Liz Henry

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Boston Globe, MA
May 18 2008

Time, chance weave life threads

By Liz Henry
Globe Correspondent / May 18, 2008


This is a story about three disparate parts of my life that should have absolutely no connection with one other. One: I am Armenian. Two: I am from Dorchester. Three: I am a new teacher developer. And this is how they connected.

I am the daughter of an Armenian father, an Armenian Genocide survivor, and an American-born Armenian mother. While I was growing up, my father did not speak often about being a survivor; he was too busy trying to survive here in Boston. In his 80s, he returned for the first time to his birthplace. When he got back, he started to tell us what little he remembered, as a 3-year-old, of his trek across the desert, when he and his aunt and cousins escaped.

The story he told most often was of the day that a Turkish soldier on horseback scooped him up from the fleeing refugees. My father had blond curls and blue eyes. They were remarkable into his old age; they must have been incredible on a little child in Armenia, where dark hair and eyes are the norm. The gendarme held him as he rode into a Turkish village and deposited him with a family. My father said he remembered a group of men playing cards and smoking. He was the soldier's gift to the family. But then, according to Dad, he started to cry and kick and scream and whine to the point where the impatient card-players could not stand it anymore and gave him back to the soldier, who returned little Anoosh to his aunt. He came to America in 1917 or so, moved to Watertown, got an education, married, had children, and lived a happy life until he died in 2004.

Two: I was born and brought up in the Codman Square area of Dorchester. My world was our street, Wheatland Avenue; Kaspar Brothers Market, which my great-uncles owned; my school, the John Greenleaf Whittier on Southern Avenue; my cousins' house on Talbot Avenue; and the Codman Square Branch Library. I played Barbies with Gail across the street, jumped the hydrant on the corner, and watered the flowers with my grandmother, who lived upstairs. A treat was taking the bus to Ashmont Station, meeting my girlfriends at Washington Station, going to Filene's Basement, the Windsor Button Shop, and then having lunch at Bob Lee's Islander. I was 10.

Later, at 12, I would walk from my house to Girls Latin School in the center of Codman Square. After school, I would stop often at my old familiar library.

We moved from Dorchester to Watertown when I was 17, after my 80-year-old grandmother was mugged and her eyeglasses broken. It was the last in a series of seemingly minor assaults, which collectively had too much of an impact. We were out of there.

Three: In August 2007, I was appointed a new teacher developer for Boston Public Schools. In this role, I mentor and support 14 first-year teachers for BPS. I look forward to Thursdays because that is when I go to Noonan Business Academy in the Dorchester High School complex. From my home in Winchester, I drive down I-93 south, down Dorchester Avenue, up onto Melville Avenue. I take a left onto Washington Street and go back to my childhood. On the left is the former Girls Latin School, now an apartment building for the elderly. In front of me is my beloved library, now a community health center. A couple of short blocks later, I take a left onto Peacevale. And this is where it all comes together.

more stories like thisOne of my new teachers, Rob, has been teaching the Armenian Genocide as part of his History Alive/Facing History and Ourselves curriculum. What I see today in his class takes my breath away. Students are making posters, poetry, or essays to reflect on what they have learned. This in and of itself is startling. I never learned about the Armenian Genocide in school. It was never written about in books or acknowledged by any of my teachers. Mr. Martinelle has taught an entire unit on it as a prelude to the Holocaust.

"Miss, what does genocide mean? What is its root word? Where does it come from?" This from an African-American young man about 8 inches taller than I am. I explain that "genus" means species and "cide" means . . .

He knows what it means, and after thanking me, goes back to his seat to continue writing. Devon writes a haiku about how no one listened. Stephanie draws haunting pictures. Each one can explain what the Armenian Genocide was/is. I tell them the story about my father and the horseman. They listen raptly. They ask me questions. I answer as best I can.

They awe and inspire me. I shake my head as I reflect how this little class could bring three such different and distinct parts of my life together. To listen to these students protest the injustices against Armenians and Jews and Rwandans and themselves, with such dignity, is amazing. I am honored to be in their company.


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