Today, on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, I'm thinking of my mother-in-law, Marjorie. She was a young girl in Konya then, with two younger brothers. Unlike many Armenian men, her father survived several years before he was murdered by the Turks, because he had language skills they needed. After his death, Marjorie's mother was helped by American missionaries working with Near East Relief: she and the three children were taken by boat along the eastern Mediterranean coast, finally ending up in Alexandria, Egypt. There her mother, a trained nurse, ran an orphanage for Armenian children. Marjorie, already skilled in many languages, was a favorite helper of the missionaries, and was eventually sent to Beirut for her high school education and college at the American University, where her future husband, my father-in-law, was teaching.
Her brothers went to Switzerland and Brazil. Marjorie and her husband and young son immigrated to America in the late 1940s; their second son, my husband, was born in 1950, and a girl was born five years later. Even after hearing their stories firsthand for many years, it's still hard for me to imagine how difficult that move and cultural adjustment must have been, especially for her. But harder still is the knowledge that she witnessed the terrible events of 1915 and subsequent years, as nearly every adult Armenian male was killed outright, and the remaining families forced to march across the desert, most of whom did not survive.
My mother-in-law did not talk about those times. Most survivors did not; when you read accounts pieced together by later generations the writers - our age or younger - all say the same thing: "my mother -- my aunt -- my grandmother -- didn't want to talk about it." Marjorie, a lifelong Quaker, always said she didn't want to perpetuate hatred; she had seen too much of tribal feuds and ethnic and religious conflict; she wanted her children to grow up in peace, without thoughts of hatred or revenge burdening their hearts.
So she bore those scars inside herself. We knew they were there, and in peripheral ways we could see the damage they had done, but she lived as a witness and spokesperson for peace and non-violence, especially in her later years. I loved and admired her, and miss her a lot. My husband and I keep her memory alive with the foods she loved to cook, a few favorite objects and textiles, and stories about funny or poignant or typical things we remember: we often say to each other, "Your mother would love this." In fact we said that recently, at our favorite restaurant in Mexico City, as we spent a leisurely afternoon on the upstairs stone terrace lined with pots of flowers, eating perfect baba ghanoush on zaatar-dusted pita fresh from the oven. She loved flowers, color, well-prepared food in the company of friends and family, starched white linen, fine needlework, books, children, travel, laughter. You never would have known, unless you really knew her.