PROVIDENCE, R.I.—On this Christmas Day, Lucia Tamamian will lay out the welcome mat for her guests at an assisted living center. She will offer you a plateful of cookies and candy, sing a carol or two off the radio while decked out in festive holiday dress with the spirit of the season oozing from her heart.
Sure to visit will be Bertha Scully, her 90-year-old “kid” sister, along with other members of the Armenian community. Lucia will greet them all with open arms. The fact she’s 104 pays no consequence. When you’re that old, every day is like Christmas—a divine blessing.
“It’s always my favorite time of year,” says the super centenarian. “As youngsters, we got to cherish the little things and were grateful for anything we received, compared to children of today who get computers and all sorts of electronic gadgets. They have no idea how better off they are than my childhood years a century ago.”
Lucia’s idea of a game on Christmas morning was checkers and Parcheesi. Monopoly, she says, was for older children. A decorated tree brightened their home but worshiping the Christ child proved more of a centerpiece.
Up until two years ago, Lucia was a dues-paying member of St. Vartanantz Church, taking an interest in both the secular and spiritual life of her community. Although legally blind, she recalls names, places and dates with uncanny ability for a woman her age.
“Her mind is amazingly sharp,” said Steve Elmasian, an acquaintance. “Just being in her presence becomes an uplifting experience. She could very well be the oldest person in the state of Rhode Island. “We haven’t run across any other Armenians who are older. We will visit her often and meet all her wishes.”
An offer to join the Elmasians for Thanksgiving dinner was politely declined in favor of spending time with her sister.
“I went there offering this woman a dinner invitation and left feeling uplifted,” Elmasian added. “I paid her a second visit and she remembered my name just like that.”
Lucia was 10 when her mother died, leaving the parental chores to her dad Yeghia Hoogasian, a Chimesgetsti, who provided for five children. The family operated a milk business in Rhode Island until it was squeezed out by Cumberland Farms many years ago.
Unlike many her age who survived the genocide, Lucia is affectionately known as “the rock of ages” being American-born. She attributes her longevity to good Armenian food, keeping her mind sharp, and enjoying a very happy childhood.
She struggled at first to remember the name of a son who passed away many years ago before recalculating. Lucia could pass for a poster child for her generation, looking many years younger. No cholesterol woes for this woman.
“I loved eating ripe peaches from the farms right off the trees,” she said with a smile. “And lamb off the skewer. When people bring me choreg, I enjoy it with olives and cheese. My father always had a huge container of tourshi in the basement which we never left alone. Like many immigrants, my father sacrificed a lot. It was not easy being a widower with five children.”
Lucia is well bred—and read. She continues to “read” books on tape. With the help of headphones, she manages to accelerate her hearing deficiency. Admittedly, books keep her mind sharp. In her opinion, knowledge is power. And we should never stop learning.
“When you lose your mind, the spirit goes next,” she tells you. “When God takes your eyesight away, he may give you another gift. People often take their health for granted. Not me. I count my blessings every day.”
Up until a month or so ago, Lucia had fallen off the Armenian radar screen. It was only after being admitted to a local hospital when her presence became realized. She had been released to a nearby assisted living center and staff there befriended the woman.
A call was placed to the Armenian Church asking if someone from her heritage could pay the woman a visit. Just recently, members of the local ARS chapter came calling. They followed the local Der Hayr and Yeretsgin to her modest apartment. Now, there’s no shortage of company at this address.
“Although Lucia was not an ARS member, she is a wonderful Armenian woman who cared for her family in a fun and loving way during her days of hardship,” said Joyce Yeremian, a Providence ARS activist. “She happens to be a very happy woman with a pleasing smile and sparkling eyes. She hasn’t stopped trying to learn and keeps herself alert by listening to books on tape. A lot has changed over 100 years and it isn’t often you get to hear something first-hand. Visiting her is an experience.”
Come Christmas, they will show up at her door step, escort the woman into a car, and take her to an Armenian church. It could very well be the greatest gift Lucia Tamamian shall receive.