Why I Don’t Eat Toasted Bread

By Maria Karapetyan

I was 4 years old when the Nagorno-Karabakh war started. My family living in the Lori region of Armenia was devastated by the consequences of the 1988 earthquake and we had no permanent residence. It is hard to differentiate which of my family’s hardships were conditioned by the economic situation of the time and which by the war. Most probably it was an interconnected gamut of circumstances.

When the war started my family found a residence in a tiny military town near my birthplace. We had just come back from Russia where it had found a safe resort right after the earthquake. Our families had moved into the military town not by choice but because there was nowhere else to live. Together our families survived through the difficult times of the early 90s. Children from different parts of Armenia and even outside it became my friends.

The military town consisted of a few apartment complexes standing adjacent to each other and overlooking an abandoned military base. The base had broken windows and soon it turned into a favorite playground for the kids in the neighborhood. Inside the mysterious building we found unusual things that seemed to be interesting to play with. At the military base I discovered my most memorable childhood toys—suitcases of bullets, gas masks, aluminum silverware and kitchenware, Soviet books and other war paraphernalia. Strangely we weren’t playing war games. The books were used to make paper airplanes and ships; the masks were turned into hats and bags; the kitchenware was used to play house and the bullets were shiny beads and pretend-money to us.

One day a tank broke right in front of the apartment building we lived in. The soldiers left the tank probably to go get a mechanic. Boundless was our excitement when we helped each other first to climb onto the tank and then inside it. We discovered the tank binoculars and in complete amazement watched the road leading to the military town. We took the metallic water bottles we found in the tank with us to add to our collection of toys. Soon after we left, the soldiers came back and the tank disappeared from sight.

I often try to be thankful for the hardships that my family had to go through because they now make me appreciate the simple commodities of life. The smell of the gas masks and the taste of the molten snow water have come to be replaced by much nicer sensations. My most favorite childhood snack was pieces of bread toasted over a hot stove. I am guessing we were toasting the bread because otherwise it went stale too soon. Whatever the reason, I remember enjoying the crunchy taste of toasts along with my friends. Today, despite the widespread use of toasters, I seldom toast my bread. Maybe my culinary preferences have changed; maybe I have had enough of toasted bread when I was 5 years old…

One last flashback that I have is of the time when I once opened the wardrobe to discover two pieces of military uniforms lying on the bottom of the shelf. I discovered that my dad was recruited to the army and my mom had a uniform of her own just in case. I consider myself lucky to have never seen her wearing it.

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