An independent, intelligent, and industrious woman, Tillie De Leon is the matriarch of the original Peha family in Seattle, Sephardic immigrants from the Greek Island of Rhodes. One of the first Sephardic children born in Seattle, Tillie’s ground-breaking life continued when she left her close-knit community and moved to Los Angeles to take an accounting job. Married and widowed in Los Angeles, Tillie married Albert De Leon and returned with him to Seattle. Ever hardworking and optimistic, Tillie continued her paid work until age 80, and remains active in volunteer activities.
“The mandatha was when a couple became engaged. The groom’s parents would send a tray of sweets and, in some cases if they could afford it, a gift. Something of gold. And then the bride in turn would send a tray to the groom, with sweets and something, and a gift for him. After the engagement the ashuar custom was that they would display all the things that the bride was taking to her new home, whether it was clothing, linens, jewelry, lingerie, and even dresses.
“They would hang whatever they were taking with them on the wall, and then they had a group who would come around and assess the value. Just in case the marriage was not successful and the husband would leave the bride-then he would have to compensate the family for the amount of the trousseau.”
“My maternal grandmother came in 1913. She would always tell us stories. They’d be stories about Joha, a person that didn’t think too well. There were lots of stories about Joha. Now, whether they were made up or not I can’t tell. One of them was that Joha had gotten engaged and that evening after dinner a big storm developed. So the mother of bride said to him, ‘Joha, you better stay here tonight and sleep here tonight because you shouldn’t be going home.’ So he said, ‘Okay.’ So he figured, ‘Well, I didn’t bring pajamas.’ So he went home, picked up his pajamas, and came back. And there was one story that she said something about Hodja, the wise man. Hodja filled a trunk with things that were of no value. And so when he died, his children wanted to get the trunk opened up and find things of value. In the meantime, Hodja had given away to the synagogue all his valuable things. When they opened it up and they saw how little they got, then they realized that their father was a wise man, and that he didn’t want any arguments after he had gone, so that whatever was left was not important. There were so many stories that she told us. And we would say ‘One more story, Grandma; one more story.’”
© 2004 Jewish Women’s Archive. Photographs by Joan Roth.