“I want to go home,” declared the tattoo on the German shopkeeper’s forearm, “but I haven’t found it yet.” I had spent the week in Berlin with my husband, and now we were scheduled to fly on to Istanbul. I had never been to Turkey, yet that message of longing and search on a stranger’s arm could have been written on my own.
My maternal grandfather, Puzant Tarpinian, was an Armenian who grew up in the Karataş neighborhood of Smyrna (now called Izmir), an Aegean seaport city on the western shore of Anatolia, Turkey. After immigrating to the United States in 1912 with his older brother Caspar, Puzant settled in Chicago. For years he worked as a comptroller for Blum’s Vogue, a fashionable women’s clothier on Michigan Avenue. He died at age 68 in 1958. I was born six years later. At age 49, never having met my granddad, I found myself missing him, missing all the dead Tarpinians so deeply that I set off on a pilgrimage to Turkey.