracks.

Torres’ daughter, Angela, sent another email to Asimina Tours, asking Gressis to respond even if she didn’t want to meet her siblings, they just wanted to know if she could be their sister; they had been looking and wondering for so long.

Stella Gressis read the message and told her mother to sit down, she had news.

They were the words Gressis had been waiting to hear all her life — her brother and sister found her.

Flurries of phone calls and emails started immediately.

Declarations of love, stories and memories flowed over lines of communication.

“It’s almost a miracle,” Casella said. “A stroke of good luck. I told her, ‘I carried you in my heart all these years.’”

Casella kept a black and white photo booth picture of Gressis when she was a toddler. Gressis kept the other picture from the strip. Torres remembered his baby sister as a “beautiful child” whom he showed off around the neighborhood.

“She looked like Shirley Temple,” he said. “I bought her little things like a Davy Crockett hat, she put it on, wore it around ... she was just so cute.”

The siblings are planning a reunion. They want to see each other, talk about their mother whom Torres said was “bubbly and outgoing.”

“I’ll not only be connecting with my sister, but my mother, too,” Casella said. “You can never forget you have another person out there that belongs in your family. I told her, ‘I won’t leave you.’”

“We’re so excited,” Torres said. “We’re not going to let each other go again.”

“This story has a happy ending,” Gressis said, calling from Greece. “But it’s not an ending, it’s a new beginning.”

staylor@somdnews.com