At the State House in Boston there will be a gathering, and on April 24th they’ll be a commemoration at the Boston Armenian Heritage Park, near the North End. https://www.armenianheritagepark.org. I find myself thinking more and more about the women that preceded me in late winter when I’m more introspective, and Easter is coming.
My great-grandmother Hripsome/Rose, with my grandmother, Mariam, and baby Aunt Sitanosh (Lilly).
I remember our cooking and great family celebrations. I remember how close I felt to my great aunties and great-greats, hearing stories of them. What brought us together was the beaten up old kitchen table. It was still in the kitchen until I was in high school, and I learned to cook on it. My grandmother pulled a stool up to the table, wrap a huge apron around me, and give me my own small basin of kufta to mix. She’d show me how to roll sarmas, but mine were never good enough to pass muster.
When my parents married, it was a cultural stretch, an Irish, Armenian, English speaking household. My dad moved into the house with everyone else, and there we stayed, an extended family, which was great for a kid, most of the time.
My parent,s post-wedding ceremony
This poem is dedicated to my Hye/Armenian ancesters, and all Armenians, especially Sahagians and Harootunians.
Hye Holiday Gathering
Gram prepared paklava and bourma
without a written recipe. Like a newly
hatched bird I’d wait for a bit of sweetness
to fall, walnuts covered with cinnamon,
honey mixed with lemon. I stood on a stool
to watch. Before me, at this table, Hrpesima and Mariam had
mixed the phyllo and rolled it by hand, but when I was six we
bought phyllo paper-thin sheets from Sevan’s Market in Watertown.
Gram melted butter in the cast iron skillet.
Don’t let the butter sizzle-too hot!
She mixed sugar and cinnamon in a bowl for me to add
then got out the heavy rolling-pin. I crushed
walnuts beneath its weight. Gram said be sure
the nuts are ground fine! Grind them again—
still too big. I pushed the rolling-pin hard against
walnuts, then we mixed in sugar and cinnamon.
We took one layer of phyllo at a time,
brushed with melted butter, sprinkled in nuts,
then rolled as quickly as we could.
Finally, using the sharpest blade,
we sliced the fragile rolls and
placed them on the cookie sheet.
Gram’s were straight and long,
mine crinkled, like thin fabric.
I have the recipe still, yellow with age,
thin and tattered, like phyllo dough,
filled with handed down memories from those
who sat at this table before me —Shushan, Bedros,
Kevon, Katchador, and Sitanoush cooking
to honor Kharpet and homeland no longer on the map.
Now I’m the old one. When I cook, my
grandmother’s voice follows me, step by step.
This final photograph is of Father Kevont holding me. He was my grandmother’s cousin and had also survived the genocide because he was at school. The rest of his family was gone, and the monks at his school reared him. He became a traveling monk and traveled the mountains with a donkey. I once saw a photo of him as a young man. By the 1950’s he found my grandmother and some of her siblings! They had been separated for so many years. I was too young to know the particulars, but he worked and lived at the Vatican then. When he brought young priests to the United States, he’d come to visit us.
Cooking traditions are passed from each generation around the table. For Armenians, food is nourishment for the heart as well as the belly. When I begin to mix up some cherog dough, or when I make paklava, I feel close to my ancestors, and I can still hear my grandmother’s voice in my ear. Sometimes I find that I’m 4 years old again, standing on a stool at the table, pressing down hard on the walnuts with the rolling-pin.
May all beings know peace,