Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Last Supper of the Summer

Dawn, Ara, Robyn, Mary and Andy circa 1975

My father-in-law, Andy Dabbakian, had a remarkable vision of the future that became reality. He did not leave that to chance.

His vision began to take shape in the 1950s and '60s, as Andy and Mary herded the kids into the car and headed for the Jersey shore. 

Summers at the Van Hotel in Asbury Park yielded indelible memories of tavlou tournaments on the shady front porch and kef music floating on the summer breeze. 
By the 1970s, however, kef time at the beach was over for most of us. The Van Hotel had burned down and other favorite Armenian hangouts were shuttered as our generation grew up and explored new vacation vistas. Andy, however, saw no reason to move on. 

All Andy needed to keep the party going was his own shady porch. He found it attached to a once-glorious three-story house on the Shark River Inlet in Belmar. The place was old and a bit rickety but that wasn't important. As a machinist-turned-industrial arts teacher, he was hardly intimidated by a few loose boards or leaky pipes. 

What mattered was that he could fish right from his backyard as he watched the boats come in from the sea.

What he saw when he looked at the house mattered even more: Andy could picture his children and their children filling the rooms and spilling out onto that glorious porch. This house would be the magnet that held them all together. 

He planned to split his retirement time betwen fishing from the sea wall along the river out back and entertaining company on the front porch. He made up a sign to welcome any Armenian who dropped by: Hye Dune (Armenian house). He devoted the last years of his working life to nailing all the boards down tight and fixing most of the leaks while he waited for those grandchildren to be born. 

Andy lived just long enough to rock his first grandchild on that porch. He never really got to retire. But his vision held true as the house became and remained common ground for three generations of very busy family members with widely diverse lives and interests. No matter how far we traveled or moved, we'd eventually all find ourselves back on that porch where Mary sat vigil for many years.

This summer, we were all drawn back to the beach for a happy event, the marriage of Mary and Andy's youngest grand-child. 

Almost as soon as we arrived, I found some of Andy's old long-playing records in the hall closet. I went out and bought a phonograph and put it on the porch, because it was only right to fill the summer air with a little Artie Barsamian. 

Ara and  dinner on the porch
Our summer at the shore ended on Labor Day weekend. The only proper way to end our summer was with an all-Armenian dinner: Grilled lamb and bulgur pilaf.      

It was nothing fancy, just a comforting reminder of good times and of family come and gone. Afterward, we sat for a while on the porch, watching the boats come in from the sea.

2 comments:

  1. It truly pulled at my heart strings. The descriptions are so vivid to me and the memories flooded my mind. It's a beautiful piece and I love it, it's a family thing.

    Zabelle (Zippi) Dabbakian Keil
    Sept. 11, 2012

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