BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (May 21, 1997) -- My mother died today.
The vacuum created by her death drew our family together in the home we had moved to more than 45 years ago. Over take-out salad and Diet Pepsi we acknowledged how much of an influence, a force of decency and gentility she had been. We took the towels off the silver tea service. We ate at the big table in the dining room, but we were careful to put coasters under the glasses. She was born Beatrice Aresdakesian in Fresno, Calif., in 1907 -- it would have been 90 years ago June 22. We were going to have a party for her at the home of my sister Judy and her husband John.
Ma was from a refugee family that fled Turkey when the Christian Armenians were being massacred at the turn of the century. She was a farm girl who married my father almost 66 years ago. They stuck together through thick and thin. She never looked at another man, nor my father at another woman since. They worked their way through the Depression and the war.
Coming from humble origins, she often marveled that years
ago at a dinner sponsored by the Los Angeles World Affairs
Council, Nehru bowed to her.
For more on their life together, click
here for the book Dad
wrote when he was 90.
Ma never swore. She never smoked, but she did have a glass
of wine every 10 years.
For the past year or so my sister and I watched over her,
preparing her diabetic meals, testing her blood-sugar level,
seeing she got the right dose of medicine at the right time.
During the last month she prepared to die. She told my
sister which grandchild was to get which piece of her jewelry,
pulling her stash out of her secret hiding place.
My mother died today, and I spent her last day with her. I
woke her about 9 a.m. because the cleaning lady was
coming. She dressed herself, that fragile woman with white
hair whose steel posture had bent to a slouch over the
years. I brought her breakfast in the den -- cereal and
bananas, hot sugar-free chocolate, peanut butter on toast
and a cup of fruit salad. She would say, "Thank you, thank
you," every time I brought her food. I gave her the morning
While the cleaning lady mopped, Ma sat in the patio, and as
I passed on my way to The Pit's headquarters in a corner of
the garage she said, "Do you know what? You didn't kiss me
today." I kissed her.
For lunch Dad took Ma and me to eat at The Sizzler. It was her
last meal; I split the Australian chicken with her. She could
only drink a little of the Diet Pepsi. She didn't want the
Texas Toast. But she polished off the potato and salad.
She sat in the patio with Dad this afternoon, holding his
hand as they watched the squirrels and birds in the
About 4 o'clock, Dad knocked on the door as I was editing
The Pit. "Mother has some pain," he said. I went into the
house and saw her slumped on the couch. I called the
paramedics. Her blood pressure was 84 over 40. I held her
hand. They took her out on a stretcher. I never saw her again.
Dad, who will be 96 in October, said: "I knew it had to come
but I prayed for a little more time. But I have no regrets. I
have no guilt. She had the best medical care. I did the best I
could for her. But everywhere I look I see her hand on
everything in this house."
Last month he told me: "We're like one person." Or did she
My mother died today. I'll never see her in that old blue
dress again; but what I have seen will last forever. Ralph
Waldo Emerson said that men are what their mothers make
them. I am a journalist. If Emerson is right, she made me be
one by her strength. She gave me the sense of purpose to
fight oppression, injustice and corruption. Our grandparents
fled oppression in Turkey, and we learned from Ma's example
and stories to hold out a helping hand and resist abuses by
A Cookeville lawyer the other day said that The Putnam Pit
was only a hobby to me.
Baby, you don't know a damn thing about the gene pool.
We miss you, Mama. As you used to say, "Don't forget to come back."
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to either the Salvation
Army or the Armenian Missionary Association of America's
Orphan/Child Care Fund, 140 Forest Ave., Paramus, NJ 07652.