The adults in this beautiful
Old Country passport photograph are my grandmother’s parents, Vahan
Minasian (standing) and Parantsem Saroyan (seated, at left). That’s
my father’s mother, Yeproxie, in the middle, at about eight years of age. The
youngest child is her little brother, Zaven. Archie (see previous entry), their brother Kirk, and two other sisters were not yet born.
The boy standing is either a cousin, or someone who was traveling
with them. Parantsem was William Saroyan’s aunt.
Our eldest son, Vahan, is named after the Vahan you see here — my
father’s grandfather, my great-grandfather, his
great-great-grandfather, who left this world but ten short years later, at
the age of thirty-nine.
My mother, when she was still able to
remember, had some dear recollections of Parantsem, dating back to
the early 1940s. Once, when she and Dad went to visit her and the
family in San Francisco, Parantsem and her sister, Takoohi (Willie’s
mother), sat there amiably telling stories and “smoking like
chimneys.” On another occasion, after Dad had left to do his part
in the insanity called the Second World War, Mom visited them again
with her in-laws. At some point during the conversation, when Dad’s
name was mentioned, Mom, leaning against Parantsem, broke into
tears. Parantsem — widow, mother, and grandmother, wise and far from her native land, stroked Mom’s hair,
uttering soft words of strength and consolation. My mother is ninety now. Yesterday, my wife and I bought her some new warm clothes.
I’ve written about Willie here. His cousin,
Archie, was my grandmother’s brother, ten years older than my father. Archie was an artist and poet. One of his watercolors is on
the wall above my desk, another is in the hall. His books are in our family collection.
Willie and Archie were more than
cousins. Having both lost their fathers in childhood, they were
life-long friends dating back to their earliest days in Fresno,
California, where they sold papers on street corners, shouting out
the day’s headlines.
When my father, Albert, was a kid,
Archie and his brother Kirk used to spend summers on my grandparents’
farm. Once Archie told Dad to go out and find some road apples. Dad
looked for hours, having no idea what it was he was looking for. A
lifetime later, he and Dad and I were in a twelve-foot aluminum boat,
floating down the Kings River. From deep in the eucalyptus shade
along the bank we heard a bullfrog call. Archie stomped his foot
against the bottom of the boat and — splash, in the frog
went. To Archie, that setting was heaven.
With pleasure and pride, I point you
today to another collaboration with a very dear friend of mine,
Robert Willson. This week, Robert’s wonderful photographs are being
featured at the 591 Photography Blog, based in Sweden. Those of you
familiar with Robert’s work, know full well that his striking
images speak clearly and eloquently for themselves. That he has
allowed me to add my written impressions is indicative of his grace.
You will find a link to the first day’s
entry below. I’ll add links to the others as the week unfolds. We
thank you for joining us, and we thank the good people at 591 for
sharing Robert’s work.