I had been carrying the terrible feeling all day. I needed to talk to my dad about some paper work, yet I was too afraid to call. “I’m too scared that I’ll hear bad news” I told my colleague, a Russian girl with model attributes and coffee brown hair that she had recently gotten cut to sweep her shoulders, sitting at the desk next to me. She frowned bringing slight wrinkles to her creamy skinned forehead, “I’m sure he’s ok…” she said as we were getting ready to leave the office…
I sent my sister a text message, not daring to ask any questions. It merely contained her name. I waited for her response. When I did not get any I silently started panicking. I am unsure whether it was the wishful thinking or hope that allowed a “like” from my cousin on my Instagram photo to calm me. I decided it was the wishful thinking that Sahar admitted to giving into the next day when I spoke to her, both of us red eyed, her make up free face framed by the sky blue border of Skype gazing at the line of running mascara on my cheekbones heavily tanned from spending each and every sunny day outdoors. Wishful thinking at times of struggle is not the only thing we share. At one point my cousin became my close friend. We were inseparable. We shared many things, to an extent that we were called twins. For a year or so we both sported the same Rihanna bob, black hair cut short at the back,barely touching our necks, and longer on the sides, to form what I liked to call the “handles”. And while I still wear my hair in the same bob I suddenly got cut before a trip to India, she has decided to explore other options, hairstyle-wise. We would spend hours giggling about everything and anything, “the crack on the wall” as my grandmother would say. And now with the 8000 kilometers between Heidelberg and Philadelphia I look forward to every weekend when my early evening coincides with her morning as I, many a time getting ready for either a date or a casual meet up with a friend or two, watch her eat her breakfast (once a whole bag of sliced carrots) and we giggle about the same things we would in her bedroom in Northern Tehran on her high bed surrounded by medical books. The distance does, excuse the slang term, suck. And although I have been subject to her criticism on how I am not in America yet almost every time we speak, I would not know how my life would be without her to run to each time something new happened, and watch her eyes widen as I excitedly talked about a new guy or a new academic position and later when one turned into a disappointment (more often than not it would be the former rather than the latter), hear her say, in the fast manner of speech that she has, “I told you he was weird from the first day.” And then I would watch the doctor in her count on her fingers the “symptoms” of abnormality she had depicted in the guy, concluding with a nickname for the poor fella. Yes, this relationship with her would have never been this strong had it not been for my grandparents’ strong belief in “family takes care of family”.
“I kissed his face and told him that you called and sent your love. He smiled…” my father’s sorrowful voice described. Although I cried harder when I heard those words, it gave me a certain sense of comfort, to an extent that the corners of my lips were raised, to form a weary smile…
My grandfather was a man of pride and modesty at the same time. His constant belief that he had everything he wanted in life gave us a whole new perspective on the meaning of “happiness”.The way his face would light up each time he told me stories about my father made me smile as I sat next to him watching him peel an orange and scrape off the white rind with a blunt knife, dig his thumbs in the top part, breaking the fruit into two rough halves and handing me the bigger portion. Stories from when my father was a mere five-year-old child accompanying him to work at City Hall. He would swear that everyone was fascinated by my father’s big hazel eyes, full head of hair, curiosity about everything around him and ardor to help in the office. Except for the full head of hair, I could trace all features my grandfather talked about in him sitting in front of me digging his teeth into the fruit we were sharing. His admiration for his children was nothing I had seen anywhere else. It wasn’t just in the way he talked about them or even to them. It was in the way he looked at them, with nothing but esteem and respect. His most famous quote was “I don’t need lands, mansions or wealth, I am the wealthiest man in the world. I have the best children anyone could have.” His children would attend to him like “butterflies around a flower”, and he would consult with them on every occasion a decision needed to be made, making sure no one’s opinion was looked past.
My last week was spent in Heidelberg while my heart and thoughts were back in Iran, in a house that has always been there, since I can remember. A house that we used to refer to as “Khuneye Mamanbozorg” until my grandmother’s death a few years back. The reference changed to “Khuneye Pedarjaan“, but the house remained the same. An emblem of love, that three story building contains memories that could not have been made anywhere else. My first home was the apartment on the third floor. When we returned from England, while my parents were busy looking for a new place to settle into, my grandparents welcomed us back to that house making sure my sister and I felt at home, taking us to see my hometown, sparking old memories from a city I had forgotten and making new ones, memories held dear to my heart initiating responses like “I miss the weeping willow behind my grandparents’ house “and “I can’t wait to walk in that street that leads to my grandparents’ house” when asked what I miss most about home. For that house was not just where my grandparents lived, it was where I learned the importance of family as I watched my father and his siblings take care of each other, support one another, pick each other up after falls and take pride in one another’s achievements. While I was a witness to my friends’ antipathy towards their father’s side of the family (most often their paternal aunts), I watched my mother feel as much as a sister to her sister-in-laws as her own two sisters. The stories I would hear from my friends about their paternal aunts seemed alien, for I had a family that gave me so much love I had difficulty believing it could be any other way.
As I stared at his death notice with a lump in my throat and teary eyes, I read through the names of his seven children. Among them were nothing other than doctors, professors, teachers, and freedom fighters… Then and there I was sure that he left us happy at heart, for he had achieved his lifelong dream; fathering respected educated children who are his “pride and joy”.
Yesterday I sat in my balcony and spoke to each and every cousin that was sitting in my grandfather’s house, all exhausted from a week of mourning and preparing for two funerals, one in my hometown and one in Tehran since most of his children now live there. And although they were physically weak and emotionally tattered, I caught a few moments of laughter warming my heart.
Pedarjaan lived a long, healthy and happy life. And during that life he taught us lessons of love, respect and contentment. To aim high yet be satisfied with what life hands you. Another quote I will always remember is “The N********s (our surname), do not care about wealth. Their wealth is their knowledge”. His own books piled up next to his bed, read and re-read, lent and received. Many of which gifts from his children for his birthday or Noruz. “Don’t finish it tonight” my father would tease him as he handed the gift wrapped rectangular presents to him once the new year was announced and all grandchildren had received their envelopes of money from my grandfather.
And while I sit in my balcony on a warm summer night sipping on cinnamon tea, and writing my feelings away, I am nothing but thankful to be born in such a love infused family, where I know although we are scattered across the globe, one thing is embedded in our hearts, “family takes care of family”.
And as he rests next to my grandmother, they both know that we love them to the moon and back…