Chasing After ‘Gumri’

We were adhering to what has become an early evening ritual most days of the week—answering the call to grandparents’ duty. The phone rings with four-year-old Cole and two-year-old Armen seeking our company for rides to the Royal Oak train station, the playground, or to visit the ducks at Quarton Lake in Birmingham. Within minutes we are on the road to Beverly Hills—just, as they say, down the road a piece.

Armen’s vocabulary is starting to take off and the first words out of his mouth when we enter their house are “Ding, nana” and “train,” followed by “out” and “on” for the CD player. Soon we are on the way to see the Amtrak train pull in and the passengers disembark. The train engineer now recognizes our car and waves to the batty grandparents who are seen filling the meter with coins.

The train departs and in order to entertain Armen a bit longer we maneuver the ever busy area roads heading for the Target mall, where there is a very nice fowl-filled pond and small local airport. This time we are traveling only with Armen, who is happily listening to his favorite CD of the Beach Boys singing “Barbara Ann.”

Do you have any idea how many times I have to play that same song while he is in the car? But it is cool to hear this toddler babble “Ba-ba-ba, ba-Barbara Ann!” Old rockers don’t die, they become grandparents.

I am a passenger this evening when I spot a vehicle four cars ahead with the license plate emblazoned “Gumri.” Can this be? Did I see correctly? I remain uncharacteristically quiet while Bob left turns on Coolidge off Fourteen Mile Rd., and falls way behind that now special car. I remain mum with eyes straight ahead. “Don’t think we’ll catch him,” I quietly say to myself. But we finally do. Yes I am right, that’s what it says. “Gumri.”

The Gumri car stops at the light; now we’re behind him and I speak up, “Follow that car. I think they are Armenian.” Their car parks and the inhabitants get out quickly before we even park and I strain my neck as I ask Bob, “Do they look foreign?” I am watching them walk away looking for physical signs from behind that they are Armenian. Not quite Armenian but also not quite American. The mystery lingers.

We park next to them and wait. They come out of the sporting goods store—a young man, a woman, both about 30, and a boy around 8. “They must be married,” I think to myself. Next they go into Target. Darn! How long do I have to wait? Armen is now in my lap playing with the visor mirror.

Finally, here they come towards me and I put my window down in preparation. Usually at no loss for words, I am wondering how to approach them. “Seize the moment” as Paul Bardizbanian recently emailed me. I address them in Armenian. “Took Hye ek?” He says “Ayo,” but does not smile. He is very good looking and soon we speak in both English and Armenian. He seems a wee bit reluctant. I explain I spotted his license plate and followed him.

She tells me she has been here five years and is from Yerevan, and that he has been here six years. Been here only six years and he has vanity plates? The young boy gets in the car very disinterested. I tell them I write for an Armenian paper and that if I could please have their names I would like to write about this incident. He asks me the name of my paper and I tell him. He indicates it is unfamiliar. Are they wondering why something like this excites me?

I get their names and he makes it a point to tell me his surname is identifiable with an Armenian king. Yes, I looked it up in InfoText and it matches. He is aloof, never revealing a smile, bordering on arrogance. Perhaps he can trace his blood lines to royalty. Well, I am a Keghetzi princess (Ha!) but I am a friendly one, always eager to meet a fellow Hye.

I decided to not use their names in this article because Bob said he thought the man was quite nervous all the while cracking his knuckles. I wonder why? In my excitement I had not noticed.

The young man asked me if I knew “Gumri” was hard hit by the 1988 earthquake and I replied yes, that I had worked on a committee to raise aid for that terrible event.

There was no doubt he was well educated although he did not volunteer what he did. They both spoke English very well. I asked her if she liked it here and she hesitatingly said yes, but that it was lonely without family. She told me they were not married. I have no idea as to their relationship but the boy was his nephew. He asked me if I attended St. John’s Church and I told him “No, St. Sarkis,” but that I am amenable to all of the Armenian community and that yes, I knew his priest Fr. Garabed Kochakian.

The stranger reached into the car and shook hands with Bob and I, ending the chance meeting before quickly entering his car and departing. “So long, Gumri,” I thought to myself. Strange yet interesting occurrence. It was meant to be. It was kismet.

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Betty Apigian-Kessel

Betty (Serpouhie) Apigian Kessel was born in Pontiac, Mich. Together with her husband, Robert Kessel, she was the proprietor of Woodward Market in Pontiac and has two sons, Bradley and Brant Kessel. She belonged to the St. Sarkis Ladies Guild for 12 years, serving as secretary for many of those years. During the aftermath of the earthquake in Armenia in 1988, the Detroit community selected her to be the English-language secretary and she happily dedicated her efforts to help the earthquake victims. She has a column in the Armenian Weekly entitled “Michigan High Beat.”

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