I’ve been thinking a great deal about my grandmother lately. I brought a picture of her to my office today. In the photo, she’s strolling through a busy street in Havana. I’m guessing it must be from the early 1940s.
Her name was Pegrouhi (or Bergrouhi, depending on who translates) and we grew up calling her Mezmayrik (the Armenian translation for Grandmother). She didn’t speak English, and we spoke only a smattering of Armenian and Spanish, but somehow none of that mattered. We understood each other quite well.
As a child, all I really thought of my grandmother was that she was old. She mostly sat on her sofa wrapped in a zig-zagged hand knitted afghan, with her wispy white hair pulled back on the sides in combs, watching Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.
It turns out my quiet, docile grandmother was a badass. Her early childhood was sweet, with loving parents and a comfortable life (her father was a successful surgeon). The Armenian genocide destroyed her innocent childhood but forced her to become a survivor and savior for her family. Her father died, and her mother was unable to handle caring for five young daughters. My grandmother took over. She got all of her sisters out of Istanbul, then packed up her mother and two young daughters and sailed to Cuba to escape death. She managed to care for three young children in a strange country after her husband died, and ultimately got the entire family to the United States.
When I look at that photo of her, with her purposeful walk and hooded eyes looking deeply into the camera, I am reminded of the lineage of feminine mettle and determination I carry in my blood, which I now share with my daughter.