Uncle Aram Recalls His Mother and Sisters

Written in the month of March, 1975; a synopsis life history of my Mother and three sisters.

Uncle Aram Saroyan 014            Since September 15th, 1971, I self-exiled myself to Santa Barbara, a city of conservative people, exotic flowers and cactus, beautiful cats and dogs and rich widows looking for romance.

            It was not an easy decision to make, knowing the Armenians in Santa Barbara were of a different breed. The only name I could give them was the word used by Theodore Roosevelt when he remarked, “What is this Italian-American, French-American, or any other so-called hyphenated-Americans” I am sad to say the Armenians in Santa Barbara are hyphenated Armenians. However, there are redeeming features of moving to Santa Barbara: the ocean, the mild climate, and plenty of sunshine.

            I always liked and enjoyed the sun. Perhaps it is because my forebears might have been “Zoroastrians” (Worshippers of the Sun), when they migrated from Persia. Our original name happened to be Sarou-Khan, meaning Blonde Khan, a title given to nobility in Persia. We kept the name Saroukhan for a few centuries until finally we cut it to Saroyan, which was made famous by my nephew, William Saroyan, who is the son of my eldest sister, whose books have been translated into thirty or more languages.

            As I had expected, there was no joy being in Santa Barbara to create an Armenian colonial activity or social communication. For the past fifty years I have devoted most of my time to advance the Armenian just cause and demands in America and many parts of the world. The most peculiar aspect of my activities was that I never joined or became a member of any group, church, or political party. Basically, I am free, so I could exercise my own individual ideas without embarrassing anyone belonging to any organization.

            I studied law and became a criminal lawyer. I was born an actor and figured the courtroom could be my stage. I tried hundreds of felony cases, including ten murder cases. I never charged any fees nor did I expect any fees. Those that I saved in murder trials, I gave jobs in one of our grape-packing houses. My ability as an actor helped me immensely to win 85 to 90% of my cases.

            Here, in this isolation and loneliness, my nephew, William Saroyan, asked me to write a paper about my Mother and three sisters; namely Takoohi, Parantzim, and Verkin.

            So, this article is dedicated to their unforgettable and loving memory.

            My Mother’s name in Armenian was Luceen. After our arrival in America they called her Lucy. I was with her from my childhood days until she died at the age of 86, at Reedly Hospital near Fresno.

            She was born in Bitlis, Armenia, as close as I can figure in 1869. She never had any schooling, however, she was a born philosopher. As I became older and more observing, I definitely came to the conclusion that my Mother was not an ordinary woman. She defied conventional behavior by not covering her face, as was the custom, when she went out. She answered the doorbells and conversed with the Turkish Gendarmas (officers) concerning Armenian Revolutionaries and their whereabouts and objectives. She sent them away without disclosing any information that they were seeking. My Father would have died a thousand deaths if he had to answer their questions.

            My mother was of medium heighth, not over 5 ft. 2 or 3 inches. She possessed a beautiful face and figure. She had brought nine children into the world, five boys and four girls. Four had died at infancy from diphtheria; three boys and one girl. She still had five left, three girls and two boys.

            Being the last child, we were very much attached to each other. When the neighbors asked her “What happened? No more children?” she would answer, “When I brought Aram into the world, I threw the key into the ocean!”

            As I grew up under her tender and loving care, I not only loved her but came to worship her. Because of my love for her, I was compelled to marry my first wife. My mother became a giant in my eyes. A fearless, resourceful and dynamic personality, never saying, this can not be done or this is impossible. She met any and all challenges and seemed to be able to meet and solve them all. She was a very proud woman. She never let any of her “sheriks” (in-laws) know that she needed something. If it was necessary to keep her family hungry for a few days, she did it. The more poverty, the more show-off of laughter and pleasantries. One of the most unique and picturesque scenes that she used to display when the family had been out of meat for a week or so; she would carry a piece of soap in one hand and a towel on her shoulder, displaying her hands and fingers in such a manner as to indicate greasy hands, while going to the public to wash. Her philosophy was, “it is better to starve than to beg meat from the butcher!” Her philosophy of life was deeply planted in the hearts and minds of all her children.

            What was the outlook of her life concerning things in general and womans duties and responsibilities as a wife and mother? First, she blamed women generally for their selfishness, stupidity, and ineptness to take care of their husbands and children. Secondly, she felt men were like putty in the hands of their wives and could be molded into any shape or fashion that they desired. Thirdly, it was the woman who could lay a solid foundation for the home or build it on the sand to be blown over by a windstorm. Fourthly, it was the mother’s purpose to educate and discipline the children because she was constantly with the children, while the father was struggling to make a living for them. Fifth and finally, a good and understanding wife could make a bad man a good man, while a bad and stupid wife could make a good man a bad man.

            Whenever my sisters complained about their husbands or mother-in-law, she would say, “God and nature provided you with a husband and mother-in-law, now it is up to you to cope with the situation by using your head and kill them with kindness. Don’t you ever come and cry on my shoulders. Every one has a cross to carry and yours will be light if you know how to use your head.”

            Here she would tell a story about how the Turks had massacred the Armenians in 1893, a year before I was born. Now my father, being a semi-banker had loaned money to Armenian peasants, near the city of Bitlis, and my Uncle Garabed would collect the principal and interest from their husbands, who had migrated to Constantinople for work. After the 1893 massacre, most of the husbands were either killed or out of a job; thus they were unable to pay back what they owed. So my father had given himself to very heavy drinking. My mother was informed of my father’s heavy drinking by a family friend.

            My mother being unable to write, had called on our district priest to pen a letter for her to my father. The wording of the letter went something like this: “Dear Minas, (Minas being my father's first name). When I heard the good news that you had stopped drinking, I knew God had answered my prayer. I went to the basement and found an old shoe of yours and poured water into it and drank the water so I would smell the odor of your foot.” After receiving that letter my father had stopped his drinking.

Lucine Garoghlanian            My mother was small physically but a giant in stature and thinking. My father had died early in 1903. She had applied for and obtained a passport and visa from the Turkish Government to leave Turkey permanently for herself, my sister Verkin and myself. At that period of time, two of my elder sisters were married. The money was to come from my brother, Dikran, who had gone to America six years earlier, and my Uncle Garabed, who left Turkey for America in 1894. She could only obtain a “Taskira” (a limited passage to Constantinople) for Takoohi and her three children without having to leave the Turkish Empire.

            In 1904, my mother took us to Erzerum, being 100 miles north of Bitlis. The climate was very severe, with snow during 9 months of the year with the temperature going as low as 45 degrees below zero. Takoohi and her children were also with us. Money from America was slow in coming. There were seven mouths to feed during the two years we were in Erzerum. I was 12 years of age and the only man in the family.

            My mother got a job for me with Mampre Gorkmazian, who had a dry goods store in “Kare Mughazener” [meaning a rock shopping store or shopping center in Turkish]. The store must have been much more than a mile from the house, because it took me 15 minutes to get there by fast running. My job was to go to the market place, which was also over a mile, and bring to the store half a dozen or so Kurds, who had come to the market to sell their products and also would be looking for yard goods to be made into garments. At the beginning, the boss would cut the yard goods into any kind of garments that the Kurds wanted. Later that job was also transferred to me, much to my sorrow. I would take the cut garments to my mother and sisters and later in the afternoon I would go and get them. Fortunately my mother and sisters were very fast in sewing. It was ready when in mid-afternoon, I went to get them. It was here in Erzerum that I learned to run from the house to the bakery, from the bakery to the house, from the house to the store, from the store back to the market place. I had to walk from the market place to the store because of being with the Kurdish customers, then again run home, taking the cut garments, run back to the store again, run back to the house and run back to the store with the sewn garments. I had to run for two reasons. First, I needed the time, and second to keep warm, as icicles were being formed on my eyebrows and eyelashes. The habit that I formed then has remained with me until this day!

   fam         In the meantime, Willie’s father, Armenag, had also obtained a passport for himself to go to America. With him came his brother, Misak and both stayed with us in Erzerum for over a year and finally left for America U.S.A.. For two years it was a struggle and hardship, but due to my mother’s disciplinary philosophy, no one complained. Each person did what was expected of him or her. In early 1906, my mother decided to leave Erzerum and travel in a covered wagon to Trabizan on the Mediterranean Sea. I knew we had passports to go to the U.S.A., but how about Takoohi and her children who only had a Taskira to Constantinople? When I questioned my mother, she said, “Don’t worry my boy, where there is a will, there is always a way. God helps those who help themselves.” When we arrived at Trabizan, we found the city to be entirely different from Bitlis or Erzerum. There was gaiety and laughter. People were more sophisticated and educated. There was freedom of action and movement. For the first time you felt like a human being and that you were not being watched.

            Only a week later we went to the port of Trabizan and boarded a small boat that took us to a ship destined for Constantinople and New York. At this point, I could not resist the anxiety and curiosity to ask my mother, “Won’t the Turks take off the ship, Takoohi and her children when we arrive at the Port of Constantinople?” With her everlasting and determined look and assuring smile of victory, she replied, “Aram, my boy, you should know by now that your mother knows what she’s doing. This is a French ship. The Turkish government has no right or authority to come on this ship and remove any passengers. Don’t worry, in a few days we all will see Armenag at New York’s Ellis Island.” It wasn't too long that we were on the ship that my mother informed us that the ship we were on would only sail as far as Marseille, France. There we must get off and wait for further instructions. The situation turned grim but not very difficult. How long we were to stay in Marseilles depended on how fast our passage money would come from our relatives.

            Upon arrival, we were taken to the Vertanes Hotel and given three rooms. This hotel housed most of the Armenian immigrants whose ultimate destination was the U.S.A.. The owner, Vertanesm was a kind man. I made a deal with him to go to the port and bring the Armenian immigrants to his hotel in compensation for our rooms. He immediately accepted my proposition.

            I obtained an Armenian-French dictionary and learned the necessary French words for my new adventures as I had learned Kurdish and Turkish in Erzerum. My task was not only to bring the Armenians to the hotel, but to take them to the stores for their groceries and clothes. I also took them to the doctor for eye check-ups for Glaucoma. For this service, I recieved a small fee from the immigrants. Finally, I took them to the railroad station to board the train going to the city of Le Havre, on the Atlantic Seaboard, to board the ship bound for New York.

            We were in Marseilles for six months. My job had paid-off. Not only did it pay for our rent and groceries, I even bought each woman a dress at discount prices. My mother would not wear it, saying it looked immoral. This time I prevailed and she wore hers along with my sisters. No matter how young you are, necessity will force you to maturity, if you only co-operate.

            Armenag had gone to New York six months ahead of us. Later, I learned before leaving Trabizan, everything had been arranged. How? Until today, I don’t know the answer.

            As our passage was in the steerage, we met all kinds of immigrants from Greece, Italy, Roumania and elsewhere. They were all poor like us. People were getting seasick. The children were throwing up and crying. My mother moved around amongst the people, helping and consoling, without saying a word to them. She was the voluntary nurse in the steerage. The passengers loved her and always expected and appreciated her help. She spoke the universal language of helpfulness with tenderness and sympathy. She admonished her children, if they got sick to take care of each other.

            We arrived in New York on October 8, 1906 on the French Liner, La Bretagne. Armenag was at Ellis Island waiting for us. Our joy and happiness had no bounds when we saw Armenag. It was then we realized we were in reality, in the promised land as we gazed at the Statue of Liberty.

            Sad to say our happiness did not last very long when we learned the port doctor had placed a tag on my mother, presumably she having what they thought was the contagious eye disease of Glaucoma. My sister, Verkin, and I decided if they should send my mother back, we would accompany her while letting Takoohi and her children join Armenag at New York. We were all crying when my mother returned from her second examination to inform us that everything was all right and we all were going to go to New York together. It was difficult to describe our happiness. It felt like we were risen from the grave. After staying in New York for a few weeks and seeing the wonders of the new world, we boarded the train for Fresno, arriving at our destination on December 24, 1906. The following day being Christmas, we spent the day with my Uncle Garabed and ate our first turkey. In a few days we learned of the devastating earthquake and fire in San Francisco the same year.

            A year or so later, Armenag moved his family to Fresno and shortly after that Parantzim and her husband with their daughter, Ebraxe, came from Moush. By this time our family was again re-united in Fresno, Calif. My mother, as usual was the captain of the ship. Her constant enthusiasm and direction kept her children and grandchildren in a state of serenity and accomplishments. However, the tragic events followed one after the other made my mothers task more complicated. Armenag died in San Jose, California in 1909 at the age of 42, leaving Takoohi with four children; shortly after Armenag’s death, Parantim’s husband, Vahan, died at the age of 39 leaving Parantzim with six children. My brother, Dikran, had died in Constantinople about this time while paying a visit to the old country. However, with all the sad and tragic events, my mother remained stoic and carried on her responsibilities without remorse or giving up under the terrible strain. As a work horse, it seemed as if she had gotten her second wind, but the most tragic event came in 1940 when my sister Verkin was killed in an accident in a car driven by her husband, Dikran.

The Fresno Bee 1941 04 22 page 9            Verkin’s death was too much for her to hear. It shattered her stoicism and endurance. Up to this tragic event, I had never seen her cry. Even then she made a herculean effort to cover up her grief from her children. One day she said to me, “Aram, Jan (Jan being a turkish word meaning, my soul) will you get me some Turkish dancing records with a small phonograph?” I did not ask her for any reason. In a couple of days I got for her six records and a phonograph. At this time she was living in one of my houses on 1st and Ventura Avenues in Fresno. I visited her religiously every night when I was in Fresno. One night when I came to see her, I watched from outside to see what she was doing. She had the phonograph playing and she was dancing to the music with tears gushing from her eyes. I waited until the music had stopped. She wiped her tears and sat in a chair. As I walked in she greeted me in the usual way, however, I knew that Verkin’s death had completely changed her life. In order not to show her grief, she got up and made me some powdered coffee. She talked and laughed but I knew she was trying to cover her sorrow.

            At this point, I started to cry and told her how Verkin’s death had affected our entire family. That she had been a diamond in the rough with plenty of lustre. Her loss is not only unbearable but irreplaceable. Now she wanted to console me by saying, “My boy, Aram, life is not a bed of roses. Tragedy is meant for man and man is born to tragedy.”

            As I went home that night, I started to analyze why she was playing the dance music and dancing with tearful eyes. It was not very easy for me to come up with a reasonable and logical answer. Knowing her as I did it was evident that she could not stand the feeling of sorrow by doing nothing. By playing the phonograph and dancing to the tune she would let out part of her grief and sorrow.

            This is only a brief sketch of a brilliant woman, who could analyze the mind of others by their manner of walking and talking or remaining silent in her company. She used gestures rather than words to inform the needs of company present, whether it would be coffee or water. She left some real historic commandments to her children, grandchildren and great-great grandchildren, based upon her experiences of life. I will enumerate her commandments later.

            Here was a woman who could move mountains with her faith based upon character, determination, ingenuity and endurance. She erected a monument in the hearts and souls of those that she loved. Her memory and selflessness shall be remembered by many of her generations of our clan. I only want everlasting life so I can meet her and my sisters.

Helen and Lucyd            Before closing the story of my Mother, I must of good conscience mention Helen, the second daughter of Parantzim. Helen was like her mother, Naneh needed her. Helen always helped her without hesitation or sour face, willingly and lovingly. When Naneh was getting old and needed constant care. Helen moved her to Dinuba, where Helen at this point of time was living. We fixed up a nice little home in the yard and furnished it. Helen wanted Naneh in Dinuba so she could watch her every minute of the day. They both loved each other very dearly. If I ever owe anyone any debt of gratitude, unquestionably it would be Helen for showing so much love for Naneh and her constant care and devotion to her. Helen has been my mother’s and my favorite amongst all of my nieces and nephews. After my mother’s death, Helen became a mother and caretaker to all her sisters and brothers and their children. Although she has two daughters, only one was married and had two sons. This was the world of ours, my mother’s and Helen’s caliber of woman.

            I hope it will not be presumptuous on my part to say that I have adopted and made my mother’s commandments as a part of my life. I’m afraid I have reacted a little more than necessary concerning some of her commandments. Particularly, “Be bad but never a jackass.” On the strength of that commandment which I have adopted and made a part of my life; I have declared war on all of the crooks, liars, double-crossers, double-dealers, pretenders and those hypocrites who use religion to cover up their sins or use it for their selfish reasons. Because of this attitude, I have a host of enemies few real friends. I am grateful and appreciative to my friends, and wish lots of luck and prosperity to my enemies.

            So this is in a nutshell, the story of an uneducated woman, born in Bitlis, Armenia of Armenian heritage. She saved all of her children with her determination, ingenuity and courage, from being slaughtered by the unspeakable and barbaric Turks during the 1915 genocide by bringing us all to America.

Uncle Aram Saroyan 023            The following are some of her commandments;

1.     Be bad, but never a jack-ass.

2.     Never speak evil of your enemies, kill them with kindness.

3.     Keep todays bread for tomorrow, but never leave todays work for tomorrow.

4.     Never say it cannot be done; where there is a will, there is always a way.

5.     Be the sole of their shoe to those that love you, but be the Sultan of those that hate you.

6.     Go to the places where they make you cry; don’t go to places where they make you laugh.

7.     A weak and stupid woman has three weapons; crying, lying and playing sick.

8.     Your honor and pride is your crown, once you have lost them, you are ready for the garbage can.

9.     Avoid suspicion by being honest in your dealings.

10. Be docile as a dove, but crafty as a snake.

            My three sisters, namely Takoohi, Parantzim and Verkin were different in looks, and their actions and reactions. First about my eldest sister, Takoohi, meaning in English Queenie. She had four children, two boys and two girls. Given in the order of their birth, Cosette, Zabel, Henry and William.

Uncle Aram Saroyan 022            Her husband, Armenag, had died in San Jose, California at the age of 42 in 1909. The greatest share of the children’s care and responsibility had fallen on Takoohi’s shoulders. She was not yet 35 years old when she lost her husband. Her looks and personality fitted her name “Queenie” beautifully. She looked like a queen, acted like a queen and was beautiful like a queen should be. However, she did everything honorable to sustain her children. She had a very determined mind and had her likes and dislikes. If someone rang the doorbell that she did not like, she would not open the door; but if it was someone she liked, she opened the door and received the guest with open arms and open heart. Although her husband was a religious person, a protestant teacher and preacher, she adhered to the realism of life. She would say “Religion must be in your heart. By doing good to the people, you have created a heaven for yourself. On the other hand, if you have done some harm to someone, you surely have created a hell for yourself. Amongst my sisters, she was the most conservative in her daily life, both in living and in relation with other people. No matter how difficult her economical condition would be, she never sought nor accepted any substantive aid from strangers. She worked constantly and put her children to work when they were able to do so.

            Her eldest daughter, Cosette, helped her immensely. She was a deep-rooted Christian. Not only did she work, but also took care of the children, did the housework and even cooked, when Takoohi was working. Cosette never got married. She devoted her life to the family with Christian philosophy. Her father named her Cosette, a name that appears in Victor Hugo’s play “La Miserables”. Cosette also fitted, behaved and acted the part played by Cosette in the story.

            Takoohi, although young and beautiful, never wanted to re-marry after her husband's death. Her attitude was, how a mother could marry when she had four children to care for. She thought it was her solemn obligation to devote her entire life and time to her children in order to bring them up properly disciplined. She had a great love and remembrance for her dead husband and she felt somehow, her husband was helping her to live and bring up the children to be a credit to the family and helpful to the world. Then again, there was my mother's influence. She kept on saying to all her female children, “Whenever you go to the grocery store alone, go through the alley so you will not meet any man, if you do, direct your attention on the road."

            Takoohi lived long enough to see her youngest son, Willie, become one of the most famous young writers in America. His work has been translated into nearly thirty languages. When she learned that Willie was gambling away a large sum of money, she would say, “Willie, I wish that you had become a garbage collector instead of a famous writer, and brought the money home rather than gambling it all away like a drunken sailor.” This was a lip service. In her heart she loved him dearly and was very proud of his accomplishments. Because she had worked hard, she could not understand how anyone could go to the gambling table and lose 25-50 or one hundred thousand dollars at a clip. She was stern and yet she was very tender hearted. After reminding Willie of his gambling, in the next breath she would say, “Willie, Jano (a Turkish word meaning “part of my life”), are you not hungry? I have cooked some very tasty Salbadore (stuffed tripe) for you,” well knowing Willie just loved it.

            When my youngest sister, Verkin, was killed in an automobile accident, driven by her husband, Dikran, (Dick), he also had some cuts and bruises and was taken to a local hospital in Fresno. Takoohi and I visited him. At first he moaned and groaned until Takoohi asked what he was going to do with Verkin’s diamond earrings? His pains disappeared; he stretched up in the bed half way forward and asked Takoohi what she meant by that question? Takoohi replied, “Since my brother, Aram, gave her those beautiful earrings we all want Verkin to wear them when she is buried.” Now Dikran sat in the bed and with a fake melancholy voice, almost crying, he replied, “What are you trying to do, wreck  my home altogether? It was bad enough to lose my wife. Now you want me to lose the diamonds too? Besides, if I were to let the earrings remain on her ears, the thieves will come and open the grave to steal them. To that Takoohi angrily retorted, “you are here in the hospital, no other thief knows anything about them. How are they going to steal them?” Verkin was buried without the earrings.

            Takoohi’s great ambition was to see her children married and have grandchildren, so she could be of some help to them. A woman also with pride and determination, who accomplished her desire and became known throughout the world by her son’s writings. She died in San Francisco in February of 1950 at the age of 65.

 Minasian passport           My second sister, Parantzim, (or Frances), was entirely different than her two sisters. She was the personification of sacrifice, helpfulness, contentment and devotion. She as an ardent Christian, belonging to the Armenian Apostolic Church. If there is such a place as Heaven, I am sure she now occupies one of the seats in the front row.

            She was born in Bitlis in 1885. It was my mother’s philosophy to marry off the girls at an early age, as she was. She married off Parantzim at the age of 12 to Vahan Minasian from Moush, a city only a few miles from Bitlis. The bridegroom's father, Khatchig, came to Moush and took Parantzim to Moush for the marriage on horseback. Her in-laws, realizing her youthfulness, decided to have Parantzim sleep with her mother-in-law for two years. So the marriage was postponed during this duration of time. The Armenians in Moush were a very viable and fighting people. They had fought the Turks in Moush on many occasions. For this reason, my father was against this marriage, however, as usual, my mother had prevailed and the marriage had taken place. During their marriage, they had six children three boy and three girls. The names are, in order of their birth, Ebraxe, Zaven, Helen, Archie, Gourgen, and Stella.

            With her exemplary ways and understanding, Parantiz had become the envy and adoration of the Armenian people in Moush. They pointed her out as a model wife in a strange city. Many had shared her helpfulness and understanding.

            In 1908, we brought Parantzim’s family to Fresno and they settled near us. Her daughter, Ebraxe, was getting old enough to help her while Parantzim was at work. The children grew up under a very trying economical condition. Her husband, Vahan, had been a tailor in the old country, amongst other vocations he had had. He secured a job with Yezdan Dick, the tailor. Vahan was a brave man with a sense of responsibility. Later on, Vahan bought a 40 acre ranch that had mostly pitch trees and a few grape vines. Not being a farmer, he had a most difficult time to make the farm pay. In 1915, there was a real depression for the farmers and many of them lost their ranches, including Vahan. In 1916, Vahan moved his family back to Fresno and lived in a brick house on I Street, until his death in 1917. He was only 39 years old, thus leaving six orphans for Parantzim to take care of.

            Her belief in religion had terrific impact on her daily life. She constantly sympathized and helped people who were in the same situation as she was. While working in the packing house, packing figs, grapes and other fruits, which was piecework, and helped those who were struggling to make a few pennies. Is it any wonder that they had given her the nickname of “Good Samaritan?” She had no jealous vein or muscle in her entire body. She kept on saying, “Let my relatives have wealth as they are used to living in luxury. God always gives me strength to feed my children.” She was recognized as a roaming ambassador of good will and helpfulness. She never hesitated or declined a call to help some one that needed her help. She did everything with joy without any expectation. Religion meant something to her. Something that was devine and good. At no time did I ever see her with a sour face, complaining about something that had happened or failed to happen. She did everything possible to bring up her children imbued with the same philosophy of life. She used to say about the 1920-1930 depression “The depression came and went and we never felt or understood what it was. Our way of life remained exactly the same. We praise God for it.” She died in San Francisco in May, 1952 at the age of 67 with a smile on her face. She also left a will to her children, not a bank account of stocks and bonds, but a spirit of helpfulness to share whatever they have with those who needed help. Until the present day, her spirit guides her children.

            Amongst her six children, only Zaven died about two years ago. Had she lived, by now, like my mother, she would have seen her great-great-grandchildren.

            Now we come to my youngest sister, Verkin, (Virginia), who was two years older than me. We were very close to each other because we had spent much time together. She was the oriental kind of a beauty. She also had hardly any schooling. Amongst my three sisters, I would say she was the only one to have a mild case of vanity. She always admired beautiful things and praised men of distinction and ability, such as orators, musicians and painters; not that she was familiar with any of those subjects.

            Two years after we arrived at Fresno, my mother married her to Dikran Bagdasarian, a ministers son. The marriage turned out to be a most unhappy marriage. Verkin had objected to the marriage, but as usual my mother had prevailed. Verkin was like an Arabian horse being hitched to a common ordinary work horse. Their personalities and temperments were entirely different. Although Verkin was unschooled,  she loved fine things in life. She admired persons of importance, fine homes, good clothes and expensive furniture. On the other hand, Dikran was an ordinary man with ordinary tastes. To tell the TRUTH was not one of his virtues.

            Verkin was immaculately clean, like her sisters, and always had to remind Dikran to change his socks, shirts, underwear and her hankerchiefs. To which Dikran once in a while would reply, “what’s the difference, no body will take notice.”

            Because Dikran and I were partners in the grape business in the San Joaquin Valley from 1920 to 1930, I visited them several times a week in the evening. I always found her lying on a couch with a headache, constantly drinking either coco-cola or 7 up. What caused her constant headaches? That is a question which I cannot truthfully answer. However, I can say Dikran’s habits and mannerisms contributed to the cause of her headaches.

            She was a proud woman. Every time she purchased a new pair of shoes, the salesman admired her small size 4 ½ feet and did not hesitate to tell her and she loved it. She had the most beautiful set of teeth, so much so some tooth powder company offered her five hundred dollars to have pictures taken of her teeth and advertise that she used their brand of tooth powder. Dikran accepted the offer, but Verkin rejected the offer by saying, “How can I accept the money when I have never used a toothbrush, tooth-powder or toothpaste?” She never had a cavity in her mouth.

            Verkin gave birth to three boys; Sirag, (Dick), Sisban, (Harry), and Sipon, (Ross). Willie and Ross wrote a song named “Come Ona My House come on” which was made famous by Rosemary Clooney. The song also made Rosemary Clooney famous. Millions of copies were sold in the U.S.A.. Verkin was killed in an automobile accident, driven by her husband in 1950 at the age of 50. Within the recent years Dick and Ross also died of heart attacks.

            Within the span of two decades or so, I lost my mother and three sisters. Of my mothers family, I am the only one left. I am now 83. I shall carry their untarnished memory with me to the grave,

           

BY ARAM SAROYAN

 

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