|Barbara, Robyn and Aunt Arpie|
Like many folks our age, however, we're sad to find that our families on both sides are dwindling and scattered. So any gathering that reflects even a glimmer of holidays past is precious.
To our delight, Aunt Arpie Vartanesian was determined to provide that opportunity this holiday season – and, in the spirit that she has always shown, she overcame one obstacle after another to make it special.
Arpie is technically Robyn's aunt but we share her without distinction. She's fun to talk with any time about anything, but our Dikranagertsi roots always give us plenty of food memories to share. For years, we shared them while eating the food we loved.
She retired from cooking several years ago, however, when she moved from her condo into a senior living complex that features an attractive dining room with an impressively varied menu.
Nowadays, she isn't getting out as much and we live just far enough away to make a dinner get-together a challenge. Arpie's solution was to invite us for Thanksgiving dinner at her complex's dining room. Also invited were her niece Barbara Dorian and husband Ed along with some close friends.
Due to a mix-up, however, no family-size table was available so we were broken up into small groups. It didn't bring to mind the old family warmth we'd expected.
Rather than wait to try again next year, however, Aunt Arpie made her displeasure known to the “head honcho,” who invited us all back for a pre-Christmas dinner at one big table in a private dining room. Best of all, he offered to let our aunt set the menu.
He undoubtedly expected her to request a traditional holiday favorite – perhaps turkey or baked ham – but she stuck with our own holiday tradition by ordering shish kebab. Of course, she insisted on lamb.
“And I told him it has to have coriander,” she assured us. “It just won't taste right without kinz.”
The honcho passed the request along to the dining manager, an enthusiastic young man named Roderick. He had to work around a few of his own obstacles, such as not being able to build a fire pit in the kitchen, but he cleverly evoked the spirit of Aunt Arpie's request by seasoning and carving juicy kebab-size chunks of lamb loin that were served over tabouleh.
The Armenian theme carried through from the cheese boreg appetizers - that our aunt generously shared with the dining room staff - to the paklava dessert.
It turned out to be a very special evening, thanks not only to Aunt Arpie's perseverance but to her extraordinary spirit and love.