BY MARY NAJARIAN
In the 1940s, life was tough in Aleppo Syria, and to support a family of seven, both my father and my mother had to work. My father worked two shifts so that we would be able to go to school. Many children in the neighborhood did not go to school because their parents could not afford the tuition. My siblings and I were the lucky ones.
My father was self-educated, and highly valued the importance of learning. As an eleven-year-old boy, he survived the genocide under the most inhumane and unspeakably horrible conditions. His goal in life was to make sure, his children had a better life than he had. He believed that education paved the way to a better life.
Even though my parents could not give us much in material things, they were very generous in gifting us invaluable advice. My father was adamant in not only giving us advice, but also in making sure that we took it.
There are two, distinct, memorable of my father’s advice that I still carry in my heart and in my mind.
1. “Every day you must learn something new.”
2. “Every free moment, you must have a book in your hand and read.”
Every night, as soon as my father got home from work, before he even sat down to rest, he would ask. “And what did you learn today?”
It was not hard to keep my father happy and carry on with his advice since every day I learned something new in school. I learned letters, numbers, reading, writing, songs, poems and more. I would proudly recite what I had learned on any given day for my father, which of course made him very happy.
One day my father came home from work and as always, he asked his favorite question. “And what did you learn today?”
“Nothing.” I replied. “Oriort Alice was sick and did not come to school. We had three recesses and did not learn anything.” I further explained.
I remember he became angry and scolded me.
“How quickly did you forget what I have been telling you repeatedly? You must learn something every day, which does not mean you have to learn only what Oriort Alice teaches you. You must learn from your friends. You must keep your eyes open, to pay attention and learn new things. You have to read, read and read, this is how you acquire knowledge, this this how you become smart.”
Sometime later, my father asked his routine question again.
“And what did you learn today?”
For a moment I did not know what to say. I was not prepared. Then I suddenly remembered that, that same morning, during chapel, Degeen Arshalooys, the principal had said a prayer for my friend Maritsa’s grandmother who had fallen from the roof and died on the way to the hospital. Degeen Arshalooys prayed for her soul and said if she were a young person falling from the roof, she would have likely survived. She told us that old people had brittle bones, and that’s why she had broken several bones and died.
I proudly told my father what I had learned. “Older people’s bones are brittle and if they fall they could die.” This new information that I had learned made my father very happy.
“These are the things you should learn in life along with what you learn in class. The more you learn, the better person you’ll be. One day you will learn something which will change your life for the better.”
My father’s advice was like a bell in my head, which never stopped ringing.
“Every day you must learn something new. Every free moment, you must have a book in your hand and read.”
At the age of twenty-two, I came to Chicago from Lebanon, and everything was new and different. There was so much to see, and so much to learn. I knew the first thing I had to do was to make friends, and to ask questions. The second thing was to start school.
I arrived in Chicago on September 11th, and just twenty days later, on October 1st, I started night school at North Western University, while also working full time during the day. This lasted for two years. Soon after I was married and moved to Cleveland Ohio. I started my sophomore year at Case Western Reserve University. One year later we moved to Chesterland and I transferred to Ursuline college, taking one or two courses each semester. Twenty years after my arrival to Chicago from Beirut, and having four babies, I finally graduated from college. I received my bachelor’s degree the same week my oldest son, Ara, graduated from high school.
But my education did not stop after graduating from College. I took advantage of all possible educational opportunities. My father’s words were always ringing in my head. At night I would go to bed and hear his voice.
“And what did you learn today? What did you read this week?”
I was working at Case Western University hospital in Cleveland, Ohio as an RN in the operating room. Every so often, Dr. Ensel, one of the surgeons, would open the door half way, poke his head and say something to one of the surgeons.
“Hey Bill, just came to say, the bushel of wheat went up 1.5 cents today. I told you to buy, did you?” Other days he would say. “Hi Bill, bushel of wheat is down 2 cents, I should have sold it.”
I did not understand what they were talking about. I was curious and wanted to know what a bushel of wheat going up or going down meant. I had to learn something every day!
One day I asked Dr. Ensel. “What does a bushel of wheat going up or going down mean?
“It is an investment. Look it up in the Sunday paper in the business section, you can learn all about it there.” He explained.
The first chance I got, I purchased the Sunday paper and read the business section under investments. I read about stocks, bonds, found the name of a broker and made a call. Two days after my call, Edward Warner, a certified broker met us at our apartment. He introduced himself and we asked him questions. Mr. Warren was kind enough to explain what the stock market was, how it functioned, the dividends, and much more.
With his advice we decided to open an account. We explained to Mr. Warren, that we did not have much money to invest. My husband was a doctor in his residency training, and I was working part time to support the family. We had a total of $2,000 in our savings account and asked if it was enough to invest.
“Sure.” He said. But I could tell he was disappointed with the small amount we had to invest. Mr. Edward Warren opened an account at Fidelity and with his recommendation we purchased 2 shares of IBM for $550, 10 shares of Sears Roebeck, and 10 shares of American Hospital.
I still remember Mr. Edward Warren who introduced me to the world of investments, which is still my daily occupation.
Eight decades have gone by since my father’s famous advice.
“Learn something new every day and read, always read, to acquire knowledge.”
Through the years, I have signed up for too many classes, trying to learn something new and improve myself. Just to name a few, I have taken sewing, painting, antiquing, bridge, calligraphy, computer, Spanish, Contracting , Dance classes, and many, many more.
My father is long gone, but if he were here today, for sure he would ask me,
“And what did you learn today? What did you read this week?”
And I would proudly say. “This week I learned to play Back Gammon, so I can play with my husband to keep him company.”
Every Wednesday, at 1 PM, to improve my writing, I go to Memoire class, offered by Glendale City College.
Last week I read The Book of Whispers, by Varoujan Vosganian, and now I am reading, Kourken Mahari’s The Burning of Orchards.
“Thank you , Dad, a habit you helped me develop eight decades ago can never be broken.”