Armenian News Network / Groong

The Literary Groong - 03/15/2014


SPEAK, MEMORY

by V Misak


I'd heard a lot about you from your mother when I was married to her
in the States.  I'd heard stories about how, when you were a little
girl, your father had abandoned the two of you and how he was the
devil.  Since I divorced your mom years ago I've understood what a
storyteller she is and I question her versions of everything. But you
told me yourself that in front of you when you were young, she
attempted suicide.

But this is what I want to say.  You were being raised by your
grandparents in Armenia. That was a better environment for you to
grow.  Your mom and I were in the States but I felt a certain
connection with you looking at photographs of you sent when you were a
child.

Finally I returned to Armenia.  I'd been there a few times before.  So
I knew my way to your metro station and your district, K- in the
capital Yerevan easily.  I walked a few dusty blocks until I found the
apartment building where you lived with your grandparents.  The
entrance to the building was in the back and I wandered through the
backyard to get there.  I heard the voices of a bunch of kids playing
merrily nearby.  Would I find you with them?  No, you were tossing a
ball up in the air by yourself singing softly.  I was an only child
too and also was content playing by myself.  Again, I immediately felt
a strong connection and now I was the closest I'd be to being a
father.

The truth is that those were happy days between your mom and I.  I was
pleased to visit your family home and enjoy wonderful meals.  I would
sit on the couch with your grandfather watching Russian television.  I
gazed at liter-sized soda bottles filled with warming water sitting in
the sunlight behind the window, later to be used for the gravity-feed
shower.  A rooster clucked and strutted around the room and perched
himself atop the tv set.  This bird was going to be the featured guest
at a madagh, to be sacrificed.  Your aunt was lacking in good luck and
thought this would be a way to reverse her fate.  Grandmother was
preparing dinner on a simple stove in the kitchen as others made a
happy riot in the two bedroom apartment.  Through the window, off in
the distance our Massis  smiled.

This was the richest of my trips to Armenia because I was happy and
felt genuinely connected with your family.  There was magic, too.  One
day we all crammed into your cousin's small car and travelled on
winding country roads to Mount Aragats.  Everything was going smoothy,
the car crowded with family.  But when the car was half way up the
mountain, it broke down.  Normally in the States when that would
happen, the road service would be called, there'd be a lot of stress
and commotion.

 Your cousin was in the business of driving fine cars from Europe to
be be delivered and sold in Yerevan.  So, he knew just what to do.  He
waited, then calmly lifted the front hood and sprayed bubbly mineral
water all over the engine.  Confidently he lowered the hood, waited
again, and started up the engine.  It roared like a lion.
Unbelieveable.

Once we had made it to the top of the mountain we followed a
tradition.  We and many other daytrippers ordered some khash from a
stand perched on the slopes.  Khash is cattle shanks boiled overnight
until it produces a tasty thick broth, popular in the Caucasus, served
with lots of garlic.  It's good for you and the bunch of us, except
for you, washed it down with plenty of vodka.  That's the right way.
Afterwards the hillside was strewn with napping Armenians. I lay side
by side with your mama.

As the afternoon progressed and we all sobered up, we loaded back into
the car and rolled down the hill.  I mentioned that I wanted to visit
Amberd fortress, an ancient Armenian ruin that according to my map was
located further down the mountain.  Everyone amiably agreed.

I didn't suspect a thing when we got there.  What I remember was that
I heard voices.  After climbing around the ruins, we passed dozens of
local tourists. I'm not supersititious at all but as I passed one
older woman I clearly heard, in my head, my long since deceased
grandmother's voice greeting me in Armenian and basically making me
unusually calm.  She said, in Armenian: `never feel alone.  I am
always with you.'  My grandmother had never been to what had been to
the former Soviet Armenia, she came from Anatolia.  Anyhow, as she
passed me the old woman just smiled.  This was maybe a spirit more
than a voice, but whatever it was was an experience that lasted a
while and made that place special to me.

You were nine then, didn't speak English and we had to rely on my
pathetic version of Eastern Armenian.

Then you, your mom, and I flew to Petersburg or what you still called
Leningrad.  We got to know your cousins there.  One was a businessman
and he was always armed with a 45 automatic.  `It's not safe to be a
successful Armenian businessman in Russia' he'd smile to reveal the
gun tucked behind his belt.  He referred to Russians as white Turks.
I kept you company when your mom visited the cousins across town.  We
played badmitton in the dim evening light in a lot behind the
apartment building where we stayed.  I was glad that you seemed to
accept me.  When your mom and I woke up the next day, you charged into
the room and happily pounced on us.

I remembered how happy I was to treat you and your mom a trip to the
Hermitage Museum.  On the top floor was a collection of world class
paintings, Manet, Gaugin, Picasso and such.  We were careful not to
let you out of our sight.  You asked what was so important about
seeing all this.  I responded that if you had a chance to see the
shadow of the finger of god, wouldn't that be significant?  Being nine
years old it was normal that you ignored me but were patiently walking
with us in the various rooms.  I thought `The shadow of the finger of
god' sounded pretty good coming from a die hard atheist.

Now you live here, you're twenty, playing violin in a symphony, busy
with college, working and life seems quite a bit different.  Your mom
is virtually out of the picture.  Your grandparents seem content
living here with you.  I'm honored to be treated as a best friend.

Why am I writing this?  The truth is that I tend to forget things now
but I don't want to forget any of this and hopefully you won't either.


--
Misak attended San Francisco State University where he received his
teaching credential.  As well as teaching in San Francisco area high
schools he has travelled extensively abroad. He has sold his art
paintings and photographs for over 30 years and lives in the San
Francisco Bay Area. Misak has lived in Barcelona as well as the Czech
Republic. Currently he writes short zany plays that have had numerous
performances in San Rafael, California.

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