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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It's Friday, which means it's time again for StoryCorps. Today, memories of a tough metzmama - that's Armenian for grandmother. Isabel Kouyoumjian was born in a refugee camp. Her parents fled the area we now know as Turkey around 1915. They were escaping the Armenian genocide, which killed nearly a million and a half people. Isabel eventually immigrated to the U.S. and raised two generations before she died a year ago.
One of her granddaughters, Joanne Nucho, came to StoryCorps with her husband to remember her grandmother.
JOANNE NUCHO: My grandmother was a large woman but on the shorter side. She just was kind of round (laughter). She did not have much formal education but spoke and read five languages. She was very sweet and loving to me, but she had this really tough streak.
JEFF ONO: What's one of the stories that conveyed her toughness to you?
NUCHO: One incident I remember - we were kids, and there was a lizard in the backyard. My younger sister saw it and screamed, so my grandmother picked it up and broke it in half with her bare hands. And it was a mixture of being horrified but also really impressed. I just thought she was, like, a superhero.
She didn't smile much. She kind of had a permanent scowl, and I didn't know where it came from. But I heard stories about how she raised two kids by herself. And, you know, so much of her ways of seeing the world were really bound up with knowing the ground could fall out from beneath you at any moment and that she would weather whatever storm.
ONO: You had a very close relationship with her that wasn't just grandmother and granddaughter.
NUCHO: Yeah. She was my best friend. You know, that last week when she was dying, I just kept telling her - it's OK to go. You've done your work. You don't have to fight this if you don't want to.
And I miss the little things like speaking Armenian with somebody - not something I do very often anymore. I miss feeling like there's this one person who really believes in me. It's something I'm trying to do for myself, but nobody else could convince me the way that she could. And there isn't really a replacement for that.
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MARTIN: Joanne Nucho and her husband Jeff Ono remembering her grandmother Isabel Kouyoumjian at StoryCorps in Claremont, Calif. Their recording is archived along with thousands of others at the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress.
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