Chris Bohjalian's Blog, page 3

May 11, 2014

A few years ago, a friend of mine had a delicate question about her mother, and wasn’t sure what to do. She decided to call a radio therapist for advice. Her mother, it seemed, needed to pay a little more attention to her. . .moustache. Now, we’re not talking walrus or handlebar. We’re not talking Borat or Yosemite Sam. But according to my friend, there was definitely a little blond scruff on her mother’s upper lip, and someone needed to tell the woman. My friend, however, was unsure how to broach the subject with her mom.

The radio therapist’s solution? Give her mother a gift certificate she could use for any treatment she’d like at a beauty spa, and tell the folks at the spa that they should recommend – with subtle grace and suitable charm – that her mother have a little work done on her upper lip.

My friend thought this was brilliant. Was all in. She gave her mother the gift on Mother’s Day, and her mom loved it. A few weeks later, her mother went to the spa and got a. . .massage. And as for her upper lip? No waxing. No Bleaching. No electrolysis. When her mom returned from the spa, she was still sporting a Tom Selleck. But, wow, did she love that Mother’s Day Present. She had never gotten a massage at a spa before.

I share this story because today is Mother’s Day, that day each year when we celebrate our mothers. According to Anna Jarvis, the woman who usually receives credit for launching the holiday back in the early years of the twentieth century, the apostrophe should follow the “r” in mother: Jarvis wanted each family to honor its own mother, not make a big deal about “motherhood” conceptually.

And, indeed, in my experience the best Mother’s Day presents or cards have been idiosyncratic and thoughtful. Personal. Of course, when I was a boy – and especially when I was a self-absorbed teenager – the presents I gave my mother were anything but thoughtful. I recall shopping for her at the 7-Eleven store a few blocks from our home in Miami, Florida when I was in eighth grade. I don’t remember what I got her, but I have a terrible feeling it was a Slurpee cup. Another year I used some of the money I made washing cars and bought my mother a miniature beer stein designed to hold toothpicks. It had a tiny woman in a dirndl dress on one side. My mother didn’t drink beer, didn’t use toothpicks, and never in her life expressed any desire – at least as far as I know – to pretend she was Brigitta in “The Sound of Music.”

Fortunately, my wife’s and my daughter didn’t inherit my selfish gene. We’re both avid readers, so one year she gave us bookmarks on Mother’s and Father’s Day. They’re sixteen or seventeen years old now, but we both still use them. She made them by rolling paint-covered marbles atop strips of cardboard in a brownie pan.

To quote Jack Donaghy – the fictional head of East Coast Television and Microwave Programming on “30 Rock” – “Gift giving is the purest expression of friendship. I’m going to think about what I know and like about you, and that will lead me to the perfect gift.” Anna Jarvis would certainly have agreed when it came to Mother’s Day. They both would have approved of those bookmarks – and of my friend trying to help her mother tackle that little caterpillar on her mother’s upper lip.

So, while today is Mother’s Day, I am going to take a page from my friend’s playbook. I’m going to make a suggestion of a gift that someday my daughter is welcome to give to me for Father’s Day. Hair plugs. Otherwise, I fear, soon I will be resorting to the Official Christian Bale “American Hustle” Combover.

In the meantime, may the mothers I know all get the perfect gift today. May none of you get a miniature beer stein filled with toothpicks.

Happy Mother’s Day.

(This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on May 11, 2014. Chris’s new novel, “Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands,” arrives on July 8. You can learn more about it right here on Goodreads.)
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Published on May 11, 2014 06:24 • 96 views • Tags: bohjalian, mother-s-day

May 4, 2014

Some people say that baseball is no longer America’s game because it’s too slow for the twenty-first century.

Well, I’m here to celebrate it for that very reason – and how its occasionally glacial pace makes it a great game to watch in person. This may simply mean that I’m a dinosaur (I do have the hairline of a brontosaurus), but the other day I was watching the Mets at Citi Field, and I was surrounded by boys and girls who were having a great time. I have the noise-induced hearing loss to prove it.

Of course, it helps to be a Mets fan. The Mets this year are better than most years, but when I woke up on a Sunday morning in Manhattan with a day off between speeches, it was easy to get a ticket. I spent $37 for my last-minute seat (which was excellent), a few bucks on the subway, and $15 in food at the park. Altogether, it was a $57 afternoon.

And while $57 is not cheap, it’s a lot less expensive than a trip to the Meadowlands to watch the Giants or Madison Square Garden to watch the Knicks. (In all fairness, I could probably watch curling for less.) Also, you get to see the world’s most disturbing mascot, Mr. Met, use a t-shirt cannon to launch clothes into the stands.

Just for the record, I think the animated Mr. Met is appealing in a retro, George Jetson sort of way. It’s the in-person dude with a massive baseball for a head who gives me nightmares. Sure, he’s smiling, but the baseball seams look like scars. Think Leatherface from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

I was seated with families ahead of me and beside me. Behind me I had four guys who, like me, were diehard Mets fans. Unlike me, however, they attend lots of games and experience the agony of defeat far more acutely. Since the Mets lost that afternoon and managed but three hits and one run, they spent a lot of time reconfiguring the Mets roster and payroll. Also, drinking. They weren’t drunk, but I think the beer helped. The game for them was somewhere between a crossword puzzle they had to solve and punishment for past sins.

But I enjoyed talking to them, because they were knowledgeable about the sport. We could dissect the outfield shifts. We could debate whether to bunt. We could discuss the frequent flyer programs of the airlines that passed over the massive Citi Field sign as they lifted off from nearby LaGuardia Airport. The leisureliness of the sport – its pace – allows for that sort of conversation.

Meanwhile, the families were all in when it came to no-holds-barred enthusiasm. Every time the scoreboard implored us to “Make some noise!” they did. Especially the girls. The kids stood whenever there were balls hit to the warning track. They moaned when a Met stuck out. (And the Mets struck out a lot that day.) They had their gloves ready for foul balls.

Incidentally, I’ve never caught a foul ball at a game. One time, one bounced on the armrest of the seat beside me, but I was so busy studying the scorecard that I was oblivious to the actual game that moment. Not kidding. This was at Yankee Stadium in 1982, and I was there with my girlfriend (now my lovely bride). This was particularly humiliating because the ball was hit by the Twins catcher, Ray Smith. My wife had spotted Smith during batting practice and was following him that afternoon because she understood nothing of baseball. . .but she thought Smith was cute. Maybe he spotted her, too, and sent her that foul ball. In any case, it bounced off the armrest and landed – to paraphrase “Star Wars” – in a galaxy far, far away.

Next month, the Vermont Lake Monsters return to Centennial Field in Burlington. I’ll take in a game or two there, too. Sure, it’s not the big leagues, but the caliber of play is terrific, the seats are excellent, and the mascot – even if he is a monster – won’t give me bad dreams.

Baseball might not be as fast as basketball or as gladiatorial as football, but the old sport still has plenty of life left in it.

* * *

This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on May 4. Chris’s new novel, “Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands,” arrives on July 8. You can watch a video preview here:
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Published on May 04, 2014 09:24 • 56 views • Tags: bohjalian, citi-field, mets

May 3, 2014


As many of you know, CLOSE YOUR EYES, HOLD HANDS, my new novel, arrives in a little more than two months — on July 8, 2014.

And some of you have probably read about the novel right here on Goodreads, and learned a little more.

If you have a minute, you can now watch a video preview. Voila — the book trailer:

Fingers crossed you’re not disappointed.

More soon. . .

Thank you, as always, for your faith in my work.

All the best,

Chris B.
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Published on May 03, 2014 14:48 • 129 views • Tags: bohjalian, close-your-eyes, hold-hands

April 27, 2014

Six months ago, there was a three-year-old girl in the Committee on Temporary Shelter’s Main Street Family Shelter in Burlington, Vermont who wasn’t talking. She wasn’t speaking. “She was so shy. She wasn’t using words. We were really worried about her language acquisition,” recalled Cassie Paulsen, 28, the Children’s Education Advocate at COTS. The girl’s mother was worried, too: This was one more trauma to add to the ongoing ordeal of being homeless.

But Paulsen had funds at her disposal from the annual COTS fundraising walk through downtown Burlington, and so she was able to enroll the child at a local preschool. A few months later, when COTS had helped the small family find a home, “the girl couldn’t stop talking,” Paulsen said. “She couldn’t stop singing. It was wonderful.”

This is a testimony to the power of having a roof over your head and a little stability in your life. It’s one more indication of the way COTS changes lives daily.

A week from today, Sunday, May 4th, is the annual COTS Walk. It will be the 25th time that volunteers have made the three-mile trek through the city, stopping to see the shelters and services that COTS offers. Last year, 1,500 people participated. This year, Becky Holt, the group’s Development Director, expects even more. After all, Holt said, this is a big anniversary, and for some of the walkers and volunteers it will be like a reunion. The shelter hopes the walkers this year will raise $175,000 in pledges.

Among the ways that COTS uses those funds is to provide services that are not necessarily covered by existing grants. Often that means creating programs for the kids in the shelters – and right now there are 24 children in the two COTS family shelters. The youngest is two months old. The oldest is 18.

And many of those services are managed by Paulsen. In addition to supervising the Book Buddies and the Playroom Volunteers – programs in which volunteers read with the children in the shelter or play with them – Paulsen has to focus on the basics, such as wellness and nutrition. Sometimes the basics entail making sure the kids have transportation to their school. Sometimes it means getting the kids into a summer camp. And some days it means finding the children tutors. She has built relationships with 21 different daycare providers and preschools in the Burlington area.

Paulsen’s position, Children’s Education Advocate, is a new one for COTS. It was designed last November. Prior to that, many of Paulsen’s current responsibilities were handled by AmeriCorps staffers. But Paulsen is perfect for the job. She had worked at the family shelters for nearly three years before taking over the position. “I love the energy at the family shelters,” she told me. “I love the kids and the babies. Those shelters are so helpful for the young single moms.”

Paulsen is also a veteran of the COTS Walk. The Newport, Vermont native started volunteering when she was a freshman at the University of Vermont, helping out as a crossing guard. She’s walked six times herself.

I know firsthand what a delight the COTS Walk is. I don’t make the walk every year, but I do when I can. After all, the shelters always are full; invariably there’s a waiting list.

And there is still time to sign up and raise a little money. (Or a lot of money, but feel no pressure.) This year the walk starts at two p.m. at Battery Park, and registration begins at one. Once again, there will be face painting for the kids and plenty of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for everyone. In addition, “American Idol” finalist James Durbin will be performing.

So, if you’re not already booked next Sunday, walk a few miles for the homeless. It’s three miles that will make a difference in a child’s life.

* * *

For more information – to register or donate – visit .

(This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on April 27. Chris’s most recent novel, “The Light in the Ruins,” was published this week in paperback.)
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Published on April 27, 2014 11:07 • 99 views • Tags: bohjalian, committee-on-temporary-shelter, homeless

April 20, 2014

If you’re the Easter Bunny, some years you just have to pull a rabbit out of a hat. Some Aprils, you have to deal with blizzards – and, thus, snow bunnies in Vermont. Sometimes in March, you find nothing but dust bunnies under the beds when you’re hiding the eggs. No matter what, you always have to be quick like a bunny. And you have to distribute all those baskets and all those eggs without anyone ever seeing hide nor (forgive me) hare of you.

And then, I imagine, there are the houses with cats and dogs and. . .chefs. We have six felines in our home, and most of them are scaredy cats. Most of them are utterly terrified of our neighbors’ chickens. Or, they are such lazy and inept hunters that they couldn’t catch a mouse in a lobster pot. But not all. Our cat Funny Face is eighteen pounds of muscle and claw, and while he has a sweet disposition, his strong suit is not judgment: I’d hate to see him wake up in the middle of the night when the Easter Bunny is in our kitchen. It wouldn’t be pretty. We’re talking hasenpfeffer.

My point? It’s not easy to be the Easter Bunny. It is probably easier than being Santa Claus, since the loads are smaller. Most of the time, you only bring what will fit in a basket. But you also do the work without elves and reindeer. I’ve never imagined that the Easter Bunny has anywhere near the backend operation that Santa Claus has.

One year when our daughter was still in elementary school, my family spent an Easter on Grand Cayman. Later, she admitted to her mother and me that she had been worried the Easter Bunny wouldn’t know where she was, and she’d wake up on Sunday morning without a basket. But then she said reminded herself that he’d never let her down yet. It was all about faith.

And, indeed, the Easter Bunny found her. Sure, an investigative journalist might have noted that the basket had been filled at least in part from the hotel gift shop. But the Bunny delivered.

I asked her the other day for some of her favorite Easter memories, and they included that moment on Grand Cayman, when she awoke and saw an Easter Basket on the floor of the hotel room. But they also included looking for Easter eggs at her godparents’ home around the corner from us here in Lincoln, and how their older son – a boy in her grade – always looked so uncharacteristically dressed up in his blazers and bowties. Her favorite memories also included the dresses she would wear to church those Easter mornings, and the bonnets her mother found for her some of the years. And while our church doesn’t hold Sunday school on Easter itself, her memories included the different Sunday school teachers she had over the years, and the way she learned the miracle of the Easter story itself – the bedrock of our own family’s faith.

Easter is like that: A combination of secular and the spiritual implausibilities. A miraculous bunny. An inexplicable resurrection. It is, like all religions, about faith. And one thing I believe for sure is this: The world is a better place when it is rich in faith, and – to paraphrase Corinthians – when together we abide in love.

It may be harder sometimes to have faith when you are fifty years old than when you are five. The implausibilities are a little more glaring. Sometimes the Easter Bunny doesn’t find the little girl. Some dark nights the tectonic plates beneath us (and inside us) shift. Some bleak days we are painfully aware of how little we can ever control or how little we can really heal or how little we can actually accomplish. But as C. S. Lewis, wrote, “Faith. . .is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.” The truth is, the sun really does rise. . .always. Especially today.

Happy Easter. Happy Passover. Peace.

(This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on April 20, 2014. The paperback of Chris's most recent novel, "The Light in the Ruins," arrives on Tuesday.)
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Published on April 20, 2014 05:41 • 115 views • Tags: bohjalian, easter, easter-bunny, faith

April 13, 2014

Last month I spent a little time in Los Angeles traffic — and by little I mean “geologic” little, and by traffic I mean “Car Max” parking lot traffic. At one point, the Garmin GPS was telling me that I was 19 minutes from my destination for about an hour.

Los Angeles, of course, is famous for traffic, so, I had planned my travel accordingly. I gave myself elephant-gestation amounts of time to get everywhere.

Moreover, I’d been warmed up for the reality that I was going to be moving at the pace of a heavily sedated snail, because days before leaving for L.A. I had driven from Manhattan to Boston, confronting both the standard evening rush hour traffic and then two accidents, which clogged the Merritt Parkway the way bacon clogs arteries.

But here is what allowed me to keep my sanity: Audiobooks. I have never outgrown the pleasures of being read to. In truth, I’m not sure anyone does. And whether I’m traveling the mere five miles from my home in Lincoln, Vermont to Bristol or embarking on a journey that traverses three states, the trip seems to take a whole lot less time when I have an audiobook to keep me company. As John Adams once said, “You will never be alone with a poet in your pocket.” (I love the point of that quote, as well as the alliteration. Just don’t try to envision it literally. Whenever I do, I see a Barbie Doll-sized Robert Frost waving up at me indignantly from my shirt pocket.)

Since my wife’s and my daughter was little, audiobooks have been a part of our family’s life. Those six-hour car rides between northern Vermont and my mother-in-law’s apartment in New York City would have felt like Odysseus’ journey — an interminable expedition with all sorts of monsters lurking along the Taconic Parkway — if it weren’t for Beverly Cleary’s timeless novels for children.

I should be precise: Those journeys would have felt endless if it weren’t for the way Stockard Channing read aloud Beverly Cleary’s timeless novels for children. Channing is a terrific actor with a bunch of Emmy and Tony awards on a shelf somewhere, but my favorite thing she has ever done is bring Ramona and Beezus – and their parents and teachers and friends — to life. Even though my family was listening to those audios well over ten years ago, I can still hear in my head the way Channing voiced Ramona’s teacher, telling the girl on her first day of school, “Now, you sit here for the present.” Alas, poor Ramona assumes this means that if she remains in her seat, she’ll be given a gift. A present.

A terrific actor will do that for a novel; a thoughtful narrator will bring a history or a memoir to life. I first listened to Jon Krakauer read his riveting account of the disaster that befell climbers atop Mount Everest, “Into Thin Air,” back in 1997. I’ve listened to it at least three times since.

My sense is that we all have totemic connections with the particular stories that feed our souls. And whether we listen to an audiobook while driving (as I do), or gardening, or exercising, it can transport us from the monotony of the moment. It can make that moment memorable and special and rare.

Among the audios that kept me sane a few weeks ago when I was in asteroid-is-about-to-hit-the-earth traffic in Connecticut and California? Actor and writer B.J. Novak’s recently published first collection of short stories, “One More Thing.” It wasn’t simply that the stories were surprising and moving: It was that Novak himself read many of them. And when he wasn’t reading them, his friends from “The Office,” Mindy Kaling and Rainn Wilson, were. Or Emma Thompson. Or Lena Dunham. Great writing and great narrating is a spellbinding combination. We’re talking gin and tonic.

Now, I’m not claiming that an audiobook will make a five-hour drive feel like a five-minute jaunt. But the right tale? Once more you can sit back the way you did when you were child – perhaps before bed – and relax as someone reads you a story.

(This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on April 13, 2014. Chris’s new novel, “Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands,” arrives on July 8 — including the audio version read by Grace Experience Blewer.)
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Published on April 13, 2014 09:43 • 143 views • Tags: audiobook, b-j-novak, bohjalian

April 6, 2014

Later this month — April 24 — Armenians around the world will pause to mourn the 1.5 million of our ancestors who were systematically annihilated by the Ottoman Empire in one of the 20th century’s first genocides. Under the violence and fog of the First World War, three out of every four Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed. And while Americans of a certain age (mine) can recall their mothers encouraging them to clean their plates by imploring, “Think of the starving Armenians!” for most of the country the Genocide is largely forgotten. It is, as my narrator Laura Petrosian calls it in “The Sandcastle Girls,” my 2012 novel about the cataclysm, “the Slaughter You Know Next to Nothing About.”

Once upon a time, however, everyone knew. There were bestselling books and memoirs. There were movies. There was an endless stream of newspaper articles, many on the front pages of the largest papers in the country.

And there were people like Burlington, Vermont’s Ellen Weston Catlin sharing the story.

I learned about Ellen Catlin from my friend, George Aghjayan. George lives just outside of Boston, but when he is not rooting for his beloved Patriots, he is researching a history we share — a history most Armenians in our Diaspora share.

Catlin was born in 1883 and grew up on Pearl Street. She graduated from Burlington High School and the University of Vermont, where — according to the yearbook – she was a soprano in the Ladies’ Glee Club. In one UVM yearbook photo, she has wide, beautiful eyes, an elegant sundial for a nose, and a swan’s neck she has hidden demurely behind a high collar. On Sept. 13, 1908, a “red-letter day in Burlington,” according to the “Missionary Herald,” she received her commission at First Church on College Street to join a group of missionary teachers. She was off to a part of the Ottoman Empire called Kharpert, where she would be teaching English at Euphrates College.

Although Kharpert and Van today are inside Turkey, they’re part of the cradle of Armenian civilization. How extensive was the ethnic cleansing there? According to Ottoman census figures, there were roughly 204,000 Armenians living in the province of Kharpert in 1915; by 1922, there would be only 35,000. And in Van? The Armenian population was obliterated, falling from 197,000 in 1915 to 500 in 1922. Soon after that 1922 census was taken, there would be almost no Armenians living in either

Unlike some Western missionaries, Catlin would not witness the worst of the slaughter: She sailed home to Burlington in 1913 because her health was failing and her father was ill. But she would return to Turkey in 1919, after the First World War, and continue her work as a missionary there and in Palestine through the mid-1920s. She wrote a small book, “Suggestions for Armenian Students of English.” (Just for the record, I could use a small book, “Suggestions for English Students of Armenian.”)

As Aghjayan told me, “I think it’s fair to say that the five years she spent working with the Armenians of Kharpert had a lasting impression on her — so much so that when her health was better and the opportunity presented itself, she returned.”

At least one of her surviving letters is an indication both of this country’s awareness of the start of the Genocide and the dangers faced by the Armenians. In the late spring of 1915, she expressed her fears in a letter to James Barton — originally from Charlotte — the head of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in Boston. She wrote about the way Turkish soldiers and Kharpert city officials had destroyed the United States seal at Euphrates College (where Barton had once been President) and ransacked the furniture and desks. She wondered whether Armenians were in need of “American protection.”

I can only speculate what it was like for her to be here in America when the news got far worse: When the Armenians were being slaughtered where they lived or marched into the searing Syrian desert to die. What must she have felt when she read that the Armenian faculty at Euphrates College had been arrested, and many killed? When the college was taken over by the Ottoman Army? It is likely that she was even more aghast and more horrified than most Americans. After all, she had lived and worked there. She had friends among the Armenian community. In my mind, I can see her speaking out at churches in Burlington. Sharing her devastation with anyone who would listen.

And today? Today Euphrates College is gone. Last May, George Aghjayan and I walked the earth where it once stood. Like so much of the civilization that marked Western Armenia, the ground there is either barren or the antiquities have been replaced by modern buildings.

So the college is but a memory – along with the Armenian world that once existed there.

Once upon a time, however, thanks to the likes of Ellen Catlin, the world knew.

(This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on April 6, 2014. The paperback of Chris’s most recent novel, “The Light in the Ruins,” arrives on April 22.)
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Published on April 06, 2014 07:10 • 485 views • Tags: armenian-genocide, bohjalian, kharpert, the-light-in-the-ruins

March 30, 2014

This seems to be the month when I am writing about the great women who raised me. Last week I wrote about my extraordinary and eccentric Aunt Rose Mary.

Well, in another era, tomorrow would have marked the start of Annalee-Mas. Annalee-Mas was the season surrounding my mother Annalee’s birthday. Her birthday was not until April 3rd, but we were expected to celebrate it beginning around the first of the month. On a good year, she would make it last a week. Think Hanukkah, in terms of stretching out the presents; think Christmas in that she expected a whole lot of ribbons and bows.

Now, this makes her sound greedy – the Veruca Salt at Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. She wasn’t. She just wanted excuses to party. She was actually insanely generous: If my brother and I finished opening our Christmas presents before early afternoon, the holiday in her mind was an absolute failure.

My mother died almost two decades ago now. That means she never saw anyone twerk. She never downloaded a virus from the Internet. She never tried to find an old college roommate on facebook. Her cell phone, when she died, was not quite the size of a walkie-talkie, but she sure as heck didn’t carry it around with her: As I recall, she thought a call on it was only slightly less expensive than being a space tourist. It sat in her car for emergencies.

Also, it was only a phone. No apps. No Instagram. No texting.

She died years before the two World Trade Towers were destroyed by terrorists, which would have left her devastated. She died years before the election of President Obama, which would have left her thrilled. She died years before almost all of her friends did, and over a decade and a half before her husband – my father.

Moreover, she never got to know any of her grandchildren, including my wife’s and my daughter. Our daughter was 20 months old when her grandmother died.

And yet as April 3rd nears, I still have moments now and then when I have to remind myself that it’s not Annalee-Mas. There’s no one to visit, no one to call. No one to shop for. The sensation is not what I imagine a phantom pain must feel like – the twinge where a limb once was. It’s not an ache and it’s certainly not grief. I am decades beyond grieving.

Rather, it’s more like a very gentle regret. My mother’s and my last conversation was a cataclysmic dysfunctional mess: She was dying of lung cancer in a hospital room and I was waffling between whether to catch my flight home that day to Vermont and return to Florida in two weeks as planned, or stay. (The doctors were sure she wasn’t about to die in the foreseeable future. They were positive. But my mom sure fooled them. Was gone in three days.) In any case, while she and my father were arguing over cough syrup dosage – which is truly rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic when you’re in the final stage of lung cancer – my indecision finally got to her and she snapped at me to go. Just go, she said. Go. So I did.

But she knew I loved her and I knew she loved me. So the regret is not about things I wish we had said or done, or not said or not done. The regret is not about leaving Florida that morning. (Oh, hell, maybe it is. But I have always striven mightily to repress that little notion.)

I like to believe the regret, pure and simple, is this: By dying as young as she did, my mother may have been spared such nightmares as 9/11, but there was far more that she missed that she would have loved. Far more. There are so many people she would have adored, and who would absolutely have adored her – including my daughter and my niece. She would have dressed them as Ralph Lauren models from the time they were three.

And so even though the week around her birthday hasn’t been celebrated by Bohjalians in decades, this week I will once again smile at the sky for my mother.

Merry Annalee-Mas.

(This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on March 30, 2014. The paperback of Chris’s novel, “The Light in the Ruins,” arrives in three weeks.)
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Published on March 30, 2014 08:45 • 102 views • Tags: annalee, bohjalian, the-light-in-the-ruins

March 23, 2014

My Aunt Rose Mary has appeared in this column before. She was spotted most recently in a gorilla suit, planning to have a little fun and scare some kids on Halloween. Instead she ended up getting chased down the streets of Douglaston, New York by a mob of crazed sixth-graders – they didn’t realize it was one of their friend’s mothers inside the gorilla costume – while being pelted with eggs. This happened in 1974 and her daughter (my cousin) recalled the story for me last October.

But my aunt also had a cameo in this column ten months ago, because of the incredible litany of art supplies she somehow manages to fit into her purse. On any given day, she is likely to have aisle five – all of aisle five – from her local craft store wedged in there. She volunteers at the elementary school near her home and helps six or seven-year-old children figure out how (for instance) to make the teeth on their drawings of piranhas as terrifying as anything inside the giant maw of the great white shark that was built for the movie, “Jaws.”

She is my father’s younger (much younger) sister and my entire life has been like a second mother to me. She lives in South Florida and last month we spent a few days together when I was speaking on Sanibel Island.

Now, all families have idiosyncrasies. To paraphrase Tolstoy: Happy families are all alike, but every eccentric family is eccentric in its own way. Same is true for the family’s matriarch or patriarch – the face of the family. And my Aunt Rose Mary? Eccentric in all the best ways. Exhibit A? That gorilla suit story. Arguably, my whole family, the Swedish as well as the Armenian sides, were eccentric in (again, more or less) the best ways. My Aunt Rose Mary and my mother were closer than sisters.

When I saw my aunt last month, it had been the first time we had been together since the previous June, when we had sprinkled my father’s ashes at a nearby beach. Consequently, I found myself asking many of the family questions that had gone unasked for. . .well, forever. We had a pair of long, leisurely dinners together, and I learned things I’d never known about my parents and my Armenian grandparents.

But the thread that struck me as she regaled me with tales of dinner parties and family gatherings between the 1940s and the 1980s was the way that she was the glue that linked the generations. I noticed this as well when she was sharing with me stories of the people who came and went in the magisterial house in Douglaston, New York in which she and her husband raised my cousins, or the weather-beaten pile of timber and glass where she and her family built a life in the summer on Fire Island. Now, she would never view herself with such self-important grandiosity. Few things annoy her as much as when people grow pompous or (her term for it) “puffed up.”1012557_10152235132777118_1866077887_n

But one moment when we were talking about all the Thanksgivings we had celebrated at her home, I recalled how we would link hands around the dining room table – which, in my memory, is the size of a putting green – and sing that classic Thanksgiving hymn: “We Gather Together.” More times than not, most of us were doing our best to butcher the words: “We gather together to pass the French dressing.” But we were still holding hands and we were still together.

And once more we were all awash in her laughter, and warmed by her rare and wondrous nimbus.

Her birthday was the other day. So, I send south from Vermont big birthday greeting to Rose Mary Muench, one of the world’s great, eccentric matriarchs – and still my second mom.

(This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on March 23. Chris’s new novel, “Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands,” arrives on July 8. You can learn more about it here on Goodreads.)
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Published on March 23, 2014 09:48 • 81 views • Tags: bohjalian, fire-island, rose-mary

March 17, 2014

Or, at least, the CHANCE to win free stuff.

I discovered today that Goodreads and Doubleday right now are giving away free advance copies of CLOSE YOUR EYES, HOLD HANDS.

Want the chance to win one?

Click here:

And, of course, you can learn all about the novel right here on Goodreads or on . The book arrives everywhere on July 8.

Thanks so much -- and happy reading. As always, my fingers are crossed that my work never disappoints you.

All the best,

Chris B.
You get the point. . .
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Published on March 17, 2014 18:54 • 151 views