Charles Davidian Eulogy: Jan. 13, 2006

    We knew him as Dad, Uncle Charlie, Grandpa and in at least one instance, “Chuck.”

    If his parents could have spelled it in English for the birth certificate, we would be calling him “Yelliah,” but they couldn’t and Charles Davidian was born on Oct. 1, 1901 in the living quarters at the Psi Upsilin Fraternity House at New York’s city college. His parents were Nahabed and Takouhi Davidian, nineteenth-century immigrants from Turkey who, according to family lore, walked by night a thousand miles from Talas to a seaport to come to America.

  By day, with young daughters Mabel and Nellie, they slept in bushes to escape detection by Turks who frequently over the next 30 years found compelling reasons to rid themselves of Armenians in well-documented binge genocide.

  Charles was the third of his parents’ children and the first to be born in the United States. Rose, their fourth child, was the last.

  Yes, Dad was 104 years old and yes, we were lucky to have him so long.

Dad, Emily and Eli, 1983
Charles Davidian, center, in this 1983 photo with granddaughter Emily, left, and grandson Eli

  There is a human package here that revealed itself over that exceptional time span, and to limit Dad’s uniqueness to his age would be elevating form over substance. He revealed himself in his respectful bearing, his homespun style, the cartoons he drew, his writing and even self-produced home-movie soliloquies in which he chats with us as he hangs clothes to dry, washes dishes or admits he talks to his plants -- and sometimes curses – to encourage their progress.

    Who knows where this oozing of creativity was nurtured?

     In 1905, his family took the cross-country train ride to Lovell, California to join relatives in what was then predominantly a community of Turkish-speaking Armenian immigrants. His memories of his childhood on the family farm there are of struggle and hard work. They are also among the most joyous of his life – a close family, friends, fishing in the irrigation ditch, plowing, eating peaches, drinking water with a reed dipped below the surface of a still pond to thwart mosquitoes and their offspring. It was a world of outhouses and weekly baths in galvanized tub.

    Maybe there’s something to be said for the one-room country schoolhouse like the Yettem School Dad attended until he moved on to Visalia High in around 1916. In 1920 he graduated from Visalia and attended Occidental College, where he proudly remembers that play where he blocked a kick against Reno!

    After a year in college, Dad returned to Yettem because the family could not afford the tuition, and it broke his heart. Over the next decade, he worked at a variety of endeavors, including trucking chickens from Tulare County to the Bay area, and he learned the sheet metal trade. But by then, he was living in San Mateo with his sister Rose and Hagop, her husband. Rose encouraged him to court Beatrice Aresdakesian, a girl Dad knew for her baseball skills when they were children on the farm. Beatrice lived with her aunt and uncle in Long Beach, and they first went out on a date in May 17, 1931. Dad recalls numerous long Model-T drives over Pacheco Pass and the Grapevine until they married the following year.

    The couple moved to Los Angeles and at age 35 Charles became a father when Judy was born.

    He and Beatrice started a successful sheet metal business, had a second child – me.

    To prepare for this eulogy, I looked back over my relationship with my father and it was like Mental Braille – each little bump and hollow had meaning and offered nuances that go beyond the words I can use to attempt to adequately capture Charles, or Charlie, or Chuck or Yelliah.

    Charles was strong. He could hang with one hand from a 20-foot ladder and rip gutter off a building with a crowbar while smoking his pipe in the rain. If it started to rain, he would pause to turn his pipe upside down.

    Charles integrated math and physics on the fly. He could whip up a metal roof for a bay window with a pencil and 48-inch metal rule.

    Charles was a scavenger. From sections of pipe, faucets, gaskets and pumps, to pieces of 2X4 or a plumbing elbow, he would bring it back to his shop and toss it in an overflowing heap of treasures he just knew would come in handy some day. Over the years, there was no home improvement project that required a part that I could, in my mind’s eye, recall seeing in his treasure corner or among the remnants thrown on the garage roof for preservation.

  Charles always had a side project. He tinkered with his two Model T Fords, charted a family tree, wrote two books and gardened. He painted the history of the universe on our garage door that included places like “hither” and “yon.”

From Hither to Yon, in Charlie's back yard universe
Click for full-size image of Charles' garage-door universe

    Dad painted the salute he and wife Beatrice reserved for each other – thumbs in ears with fingers waving -- on the concrete block wall opposite the den, so when she looked out the sliding door to the back yard she could get her fix even in his absence. Charles could fix anything with duct tape and wire, including tears in his clothes.

    His pants once caught on fire.

    He could go on with cats cradle endlessly, and he could fold a dollar bill into a pair of pants.  He couldn’t whistle, but he could cup his hands and play a tune by blowing between his thumbs.

    He posed logical problems for the heck of it. One posed the dilemma of a fellow who needed to transport a bale of hay, a lamb and a wolf across a river one at a time without leaving the wolf and the lamb or the lamb and the hay together alone 

    He would always ask whether the water was wet, or insist that grime deep in his nails from his garden was “clean dirt.”

    Charles was a religious man who went to church until his legs could not hold him.

    In his life, we went from the train to the moon, paper to digital, three long and a short ring on the party line to Blackberry, from the Model T to NASCAR. He saw two world wars, a police action in Korea, a war in Vietnam, two Gulf Wars and a War on Terror. He traveled to Europe, Asia and Africa and across the United States.

    But that is not why he gave to charity and his church.

    He did it because he believed in God, and he believed God existed, he told me, because his mother said told him so.

    Charles is survived by his daughter Judith Bedrosian of Los Angeles; his son, Geoffrey Davidian of Milwaukee, Wisconsin; five grandchildren, Eli Davidian of San Francisco, California; Emily Davidian of Brooklyn, NY; Christopher and Matthew Bedrosian, Karen Bedrosian Coyne; and two great grandchildren, Noah Bedrosian and John Owen Coyne.