by Karen Topakian
Nana, my 100% Armenian maternal grandmother, born in the US, embodied many modern ideas. She sent her daughter, my mother, to college in the 1940’s when few women enjoyed higher education. She learned to drive in her late 40s and worked fulltime when many women stayed home and let their husbands chauffeur them around. Up to the minute in so many ways, except for dating,
Dating occurred for one reason and only one reason. To find a husband or a wife.
Nana strongly believed this and felt compelled to share this unshakeable belief whenever possible. She coupled her compulsion with her love of giving advice of all kinds.
A small feisty woman with a ready smile and an overstocked refrigerator, Nana couldn’t help herself. My grandfather often tried to stop her without success.
One typical late afternoon in the late 1960’s, after my mother picked up my sister and me from high school, we stopped in to visit my grandparents who were in their late 60s.
Nana sat at her kitchen table next to the window that overlooked her backyard, talking on the phone. The sun streamed in and brightened her sunny yellow kitchen and the sleeve of her shirtwaist dress. She motioned for us to take a seat.
We sat down and tried to avoid eavesdropping but couldn’t help ourselves.
“Stop wasting your time,” snapped Nana she glared at the phone
My mother, sister and I looked at each other quizzically.
“How long have you been seeing him?” Nana demanded to know.
My mother whispered to Nana, “Who’s on the phone?” Nana didn’t answer.
“Is it getting serious?” interrogated Nana as she stiffened her back.
We hung on every word desperate to know who was receiving her advice this time.
The kitchen door opened and my grandfather walked in. When he saw my family, he broke into a broad smile. A man with a hearty laugh, a shock of white hair, who always wore a suit.
My mother put her fingers to her lips and pointed to Nana.
He gave us hugs but ignored my mother’s warning.
“Who’s he talking to?” asked Grandpa Charlie who often referred to my Nana by a pronoun. And often not the correct one for her gender. Since English wasn’t his first language.
“We don’t know,” whispered my mother.
Nana motioned for us to be quiet.
“If it’s not getting serious, you’re just wasting your time,” proclaimed Nana as she slammed her palm on the Formica tabletop.
I wracked my brain. Who was unmarried and dating in our extended family? I eliminated everyone in my generation, we were all still in high school.
“Beverly,” whispered my sister, referring to the only unmarried female adult relative.
“What does your mother say?” quizzed Nana.
“No, I’m sure she doesn’t agree with you.” Followed by a slight pause. “Because she wants you to be happy with the right man. And he doesn’t sound like the right man, if he’s not serious.“
“Beverly,” we all affirmed quietly in unison. Beverly, an unmarried women in her early 40s, lived with her mother to help care for her in her advanced years.
“You’ll just have to break it off. Tell him you don’t think the relationship has a future,” explained my Nana. “The right man is out there. You just have to look harder.”
In a few moments, she ended her call and ushered us into the den to sit in more comfortable chairs. She returned to the kitchen and brought back a bowl of grapes, cut up oranges and apples and a few napkins.
“Who are you giving advice to this time?” asked my grandfather seated in his comfortable lounge chair as he thumbed through the day’s mail.
“Girls, have some grapes,” said Nana pointing to the clear glass bowl she had set on a sidetable.
My mother, sister and I groaned.
“What were you telling her?” asked my mother.
“I was just making conversation,” answered Nana. “How about an apple? My brother the doctor always tells his patients to eat an apple.”
We shook our heads.
“You know what they say, an apple a day…”
“It sounded more like giving advice,” responded my mother.
“Why are you bothering people, telling people what to do?” asked my grandfather looking up from a letter from his stockbroker. “Did he ask you for advice?”
“She,” laughed my Nana. “Beverly’s a she.”
“Who is she dating?” asked my mother.
“I can’t tell you.”
“Why? Who are we going to tell?”
“Alice, tell the girls to eat some fruit. It won’t spoil their dinner,” reminded Nana as she chewed on a juicy Concord grape.
“Did she ask for your advice?” repeated my mother.
“I‘m concerned about Beverly’s future. She’s getting older.”
“You always try to help everybody. You need to mind your own business,” piped in my grandfather.
“Now Charlie, you know I give good advice. I told you we needed to visit Leon Boghosian in Pawtucket when he was sick. And isn’t it a good thing we did, because he died not long after?”
“I didn’t go because you said so. I went because I wanted to,” declared my grandfather.
“Can’t her mother help?” questioned my mother trying to nip an argument in the bud.
“You know her mother, she’s very nice. But she’s provincial,” explained Nana.
“I didn’t realize she called you so often.”
“There’s a lot you don’t know. She calls me for advice often,” claimed Nana as she motioned for me to pass her the fruit bowl. She selected two orange slices and started chewing.
“When people call me for my advice and they follow it, they thank me.” Nana picked up the near empty fruit bowl and walked into the kitchen.
”Why would anyone take dating advice from someone who hasn’t gone on a date since the early 1920s?” questioned my sister.