This post is pretty dark, but the story crept into my conscious recently. My great grandmother on my father’s side saw no end of despair in her life, and her death.
I wonder what her childhood was like. Did she laugh and run barefoot in Tamzara, Armenia? Was she wooed by my great-grandfather, swept away by his brooding green eyes and thick head of hair? I’ve seen photos. He looked like the most interesting man in the world from the Dos Equis commercials.
She gave birth to five daughters, the eldest being my grandmother. Her daughters were just children when the genocide began. Her husband died of typhoid fever after working as a surgeon at the Armenian hospital in Istanbul. She couldn’t care for all her children. Whether that was because of financial or emotional or political instability, I never really got an answer from my dad or aunties. Several daughters went to various orphanages and convents until the family wS able to find a place for them. My grandmother and Aunt Denchale were married off.
Things were getting exponentially worse in Turkey for Armenians, and the family became desperate to flee. My grandmother took the helm. She rounded up her unmarried sisters, mother, and her own two young daughters and booked a voyage to Cuba. For weeks they suffered the rough waters of the Atlantic, surviving a hellish cyclone. They landed in Cuba, where they assumed they would stay a few short months before getting to the States, where other members of the family had settled. Years passed. My great grandmother at some point engaged in correspondence with an Armenian widower in upstate New York, and married him. She spent the rest of her life on a farm in the countryside.
Whenever I asked my dad and aunties to tell me stories about her, they clammed up and made enigmatic comments. My Aunt Meline finally showed me a newspaper clipping from the early 1960s, relating the story of one Mrs. Katchatourian, who was bludgeoned to death in her own farmhouse one night. They found the murderer. A young man described by neighbors as a “quiet boy who kept to himself” broke into my great grandmother’s home while she was dressing for bed and tried to assault her. When she fought back, he killed her.
Upon reading this story, I was horror struck. It was like a scene out of Capote’s In Cold Blood.. Now as I think about her, I try to gather what I can surmise about her personality. It seems to me this woman faced incredible sadness and loss, of her homeland, her husband, her children, maybe even in some part, her sanity. She finally found a peaceful existence in the farmlands of New York, lost her second husband, and then experienced unspeakable brutality. Yet she fought back.. Like a wild woman, from the description in the article. So in the face of a lifetime of pain and violence, this woman knew her strength and fought for her life. That legacy was passed down to her daughters, granddaughters, and, I hope, her great granddaughters. I never knew her, but I feel grateful to have the blood of several generations of women who embody courage and calm in the face of adversity.