by Karen Topakian
“Thank you Alice, I needed new golf balls,” quipped Guy after prying open the metal lunch box and unwrapping the wax paper encasing my mother’s Christmas present – three kuftahs – Armenian stuffed meatballs.
The year was 1948. My mother was in her early twenties and single.
“Alice, did you make them?” queried Guy’s father, Uncle Sahag.
“Don’t be silly,” said Sarah, my mother’s mother.
“But you can’t keep the lunch box,” announced my mother as she extended her arm across the dark wood dining room table toward her cousin.
“I told Charlie the kuftah were getting stale and he better eat them or I was going to throw them out,” said Sarah referring to her husband. “Alice said she had a better idea.”
Alice did have a better idea. She and Guy, also single and in his twenties, exchanged gifts every year. But the gift giving became less in the Christmas spirit and more like April Fool’s Day.
My mother nibbled at her plate of cheese, fruit, coffee and homemade Armenian pastries as she anxiously waited Guy’s gift.
Guy ceremoniously handed my mother her Christmas present – a small package wrapped in holiday paper and said, “I hope you can use this.”
All eyes focused on my mother as she feverishly unwrapped the package and burst into laughter.
Suddenly breaking into Armenian, her only language, Badaskan, my mother’s grandmother, proudly observed, “Guy makes everybody laugh.” Her statement shifted the whole conversation away from English.
My mother stretched her arms out wide as she held up a piece of loose flowing pink silky fabric by its elasticized waist, a pair of her grandmother’s bloomers.
“Why are you giving her that?” continued Badaskan sternly.
“I thought you had some extra ones, Grandma,” responded Guy.
My mother’s father, Charlie, slapped his thigh laughing, “Guy, what are you crazy?”
“I didn’t think Alice had enough,” maintained Guy in his own defense.
“I’m not taking them home with me,” declared my mother switching back to English while holding her stomach to stop the pain from laughing. She held them out the garment for either her Grandmother or Guy to take.
Sahag, Guy’s father, just shook his head.
Shortly after the laughter subsided, everyone moved to the living room for a little more conversation. An hour later, my mother and her parents stood up to leave and started to say their goodbyes.
“Oh Alice, I have something else for you,” announced Guy after returning from another room.
“Please not more underwear,” declared my mother raising her hands to dismiss him.
He took that as an invitation to hand her his second gift. She unfolded it and again started laughing.
“Very funny. You know I can’t read Armenian,” announced my mother as she held up The Baikar, an Armenian-language weekly newspaper.
“You can’t have it anyway,” said Sahag chuckling as he took it back from my mother. “I haven’t read it yet.”