This Christmas Eve, my uncle Hovsep’s wife’s 93 year old grandmother passed away. “Mets mom” was one of the sweetest ladies to make a presence in our lives. She was very tiny in size, brown, grayed, fuzzy and soft and one hundred percent Armenian. She always rocked traditional Armenian clothing (head scarves/ panty hose/ long floral dresses/ slippers/ cane). Most of all, she wore her infectious smile best. Under whatever circumstance, she grinned so adorably that you couldn’t help but want to softly pinch her cheeks and hug her for twenty minutes. No matter if I looked like Satan’s punk, she looked at me and only saw the beauty in my heart, and without words, but with prayers, wished the best for everyone in her life, Armenian or Turk.
When my father died in 2006, she said that God had chosen the wrong person to take.
In 2005, Mets Mom gave her granddaughter Adel a stuffed bag. In it was her favorite floral dress- simple, long, and pure blue. She told Adel to dress in it when she would pass. Several days ago, over seven years later, Adel found that unopened bag and in it found a letter she once overlooked. It was Mets Mom’s prayer to God. She wrote in Armenian to ensure that if she were to go insane due to old age that they’d remember her sanity, her heart. Her wealth dwelled in her children, grand children, great grand children, and their children. She did not have much in her life but she was rich. She was humble and strong. And everyone around her learned the tradition of compassion and sharing what you have with your community; less is more.
I visited my Uncle Hovsep to stand by him and his family during their loss. But they did not view it as a loss. She was ready to go, and they said she earned her place with God. She saw her legacy, that which most grandparents never get to see.
Shots. Paklava. Halva. Tutu. Potatoes. Club soda. Achika. Cucumbers and tomatoes. Assortment of meat and pastries. Shots. Shots. Armenian coffee. Wine.
I had not seen my uncle in ages. After my father passed away, my dad’s side and my family grew distant as the bridge between us had collapsed. Today, we rebuilt it.
We are Armenian. Rebuilding life and spirit after loss is in our blood.
Hovsep’s wealth exists in his photo albums. In Armenia and America, he was the photographer of the family. He not only documented their travels and lives, but also developed each haunting black and white photo by hand. Therefore, he never brought out his full collection of albums but only two or three at a time. Today after we had lots of food and wine, he came up to me with two albums in his hand, and in eyes glistening with pre-tears, said in Armenian “If I show you these photographs, of us, with papa, will you cry?”
We spent the next four hours laughing and crying; we even got the honor of my uncle narrating stories behind the stills. My father. My father. He was. He was a gangster. And I’m proud to be his daughter.
I was in Armenia. I was in a family that would never die. I was in Boston and Moscow. I was in destitutely rich villages. I was in hunger. I was barefoot. I was praying. I was wearing shorts- while cooking kebab- too short for my own good. I was poor but also the richest person alive. I was family. I was more than seven siblings high.
I missed this for seven years of my life. I forgot what family meant. I forgot how being Armenian felt. It is completely different from the Armenian in America, but being in tune with nature. Let us smile today and celebrate.
Times are different, though. Houses are too big to live in one room together and be free and open. We are too worried with making money to see that we don’t need it. My uncle lives on welfare alone and his one bedroom home is incredibly small. Yet whenever anyone visits it, do not expect anything less than a set table of every food, pastry, mock soda, fruit, nut and meat and someone yelling at you to eat and when you don’t listen even if you’re a vegetarian to put it on your plate and say they used to eat rats, dogs, cats and sometimes people in Armenia when the Russians took over so it’s normal. (Huge run on sentence but totally necessary. I’m sadly the only vegan Armenian I’ve ever met, but culture reigns superior to my western first-world ideals)
I realized that family is all that I really have. Before I turned twenty, I was ashamed of my family because I viewed them as a backwards and uneducated people. Indeed, I wanted to be as “white” as possible and anything deviating from that was a mark of worthlessness. However, my family and heritage proved me wrong and my identity is finally finding roots in the soil. It’s not about who I’m not but who I am. I wouldn’t trade my family, our traditions and history for anything else. My visit to my uncle Hovsep’s house reignited this spark in me that was missing. I learned to carry on the legacy of family. I decided to try and strengthen the bond between between me and my siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. The Armenians survived ethnic cleansing for a reason and our heritage is not going to end in America, especially do to shame. The simpler my life is, the more I smile.
It’s never too late to learn how to love.