The Way We Were: Robin Music Ashourian

The Way We Were: Robin Music Ashourian
Girl Scout helpers Suzanne McGee, Jackie Boggs, Troop Leader Robin Ashourian, Julie Thew

Children riding bicycles down San Jose Boulevard to Peterson’s 5 and Dime for penny candy is a thing of the past. There is no stopping for a roast beef sandwich at Stand and Snack; no shopping at Geisenhof’s Gift Shop or the Pic and Save; no accompanying your mother to the Silk Shop. 

Robin Music Ashourian of Colonial Manor has these fond memories and many more from her childhood growing up in San Marco near the duck pond on San Jose.

“San Marco was the stomping grounds for kids all over the neighborhood,” said Ashourian. “My family had a big backyard so the neighborhood kids played football over here but the duck pond was the meeting place. If I had a disagreement with my parents I’d run off to the duck pond and write poetry. We knew all the ducks by name. The boys got into trouble for shooting out the street lights with BB guns and one time a kid made a boat and put it in the duck pond but it flipped over and he couldn’t swim! He yelled for help and one of the Yergin boys – Leon or Bruce – jumped in and saved him. We were all friends. The entire community was a sort of United Nations.”

Ashourian and her younger-by-15-months sister Abby, attended the Little Red School House on St. Augustine Road for kindergarten. Beginning in first grade and every day through 6th grade, the girls walked to Hendricks Avenue Elementary School, where lunch cost 25 cents. 

“We would come home, get on our bicycles and Mom would say ‘Be home by dinner!’ It was such a simpler time – we felt safe,” said Ashourian. “We would go to ‘The Nice Man’s House’ and ring his door bell and he would give us candy. Now-a-days you would be very leery of that.”

Ashourian said growing up in the Colonial Manor neighborhood was quiet and calm. “It was very Jewish. My father was Armenian, but there were a lot of Arabic people, too,” she said. “Everybody – Arabic, Jewish, Catholic – we all got along. It didn’t matter; we were all just people and anyone would come running if you needed help. It was so nice. My mother and Mrs. Sleiman would stand outside and talk all the time and at Christmas she sent over baklava.”

A favorite activity was to ride bicycles through the back streets, especially down River Road and Thrill Hill, where they would try to get up enough speed to get airborne, said Ashourian, who attended Alfred I. duPont Middle School.

“It was a carefree childhood. I took ballet at Mervyn’s, which was next to where the Metro Diner is now and I walked there and back,” she recalled. “I sold Girl Scout cookies door to door. Most of my friends lived in the neighborhood on Alhambra, Mapleton and Waterman. It was a wonderful neighborhood with fantastic neighbors and still is.”

College at University of Florida was cut short for Ashourian when her mother became ill in 1975. She came home to help out, then married at age 23, had two children and is now grandmother to four.

Divorced over 30 years, Ashourian never remarried, instead choosing to be a “stay-at-home mommy” who was very active in her children’s lives as room mother, Girl and Boy Scout leader, soccer coach, volunteer for plays and other activities at The Bolles School.

Ashourian described her participation in her young children’s lives as “the best days of my life.” When they entered high school, she began work in retail management at Jacobson’s and then worked as business manager at Belk’s at the Mall of the Avenues for an exclusive cosmetics line. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Ashourian loves to cook and was always there when the Justin and Laura got home to have dinner together. 

“Being so close to my family, I wanted to establish the tight family structure that I had with my parents,” she said. “My daughter Laura Saoud and her family live a few blocks away. I go out to the beach to see my son Justin and his wife and their new baby. I think it [their upbringing] has made them better parents.” 

Ashourian said her mother, Sara, was very “Old World” – old fashioned. “She did everything for my father, Larry Music. She was raised to look pretty, cook, clean, look after the children – not exactly a liberated female,” said Ashourian. “We were so close; I cried for about 10 years after she died. 

“Dad owned Atlantic Tank Trailer in Riverside and worked up until the day he died. Dad had leukemia but in his 90s he was still working,” she said. “He told sort of risqué jokes. He wrote them on 3 x 5 cards so he could remember them. I found a whole drawer of them as well as love letters to my mother from New Guinea during World War II. I have saved so many things and am still going through so much. It is mind boggling that I ended up right back where I started but I feel a real sense of comfort. I feel my mother. I feel my father. He smoked cigars and every once in a while I think I can smell them. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. This neighborhood is still peaceful and beautiful.”

Ashourian still lives in her childhood home and is busy renovating. The shag carpet has been torn out and the recently refinished original hardwood floors gleam. The Harvest Gold appliances in the kitchen have been replaced and updated. But, the swing built by her father is still in the backyard. The fireplace is the same, and the spirits of Ashourian’s parents live on in the house, where they lived from the 1950s until her father’s death eight years ago.

“People have asked me if it’s creepy to live in the house where I grew up, where my parents lived and my dad died, but it is comforting to me,” Ashourian said. “I had been coming and going, helping care for my mother, then I moved back in when she died 10 years ago to help my dad with bills, housekeeping and all that.”

Although most of the neighbors have changed over the years, Ashourian and her neighbor across the street have known each other since their days at Wolfson High School. The Wolfson Class of 1972 45th reunion is coming up and there will be plenty of chatter about racing bikes down San Jose Boulevard on Saturdays to San Marco Theatre where Ashourian and her friends used bottle caps to gain entrance to the movie theater and spent hours at the arcade.

Ashourian said she came by her United Nations spirit through the example of her parents and grandparents as well as the camaraderie and loving acceptance of the people in her neighborhood who were from different religions, ethnicities, and backgrounds.

“My maternal grandmother spoke broken English. She carried a piece of bread or a potato in her pocket book all the time,” recalled Ashourian. “Her family was killed in Russia by Cossacks. She and one sibling survived. My family was born Jewish but had a Christmas tree with a Star of David on the top. My mother taught us to have a sense of spirituality – to be good and kind to people no matter who they are.”

Ashourian’s kindness extends to her dogs, Roxie, a diabetic pup who needs insulin shots twice a day, and Sadie. Her son, Justin, was on the Board of Directors of First Coast No More Homeless Pets, where he had adopted Sadie but had to give her up to his mother since the dog was not good with children.

Ashourian’s tender heart has led her to be active in righting injustice. After discovering that Roxie was the product of over breeding at a puppy mill, she was instrumental in having it shut down.

“Both of my kids have inherited a love and appreciation for animals,” she said, adding that she and Justin were at the Farmer’s Market shopping for vegetables when they were compelled to rescue six ducks and two geese and bring them to the duck pond in the back of Justin’s wife’s BMW. “Feathers were flying all over the place,” she said. Formerly active in Greyhound Rescue and the Jacksonville Humane Society, Ashourian said she would cry all the way home. She recalls rescuing a baby squirrel after Hurricane Dora. Caring for animals, cooking, taking elderly neighbors to appointments, spending time with her family, helping out anyone who needs a hand, has brought Ashourian to a realization: “To be like my mother – tolerant and accepting – that’s exactly who I am. Taking care of critters is me in a nutshell.” 


By Peggy Harrell Jennings
Resident Community News

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