Book
 

R a i s i n   D e b t
Healing the wounds of persecution

 

Charles Garoian with Sherrie Garoian

 

Monologue

Working in the dark to pay our raisin debt, working in the dark to define our raison d'Ítre, working in the dark to raise the dead:

We were fast asleep. That is, until the thunder rumbled outside the house and lightning flashed through our bedroom window. I was 11 and my brother was 9. We awakened scared shitless of the dark and the violent strikes of light. Although 3 o'clock in the morning, we were both wide-awake. Afraid of darkness, we tried to bury our faces deep in our pillows.

Working in the dark to pay our raisin debt, working in the dark to define our raison d'Ítre, working in the dark to raise the dead:

After mustering some courage, I peeked out the window and couldn't see a thing until suddenly a flash of lightning illuminated our back yard. For a split second, I saw my father's white '49 Plymouth parked in the driveway next to the vineyard. Then it went dark again. Another flash and I could see the pump house near the irrigation ditch. Dark again. Flash. The basketball pole stood leaning to one side with its shiny black hoop. Darkness. Flash, flash, flash. There was the large mulberry tree under which we would eat our evening meals on the adjacent patio. Flash. Flash. The persimmon tree. More darkness. Flash, our vineyard where we worked to grow grapes and dry raisins. Just then, as I dug my face in the pillow again, our father walked into the room.

Working in the dark to pay our raisin debt, working in the dark to define our raison d'Ítre, working in the dark to raise the dead

Flash. Darkness. It was early September, the high point of the raisin harvest. The grapes had been picked and were drying on paper trays spread on the ground. The crop was in danger of rotting should it begin to rain. Flash, flash. Dark again. We grew Thompson seedless grapes which make the best raisins. After picking, the grapes were spread onto paper trays on the ground where they would dry over a two week period under the sun. As if calibrated scientifically, the vineyard rows were oriented in an east/west direction to maximize exposure to the sun's rays between dawn and dusk, to prevent any shadows from the vines being cast on the drying grapes. Flash. The success of the raisin harvest was essential to our survival. It was our principal means to put bread on the table.

Working in the dark to pay our raisin debt, working in the dark to define our raison d'Ítre, working in the dark to raise the dead

Flash. Father told us to get up immediately and get dressed. As we jumped into our Penney's jeans and pulled up our Redwing high top work shoes, father listened to the weather report on the radio. Flash. Rain was on its way. Knowing what this meant, we didn't say a word. While dressing, our hearts were pounding in our chests nonetheless. Having previously experienced what we were about to do in the dark of night, we knew what to expect. Flash, flash. Lightning and thunder continued as we prepared to "cigarette roll," a euphemism for rolling semi-dried grapes/raisins in their paper trays as if tobacco in cigarette paper. Question was, could we accomplish the task? Between the three of us there were 20 thousand trays to roll before the rains came.

Working in the dark to pay our raisin debt, working in the dark to define our raison d'Ítre, working in the dark to raise the dead

Both our parents survived the genocide. Flash. They were political refugees who came to America having narrowly escaped persecution. My brother and I, and later our two younger sisters, grew up hearing of the horrors of family members, friends, and neighbors being slaughtered for their cultural difference. Our parents never once considered psychological help, counseling to purge them of their pain, to soften their anger. Such therapies were looked down upon in those days. So they talked about it openly at home around my brother and I, with neighbors, friends, and other family members. Only at Church, in prayers, and during communion was the subject handled with any degree of subtlety. Flash, flash, flash. We grew up amidst their lamentations. The raisin farm was where we learned to search for lost loved ones, where we searched for our lost souls. It was the homeland where we worked to avenge such losses.

Working in the dark to pay our raisin debt, working in the dark to define our raison d'Ítre, working in the dark to raise the dead

Flash, flash. Father turned off the radio and signaled with his baseball cap it was time to leave. As we walked out the back door of the house my brother and I stayed close behind him. The power of lightning flashes and thunder now intensified. We had to move quickly to save as many raisins as possible. The only available light to work by was lightning that would flash intermittently. The rest we accomplished by feeling our way in the dark. Flash lights were of no use since both hands were needed to cigarette roll the raisins. Flash, flash. Father gave us instructions. He would take a middle row and my brother and I would flank him on the side rows. We didn't speak or say a thing, yet he knew we were afraid of the dark, of the lightning, of the thunder, of the responsibility. He knew our hearts were pounding in our chests.

Working in the dark to pay our raisin debt, working in the dark to define our raison d'Ítre, working in the dark to raise the dead

I was alone. Flash. I looked down the quarter mile row and couldn't see a thing. Flash. The wind began to rustle the leaves of the vines creating sounds and suspicions in my mind. Separated by two rows, I could only imagine what was going through my brother's mind. Flash. At my father's command, we began to work at a feverish pace. Wanting to save as much of the crop as possible, he kept getting ahead of us. For fear of being left behind, we tried to keep up, not necessarily to save the raisins, but to save our hides. Flash, flash. The faster he worked, the faster we worked, only to keep up with him, to be near him, for fear of the dark, of the violent lightning strikes. From time to time my brother and I would call out to him, to hear his voice, to measure our distance, our proximity to his body. He would respond immediately to assure us that he was there, that he had not deserted us.

Working in the dark to pay our raisin debt, working in the dark to define our raison d'Ítre, working in the dark to raise the dead

Suddenly, in the midst of our frenzy, the chaos of our fear, I began to hear the sounds of a soothing melody. At first, I could barely make it out. But then, as the lightning flashed and thunder exploded around us with increased frequency, the sound increased in volume. He was singing. Father was singing a song. He was singing a passionate Armenian love song at the top of his lungs...heravor oo amahi dzoveroo mechdegh/yes oonenal goozeii balad mu puregh/yev yertaink kez hed miasin siragan/taghel mer sern ait pooinin metch arantznootian/mer shoortcha keech pajzanman yergnee yev dzovoon/katch horizon...he was singing an Armenian love song-to mark his place, to dispel our fears, to instill hope.

Working in the dark to pay our raisin debt, working in the dark to define our raison d'Ítre, working in the dark to raise the dead

We were unable to save the entire crop that night. The rains eventually fell as we worked, filling our nostrils with the smell of newly wetted soil, washing our bodies of sweat, and filling our hearts with calm. It was dawn. As the early morning sun began to rise in the east, we heard a familiar yoo-oo-oo, hoo-oo-oo coming clear from the other end of the vineyard. Again, yoo-oo-oo, hoo-oo-oo. It was mother calling us. She was signaling that it was time to come in from the rain. To dry off and change clothes. To eat our morning meal. To thank God, she said. For all that we were able to save, she said. After all, there are people who have nothing in this world, she said. There are people who go hungry, she said. People who go hungry. Hungry. Enough is enough, she said.

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© Charles Garoian 2005