Every Thanksgiving of my childhood my family traveled from Maine in order to spend time with my Armenian family. Those gatherings were meaningful to me and through them I forged very close bonds with my cousins and many of my elders. It was mainly through those gatherings that I was able to spend time with my Great-grandmother.
She was a force at 4’9” and to this day she is my personal hero. She lived until I was 7 and I remember that she had orthopedic shoes, black clothes, and a voice thick with her accent. I also remember that she loved me. I think of her often but at this time of year she looms large in my mind. My inheritance from her is her story and a worn-out apron that I wear whenever I make Armenian food for my family.
When the Armenian Genocide started my grandmother was 14. My family at that time was wealthy and my Great-great-grandfather was in the first wave of killings. To help her daughter escape, my Great-great-grandmother lined a dress for her with gold coins. My Great-grandmother, her cousin and a handful of other children, left the next day walking from Armenia.
Two years of walking. Many Armenians were marching to their death and my Great-grandmother was moving foot following foot towards hope.
In China she boarded a boat and landed in California. She was detained for not being married. Luckily the Armenian network was strong and it was strangers that found her an Armenian man to marry. He was 20 years her senior and lived in Massachusetts. She boarded the train and married the man.
My Dad was her first grandson. He was raised with 12 people living in a triple-decker in Worcester, also known as little Armenia. They ate in shifts, men first women second. They laughed and loved and warred a lot. She raised strong, intense, and driven children. They all 4 succeeded, every one.
When my parents went to marry. My father’s parents were against it and never really got over it. This happened over the simplest reason of all: my Mom is not Armenian. I always thought it so interesting that it was my Great-grandmother who stood behind my Dad. To me, it is one of the best examples of her awakened heart and her character.
When I go through difficult times I think about her moving foot behind foot into the distance. When I need strength I draw on that image. I am deeply grateful to have known her.
This holiday when I lift her apron over my head I will think: Thank you, thank you, thank you.