A Christmas Gift to Behold

There I was on Christmas morning, enjoying my breakfast, when all of a sudden, the telephone jars me back to reality.

“You get it,” I said to my wife.

“No, you get it,” I retort. “I’m busy eating and reading the paper.”

“Hey, what am I, burnt toast? It’s probably for you,” she lashes back, determined to stay put.

I suppose that’s the way it is after you reach 70. When the telephone rings, you hope it’s not for you.

I jump out of my seat and answer the phone. It turns out to be a voice from the past — 50 years ago since I may have heard it last. It’s from a guy in California named Haroutune Marshalian and he’s calling to see if I’m the Tom Vartabedian he knew back a half century ago when I studied at the Vienna Mekhitarist Monastery.

“The one and only,” I told him.

Turns out he was a 13-year-old seminarian at the Vank, came across my name and telephone number in a newspaper article, and decided to rekindle an old acquaintance.

I did not recognize the name but how could I forget the experience? I was 19 then. He was an adolescent. During my stay with the Mekhitarists that year, I paid many a visit to the summer site of these seminaries with candy bulging from my pockets. My visit always came equipped with a treat for these students.

We spent the next 30 minutes chatting on the phone and there was no better gift this Christmas, whether tangible or such a gesture. How many times have I preached in these Almanac columns that the best gift you can give someone is only a telephone call away? Call a lost friend, a forgotten relative. Let them hear your voice. Rekindle a lost relationship.

We signed off with the pledge that we shall come together someday soon and personally enjoy one another’s company.

Two hours later, I received another call from California. This one came from Jirair Torosian and it was another unexpected surprise. Jirair and I traveled to Armenia together in 2006 with a group from Sidon Travel. Only once had we connected over the past four years and here we were again, on the telephone.

“I was thinking of you and decided you were only a telephone call away,” he told me. “How are you? Your family? Your health?”

The guy is well into his 80s and has some family complications but he was thinking of me this Christmas Day some 3,000 miles away. I was not thinking of him. He took the initiative to call. I did not. He remembered my wife’s name. I couldn’t recall the name of his spouse.

But we hit it off real well. We met on our trip and here we were four years later, tugging at each other’s heartstrings.

He lives in Pasadena, belongs to a Gomideh with over 120 strong, and they pack the house at celebrations. This was the second best gift I received at Christmas.

I bring this up today, dear reader, because I feel friendships are important and we must hold onto them. Sometimes they mean more to us than lost relatives.

The best way to keep them from breaking is keep them fragile—and not break them.

Chooljian keeps chugging along

His name’s Barry Chooljian and you may recall reading his story a year ago in The Armenian Weekly. He’s that indomitable wrestling coach from Timberlane Regional High School in Plaistow, NH and closing in on a thousand victories.

You don’t have to understand high school wrestling to know that shutouts are rare. His Owls have already posted two this season and it looks like another New England championship for this highly-touted Armenian wrestling coach.

I’m told that he’s among the top two in the entire country when it comes to winning percentages (.850).  People look at a goose egg in the box scores and think of it as a typo.

Portland (Maine) Armenians

There was a time when Portland (Maine) was a bustling Armenian community. Over the years, many have left, leaving a fervent core at the helm, headed by individuals like John Melconian and Anthory Mezoian, an accomplished author whose “History of the Armenians in Portland” chronicles life in this community.

Despite the attrition that has decimated this Armenian conclave, those left behind still cling to their roots, hold church services with a visiting Der Hayr, and do everything in their power to accentuate their culture and heritage.

Like Saroyan said, when two Armenians meet in the street, the flame will never be extinguished. Bravo to this community for keeping its roots intact.

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
Tom Vartabedian

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