Category Archives: Observe & Ponder


In the wee hours of this morning, I had a nightmare that brought me back to my younger years when I was living with my grandmother, great-grandmother, and mother in a tenement railroad apartment on Huron Street in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

My recurring nightmare back then was paralyzingly frightening: a smirking animal monster hiding at the bottom of the front door stairs of that crummy apartment waiting for me. I was never clear about what kind of animal it was, but it still scared the bejesus out of me.

That damn dream did the trick because I never dared to enter the long, dark hallway leading to the bottom of those filthy stairs for fear that something would be lurking there and, indeed, waiting for me.

And anyway, a padlock the size of my head was bolted onto the front door, making it impossible to get in or out. The only way in and out of our apartment was to climb up several levels of outdoor stairs to get to the back door of the fourth-floor tenement — one way in and out — a real fire trap.

I haven’t had that dream for over 60 years, but the evil-looking monster in this morning’s nightmare was eerily similar — except this dude was clearly a mixture of a lion and a goat.

The dream was so startling that at 3 am, I grabbed a pad and pencil and then typed the words “part lion and part goat” into my phone.

And there it was: Chimera.

According to Greek mythology, the Chimera was a female monster with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail. Ooh, my monster dude was actually a dudette. Now, this female monster was my kind of animal.

One definition described a chimera as something hoped for but illusory and impossible to achieve in reality. This definition resonated with me.

Another relatable description read: “The Chimera represents the coexistence of opposites, such as strength and vulnerability, courage and fear, and life and death.”

Whoa. Maybe my dream was a sign and not a nightmare at all.

When I rehashed how I felt when I first saw the lion goat in my dream, I wasn’t afraid of it per se. It was more of a feeling that I needed an added level of removal or protection, if that makes any sense.

After mulling over the dream’s interpretation, I asked myself: Was I the Chimera?

I tried to get back to sleep, but all I could think about was this Chimera and the duality of her existence. Was she a conflicted role-player of sorts? Who was this Chimera to me?

Trying to get back to sleep was useless, so I made a strong cup of coffee and then parked myself at my desk for hours, searching the Internet to learn more about my Chimera.

According to Wikipedia, Homer depicted Chimera in his epic poem, The Iliad: “Her breath came out in terrible blasts of burning flame.” Hmm, according to Homer, this Chimera character had a big mouth. I was starting to like her, but unfortunately, she met a violent demise.

Also, as told in The Iliad, King Iobates of Lycia, who despised Bellerophon, the son of Poseidon, ordered him to slay the Chimera, hoping the she-monster would kill him instead.

I was fascinated by the myth and wanted to know why King Iobates despised Bellerophon so much. According to one source, Iobates received a letter from Proetus, the King of Argos and Tiryns, instructing him, “Please remove this bearer from the world: he attempted to violate my wife, your daughter.”


Chimera’s hot breath made it impossible for Bellerophon to get close enough to kill her. So he took a large block of lead, mounted it on his spear, and using his winged horse Pegasus, he flew over her and then shot it into Chimera’s mouth.

Chimera’s fire breath melted the lead, blocked her air passageway, and suffocated her. YIKES. I guess that shut her up.

But Bellerophon got too big for his britches when he sought to ascend to heaven in a vain and foolish attempt to join the gods on Mount Olympus, angering Zeus, the God of the sky.

According to my research, Bellerophon’s demise went one of two ways:

In one scenario, Zeus orders Pegasus to drop Bellerophon from the sky to the ground, instantly killing him.

In the other, Zeus orders Pegasus to drop Bellerophon from the sky to the ground, but he doesn’t die.

Instead, he falls onto a thorn bush face-first and is blinded and paralyzed, causing him to live out his life in misery, “devouring his own soul,” until he eventually dies. Call me a monster, but I much prefer this scenario.

At 70

[My self-portrait with the help of AI]

From birth to age 12, my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother were my heroes. In my teens through 21, my heroes were my friends. Then came the boss heroes who guided me through the corporate ladder climb. Once I reached my 40s, my husband morphed into my hero. And in my 50s, I looked for the hero in my kids. Then I went heroless for a while.

And now, at 70, I see that the hero I spent a lifetime searching for was inside me the whole time.

Here are my notes to self on the arrival of my 70th birthday:

At 70…

I am not too old.

I will plant another butterfly bush, so more will come.

I can spend the time I have left in any way I choose.

The clock is of no import to me now.

I’m still a work in progress.

Endings might just be more beautiful than beginnings.

I can finally focus on what I want to do and not what I need to do.

The most tragic and regretful goodbye is the one that was never said.

Money is not the answer to everything, but it helps.

The family I have isn’t all the family I need, but I have hope.

I’m not at peace. But I’m working on it.

I now know that to exist is to survive.

Friends come and go, but some surprise you and stay forever.

For the first time in my life, I can do whatever I want, whenever I want.

I am more than the sum of my Bridgeport parts, but I will never forget where I came from.

The adage “You get what you give” is not always true.

I don’t want anything I don’t already have.

Sometimes goodbye, not sorry, is the hardest word.

My hard work actually did pay off.

I will say his name. But not yet.

It is never too late.

Betty Crocker and My Grandmother Mammy

Weird as it might sound, Betty Crocker and my grandmother Mammy (MayMe) are inextricably connected.

And I would go so far as to say that Betty Crocker taught my English-illiterate grandmother how to read.

Whenever I pull out my Betty Crocker Cookbook (like today) or bake a Betty Crocker brownie or cake mix, I’m reminded of Mammy. Maybe it’s because, in my mind’s eye, Mammy was the quintessential Betty Crocker.

Let me try to connect the Betty/Mammy dots for you.

On October 21st, 1921, a cooking icon was born, conjured up by Samuel Gale, the head of the advertising department at Washburn-Crosby, and the company that owned Gold Medal Flour.

Mr. Gale and his all-male advertising and marketing staff were responsible for handling incoming mail from women seeking cooking guidance. Mr. Gale never signed his name to any advice he dispensed, knowing full well that no woman would ever trust a man’s cooking tips. Someone needed to sign the letters, so who could it be?

Gale’s recommendation to the higher-ups (all men), based on feedback from the lower-level kitchen staff working at Washburn-Crosby (all women), was to invent a female advice expert.

The last name given to this fictitious cooking expert was in honor of a retired and revered marketing director, William Crocker.

Betty, in all likelihood, was chosen because it was a wholesome, fashionable, all-American name and was one of the most popular names given to female babies at the time.

Gale then asked the company’s female employees to submit signatures they thought befitting of Betty. A secretary by the name of Florence Lindberg won the winning signature — and Gale added it to the closing of every letter that ever went out.

In 1924, when Washburn-Crosby began airing a cooking radio show out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, they needed a voice for Betty. They ultimately chose a Washburn-Crosby staffer Marjorie Child Husted, a field representative in their home economics division, who became the writer and host of the local WCCO radio show. The show became one of the longest-running radio shows in history.

In 1936 a portrait of Betty Crocker was painted by a successful female illustrator and portrait painter Neysa McMein and was used to depict her persona for over twenty years.

In 1941, Betty Crocker’s first grocery item — noodle soup mix — landed on store shelves across America.

It wasn’t until 1945 that fake Betty was outed.

That year, Fortune magazine named Betty Crocker the second most famous woman in America, followed by Eleanor Roosevelt. The Fortune article also exposed Betty as an invention conjured up by advertising men looking to sell flour.

But by that time, her cooking advice was invaluable to millions of women across America, so nobody cared that Betty was a fraud.

In 1947, her first cake mix — the Ginger cake — debuted in almost every supermarket in the United States, followed by the bestselling Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook, published in 1950.

My first memory of cooking with Mammy was in the 50s, and I can vividly recall her struggling through the pages of her treasured Betty Crocker cookbook. Mammy couldn’t read or write English, so following a written recipe was difficult for her.

I would watch in fascination as she would match the words on the pages to the names of the packaged ingredients, like flour, butter, milk, and sugar, and then figure out the measurements by comparing the numbers on her measuring devices to those in her tattered cookbook.

As I got older and able to read the recipes for myself, I once corrected her use of applesauce (homemade, of course) instead of sugar, only for her to wag her finger at me and say, “trop sucré” (too sweet). That’s when I first learned the art of healthy cooking substitutions.

And because Mammy was English illiterate, if the list of ingredients were too long, she passed on the recipe. To this day, if there are more than ten ingredients in a recipe, my eyes tend to glaze over, and more often than not, I search for a simpler alternative.

In 1973, when I moved into my first apartment, Mammy bought me my very own Betty Crocker cookbook — the edition with a pie divided into six equal triangles of yummy-looking food photos in the middle of a red cover.

Mammy’s 49-year-old housewarming gift is still my go-to cookbook, albeit coverless and chock full of food stains.

SSGT James Champion: You Are Not Forgotten

In 1968, when I was just fifteen years old, I can still recall with chills that at the end of the news every night, an unending list of names of those lost in Vietnam that day would silently scroll on the television screen.

The scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. It’s still seared in my memory.

On Veteran’s Day, November 11, 1970, a student group based in California called Voices in Vital America (VIVA) launched a POW/MIA bracelet campaign. The intention was to sell the bracelets and use the money to increase public awareness of the thousands of missing U.S. soldiers in Vietnam and never forget them.

Each bracelet was engraved with a soldier’s name and the date of his capture. Between 1970 and 1976, VIVA sold over five million bracelets.

Back in the early 1970s—at least in my circle of friends—we felt it was our civic duty to honor the missing by wearing their bracelets.

In 1971, a friend gave me a bracelet for Christmas in honor of U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant James A. Champion from Houston, Texas, who went missing on April 24, 1971. I vowed to wear my treasured bracelet until James or his remains came home.

According to reports, on April 23, 1971, Private First Class (PFC) James Albert Champion was a rifleman assigned to a six-man radio relay team on a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) inserted into the infamous A Shau Valley. After receiving intense enemy ground fire at their primary landing zone (LZ), the team was moved and inserted near the village of A Luoi.

The LZ was two miles northwest of a river and six miles away from the South Vietnamese/Lao border. This border road was no more than a path cut through the jungle-covered mountains and used by the Communists to transport troops, weapons, and supplies, from North Vietnam into South Vietnam. U.S. forces used all assets available to them to stop this flow of men and supplies from moving south into the war zone.

After disembarking from his helicopter at 1500 hours, Champion’s radio relay team leader was severely wounded by enemy fire. The alternate team leader took command of the patrol, but he was hit by enemy fire and killed. A helicopter trying to rescue the wounded and dead soldiers was shot down, and the 4-man aircrew found themselves on the ground with the LRRP team fighting for their lives. Shortly after that, a second helicopter attempted to rescue the embattled Americans but was also shot down by enemy ground fire.

On April 24, the Americans on the ground were still engaged in vicious combat with the North Vietnamese Army forces.

On April 25, at approximately 1500 hours, PFC Champion, armed with an M-16 rifle and in good shape, left the team’s defensive perimeter next to one of the downed helicopters to look for water, but the Ranger never returned.

One of the helicopter pilots reported he heard shots coming from the direction PFC Champion headed but could not provide any additional information about his fate. A helicopter successfully rescued the survivors and the dead later that day.

Ground and aerial searches were conducted for Champion from April 25 through April 30 without success. On April 30, the formal search was terminated, and James Champion was listed Missing in Action. After the incident, the Army promoted PFC Champion to the rank of Staff Sergeant.

On June 16, 1973, I went with some friends to Shea Stadium, where 152 released war prisoners were honored in a pre-game ceremony before the New York Mets played the San Diego Padres. Staff Sergeant James Champion was sadly not one of them.

I wept as the former POWs marched onto the field as the band played “This Land Is Your Land.” The over 25,000 fans gave them a standing ovation, their fists pumping in the air, roaring and screaming non-stop, “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.,” for well over five minutes.

Many of the fans, the POWs, the Mets, and the Padres were all crying.

In 1976, VIVA closed its doors because Americans wanted to forget about Vietnam.

But I will never forget our soldiers left behind, especially Sergeant James Albert Champion.

As of February 26, 2020, there are still 1,585 Americans missing and unaccounted for in Vietnam—many of them airmen.

Since the Vietnam War ended, our government has received over 21,000 reports about POW/MIA. There is mounting evidence that hundreds of soldiers may still be alive and captive, waiting for their country to save them.

James Champion may be one of them.

My Commonplace Life

“A successful person is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at them.” ~ David Brinkley

The quote above, discovered over thirty years ago, struck me as so profound that I immediately wrote it down and referred to it in all my times of trouble. It also resulted in the birth of commonplacing my life.

I cataloged my commonplace life in files marked “Mortar” and “Bricks.” The file folders aren’t organized in any particular order, but to read through them is to know all of me. Some of my commonplace collection is so searingly revealing that I hope they’re discovered and dissected long after I’m gone.

Call them the ghost of me.

I use the “Mortar” as my commonplace life cement, in the hopes that it hardens enough to bind and secure the “Bricks” that others throw at me.

In so doing, I am masterfully adept at sealing and securing the irregular and uneven gaps—brick by brick—to recalibrate the enormous weight of them in the hopes of creating a safe and stable fortress.

I regularly use the “Mortar” files to soften and equally distribute the crushing pressure from the vile files of “Bricks.”

Commonplace books were popular as early as the Middle Ages and used by writers and scholars as a way of cataloging and memorializing the knowledge they amassed from their life experiences— their loves, their peers, their mentors, their books, and their loss.

Commonplace books, also referred to as commonplacing, are similar to scrapbooks, but they aren’t journals and have no chronological patterns.

Every commonplace system is unique to its creator and serves as a window into who they are, their beliefs, their fears, and their passions. Commonplacing is, more often than not, a lifelong collection of revealing inspirations—the deep caverns of a mind laid bare.

Like so many others who have commonplaced for centuries before me, I have collected thousands of compiled gems.

And I often peruse them when I am questioning life, love, and loss. It is during my darkest hours that I comb through my treasured collection of musings.

My files of “Mortar” and “Bricks” have expanded over the years to include hundreds of Word docs, my blog The Teri Tome, my author website, my Instagram account AllDollhousedUp, and reams of hanging Pendaflex folders.

I would love to see my commonplacing passed down to later generations, to memorialize forever the breadth and depth of who I was.

“To all the bullies, abusers,
and brick throwers I have known:
It took a lifetime to realize
that I am a giant when compared
to your tiny ruthless selves.
People like you hide their insecurities
by bullying and abusing people like me.
You’re not powerful enough to
extinguish my light.
You don’t even know it,
but the evil you have sown is your curse.
Your sickness will undo you.
No one heals themselves
by wounding another.
You have no power over me.
The power is mine, all mine.”
~ Teri Schure

When the Moon Meets the Sun

This past Saturday marked 25 weeks since I have self-quarantined with my husband.

Day in and day out, all I have is Zoom, my husband, my cooking, my blog, my dollhouse projects, and the television.

Watching the protests from the safety of my home has hit me in a way I have never felt before.

At 67 years old, I’ve finally figured out that the legacy of slavery continues to devastate black lives.

It took a coronavirus pandemic for me to realize that there was already a pandemic in America. A plague way worse than the coronavirus.

How naïve I’ve been to think that we were all in this together.

Together? No. Not so.

I watch the news, and I see the hateful Facebook posts from people that I thought I knew, and I wonder if blacks will ever achieve racial equality in this country.

My husband discovered the Americana girl band Our Native Daughters while listening to an Israeli radio station on his nightly walk through our local park.

Their song Moon Meets the Sun inspired him so much that when he got home, he excitedly searched YouTube for me to hear it.

The lyrics were haunting, and they made me so mad.

They made me want to help somehow, but I’m stuck in my house, and I’m afraid to venture out.

The longer I stay in, the harder it is to make a move.

I want so badly to fix something.


But I can’t even leave my house, so how the hell can I fix racism?

When the day is done, the moon meets the sun, we’ll be dancing. You put the shackles on our feet. But we’re dancing. You steal our very tongue. But we’re dancing. You steal our children. But we’re dancing. You make us hate our very skin. But we’re dancing.

Please listen to the song.

The sun and the moon align every 18 years.

My lucky number is 18.

The Hebrew word for “life” is (chai), which has a numerical value of 18.

And over and over again, the number 18 and multiples of 18 have had an eerie significance in my life.

I thought about the number 18 as it relates to what’s happening to our country and how 18 might fix it.

And then I thought about all those 18-year old kids that need to vote.

They need to fix us.

I pray the kids will make the change.

When you’ve finished listening to Moon Meets the Sun, there is another YouTube video by Our Native Daughters titled Barbados that you must watch. The link to it is at the bottom of this blog post.

Barbados left me remorseful and covered with goosebumps. It’s more of a poem than a song.

And it got stuck in my head.

So much so, that I needed to share it with someone, somewhere out there.


I own I am shocked at the purchase of slaves
And fear those who buy them and sell them are knaves
What I hear of their hardships, their tortures, and groans
It’s almost enough to draw pity from stones

I pity them greatly, but I must be mum
For how could we do without sugar and rum?
Especially sugar, so needful we see?
What? Give up our desserts, our coffee, and tea?!

Besides, if we do, the French, Dutch, and Danes
Will heartily thank us, no doubt, for our pains
If we do not buy the poor creatures, they will
And tortures and groans will be multiplied still

I own I am shocked at prisoners in the mines
And kids sewing clothes for our most famous lines
What I hear of their wages seems slavery indeed
It’s enough that I fear it’s all rooted in greed

I pity them…

I pity them greatly, but I must be mum
For what about nickel, cobalt, lithium?
The garments we wear, the electronics we own?
What? Give up our tablets, our laptops, and phones?!

Besides, if we do, the prices will soar
And who could afford to pay one dollar more?
Sitting here typing it seems well worth the price
And you there, listening on your favorite device
This bargain we’re in, well, it’s not quite illicit
So relax, my friend, we’re not all complicit

Please watch Barbados


A Time to Kill

The 1996 film A Time to Kill is about Carl Lee Hailey (Samuel L. Jackson), a heartbroken black man whose ten-year-old daughter was brutally beaten and raped by two white supremacists.

As the two men arrive at court for their trial, Hailey takes the law into his own hands and shoots and kills them.

He hires Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey), a white rookie lawyer to defend him, but getting him acquitted in the small segregated town of Canton, Mississippi seems unlikely.

The chain of events following the death of the two rapists and the subsequent trial of Hailey is fraught with racial tension and revenge by the Ku Klux Klan.

I will never forget Brigance’s closing argument because it profoundly affected me in a way I did not expect.

And it forever changed the way I thought about a lot of things.

You might be asking, how is that possible?

Here is what he said:

Now I want to tell you a story. I’m going to ask y’all to close your eyes while I tell you this story. I want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to yourselves.

This is a story about a little girl walking home from the grocery store one sunny afternoon. I want you to picture this little girl.

Suddenly a truck races up. Two men jump out and grab her. They drag her into a nearby field, and they tie her up, and they rip her clothes from her body. Now they climb on her, first one then the other, raping her, shattering everything innocent and pure — vicious thrusts — in a fog of drunken breath and sweat. And when they’re done, after they killed her tiny womb, murdered any chance for her to bear children, to have life beyond her own, they decide to use her for target practice. So, they start throwing full beer cans at her. They throw them so hard that it tears the flesh all the way to her bones — and they urinate on her.

Now comes the hanging. They have a rope; they tie a noose. Imagine the noose pulling tight around her neck and a sudden blinding jerk. She’s pulled into the air, and her feet and legs go kicking, and they don’t find the ground. The hanging branch isn’t strong enough. It snaps, and she falls back to the earth. So, they pick her up, throw her in the back of the truck, and drive out to Foggy Creek Bridge and pitch her over the edge. And she drops some 30 feet down to the creek bottom below.

Can you see her? Her raped, beaten, broken body, soaked in their urine, soaked in their semen, soaked in her blood — left to die.

Can you see her? I want you to picture that little girl.

Now imagine she’s white.

The defense rests your honor.


I was cleaning out some old files today and found Chiaroscuro, my Brevard College literary magazine from 1972-1973.

I barely remembered the magazine, so imagine my shock when I opened it up and discovered that I was the Editor-in-Chief!

I also forgot about the stuff I wrote in it.

Yikes, it felt surreal reading through my 1972-1973 self.

Of the five things I wrote in Chiaroscuro, one screamed out from the rest:


Individuals are peculiar. They say and do things that they don’t mean and regret later. We are all like that some time or another.

This is how I remember her. Twelve-year-old Joanne was about four feet eight inches, forty-five pounds, with hollow, pitiful blue eyes. Due to her unnatural thinness, her face was sunken and homely. She was one of a family of twelve, her father deceased. Her clothes were tattered and worn and extremely old-fashioned. You’d think this tiny forlorn youth would be understood by her classmates. Instead, she was our victim, marked for ridicule and laughter. I recall that she always appeared to be carrying the world’s grief upon her shoulders.

I never saw her smile.   Not once.    Not ever.

My classmates and I would swarm around her during recess, like bees after honey, and make her cry. One dreary afternoon she shyly approached me and asked if I’d hopscotch with her. I indignantly pushed her down on the playground cement and stalked away, feeling somehow insulted. She didn’t cry, though, for I suppose she was used to it. For the remainder of the school year, we constantly annoyed, ridiculed, and hurt her. And she would attempt nothing, but frown at us and walk with her head down to a secluded corner of the playground where alone, she would sit and stare into some unknown space, and cry sometimes.

Then summer came, and the homely little girl was pushed out of my mind until opening a local newspaper I fell upon her picture. She had died of leukemia, a disease she had known she had for years.

And as I stared at the photograph of the homely little girl with her large hollow eyes and her sunken face, I cried…

                                                for she was smiling…

Jesus. Was I a bully? I don’t even remember Joanne.

Did she even exist?

What was twelve-year-old Theresa trying to say?

Or maybe it was 1972-1973 Teri speaking.

I can’t imagine that I would bully, but then, if Joanne wasn’t real, who was I writing about?

And her clothes couldn’t have been tattered, worn and old-fashioned because we all wore uniforms.

Or maybe I saw Joanne outside of school in crummy old clothing.

But back in the day, I wore used clothes and shoes from Goodwill, so who was I to judge?

And why would I make fun of a homely scrawny kid who appeared to be carrying the world’s grief, when I was similar to Joanne in so many ways.

This also got me thinking about all kinds of places and times and events — triggers be damned.

I shoved Chiaroscuro back into my filing cabinet, depressed, not only by the thought that I might have been a bully but at the possibility that in some twisted way, I was Joanne.

Armenian Holocaust Survivor Aurora Mardiganian

I will warn you now that if you are faint of heart, do not read this blog.

And it’s long, but I didn’t even try to shorten it.

The story is too remarkable to whittle down, so this blog post is how I will honor Christmas this year.

Skim it if you must, but I am hoping you will not.

And at the end of this blog post is a YouTube video I hope you take the time to watch.

On October 21, 2019, I wrote a blog post about how, during the Armenian Holocaust, the Turks drove my paternal grandparents out of Syria.

During that harrowing time in my grandparents’ young lives, millions of Armenians, Assyrians, and members of other non-Muslim minorities were deported, starved, raped, kidnapped, and slaughtered.

I had no idea that my post about my Syrian grandparents would be read by so many thousands of people.

To be honest, I didn’t think anyone would care at all about what happened to them.

To my readers: Thank you for caring.

While working on the blog post, I discovered and ordered a book about the Armenian Holocaust written by a 16-year-old survivor, Aurora Mardiganian.

First things first.

Turkey continues to deny what historians have called the first genocide of the 20th century, and in Turkey, it is an actual crime to “insult Turkishness” by even raising the issue of what happened to the Armenians.

And the Trump administration backed Turkey up, arguing that if the U.S. ever recognized the Armenian genocide as a matter of foreign policy, such a resolution would damage the United States-Turkey relationship.

To be fair, many past administrations have disappointedly backed Turkey up.

On Thursday, December 12, 2019, the Senate, for the first time, voted unanimously to formally designate the 1915 mass killings of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire as a genocide.

Of the nearly 1.5 million Armenians killed, some were massacred, and others were forced to march to the Syrian desert where they were left to starve to death.

And then there were the women and little girls who suffered unimaginable violations, sold into Turkish harems, ravished by the roadside, crucified, and so much worse.

One of those young girls was Aurora Mardiganian, and her story will chill you to the bone.

Aurora, born Arshaluys Mardiganian, in 1901, was the daughter of a prosperous Armenian family who lived in Ottoman Turkey, twenty miles north of Harput, a few miles east of the river Euphrates. The Turkish residents and the Armenians had been good neighbors.

That was until 1914, when at fourteen years old, she witnessed the deaths of her entire family, including watching as Turkish soldiers ripped open her pregnant aunt’s stomach with their bayonets, and trying in vain to save her older sister who was murdered as she resisted being raped. She was later forced to watch as her mother, and remaining siblings were whipped and stabbed to death.

Aurora, who was forced to march over 1,400 miles, was brutally raped, beaten, kidnapped, and sold into the slave markets of Anatolia.

Three years into her nightmare, she miraculously escaped, roaming through a region of nothing but desert, where she encountered many acts of kindness from the Dersim Kurds whom she described as people “without the lust of killing human beings…” and to them “she owed her life.”

After months of wandering through the desert, Aurora finally reached the Turkish city of Erzeroum, which was by then occupied by Russia. In her book, she recalled her arrival there and being greeted by “a beautiful sight—the American flag.”

She then made her way to Tiflis, which is now Tbilisi, Georgia, then to St. Petersburg. From there, she traveled to Oslo, and finally, with the assistance of an organization called the Near East Relief, she made safe passage to New York City and arrived at Ellis Island in 1917.

Soon after she arrived In New York, Aurora was approached by a young screenwriter named Harvey Gates, and he helped the then sixteen-year-old orphan write and then publish her memoir titled Ravished Armenia.

According to Gates, her work on the book was exhausting: “Sometimes there had to be intervals of rest of several days because her suffering had so unnerved her…You who read the story of Aurora Mardiganian’s last three years will find it hard to believe that in our day and generation such things are possible.”

Back in 1917, Gates found the Armenian Holocaust hard to imagine. But history has taught us that “such things” happen every day.

This is Aurora’s dedication from the book:

“To each mother and father, in this beautiful land of the United States, who has taught a daughter to believe in God, I dedicate my book. I saw my own mother’s body, its life ebbed out, flung onto the desert because she taught me that Jesus Christ was my Saviour. I saw my father die in pain because he said to me, his little girl, ‘Trust in the Lord; His will be done.’ I saw thousands upon thousands of beloved daughters of gentle mothers die under the whip, or the knife, or from the torture of hunger and thirst, or carried away into slavery because they would not renounce the glorious crown of their Christianity. God saved me that I might bring to America a message from those of my people who are left, and every father and mother will understand that what I tell you in these pages is told with love and thankfulness to Him for my escape.”

In 1919, the book was made into a silent film with the same title.

Referred to in the press as the Joan of Arc of Armenia, Aurora heroically played herself in the film. And the then Ambassador Henry Morgenthau played himself as the American Ambassador to Turkey.

As a survivor and eyewitness of the Armenian Holocaust, Aurora’s memoir heartbreakingly recalls the brutality, ugliness, and horror of genocide, and what occurred to the young girls and women as a result of male dominance, their sick sexual desires, and their inhumanity and hatred for Christians.

In one section of the book, Aurora witnesses sixteen young Armenian girls being crucified “on rough wooden crosses” by their Ottoman tormentors.

The film depicted the victims nailed to crosses, but in 1989, seventy years after the film was produced, Aurora confessed to the film historian Anthony Slide, that the scene was inaccurate. She painfully went on to describe what was actually vaginal impalement.

She stated that “The Turks made little pointed crosses. They took the clothes off the girls. They made them bend down, and after raping them, they made them sit on the pointed wood.

The book depicts the cruelty of the Turks, but they weren’t the only ones with blood on their hands.

They allowed and orchestrated others to join in: The Chechens, the Kurds, and the Germans.

According to Aurora, all of the evil and wickedness perpetrated by the “bandits of the desert” was inspired by “their Turkish masters.”  

She describes the Chechens as being more cruel and wicked than the Kurds and that during the massacres, the Turks gave them permission to steal as many Christian girls as they wished.

There was a section of Mardiganian’s book describing “The Game of Swords” played by the Chechens after they tired of raping the young women.

“They planted their swords, which were the long, slender-bladed swords that came from Germany, in a long row in the sand, so the sharp-pointed blades rose out of the ground as high as would be a very small child. When we saw these preparations all of us knew what was going to happen… Already I was trembling with sickness of heart because of the awful night before and the things I had seen that morning when daylight came. The other women beside me were trembling, too, and felt as if they would rather die than see any more. We begged our Tchetchens to take us away—to take us where we could not look upon those sword blades—but they only laughed at us and told us we must watch and be thankful to them we were under their protection.

When the long row of swords had been placed the Tchetchens hurried back to the little band of Armenians. We saw them crowd among them, and then come away carrying, or dragging, all the young women who were left—maybe fifteen or twenty—I could not count them.

Each girl was forced to stand with a dismounted Tchetchen holding her on her feet, half way between two swords in the long row. The captives cried and begged, but the cruel bandits were heedless of their pleadings.

When the girls had been placed… one between each two sword blades, the remaining Tchetchens mounted their horses and gathered at the end of the line. At a shouted signal the first one galloped down the row of swords. He seized a girl, lifted her high in the air and flung her down upon a sword point, without slackening his horse. It was a game—a contest!

Each Tchetchen tried to seize as many girls as he could and fling them upon the sword points, so that they were killed in the one throw, in one gallop along the line. Only the most skillful of them succeeded in impaling more than one girl. Some lifted the second from the ground, but missed the sword in their speed, and the girl, with broken bones or bleeding wounds, was held up in the line again to be used in the “game” a second time—praying that this time the Tchetchen’s aim would be true and the sword put an end to her torture.

Another section of the book describes the sick cruelty of the Kurds as told to Aurora by Margarid, the wife of a pastor about the rape and murder of her six daughters, including her oldest daughter Sherin, who was fourteen:

“There were a thousand of us,” Margarid said when we had brought her out of the stupor of grief which had overcome her… The first night Kurdish bandits rode down upon us… They stripped all the women and children — even the littlest ones… They took all the pretty girls and violated them before our eyes… When we left the Kurds and [Turkish] soldiers who were tired of the girls were killing them. …the soldiers killed my little ones by mashing their heads together. They violated Sherin while they held me and then cut off her breasts, so that she died.”

Aurora wrote much about the cruelty of the German soldiers and how they armed and taught the Turks how to use machine guns. The Germans would lead the Turkish soldiers personally and helped to raid and machine gun Armenian houses.

There is one particularly disturbing section of the book that describes the evil of the German soldiers:

“Late in the afternoon the chief of our Tchetchens came out from the city. His men drew off to one side and talked with him excitedly. When it grew dark they lifted us upon their horses and carried us into the city through the south gate. At the gate the Tchetchen chief showed to the officers of the gendarmes a paper he had brought from the city, and the Tchetchens were permitted to enter. We passed through dark narrow streets until we came to a house terraced high above the others, with an iron gate leading into a courtyard off the street. A hammal, or Turkish porter, was waiting at the gate and swung it open.

The bandits dismounted outside the gate to the house and lifted us to the ground. The leader waved us inside. With half a dozen of his men he entered behind us and the gate closed. Some of the Tchetchens went into the house. In a few minutes they came out, followed by a foreign man, whose uniform I recognized as that of a German soldier.

Servants followed with lighted lamps, and the soldier looked into our faces and examined us shamefully. Only eight of the girls pleased him. I was among these. We were pushed into the house and the door was closed behind us. Then we heard the Tchetchens gather up the other girls and take them into the street. I do not know what became of them. The soldier and the servants, all of whom were foreigners, whom I afterward discovered were Germans, took us into a stone floored room which had been used as a stable for horses.

It must have been two or three hours afterward—after midnight, I think; we could not keep track of the time—when the soldier and the servants came for us. Before they took us from the stable room they took away what few clothes we had. They led us, afraid and ashamed, into a room where there were three men in the uniforms of German officers. The soldiers saluted them. The officers seemed very pleased when they had looked at us. We tried to cover ourselves with our arms and to hide behind each other, but the soldier roughly drew us apart. The officers laughed at our embarrassment, and then dismissed the soldier, saying something to him in German, which I did not understand.

The officers talked among themselves, also in German. They tried to caress us. It amused them greatly when we pleaded with them to spare us, to let us have clothes and to have mercy, in God’s name.

Almost two weeks I was a prisoner in this house… To this house were brought many pretty Armenian girls stolen by the Kurds and Tchetchens. When they tired of them they sent them away to the refugee camps outside the city or to be sold to Turks.

There was another girl, who had been a prisoner in the house longer than others—since before I was taken there. She had especially pleased one of the under-officers. She told me of one night when the officers had taken much of their whiskey and were particularly cruel. She said they sent for some of the girls then in the house and, standing them sideways, shot at them with their pistols, using their breasts as targets.

During the days I spent reading Aurora’s book, it was difficult to sleep at night. I would lay awake and ask myself if I could have survived. I honestly don’t think so.

With every word I read, it was unfathomable how one young girl could have witnessed and experienced so much brutality, so much grief, and still come out on the other side.

And yet through all of the torture, the misery, the agony, hope and faith endured.

In Aurora’s words: “But always there was hope of deliverance. So many Armenians had friends in America, sons and brothers who had left our country to go to the wonderful United States. They prayed every night that from America would come help before all were dead… It was this hope that kept thousands alive.”  

Aurora ultimately married a fellow survivor in 1929, had a son and lived in Los Angeles until her death.

In 1994, Aurora spent the last few weeks of her life at a nursing facility in the San Fernando Valley. On February 6, 1994, she died alone at Holy Cross Hospital at age 92. At the time of her death, she was estranged from her son. Her body went unclaimed, and she was cremated and buried anonymously in a mass grave somewhere in Los Angeles.

Aurora is long gone, but I sincerely hope that she will never be forgotten.

Her life and legacy highlight the importance of action over apathy and compassion over indifference.

Like many films made during the silent era, Ravished Armenia was lost.

There are some who say that that the disappearance of the film was the result of a Turkish conspiracy.

All that is known to be left of the film is 18 minutes of poorly preserved footage, which was discovered in a trash bin.

Please watch the film footage, and in honor of Aurora, never forget.

Your Publisher Is Going to Be Screaming on Broadway

This post might seem to meander, but give it a chance because I want to provide you with a glimpse into how backstabbing and disloyal business colleagues can be.

First off, being the boss has its advantages and disadvantages. There are a lot of haters out there.

There are a lot of haters inside too. I’ll explain what I mean about inside in a sec.

And the more successful one becomes, the haters seem to multiply exponentially.

Inside and out.

I’ve worked for some of the top magazines in the world.

I’m not bragging; I’m just telling it like it is.

For example, in my ten years at Newsweek Magazine (either the number one or number two magazine at the time), our rival was Time Magazine (either the number one or number two magazine at the time).

We were the Big Kahunas. Right up there with the best of the newspapers. The best of the press.

To be clear, this blog post isn’t about Newsweek Magazine. But I wanted to give you some insight into my publishing experience because I had a lot of it and worked diligently for years in order to move up the corporate ladder.

When I finally reached the top position, as the publisher and chief operating officer of an unnamed magazine, I thought that was the happiest I would ever be in my career.

I was so wrong.

With the top job came a ton of outside animosity in the form of hate mail and letters about how the press were liars and twisters of the truth.  The usual blame-the-press partisan political nonsense.

But it was the simmering resentment from the inside, that I couldn’t understand.

I mean, it wasn’t my fault I had been hired to run the magazine. If some of the wannabes on the inside didn’t get the job, why was that my problem?

Oh, but it was.

Now everyone in the publishing industry knows that there is fierce competition between the editorial side and the business side of magazines and newspapers.

The editors hate the business side because they think they’re smarter and often better educated than the business side executives.

And in many publishing outfits, the editors get paid less than the senior business executives. In most magazines, the business side has control over the bottom line, so if revenues are up and business is flourishing shouldn’t they get rewarded for their success?

Anyway, I say that as a life-long business side executive. I’m sure the editors would have their own take.

The bottom line is that there is a constant internal battle between the two entities:

Who’s the dog and who’s the tail?

I’m not saying that all editors have it out for their business-side counterparts. But as they relate to this story, I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Anyway, I wanted to give you some background.

And now for the story.

The magazine I was in charge of was editorially heavy. Most of the employees were editors, or in editorial layout. Even the IT guy was mostly a troubleshooter for the editorial staff. And the receptionist was a junior editor who helped with the phone lines.

I had one business-side employee—the circulation director—who was responsible for the circulation and marketing of the magazine. I handled everything else business-related, including advertising sales.

As the boss, I wasn’t exactly “buddies” with the staff. My job was stressful, the hours were long, and the pressure to succeed was enormous. As such, I expected a lot from my staff.

But, in my mind’s eye, I expected a lot from my staff, but I was generous, understanding, and empathetic. And I didn’t expect anything from my staff that I wasn’t willing to do myself.

And yet what occurred in this story is going to stun you.

The magazine was closed from Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day. I had fought hard with corporate for those days off, and I was happy to be able to provide them to the staff.

Workwise, I couldn’t wait until the new year because my circulation director, who had just had a baby girl, was on maternity leave, and I was looking forward to her return on January 10.

As a former circulation promotion director (at Newsweek), I had extensive circulation experience, so, while she was out of the office, I had assumed all circulation-related responsibilities, in addition to my other duties, and the pressure was intense.

And as a result, I was working tons more hours than usual. With young kids at home to worry about, I was counting the days until my circulation director came back.

My youngest child was finally at an age where she was coming home alone after school and taking care of herself until my son or I got there.

This newfound freedom for my daughter was something she was incredibly proud of, and it took a massive weight off of my shoulders.

I was, for the first time since my children had been born, seeing in real-time that there was finally going to be a light at the end of the childcare tunnel.

January 10 couldn’t come fast enough. My first day back to work was January 3.

Our office, which was located at 4th Street and Broadway, opened at 9:00 am, and I always tried to get there no later than 8:30 am.

That day was no exception. I sat at my desk and checked my emails.

The staff started arriving, peeking their heads into my office, saying hello, wishing me a happy new year, and making small talk.

My IT guy sat in my office and we spoke at great length about projects set up for the coming weeks. A few editors also stopped by to check in and ask about my time off.

At 11 am, I received a chilling phone call from the young woman on maternity leave.

In near hysterics, she shouted into the phone that she had received a letter from a former magazine employee, and in her words, “It was disturbing.”

This former employee she spoke of, had been in the editorial layout department and had recently resigned.

When he came into my office in early December to give me his two-week notice, he informed me that he was moving back to wherever small town he was from to live with his sister.

My circulation director cried her way through the story, explaining that this ex-employee had written to express his undying devotion to her. In his rambling letter, he also referred to her as the Greek Goddess Demeter and mentioned wanting to meet her newborn daughter.

She further explained the letter was dated December 25, and at the top of the letter, was the iconic black and white image of King Kong hanging onto the Empire State Building, holding the girl in his hand.

She was in a hysteric state and I was worried about her. This letter was downright scary.

She whimpered as she further explained that when she looked up the Greek mythological figure, she was the Goddess of sacred law and the cycle of life and death.

And then she told me something really terrifying:

One day while Demeter’s daughter Persephone was out picking flowers with her friends, the earth opened up and Hades kidnapped her to be with him for all eternity in the underworld.

The daughter of Demeter had been abducted by Hades, the god of the underworld?

I was so shocked I didn’t know what to say.

She followed up with: “I quit.” “I’m never coming back.”

“I totally understand,” I replied as softly and caring as possible.

I didn’t blame her. After all, I too had a precious daughter, and if anyone ever so much as looked at her cross-eyed, I don’t what I would do.

My brain was racing as to how best to console this beyond hysterical new mom. And then she hit me with the bombshell.

“He mentioned you in the letter as well.”

“Me?” I asked incredulously.

She didn’t answer me, so I repeated my question.


Her answer left me cold.

“Yes, you. And your daughter.”

Okay, so threaten me, and depending on my mood, I might cut a bitch.

But threaten my daughter?

I got off the phone, jumped up and closed my office door, and then called corporate.

Then I called the New York City police.

After composing myself, I walked around the office to briefly let everyone know that a detective from the NYPD was on the way to our office and why.

The staff all stood there, seemingly dumbfounded. Nobody said a word.

I rushed back into my office, closed the door again, and called a friend to ask her to drive over to my house immediately and asked her to stay there until I got home.

Even though my daughter and son were still in school, I wanted to make sure someone was there as soon as possible.

I felt sick.

Then I called my local police and set up a time to go to the precinct when I got home.

I sat behind closed doors, stunned until the editor/receptionist called me on the speakerphone to let me know the police had arrived.

Two detectives questioned me for about an hour and then spoke on the phone with my now ex-director.

While the detectives walked around the office and interviewed the staff, I made a call to my kids’ school and to the local police department where my former circ director lived.

As I finished up, the detectives came into my office and closed the door.

“What kind of relationship do you have with your staff?” one of them asked me.

“I have a great relationship with them,” I answered, somewhat defensively. “Why do you ask?”

They took turns explaining to me that there were other letters out there. It took a minute to register.

“Other letters? Who were they written to?”

The detectives looked at me solemnly. “Everyone on staff,” one responded.

I was speechless.

“Except you,” the other detective added.

My whole body tingled, and I could only repeat what they had told me.

“Everyone on staff? Except me?”

They placed a pile of letters on my fancy mahogany desk.

Every letter was topped with December 25, King Kong and the girl.

And the one thing that tied all of the letters together was that they all mentioned me.

And my daughter.

He was ranting in many of the letters about how I fired him, and how, because of me, he was living in one room with a hot plate.

Because of me? He quit.

He spoke endearingly of my daughter, and reminisced about the times she had come into the office, popped popcorn, and then walked innocently around the office, offering it to the entire staff.

He mentioned my home address in one of the letters.

He wrote in another letter that he had seen me with my daughter at the subway, and spoke about how I kept her close to me and far away from the platform edge.

And two of the letters said: “Your publisher is going to be screaming on Broadway.”

I was screaming inside.

Once I pulled myself together, I demanded that the detectives arrest him.

They went back to their precinct to work on the arrest and to secure a search warrant for his one room.

It took everything in my power not to go to his lousy one room myself, and wring his creepy neck.

I walked out into the main office with the letters in hand.

“No one thought they should tell me that your publisher was going to be screaming on Broadway?” I asked them incredulously.

One of the editors piped in. “We didn’t want to get him in trouble.”

“You didn’t want to get him in trouble? He talked about my daughter. He talked about the subway platform. He has my address.”

They all hung their heads in shame.