Valley Voices

In one way, they are common objects. But to her, they are treasures of her life story

One of the porcelain cups Pauline Sahakian treasures that came from her grandparents. The cups and saucers were made in occupied Japan after World War II.
One of the porcelain cups Pauline Sahakian treasures that came from her grandparents. The cups and saucers were made in occupied Japan after World War II. Contributed

Many items in my home link me to my Armenian heritage. They represent time periods, traditions, and loving relationships. In essence they carry the stories of my life.

In my living room display cabinet, eight demitasse porcelain cups and saucers, stamped “Made in Occupied Japan,” sit on a glass shelf. As Japan rebuilt its economy after the war, 50 percent of exported goods carried the stamp to assure consumers their purchases did not contribute to the powers of the pre-war era. The coffee cups passed from my maternal grandmother to my mother. They remind me of when family and friends visited on weekends, expecting to be served homemade Armenian pastries and freshly brewed Armenian coffee. The finely ground beans have the texture of cocoa powder and are much stronger than espresso.

pauline
Pauline Sahakian Special to The Bee Contributed

When Grandma died in 1950, Grandpa gave the delicate porcelain cups and saucers to my mother. My immigrant father’s relatives expected the strong brew when they visited. As soon as the doorbell rang on Saturday evenings, Mom set the cups and saucers out on a tray. Dad opened the door and welcomed our company while Mom filled water into the brass pot. She added the coffee, brought it to a boil, and waited for the grounds to sink to the bottom, releasing their pungent aroma. When a layer of foam formed at the top, the coffee was brewed. I loved the smell of this coffee wafting from the cups as I gingerly carried the tray along with milk and sugar to our visitors.

When my mother passed away, I inherited Grandma’s demitasse coffee cups and saucers. They sit in my curio cabinet under a bright light, porcelain shining transparent, displayed as works of art. Small red roses painted on a background of silver and white decorate the saucers. On the iridescent blue demitasse cups, a red robin perches on a branch against a background of gold. Delicate, fragile, translucent — over 70 years old — the cups and saucers remind me of how we are all a part of much more than the here and now. I think of my grandmother’s living room, her lace doilies on arm rests; I think of my mother’s brass coffee pot, filling the house with the heady aroma, and of my father’s relatives who spoke in Armenian, Turkish, and English, telling stories, joking, laughing, balancing the demitasse cups and saucers on their knees.

When I die, I want my daughter to divide the cups and saucers between her daughters to carry this heritage of coffee and community from their great-great-grandparents. Hopefully, they will pass on the cups and saucers to their children and tell them the story of how their grandmother loved serving Armenian coffee to company when she was a girl.

On the other hand, my granddaughters may not be as interested in a corroded green scale sitting atop a hutch in my kitchen. Well over 80 years old, it belonged to my father’s Uncle Hampartzoom. He and my dad escaped to America in 1915 (mother, father, sisters, and brothers all massacred by the Ottoman Turks). Dad was 20 and uncle 25. They travelled from Marseilles to Ellis Island to Detroit and later to Fresno.

One Saturday a month Uncle Hampartzoom, a bachelor, drove from the country into the city, his pickup truck loaded. Brown paper bags overflowed with cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, squash, peaches, nectarines, apricots, grapes, raisins, walnuts. My mother washed the fruits and vegetables and filled bowls on the kitchen table where Dad and Uncle sat to share the latest news in the Asbarez, the local Armenian newspaper. They talked quietly while slicing peaches or breaking off clumps of grapes for us kids crowding around the kitchen table

We never knew which Saturday Uncle might arrive, but as soon as I heard his old pickup, I raced to my bedroom to remove all traces of fingernail polish. Girls who painted their nails were “fallen women” in Uncle Hampartzoom’s world. So, I tried not to insult him.

I remember one Saturday driving my father to Uncle’s farm to visit. I discovered he pressed his pants by placing them between mattress and springs. He hung his shirts on the back of the kitchen door on overlapping wire hangers. He covered the kitchen counter with butcher paper. He stacked decades of National Geographic magazines in a standalone wardrobe that should have held shirts and pants. He was an odd one. But he loved me and so left me all his possessions. Other than a wooden rocking chair which I gave to my daughter, and a writing desk which sits in my granddaughter’s room, one wooden chair and the green corroded scale are all that remain of my inheritance from Uncle Hampartzoom.

In my den a round-backed upholstered chair with wooden legs and curved wooden arms traveled in 1965 from my Aunt Diane and Uncle Ernie’s house to our first home and now sits in the den of our second home. I re-upholstered it twice. The chair is not comfortable but provides extra seating. More importantly, the chair keeps memories of my aunt with us as we still refer to it as Auntie Dee’s chair.

From my mother I also inherited vintage art deco pink Depression glass bowls. They tell a story of holidays when aunts, uncles, and cousins sat around my mother’s mahogany dining table. A generation later, my mother’s pink Depression glass decorated my holiday table as we ate, told stories, and passed the pink bowls filled with pilaf and stuffing. Recently I saw similar bowls for sale at the Antique Trove in Roseville. I carried one around, hugging it to my chest, but soon realized someone else’s bowl had no memories of holiday dinners with aunts, uncles, and cousins.

So many objects in my home carry my heritage and remind me of those who loved me and whom I have loved. Each tells a story of my life, from where I came.

Pauline Sahakian is a retired Clovis English teacher, Fresno State composition and education instructor, and UC Merced Writing Project director. She was the 1994 Fresno County Teacher of the Year, California Teacher of the Year Finalist, and 2016 CSU Fresno Noted Alumni Award recipient. Email: paulinesahakian@outlook.com

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