The Armenian Weekly
January 2010 Magazine
“Where are you off to this morning, Vahram jan (dear)?” shouted Hambartsoom, his neighbor.
“I have mail from America, from my Narek!” Vahram exclaimed as he rushed down the road to the post office.
As Vahram trudged through the deep, powdery snow, so many thoughts whirled through his head, and he wondered, How is my boy? Fifteen years had passed since the death of his wife Aregnaz, and five years since his only child, Narek, had left for America in pursuit of a higher education. Through the recommendation of Mr. Cornelius Wilbur Smith, an American missionary who had stopped in the village of Shvanidzor on his way to the Salmast region of Persia, Narek had been awarded a full scholarship at an Ivy League university. During Mr. Smith’s stay in the village, it was there he had met the father and son, and it was in their humble, one-room home he had stayed. Almost immediately, the missionary had recognized the boy’s exceptional qualities. He was extremely bright and industrious, and he had a love for books and learning.
I wonder what my boy has written this time, he thought, as he remembered the day he and Aregnaz had adopted him. From the moment the couple had accepted the infant as their own, Narek had been their blessing and joy. And when Aregnaz died suddenly of a fever, the boy, then 10, became Vahram’s reason for living. Vahram sighed now, as he recalled the day Narek had left.
“Asdvats kez hed, dghas (May God be with you, my son),” he whispered as he kissed the boy’s forehead.
Fighting back tears, Narek called out as he boarded the train, “I will write as soon as I arrive in America, Father!” “Achkd chor gnas, achkd chor gas, dghas (May you go with dry eyes, may you return with dry eyes, my son),” Vahram replied tearfully. For days, he wept for his son.
As Vahram passed the church now, he whispered, “I cannot believe that the 6th of January is almost here!” For the first time since Aregnaz’s death, Vahram was beginning to look forward to this, his most beloved of holidays. If Narek were here, this would be a joyous Christmas, he thought, as he opened the door to the tiny post office.
“Baree looys, (Good morning), Neegol jan, I hear you have mail for me?” “Asdzo bareen (God’s goodness [greetings]), Vahram jan, so Arshak has told you already! I was going to tell you.” “Yes, he stopped by last evening with lavash and ghavoorma (strips of crisped, fatty meat) Hripseek had made, and he mentioned that you had said a letter had come from Narek.”
“Ah, you fortunate fellow, Arshak’s Hripseek makes the best lavash and ghavoorma in all of Zangezoor!” Neegol said as he handed Vahram the letter. Vahram smiled as he nodded, wished Neegol a good day, and headed for home.
Vahram placed Narek’s letter against the carved, wooden box on the table. He had finally finished carving it. The box was to have been a gift for Aregnaz. He kept it on the table with her note to him, wrapped in her handkerchief, inside of it. The tiny roses she had drawn and tinted to adorn her note were still bright after all these years. Whenever he felt sad or too alone, he stroked the flowers and read the words she had written: “You Have Given Me Everything, My Beloved.” Her words comforted him. The carved, wooden cross he had made for her with the beautiful chord she had made for the cross gave him strength. Vahram always wore the cross, and only removed it when he took a bath.
Vahram fed pieces of wood into the stove and watched the flames grow larger and brighter. He rubbed his hands together as he listened to the flames roar louder and louder, and waited for the kettle to boil. As soon as I finish drinking my tea, I will go to the cemetery to read Narek’s letter, he thought. Every letter Narek had sent, Vahram had read aloud at Aregnaz’s grave. Always anxious and excited to receive word from his son, this time was no exception. “I cannot wait to read Narek’s letter! From what he has been writing of life in America, I wonder if he will ever return home. If he does not, my wishes for my boy are happiness and good health always,” he whispered.
At the cemetery, Vahram brushed a mound of snow off the tree stump near Aregnaz’s grave. “Akh, Aregnaz jan, my bones are beginning to ache,” he said wistfully as he slowly sat down on the stump. He sighed as he looked at the vast emptiness before him, and then up at the sky full of clouds. Just then, a bird appeared and then disappeared into the distant trees. Before removing the letter from the envelope, Vahram said, “Seerelees (My love), another letter has come from our Narek! I hope and pray he is happy and well.”
Vahram began to read:
My Dear Father,
I ask of your health and wellbeing. I hope this letter finds you in good health and that you are doing well. If you ask of me, I too am in good health and doing well. Oh, Father, I have so much to tell you! After graduation, as you know, I was offered a teaching position, which I like immensely, at a fine school near the American family I still live with. Since the day I began earning a salary, I have repeatedly offered to pay the Washburns for room and board, but each time they have refused. They are kind and generous and treat me like a son. They say I am welcome to stay with them for as long as I wish. After all these years, their son Oliver and I still have such splendid times together, and Grace, their younger daughter, dotes on me. She is a beauty, and so gentle and sweet. She reminds me of Arshak’s daughter, Gayaneh. Sadly, Cecilia, the Washburns’ older daughter, the spirited, adventurous one who hoped to become a missionary, died last month. She had pneumonia, and as hard as the doctors tried, they could not save her. The depth of grief here, ever since Cecilia’s death, reminds me so much of you.
Lately, I have been thinking a great deal of home, especially now that I am not as busy as I was during my years of study at the university. Perhaps all this thinking of home has something to do with the family that moved into the neighborhood a few months ago. They are Armenian, and they live just three houses down from where I live. Mr. and Mrs. Hmayag and Antaram Nersesian and their children, Garabed and Hayganoosh, are from Constantinople. Baron Hmayag owns a small rug business. Deegeen Antaram often invites me for dinner. She is a wonderful cook. She piles a mountain of food on my plate every time! Although the food is good, varied, and abundant at the Washburns’ home, especially with their favorites, hamburger steak, a finely chopped cooked beef eaten cold, pies, and ladyfingers, I did not realize how much I have missed Armenian cooking until I tasted Deegeen Antaram’s leetsk (dolma), matzoon, gatah, lavash, and all the other delicious foods she makes. Whenever I visit the Nersesians, I am filled with happiness, a totally different sort of happiness from the kind I feel at the Washburn home. At the Washburns’, I feel a thankful happiness, an extremely thankful happiness, whereas at the Nersesians’, I am simply happy, happy because I feel at home and among my own. At the Nersesian home, I do not feel like a guest and never like a foreigner. That feeling is especially so when we get together and listen to Armenian songs on the phonograph, or when we sing songs. Just the other day, we listened to “Groong (Crane),” a song Baron Hmayag told me was written in the late Middle Ages, but no one knows who wrote it, and that Gomidas had written the piano music for “Groong” in the latter part of the 19th century. And, of course, the topics of conversations in their household, Armenia and the Armenians, contribute greatly to how I feel there too. A while back, Baron Hmayag handed me a stack of newspapers called the Hairenik and said, “I have finished reading these and saved them for you to read and keep.” Father, you should see, I have already collected a bagful of Haireniks! In addition to the newspapers, he gave me a new book by the author Siamanto, who is also the editor of the Hairenik. It is titled Hayreni Hraver (The Homeland’s Invitation). I am nearly finished with it. I cannot tell you how much I have missed reading in our language.
Yesterday, as I was walking home from work, the weather was so nice I stopped for a while at the park. The sky was an azure blue, and the clouds that had formed reminded me of our mountains. Birds were flying in the distance. I could not help but sigh. Then, as I got to the Washburn house, I saw Grace sitting near the window doing needlework. I remembered the times I would see Gayane sitting on her front porch doing the same thing. Back then, I did not think much of such a thing, needlework, but now I see its value.
Father, I cannot believe that in two-month’s time Holy Christmas will be here. As I have mentioned, in America Christmas is celebrated on the 25th of December. This year, for the first time, I will be able to purchase an extra nice gift for the Washburns’, even though I know there will be no celebration with family and friends at the house because of Cecilia’s death. I hope the gift I have in mind will show them how much I appreciate everything they have done and continue to do for me. They are truly a fine family, so caring, and thoughtful towards me. Already, the Nersesians have invited me to celebrate our Christmas with them, but I will not be able to attend.
Be well, my dear Father.
Your loving son,
Vahram sighed as he folded the letter and put it back into the envelope. He rose, and stepped over to the foot of Aregnaz’s grave.
“From what our son writes, Aregnaz jan, despite being so far from home and in a faraway land, he is happy and doing well. We need not worry so much anymore.” As Vahram slowly headed back home, he paused for a moment to relish the sweet and delicious aroma wafting from neighbor Maryam’s house. He smiled, and thought, Oh, how I love ghapama! Almost home, Vahram noticed people rushing into his house. I wonder what is going on, he thought and quickened his pace. As he opened the door, he saw a bunch of his neighbors talking to a well-dressed man, whose back was turned to him. On the table was a stack of books, and a stack of newspapers, along with pencils and notebooks—enough supplies for a school.
Vahram wondered, Could this be Baron Cornelius back for a visit? As if the man heard his thoughts, he turned around and called out, “Merry Christmas, Father, I have come home!”