Apigian-Kessel: Armenian Voices at the Lake

If our neighbors heard the sounds of a strange language coming from our location at the far end of Mandon Lake, it was likely the joyous laughter and chatter of the resilient survivor generation speaking in their native tongue.

Our summer retreat hosted many festive gatherings, but one of the most significant was the day Bob and I invited my parents’—Mamigon and Takouhie Charverdian Apigian—close Armenian friends to spend the day lakeside for lunch and dinner. We all had a marvelous time.

I know how delighted my parents were when I suggested we invite their friends to the cottage for a day. They were proud that we remembered how important they were to our family, and all the years of friendship they shared together. It was just plain parental pride.

So it was that we gathered them up from Royal Oak, Birmingham, Waterford, and Bloomfield, providing the transportation to get them to our place. We had Degeens Markouhie Uligian, Sarah Oskanian, Elsig Hairabedian; Hamazasb and Seranoush Hagopian; Mike and Victoria Haroutunian; and of course my folks.

It was with them that they played scambile, and had afternoon sourj (Armenian coffee), and it was these women who volunteered to help my mother bake when her daughters got engaged and then married. I was only nine years old at the time, but I remember those warm June days when they would arrive early to our Prospect St. house, wearing cotton house dresses and carrying their long thin rolling pins preparing to make home-made khmor (dought), which in turn became tray after tray of sweet pakhlava.

My mother reminded me not to take a piece of the honey-sweet pastry because “it is for your sister’s engagement party.” At the time the event was for only about a hundred or so people, but unknown to my mother her future khnamees (in-laws) had invited another hundred guests, and the Ferry Avenue agoump was filled to capacity.

Mother was always a polite person and dealt with the situation graciously. Fortunately it was her habit to always prepare more food than was necessary, but I remember her saying, “We emptied out our grocery store.”

The same routine created a multitude of fragrant katahs and cheese boeregs. It was a production line accomplishment that Henry Ford would have admired, and I was not about to forget their loyalty to our family when I grew up and could in turn do something thoughtful and kind for them.

The lunch main entrée was cheekufta with fresh pita, salads, cheese, basterma, and lots of coffee. Dinner was lamb kebab grilled outside accompanied by pilaf, salad, and desserts. Mom brought the katahs.

More important than the food was the bringing together of dear old friends, now empty nesters who had moved from the core city of Pontiac.

Meals were taken in front of the glassed-in sun porch at the picnic table, which could seat ten facing the lake. The huge old oak trees provided shade.

They all admitted they were afraid of being on the water, but they were game to get onto the big green houseboat and cruise the lake with trusty Bob at the helm. I could hear their nervous laughter as they walked the dock to board the boat. Their fear soon turned into calm pleasure.

You do know how sound carries far on a body of water, and I’d like to think after all these years the Armenian language is still reverberating off every house on that little Commerce Township lake.

Every one of them long ago passed onto their reward. Each of them added such glorious texture to my life. Not for all of King Drtad’s gold would I trade how and where I grew up. It is this immense wealth I now share with you, my readers.

I smile to myself as I recall every moment of that beautiful day. Can you tell, I miss those golden old days? I know, you do too.

Betty Apigian-Kessel

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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