Yesterday, I hiked Bear Mountain in New York State, elevation 1,284 ft (391.4 m). It was a beautiful, sunny, spring day. The temperature was in the 60’s (F). My 15-year-old godson and a good friend joined me for the outing. We packed sandwiches and plenty of water and wore good shoes for climbing rocks and walking on rough, but well-marked trails. The nearly 4-mile climb to the summit and back down took us about 4 hours (with breaks).
I’d remembered first hearing about Bear Mountain from my mom. She told stories of camping there with the Girl Scouts. My friend Rita remembers picnics and family outings at Bear Mountain, as well as many hikes with friends and students. I wanted to share this idyllic experience with my godson and he loved it.
But, throughout the afternoon, I couldn’t help imagining old women and little children being forced to walk for miles every day, in the hot sun and in the freezing winter, barefoot, eventually naked or barely clothed, and starving, until they literally dropped dead. Then, I’d return my thoughts to the three of us enjoying this special day together.
Many of the Armenians who were taken from their homes and towns by the Turkish officials in Ottoman Turkey naively believed they would be able to return home again. How could they have possibly imagined they were on organized death marches orchestrated to depopulate Turkey’s interior of its Armenian Christian population?
How is it that my grandfather who was torn from his mother and sisters, as well as his home and identity in Marash, could come to America (at the same age my godson is now) and find the resources within himself to rebuild his life in New York City? What did he think about when he wasn’t busy working, going to school, building a dental practice and a home for my grandmother and his children? Did he remember all the parts of his story that he left out of his letters to us? Did he ever want to go home again?
My godson is a good boy and he is the light of his mother’s and father’s life. (And mine, too). He loves and adores his parents. They have made a very safe and comfortable world for him. I wish it were possible to know what my grandfather’s life was like before the massacres in Marash. Did he live in fear? Did he know the kind of love and security my godson has received? Did the massacres define my grandfather? Did his mother shape his character? How is it that my grandfather was one of the lucky few who made it out of Turkey alive and managed to thrive once he reached the safe harbor of Ellis Island and Manhattan?