This is a second draft of a chapter of the fictional ‘faux-auto-biographical’ novel that I’m writing. It’s the story of two boys and a girl, born on the East side in Cleveland, Ohio in November 1943, and goes to the summer of 1959… “Cuyahoga” is the County that Cleveland is in.
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Mrs. Hagopian’s Goat
In the early hours of a still frigid April 1956 day, twelve year old Charlie did his now daily charitable task. He had discovered that the Hagopian Family (who weren’t his newspaper customers) had a young goat in their garage. Charlie was captivated by the goat, plus he was feeling sorry for the poor thing, living in a 50 year old, unheated garage with a non-running, spider infested, ’36 Ford. Since Charlie fancied himself a decent, and possibly heroic young man, after his route, at 6:30, he’d walk past the st
ill sleeping house and carefully open the garage’s side door to pet and feed a snack to Gary the goat. Actually the goat was unnamed, only Charlie seemed to care enough about Gary to name him and pet him. Charlie didn’t know if Gary was a boy goat. Maybe he should have named her Gretchen.
By Easter Sunday, the weather was better and Gary was on a chain in the back yard, the weeds were chomped short and Gary was pretty plump. Gary or Gretchen liked the morning treat and rub down, he or she knew that Charlie was due and was pulling the chain taut, eager for his upcoming visitor.
The Saturday following Easter, Gary wasn’t there. Mrs. Hagopian saw Charlie and came out. She told Carlie that the goat had been slaughtered and was being prepared at the Armenian Butcher shop for a Madagh feast to be held at the Armenian/American Social Hall the next day. She invited Charlie to come and join in the festivities.
In a most unheroic manner Charlie shook his head and ran away. He was horrified, the Armenians were cannibals and had killed Gary and were going to devour him, probably raw.
When Charlie calmed down, his natural curiosity took over. At the library in the following month, Charlie learned a lot about traditions, prejudice, Armenia, Genocide, independence, immigration, Greece, Turkey and more. One afternoon he went to the Hagopian house and apologized to Mrs. Hagopian for his rude behavior in running away from her invitation. She explained about the goat, why, from the day that they had bought him, they had never named him or made a pet of him, his existence to them was to be a sacrifice, that’s all. Next year it would be another families job to raise a goat or a lamb for the Madagh feast.
She invited Charlie to come to supper that evening, he accepted. At 5:30 Mr. Hagopian and two adult sons sat down with Charlie, they nodded to him. Mrs. Hagopian served from the stove, she flitted about, and didn’t sit down. Like a mother robin she made sure the chicks were fed. There was no conversation, a few grunts, a belch or two, some slurping, then a final wiping the plate with a piece of Wonder bread and chairs squeaking back, and the three men went to the living room TV for a beer, the sports report and a game show.
Charlie helped Mrs. Hagopian clear the table, then she dished up her food and sat down to eat. Charlie sat with her and they talked. He asked her about a “Madagh”. She told him it was a commemoration for the million and a half victims of “The Genocide”. She told him of Armenia, of the Armenia that she remembered as a girl, she told of moving to Ottoman Turkey when she was ten, of the Genocide of the Armenian people that started when she was twelve. She told of camps, refugees, walking, hiding, hunger, finally stowing-away aboard a ship to Portugal. Of her older girl cousin, named Lusine (meaning mysterious), somehow obtaining legal passage for them to Boston. Them being sent to Cleveland to be live-in servants to a rich Croatian family on the east side, near Shaker Heights, being set-up at eighteen to marry Mister Hagopian, a man 21 years older then herself. A man that she barely knew. She told Charlie of teaching herself to read English from the newspapers, of the four children that she bore and raised for Mr. Hagopian. She told of the two oldest, both daughters. How each were married when they were eighteen. How each married boys that they knew and chose for themselves. How happy her girls were to drop the name Hagopian, and move to the West Coast and a new way of life, near the clean, white California sands.
Charlie helped her wash and dry the dishes, he told her how much her liked her cooking. In the background, the television set quietly murmured, the three men snored, probably not dreaming about their brutal steel mill jobs. Mrs. Hagopian tousled Charlies hair, and told him, “you good boy to listen to old woman’s stories.”
She left the kitchen and came back with a small shoe box, covered in Christmas wrapping and decorated with ribbons. Carefully she opened it and took out a colorful silk and cotton wrapped treasure. It was a cheap child’s toy tea cup, broken, chipped, and carefully glued. It was her sole possession for her girlhood in Armenia, before they moved to Turkey. It was priceless to her, she cradled it then gently kissed the cup, she told of her father and mother and brother and sisters, her five family members of whom she knew nothing since 1916.
Eyes closed, she tightly held her cup, and told of herself as a 9 year old girl, the youngest in a healthy, and happy young family. They were picnicking in a meadow, under an Ash tree, laughing and sipping pomegranate juice from the child’s tea set. That picnic was during the good days, safe, under a clean Armenian sky, with puffy pure white clouds, the scents of flowers and spices in the air, song birds singing joyously. She clutched her little cup to her chest, her eyes were closed. Her cheeks were damp.
Charlie quietly let himself out of the kitchen door, dusk was sneaking up. He looked at the goat’s chain hanging from a nail on the old garage. Weeds in the small, un-landscaped back yard were reappearing, there was no goat to stop them.
Walking home Charlie thought about the refugees, immigrants, non-english speakers. Brave people, seeking freedom and safety, coming to a strange, and foreign new country. His four grandparents had all done that, the three that he had so fleetingly known were gone now, he had never heard their stories about their lives in the old country.
Four grandparents, all dead and no one to tell their stories. Someone should have written them down. Maybe someone should write down Mrs. Hagopian’s stories. Maybe he should help her do that this summer.
Charlie thought, from now on, maybe he wouldn’t make fun of immigrants and their funny clothes, their funny accents, their odd ideas, foods, and traditions. Maybe sacrificing a goat or lamb once a year is very meaningful to them. Maybe we shouldn’t judge them too quickly.
Charlie made a vow to buy Mrs. Hagopian a pomegranate or two at the fruit stand when they come in season….
When he got back to Villa Beach, he sat on his bench, overlooking his now dark great lake, a few night birds were singing, maybe singing the songs of their grandparents.
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