My “Uncle” Mooshig is not really an uncle, but my father’s cousin. He just seems more like an uncle than a cousin, considering that he always struck me as more of a brother to my dad.
Mooshig belongs in a commercial for a high end whiskey–one of those ads where a weathered gentleman and adventurer gives you a mischievous look over his shoulder and sips his drink. Mooshig is tall, with thick silver hair parted to the side with a natural wave, a tanned face, and laughing brown eyes that crinkle at the edges, like he’s got an inside joke that he’ll tell you when you’re a little older and wiser. always impeccably dressed, California style, with chinos and light sweaters, like he’s about to head to lunch at a country club or hop onto a sailboat.
Mooshig has always been a bit of a star in our family. He was an aspiring actor back in the day, and his stage name was Mike Armen. We love to have him break out his photo portfolio. There are some gems in there. There’s “Lawyer Mike,” striding down the street in a suit and tie, carrying his briefcase and pondering his upcoming trial. There’s “Trucker Mike,” leaning out the driver’s side of a beat up truck, wearing a plaid flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a cowboy hat, squinting somberly and wearily at the sun. There are more that I can’t recall now, but my sister and I still love asking him to show us his photos. Mooshig was even an extra in The Streets of San Francisco, starring Carl Malden. We watched the movie over and over so we could glimpse him walking down a hallway for about 3 seconds.
Mooshig and his wife, Susie, live in Fresno, where they both only just retired a couple of years ago. Again, as I said, they’re in their EIGHTIES. They have more energy and positivity than so many people my age (myself included). They travel, play with their grandchildren, and engage in countless activities. There must be something about the air in California that alters the DNA. Is it the sunshine? The juice cleanses? The fatalistic sense that a giant earthquake or forest fire could take everyone out in an instant? Or maybe it’s just my family. My grandmother and her sisters all lived into at least their 90s. Mooshig’s mom lived to be 102, and was full of fire and energy until she died.
Mooshig loves to tell tales of the family (as do all the members of the Shahrigian clan). He also has the added bonus of possessing a photographic memory. No joke. The man recalls specific details that have no bearing to a story but somehow reside in his memory (dates, days of the week, what people were wearing…it’s eerie). It drives Sue crazy. It’s cute when she rolls her eyes while he’s arguing with himself about the day of the week an event took place. “Mike, who cares? They just want to hear what happened!”
When my sister and I went to San Francisco and Napa for a girls’ vacation a few years ago, with the express purpose of soaking up the nightlife and drinking at the vineyards, we found ourselves driving 3 and 1/2 hours down the highway in a rental car to Fresno to spend a day and night with Mooshig and Sue and the rest of the family. We laughed at ourselves on the way down for leaving the city and the wineries to hang out with “old people.” That is, until we got there and had the time of our lives laughing and reminiscing with those so called “old people,” who are feisty and funny and full of enthusiasm and opinions (don’t get my Aunt Anne started on those Kardashians).
My sister and I spent a weekend in New York with Mooshig and Sue recently. As we sat around sipping wine, Mooshig told a story of how he crank called my dad at my family’s old house in Detroit when they were young.
Mooshig: Eh, hellooo? Eeese these the Mezmorukian house?
Val: Yes, sir. Who is this?
Mooshig: These eeese Pilaf Pilafian.
Mooshig: Pilaf Pilafian! I want to come to your house. I am Pilaf Pilafian, old friend of theee family.
Val: I’m sorry, sir. We don’t know anyone named Pilafian. You must have the wrong–eh, mama? Es Mooshig? Jeeezus Chrrrrist, Mooshig! (a string of Dad’s typical expletives follow)
Mooshig: Ahahahaha! Gotcha, Varush!
It’s strange how stories that are told and retold capture the soul of a family. That’s one of those silly little tales that isn’t really all that funny unless you know the characters, can see their expressions, hear their voices as they laugh and shout and curse. When Mooshig relives his stories, I can perfectly hear my father’s high pitched shouts into the phone as he realizes his cousin is messing with him, and Mooshig’s delighted giggle that emits from his throat when he’s engaged in some mischief.