It was one o’clock in the afternoon, August 18, 1923. The majestic Aquitania on which I came to the shores of America, tied along pier 14…me, second class accommodations after paying for this and one dollar to the Englishman, the ship’s steward who did whatever stewards do. I hardly stayed in my cabin with the double decker bed of which I occupied the upper, of course, because the other guy whom I met once or twice during the day, had claimed squatter’s rights for the lower bunk….I gave the steward the one Dollar on parting and I can still hear the epithets of his anger at such a pittance, but he never knew that the FORTUNE I had in my pocket was about 11 Dollars…..and I had viewed that WHOLE remaining ten Dollar bill as my final fortune in the world….I grabbed my two neat suit cases and my Corfu cane and proceeded to the line of passengers toward the test tube of American watch dogs as politely but very ominously for me stood at the final exit of the likes of me mixed with born Americans returning home.
The immigration agent had a pleasant face as he looked at my passport, gave it back to me with, “Welcome to America”….but he looked at the Corfu cane which I had bought on the island of Corfu, among the thousands of islands around Greece and he asked me whether I could walk without it. You see, this appeared a formality of the regulations, where immigrants with physical defects are carefully studied before letting loose on the market as it were, to avoid a newcomer from becoming an eventual burden in the land of whatever it is or was at the time. It depends on who is describing it, some in glowing terms, some with hopes and praises a smattering also of the native born not afraid to ***** about their pet aversions of whatever is it that makes a citizen disgruntled. But that was not me. I was only too happy and altogether mesmerized by the mere fantasy of having arrived, not in the land where trees grew golden leaves for me to pluck but give me a chance to live commensurate to whatever I would put into life here, but without the fear of the Turk for by the time I had become of some very young age of consciousness of this place of birth, Ismid, not far from Constantinople, Turkey, I was Turk shy.
Now, I had my trusty sawbuck in my pocket as I reached the cobble stoned but foreboding sight of 14th street and the river. The sun shone above, but shafts filtered down onto the street below, through the openings of what appeared to me a horrible structure of the elevated train above as for the first time, almost terror of the train running above and to me all seemed like ORANIZED confusion but everybody coming and going, doing whatever, appeared in some sort of noiseless routine, leaving only the click clack of well shod horses’ hooves with mounted policemen appearing to keep orderly decorum of an otherwise gloomy scene.
Silently walking behind contraptions here and there of large, metal ash cans on wheels were white suited individuals with a large broom handle and a huge broom over one should and as all else was new to me, that particular element of which I could see was a sanitary machine of ash can and operator. The entire scene had me enthralled as I stood where I had dreamt for so long to make it SOMEDAY and that someday was here, I had finally come to America. But why America? After that awful day of the Turk herding all of Ismid Armenians as well as the entire entity of the Armenians all over Asia, Minor, we were uprooted from our homes, loaded on cattle cars after us buying rail fares to ride those things to destinations far away from our homes. I will not, here mention the massacre of the Armenians and the awful memories of the death and destruction but go onto say that from affluence came utter poverty for my mother and sisters. This was not quite true for mom and sister Eugenie and Anna had the night before we would be herded like animals onto those cattle cars made money belts to wrap around their bellies, as a fortune of gold pieces left by my father’s fortune. We could not spend a farthing of it since on the way to that desert and in the desert, it would be certain death if any of that gold had seen the daylight but miraculous intervention of an uncle who as a senator from Smyrna had begged his one-time friends of Talaat Pasha and Enver Pasha, early classmates in the Ottoman lyceum of agriculture to allow 12 of the original 40 started on the way to death, to return not to Ismid, our home town but to Smyrna and Constantinople.
And now in Smyrna, other than Mama, Eugenie and Anna, no one had any money either and we stayed in Smyrna nearly a year and there was no escape, my poor dad’s fortune or what remained of it, had to support the whole lot. What we began with at the start of this deportation, the exile was a respectable but not too big a fortune so that as almost everybody in this group daily blessed my father
Roupen as for these now hungry mouths were being fed by my father’s gold. In the lifetime of my poor dad, he did not enjoy the respect of some of the wise guys and their wives who took umbrage of the fact that pop was a self made man. He pulled himself up with his own bootstraps but now he was dead but he was feeding these, my relations at large, from his grave.
My dad made shoes and boots while tending to leather pits, those being what removed the hair from the animals needed to make leather goods. The Turk had seized these pits and my home before forcing us out. I mentioned Constantinople as our refuge and it was here that I entered Robert College on a scholarship when coming of age. For the first year or so as I passed Freshman and began Sophomore year, I was a whirlwind, ambitious to learn English as Gordon Willard Allport from Harvard had come to teach us non English speaking natives. I began to wonder with all the workshops, the carpenter shops, the machine shop and the foundry, all of which I began to make my UNOFFICIAL preoccupation, I made friends with the guys who ran those shops and little by little, I was being called into the Dean’s office as to why I was missing so many classes of ancient history, geography and such.
I regularly attended physics, math, and mechanical drawing classes toward the end of sophomore year. I had been a bad boy and in spite of my good report cards on the subjects I attended, the faculty noticed my fixing my legs in the ground as a donkey, front and hind legs going in opposite directions as my halter being pulled to make me go forward. I was told that there would be no benefice money for my next year’s tuition and for once, I began to feel that somehow I had managed to alienate some of the faculty, not Gordon. I knew these people really loved me because between you and I, I had become very much liked because while I knew nothing “from” geography and who was Ramses II, I could sneak around and make enough friends in the shops to make things for other people, repair this and that and get a little money in return for this…..you see, I was a student but IN BUSINESS or myself…..I could repair a mean door bell and the like. I knew what I was doing and everybody else knew what I was doing but I was the ODD BALL of Robert College. I eventually got on the campus powerhouse staff of operators. Mama and Eugenie were making hand crocheted beauties, doilies and decorations for the American colony who kept asking for more. We were poor but oh so happy and my little dog Liza and my Angora cat, Sarman…I thought there would be no end of it.
End of First Installment.