The Family Tree

Feb 28, 2012

Father and son

Adopted. The word leapt from the page and jolted me awake. It was 6:30 in the morning. I had guzzled a cup of coffee and was heading out the door to work when I decided to check my email. My sister had contacted me the day before with a photograph she found through an online contact of my great grandfather, Jacob Gulian. The picture was circa 1910 and included a jovial Jacob, my grandfather Grasse as a boy of about 8, his little sister Noritza and a few women…not sure if they were Jacob’s sisters or if one was one of his three wives. It opened up a piece of history I had never known… the Armenian side. There they were, dark and swarthy, posing next to a fireplace, on a beautiful carpet of course, looking proud and clannish. My father spoke little of his past. My grandfather revealed even less. Family mystique. My mother suggested that my father’s mother had become pregnant with him before her marriage to Grasse. “Blue eyes are recessive,” she’d say and then drift off after my father stared her down. There were rumors and intrigue but in typical Yankee fashion, the truth lay stashed behind my grandmother’s smile, her incessant motion and chatter. My grandfather would withdraw when we came to visit the farm in Maine. “He loves his football!” Grammy would chirp as he quietly closed the den door.

Adopted, stamped next to my dad’s name, a misfit branch off the long Armenian tree. Then more photos. A little blue eyed blond boy perched in the midst of the dark clan. Some looked endearing; a warm and whimsical aunt with her arms around him. Others spoke a message all too clear; my grandfather always a safe distance from the little pale boy. My father told us once that Grampy severed money and communication when he refused to continue playing college football at Bowdoin. There was tension, we knew that. Now so many things were clear. Somewhat stunned, my brothers, my sister and I absorbed a new reality. We are no more Armenian than we are African. The funny name we grew up with and the exotic (or embarrassing depending on whether you were a teenager or not) attribute of Armenian blood and kinship had to be erased. I went to work bewildered and stayed that way all week.

I finally touched base with one of my brothers yesterday and we easily fell into a discussion about our new discovery. Graham not only carries the Armenian name but has three sons with it and as the puzzle of our quirky family tree hung between us he made this statement: “I think that whoever is willing to love you really determines your family tree.” I thought of my grandfather falling in love with this woman “with child”, a bright, small woman of Irish descent who would be grafted into the dark Gulian tree, like a magnolia onto an olive branch, and my dad, so fair with his eyes the color of the Atlantic ocean. Grampy must’ve loved her a lot to risk losing so much. And I think he tried to love my dad too but love can demand more than what we are made of. We fail and retreat behind closed doors. Before my dad succumbed to cancer in 1981,they became friends and laughed together and I saw a beautiful peace upon my father’s normally restless spirit.

I think it pleases God when you love boldly like that, although not perfectly. Only Jesus loves perfectly, causing the religious folk to gasp in horror as he reached out to Samaritans, the Gadareans, and eventually Armenians. He had the family tree reaching into every orchard, all kinds of crazy twisted branches grafted on .In fact,His love adopted me 24 years ago. My brother was onto something. This week I feel something settled finally in my soul. The family tree is still thriving, in fact, I feel more Armenian than I ever did. But most of all, I feel the rich inheritance of my grandparents love for each other and a little boy they tried their best to love in a peculiar, complex world. And he grew up to love me. Pass the levash and throw another shish ka bob on the grill!