Believe me I wasn’t looking for any Armenians when I got to North Carolina. If anything, I needed fresh breath and some space. Little did I know what would happen on my second day. I decided to go to the health spa across the street from the Holiday Inn in Chapel Hill.
I had bought a spa health club membership in Watertown which had reciprocity with spas in other states including North Carolina. It was the ideal place to go while I was settling in looking for temporary work until school started on January 2. I presented my membership card to the young lady at the desk. She looked at it. She said, “Are you Armenian?” Oh boy, I thought. So fast. Yes. She was Armenian and the manager of the spa. Like most Armenians which I later found out, she was a “transplant” from up north. Her family was from New York, and she went on to explain her father’s job transfer. She and her parents had moved to NC a few years before.
She was very helpful in offering tips and suggestions especially looking in the local Red Shopper newspaper for an apartment. That is how I met my marvelous landlady and rented the cozy apartment in the neighborhood of the hotel. She offered suggestions for a hairdresser, other merchants and services.
On the second day, I managed to find the temporary office services in Research Triangle Park (RTP). I completed the forms, took the tests and interviewed. They said they would contact me. I thought I’d give them a week. The next day I had a call that there was a position for a month at UNC Chapel Hill, Development Office working for an attorney.
People were very pleasant and everyone from the director to the staff came by to introduce themselves. There was one young man, 40ish, blonde hair, blue eyed and well put together with an affected British accent. He came by my desk and introduced himself. He said “I understand your name is Ann Nahabedian.” He pronounced it with the Armenian accent. I thought, what’s this all about. “How do you know how to say my last name?” He said, “I’m married to Raphaella Kasparian.” Well, I almost fell off my chair. He explained he met his wife in Egypt where he was a Fulbright Scholar. They married and lived in Minnesota. He just got a new position at UNC in Development. His family would be moving by Christmas. They had two daughters, and he said he was intent on exposing them to the Armenian church and culture. He mentioned there was an annual Armenian Christmas Liturgy in Minnesota which they always attended. I met his family at Christmas, and they settled into life in Chapel Hill.
I met the doyenne of the Armenian community about a year later when I was working for GTE. I got a call at the office from a woman working at the company saying she was Armenian. She made a practice of periodically perusing the company directory for Armenian names. So she found me. We chatted, and she told me about her family and her mother. It appears she called to invite me to lunch at her mom’s house that Saturday to meet her, her mom and her sister. I graciously accepted.
Digin Anoush lived across the street from the Greek Orthodox church in Durham which I attended. I was familiar with the neighborhood. The lunch was great. Leave it to any Armenian woman to put on a table second to none. Of course, chicken, pilaf, salad and other fixins as the Southerners would say.
We had a delightful “getting to know you” afternoon. I felt like I was at my Aunt Margaret’s home.
Digin Anoush was originally from New York. After her first husband passed, she met an Armenian man who was working at a Greek restaurant in Durham. She and her three young daughters moved there and created a new life for themselves. The girls attended Durham schools, worked, married, raised families and seemed to be happy with the Southern way of life. Digin Anoush kept up with Armenian community news with newspapers and journals. She bid me to come for dinner on Sundays after attending St. Barbara’s Greek Orthodox Church across the street.
The really big occasion that put me in touch with the Armenians in Durham was when I called a couple whose sister-in-law was my cousin’s friend. Charlie and Mary often entertained the local Armenians having parties at their home. Coincidentally, it was Christmastime when I called them. They were having an Armenian Christmas gathering and extended an invitation. At this party, I met the people of the long-established Armenian group in the area. I learned that there were two families who had moved from the Worcester and Whitinsville area in the 50s establishing cotton mills in Fuquay Varina. Then came the two couples from the New York/New Jersey area who were associated with Duke Medical Center.
Haig and Giselle were from New York/New Jersey respectively, and we became very close friends. It was with them that I traveled on special occasions to church in Richmond and also joined in to help the mission parish in Charlotte.
There were a lot of good people, a lot of fun times and a lot of warm memories.