In a corner of a modest house impossibly distant from the corner of the world I now call home, I sit with my aged father in the place where I grew up.
Both of us, perhaps, are looking for something that links Alabama to Armenia , though neither of us says that is what we are doing.
Do they raise livestock in Armenia , the old man wants to know.
That's what he used to do. And I hated that he did because sometimes it meant that his teenage son had to climb from a warm bed in a dark hour and do things with stinking animals that wouldn't wash off his hands before having to catch the school bus.
I told my father that cows, sheep and hogs are a big part of the Armenian landscape and dinner table.
The big news in my father's world a few years ago was that a super Wal-Mart (a megalopolis discount shopping chain that is an American icon or scourge depending on perspective) was being built here.
Has Wal-Mart made it to Armenia yet? he wants to know.
That's the day I'll have to leave, I say. I start to try to explain the vernisage open bazaar, but then I realize some things are better left a mystery.
Now, what's the name of the city you live in?
We talk about food. I tell about a recent morning outing to eat khasch the cow's feet soup that smells up Armenian kitchens during wintertime. My old man makes a sour face, and I remind that in the very kitchen of this Alabama house, as a youth I ate scrambled eggs mixed with squirrel brains.
I tell about Armenia 's tasty fruits and vegetables. And my dad limps over to the doorway and brings back a shoebox with tiny cups in it holding soil into which he has planted tomato seeds.
I like to grow things, he says. And I try to find a meaning that may not exist, in an 85-year old man anticipating the fruit of yet unborn tomato plants.
He wants to know what kind of cars Armenia has.
I tell him there's a little bit of everything, but that Niva and Volga dominate.
Russian made, huh? he says.
I say yes, and he asks if everything has to be imported. And he asks if Armenia is landlocked, and if there's a kind of government that has a mayor and so forth.
And my dad's wife wants to know about religion.
Are there Methodists and Baptists and such as that, she asks.
No, just Christians, I say and Communists, and some who seem to be waiting for a good offer on what to believe.
The questions are almost child-like. And the simple answers carry no weight of the complexity of life that led to this moment in this familiar-now-foreign house.
On a shelf in the room where I used to sleep is a black and white photo of 5-year-old me. I look at that face, then into a mirror, and think of the world I've seen in between. And I cannot imagine the world of my father baby of the First World War, veteran of the Second, father of a Vietnam veteran, grandfather to a First Lieutenant now in Baghdad .
And father of a son who has made a life half a world away among people who this old man would surely love too if he gave them a chance. And I think of how grateful I am for having that chance.
I see him only every few years. And the visits now come with guilt. Armenia has taught me that I am not a good son. Living in my new world, I have learned values of family that I wish I'd applied to the one that grew from this house.
But maybe Armenia is a second chance to get that right. So I use the telephone in my Alabama former home to call Armenia and ask how my pregnant godchild is doing.
Links. Looking for links.
I walk out of the room where I used to sleep when this was my home and Armenia was just something else I might have missed.
On a wall where a cheap painting used to hang, there is now a world map. And over the place in the world that I now know better than this one, there is a map pin stuck on the little purple blotch with squint-worthy letters that say Armenia .
And it occurs to me that this plastic pinhead represents the boy that grew up in this house to a father that might never have understood his world, but never stopped him from expanding it.
And I find a lot to be glad about.