“I need some coffee, but how did it go with your aunt’s funeral?” asked Della Bortnovsky. I’d been away from the coffee shop for a long weekend to bury my 93-year-old aunt at Holy Trinity Armenian Church in Philadelphia.
“Everything went well. She outlived her old friends, which is sad, but she lived a good and full life. God rest her soul.”
“So did you have time to do anything other than the funeral? Philly has lots going for it.”
“We were there only for the day—drove there from Baltimore. We went to a nice little Armenian restaurant for the traditional meal after her funeral. A place named Apricot Stone. Named after a patriotic song. So here we are, two Armenians, a couple from El Salvador who cared for my aunt, a near-contemporary friend of hers along with her son–Irish surname, and my aunt’s lawyer. Small restaurant and the owner-host-I don’t know any official title because it’s a family-owned place—showed us where to sit and gave us menus. The old family lawyer asked for a cup of coffee and the restaurant owner explained that they served only Armenian coffee.”
“That sounds familiar,” said Della. “You probably felt at home.”
“Yeah, I liked the place! Someone asked if the stuffed grape leaves on the menu were like sarma. ‘We don’t call them that because that’s the Turkish word. We don’t use any Turkish words on our menu and the Armenian names are too hard to pronounce.’ Like khorovats, I said to him. He laughed and said, ‘Yeah, or like my last name Ishkhanian.’”
“I asked him, ‘Do you know the Ishkanian family in Troy, New York?’ ‘I don’t, but I’ll ask my mother in the back.’
“His mother came out and said, ‘Who asked about Ishkanians? They lived in Albany, not Troy. We’re not related. They are from Van. We are from Aintab.’”
“Now that’s funny that she would correct you,” said Della.
“I’ve always confused Troy and Albany—childhood visits–but that wasn’t the point. She said Aintab! Aintab! My cousin and I gave each other the look because our family came from Aintab. We talked about the old country and family and all the things Armenians use to connect with one another. Reminded me of William Saroyan’s observation: ‘Go ahead. Destroy Armenia. See if you can….See if the race will not live again when two of them meet in a beer parlor, twenty years later, and laugh, and speak in their tongue.’”
And so we gathered in a restaurant in Philadelphia and laughed and mourned and spoke in our native language and felt a sense of restoration.