January 12, 2013 5:08:54 PM
The one-block section of Fourth Street South in Columbus known as Catfish Alley has been in the news often lately. A slick magazine bears its name. A building on the corner of Catfish Alley and Main Street wears a painted sign that probably goes unnoticed by many: "Joseph Hanna Gen. Mdse."
Joe Hanna came to the USA and Columbus at age 14 to work for an uncle. He was an immigrant from, I think, Armenia. In time, he was able to open a store of his own. His version of the American Dream, however, was shattered when the stock market crashed in 1929 and initiated the Great Depression. He lost his store.
He started over and opened another store which was a success. He was gladly able to say, "I paid back everyone what my failure had cost them."
When he had become established, he wanted to take a wife. He went back to his old country, and, following its custom, married the young woman his parents had selected for him. Although most people of today's generation -- mine, too! -- would shudder at that prospect, the Hannas had a long and beautiful marriage. They also had four children, Mary Rose, Johnny, Isis and Joyce.
They were respected members of both the community and St. Paul's Episcopal Church. In fact, they lived on Third Street South, just around the corner from that church and around another corner from their store, one block from Catfish Alley as the crow flies.
My great-aunt and uncle, Nora and Claud Pilkington, lived next door to them. Selma Hanna told Aunt Nora many tales about the old country. The most dramatic was about how she survived the Great Armenian Massacre, when Turkish Muslims killed most of the Armenian Christian men, who had refused to recant their Christianity. Most of her family escaped and took refuge with the Kurds, who sheltered them. Conditions were primitive, but the often maligned Kurds saved their lives and made them welcome.
Selma Hanna was regarded as one of the best cooks in Columbus. She frequently shared some of her old country cooking, as well as her stories, with Aunt Nora. People who remember being invited to one of the parties the Hannas hosted considered themselves fortunate.
Sometimes silent signs can speak volumes. I hope no one destroys that humble, mute sign on the corner of Catfish Alley. It speaks of what it means to be an American -- to try, perhaps to fail, but to keep trying; to seize the opportunity this country provides, work hard, and honor one's heritage.
The late Kit Carson used to say, "America is not a melting pot; it is a tossed salad." All the flavors of the different "ingredients" of that salad that make up the United States are tasty indeed. That sign on the side of the Hanna store, anchoring one corner of Catfish Alley, speaks proudly one meaning of America.
Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.
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