Yesterday was Martin Luther King's birthday and, in celebration, we attended a concert of the Harlem Gospel Singers at Sanders Theatre in Harvard Square. While waiting for the show to begin, I mentioned to my long time friend Ann Louise Salvucci Rossi that January 15 was my parents' wedding anniversary.
So how did your father meet your mother? asked Ann-Louise.
A long story, said I as I launched into a (not so) shortened version. She insisted I record it in my blog for the sake of my children and grandchildren, if no one else. So here goes.
Even though they were both Armenian, my mother and father came from very different circles. My father, a genocide survivor, came from Marash, and so was a Marashtzi. My mother's family came from Aintab, having fled Turkey before the genocide of 1915, and therefore were Aintabtsi, although my mother was born in Cambridge, so you might say she was a Cambridgetsi! My father's family attended the Armenian Brethren Church (in fact, Dad's Uncle Vartan Bilezikian was the founding minister of that church), and my mother's family attended what was known then as the Cilician Church, a more moderate Congregational Armenian Protestant church. (Interestingly enough, the buildings of these two churches were back to back in Watertown). My father's parents were destitute -- my grandfather being very old and somewhat disabled and my grandmother blind; not so my mother's parents -- my mother's mother was a landlord (she owned and managed a three decker house on Vassal Lane in Cambridge) and my mother's father a shopkeeper (he owned a Ma and Pa shop although in his case it was only a Pa shop or what in those days was called a 'Spa') near the Catholic Church in Harvard Square. My mother was sweet and pretty and loved to dance; my father was tough, fearless (many stories to come on that), outspoken, and hung out in the American community . . . (and perhaps because of that, he was called by many Armenians,'deli', a compliment from his perspective!) Even so, he had promised his mother that he would never dance! Okay. That's the setting for the romance.
Krikor Bilezikian (Dad's first cousin also born in Marash) and Beatrice Kasparian Bilezikian (born in Harpoot) were partners with my father and his brother Paul in the 'homestead' on Lowell Avenue in Newtonville, Massachusetts, -- a home they all bought together in 1934. (For those of you who may not know, Uncle Kay and Aunty Bea were the parents of Nancy and Charlie or Chuck Bilezikian -- Chuck is the originator and former owner of the Christmas Tree Shops on Cape Cod and now all over Massachusetts, and Nancy married Jack Kamborian).
Aunty Bea and Uncle Kay attended the 'Cilician Church' and Aunty Bea knew the perfect girl for my father! With that in mind, Uncle Kay and Aunty Bea invited Peter to a dance that was being sponsored by their (Cilician) church. Aunty Bea had already told Jennie the plan. When the Bilezikians arrived at the dance, they sat on chairs at the side of the room and invited Jennie to join them. Jennie, who was sweet and pretty and a wonderful dancer, was the belle of the ball. She sat next to Aunty Bea with Peter on her other side, but never for long, as she was always being invited by other young men to dance. . . she danced, yes, but she always returned to the only empty seat in the room -- the seat that Aunty Bea was saving for her, the seat right next to Peter! The evening passed with Peter watching beautiful Jennie being whirled across the floor. And Jennie, though she danced with others, had eyes only for Peter. (As she used to tell me, it was love at first sight.) The end of the evening arrived, and Peter asked Jennie where she worked. That was all. Until two months later when Jennie, leaving work at 5 o'clock, saw Peter sitting in his old Chevi outside of the Necco Candy Factory in Cambridge. Jennie ran over to the car, jumped into the front passenger's seat, and that was that! For today, that is. . . the story has many chapters. More tomorrow.