The ethnic makeup of our family is literally all over the map. On Dad's side there is Swedish, Scottish, Welsh, and Armenian - mostly hardy and serious blood from Northern Europe. Mom comes from the fun-loving, dynamic, and impulsive Latin strain: Spanish, Italian, Irish, and Portuguese, along with some American Indian thrown in for good measure.
Still, in the midst of this melee, our Armenian heritage stands out clearly as our dominant family identity. It is traceable up through the patriarchal line straight back to the hills and steppes of Eastern Europe. My Great-Grandfather was full-blooded, but married a Scotswoman, and so began the process of dilution. (I have no grounds for regretting this process, as without it I would not be here.) Still, the name Telian remains distinctively Armenian, bearing the characteristic i-a-n ending.
The following is a classic Armenian story that Dad once told me. I think he first heard it from my Great-Grandfather. It goes like this:
There was once on old landowner who had three sons. Being sick and near death, he called his sons to instruct them regarding their inheritance, which consisted of his seventeen mules.
The eldest came in first, and his father embraced him, feebly but fervently. "Son, you've been very good to me. You've worked hard and you were always there when I needed you. I want you to have one half of my mules." The eldest son bowed, kissed his fathers hand, thanked him, and left.
The second son came in. His father smiled. "Son, you've served me well, and you're a good man. There have been times, however, when you let me down. I want you to take one third of my mules." The second son bowed, thanked his father, and left.
The youngest son entered. His father looked him up and down, a bit sternly. "Son, you've caused me much trouble and difficulty. I hope after I am gone you will yet mend your ways and learn to be a responsible, dependable man. I am half-inclined to give you nothing, but I want you to know that I love you and wish to give you one more chance. I am leaving you one ninth of my mules." The third son bowed, mumbled his thanks, and left.
By and by the father died, and his sons set about the business of dividing the inheritance. The eldest began:
"I am supposed to take one-half. From seventeen, that is eight and a half, but I think it absurd to take half a mule: should it be the front half, or the back? The upper half, or the lower?"
The second answered:
"I am supposed to have one third. This comes to five and two thirds, but it ought to be rounded up to something that can be herded."
The youngest spoke last:
"For my own part, I was instructed to take one ninth, which is one and eight ninths. I am agreed regarding the impracticality of dividing livestock fractionally, but I do not see how the two of you can insist on taking more than your allotted share. Surely there will not be enough!"
The second son shot back hotly:
"Then you may have to do without. This is how it must be."
"That I won't!"
And so they quarreled for a whole day without reaching an agreement and parted ways exhausted. In short order the three brothers' predicament became known around the village. When word reached a neighbor of theirs who had been a good friend of their father's, he smiled quietly to himself, and resolved to visit the brothers the next day.
The next morning the neighbor came, leading one of his own mules. He could already hear the shouting and cursing inside the house. Without wasting time, he stepped up to the threshold and called the brothers outside.
"Sirs - I know this is an important matter to all of you, and I know you are vexed being unable to resolve it. See here - I have brought one of my own mules, which I will add to your late father's herd, bringing the count to eighteen and possibly making things simpler for you."
The brothers wearily agreed to this plan, too tired to offer thanks. The neighbor led his mule into the pen with the others, and stood himself in the center, holding the halter. "Now," he said, addressing the eldest son, "what portion is yours?"
"Very well. What is one half of eighteen?"
"Nine," said all the brothers in unison, and the eldest brother proudly led nine mules out of the pen.
"And what portion were you left?" the neighbor asked the second brother.
"Six!" shouted the youngest.
"Very well - take six," said the neighbor. The second son, grinning, removed six mules. The neighbor turned to the youngest brother. "What portion were you promised?"
"Very well - and how many is that?"
"Two," said the third brother, and hurriedly took two mules.
Everyone was overjoyed to have the matter so painlessly laid to rest. The brothers embraced one another and thanked their neighbor profusely. The neighbor smiled, told them it was nothing, and returned home, leading his mule behind him.
Image courtesy of desertratdemocrat.com