Chapter 13: ARMENIAN RHAPSODY
Yet another weird dream! This time I dreamt I'd won a competition in the
Daily Mirror newspaper for a trip to the moon in the space shuttle. Not
only that, but the flight occurred during my TAFF trip, and I was delighted that
I'd be able to begin a section CHAPTER 13: THE MOON. Then I started to worry
that no-one would believe I'd actually made the trip and I awoke, still
wondering how I was going to convince them. Only slowly did full wakefulness and
the realisation it was just a dream creep over me.
We were up by 8.15am, and looking forward to the long drive ahead of us.
Ever since I'd first arrived at the Avedikian household there'd been a note
about today stuck to the refrigerator door, a note now in my possession:
Ourganian - Baranian Reunion
Saturday - Sept
53 Main Street
Ourganian is apparently the Turkish form of Baranian, which was Queenie's
maiden name. When the family came to America some of them changed their name
back to its Armenian form while others retained the Turkish version. At one
point Avedon's sister, Sally (who I wouldn't get to meet for another eight
years) used her mother's maiden name in a renaming sequence stretching over many
years that went from Sally Avedikian, to Sirani Avedis, Sara Embree, Sally
Piano, and Sara Baranian. Of course, Avedon started life as Ruth Carol Avedikian
and became Carol Avedikian, then Carol Kaufman, before finally settling on
Avedon Carol. Their brother Rick, so far as I'm aware, has always been Rick.
After a brief sidetrip to a gas station for Avedon to fuel up (and me to
pick up some maps) we set off for New Jersey, following her parents' car. Gary
had a sticker in the back window that read: "We Remember April 24th, 1915",
a reference to the Armenian Genocide when the Turks slaughtered a million
Armenians. Answering the doubts of his lieutenants when planning the final fate
of Europe's Jews, Hitler is reputed to have said "Who now remembers the
Armenians?", hence Gary's sticker.
The journey through Maryland was picturesque but uneventful, and I fell into
my usual habit on this trip of jotting down names that caught my fancy: Patuxent
River, Ellicott City, Pulaski Highway, Big Gunpowder Falls (followed soon after
by Little Gunpowder Falls), Magnolia, Aberdeen, Bynum Run, Havre de Grace,
Susquehanna State Park, Millard E. Tydings Memorial Bridge, Rising Sun, etc. As
soon as we crossed from Maryland to Delaware, the roadside sprouted a forest of
billboards, a change I pointed out to Avedon.
"Delaware has always been a notoriously tacky state", she sniffed.
Maybe so, but it was in Delaware that we stopped for brunch. The '295 Diner &
Truck Stop' was the American equivalent of our transport cafes, and a typical
example of its type. Rows of huge rigs were parked outside, while inside beefy
truckers demolished plates piled high with pancakes and eggs. We all had smaller
portions of the same, and I was much taken with the individual jukebox selectors
fixed to every table and arranged at intervals along the main counter. We stayed
maybe half-an-hour before setting off again.
"Y'know," said Avedon as I was adding Mantua and Bellmawr to my
collection of names, "you're lucky your riding with me and not with Gary.
His driving is legendary, and so are his crashes. According to Queenie, he
compensates for his poor driving skills by going faster. Even so, he's very
proud of the fact that he's been driving since he was fourteen."
"Fourteen? That means he would've started in ... 1928! Hah! Weren't you
required to have a guy walking in front of the car waving a red light back then?"
"The roads would be a lot safer if Gary was required to have one now."
As it turned out, I never got to ride in a car with Gary during my TAFF
trip. It would be a few more years before I was treated to that particular
Soon after entering New Jersey we passed a car whose numberplate,
improbably, read: DUFF. I immediately suspected an elaborate prank, but Jack
Herman was nowhere to be seen. Voorhees, Mount Misery, and Leisuretowne were
some of the places we passed before finally pulling into Tom's River, NJ, a
little after 2pm. We may have been late as far as the invitation was concerned,
but we were fairly early in reality since few Ourganians or Baranians were
actually yet inside Tommy's Restaurant.
I wish I could tell you what Tommy's Restaurant -- or indeed Tom's River
itself -- was like, but knowing I'd be writing my TAFF report up in the next few
months I figured I could rely on my memory for the descriptive stuff. Ten years
on, and I have no clear memory of the place at all. What I do remember,
and what my notes confirm, is that I was complimented on my "lovely accent"
for what may well be the first time in my entire life.
"No, no", said Avedon, quickly leaping in, "it's actually
She thoughtfully provided an instant correction whenever anyone made this
same terrible mistake. Truly, she was tireless in her efforts and exemplary in
her dilligence. It still chokes me up whenever I think of it.
One of the most delightful aspects of cultural diversity is the range of
cuisines there are out there. Queenie was an excellent cook and I got to sample
the pleasures of Armenian food over the course of my stay at Woodfield Road,
feasting on stuff such as beoreg (a sort of cheese and filo dough samosa),
cheoreg (Easter bread), yalanchi (pine nuts, rice, currants, and spices, wrapped
in grape leaves), lachmajeun (a savoury Armenian pizza), keufta (spicy
meatballs), and pilaf (rice and noodles). I'd half expected the food at the
reunion to be more of the same but instead we had a simple but tasty buffet of
turkey, roast beef, ham, cheese, fried chicken, and moussaka. I ate my fill, and
Once again, Avedon and Rick sang a duet and Queenie, determined to have a
singalong, started handing out the songbooks she'd brought along with her. She
was still trying to get people to sing right up to and including the family
photograph taken in the final few minutes before we had to vacate the premises,
but there weren't enough people who shared her enthusiasm. Immediately prior to
this, the various Ourganian and Baranian families had been introduced by one of
their number. Just as this was finishing, Gary leapt up and, with a big grin,
said: "Let's hear it for the Avedikians!" He then proceeded to
introduce the family (and me as "Avedon's friend from England"),
"I think that's all ... oh yeah, there's my other daughter, Sally, who
can't be here because I didn't send her the air fare." He grinned his huge
On the drive back to Maryland, Avedon filled me in about Gary and the New
Jersey part of the family.
"Unlike my folks, they're all Republicans and were big fans of Nixon.
During Watergate, Gary used to drive up to New Jersey to rub it in: 'So whaddaya
thinka ya Nixon now?'"
"What a guy!" I laughed.
"Really. My father was a Nixon-hater from way back. Hell, I was
raised to hate Richard Nixon! When Nixon was elected, Gary decided to
grow his hair in protest. Or, as he put it: 'I ain't cuttin' my hair 'til that
bum goes!'. This may've been the sixties, but he was then in his mid-fifties.
Eventually, he had this long pony-tail down his back, brown at the tip and
greyer as you went up. The day Nixon resigned, six years later, all our friends
came around to see the ceremonial hair-cutting. Gary had his favourite chair
parked right in front of the TV and the rest of us were sitting all around him.
As soon as Nixon announced his resignation, Gary said : 'Cut my hair!', and
Sally cut his pony-tail off. We had it mounted on a board for years."
What a guy, indeed! Truly, Gary was one of the most unforgettable people I
would meet during my whole TAFF trip.