I want to begin by saying that I am writing this as me, not a character, not some persona, but just (not-so) little ol’ me. This is the first, and hopefully last, non-fiction story I’m writing for my Alphabet Project. The point of this project is for me to expand my writing style. I tend to focus on the supernatural, paranormal, and pretty much anything beyond normal life (for example take a look at ‘D’). So to expand my styles, I knew I’d eventually write something personal, something about me, but I didn’t expect it to come up as soon as ‘G.’
I’ll be the first to admit that I could have come up with a fictional story about grandparents that would have been great, but once I started thinking about it, I couldn’t get my real grandparents out of my head, and then my lack of knowledge of my paternal grandparents really drove me. The conversations I had with my dad made me realize how ignorant I was to my own past. I’m glad I took this little detour into the world of nonfiction, but I don’t plan on returning anytime soon.
[For my non-Arab readers; Cedo means grandfather, where Tete is grandmother.]
By the time I was born my paternal grandparents had already passed away. Even worse than never having met them, my memories of the stories I heard about them are shoddy at best. I think my grandmother died of Alzheimer’s several years after my grandfather passed. I recall my father mentioning that his father was a jokester, vaguely remember my dad telling me a joke his father would say about wearing pants backwards so when he farted, the gas wouldn’t have to travel to the front to exit via the zipper. Unfortunately, at this point I could be completely off, my memories typically are. I feel to properly convey who they were I’d need to do a little research.
My research begins by asking my sister if she knows whether our dad would be comfortable talking about his parents. She doesn’t think he’d have a problem with it. After explaining to her the nature of my inquiry, she tells me that she recalls that our grandmother was “very petite and sweet” and that she thinks they both died of old age. It was a little more information, but not enough to explain the mystery of who my grandparents were.
Still unsure of whether the topic would upset my father, I decide to ask my brother. Although he’s younger than our sister, I recall him talking about them. And… he remembers about as much as I do, maybe even less. But both he and my sister think it’s a safe topic to approach our dad about it.
Having dinner with my dad I bring up the topic of his parents, but I do so timidly. Since my dad just cooked, I asked if his father cooked, knowing full well that men in the old country didn’t do a damned thing. My dad actually scoffs at the question saying that men didn’t lift a finger. I press a little further, and ask if grandma cooked. He tells me that she was the best cook he ever knew. Now I’m getting somewhere. Tete was a “very petite and sweet” great cook. He goes on to tell me that she was the sweetest woman, and not just because she was his mother. Ask anyone who knew her, and they’d verify this.
“And what about Cedo?” I ask, thinking to continue the story of my late grandparents.
Let me tell you, I was not expecting what my dad said next, “He was a son of a… gun.” Clearly meant that he was a son of a bitch, but this was at the time he and Tete met. He tells me that Cedo carried a gun with him almost everywhere he went because when he was younger, some Turks killed his brother in front of their mother, and he was justifiably jaded because of it.
Now, I’m definitely thinking that my jokester memory of him is way off, but he then tells me that upon meeting my grandmother Cedo wanted to marry her. I doubt it was love at first sight, but he wanted her. So when war broke out and he had to move his family he also moved her, and her three sisters (who she was caring for at the age of 14) and her son (understand this was a different time and a different country, it wasn’t unexpected for a girl to be married and a mother in her teens, in fact if a girl was in her 20’s and single there was something wrong).
My father continues to tell me a story of his entire family that truly is worthy of a feature length movie. He tells me of being so poor at one point that his brothers, cousins and himself would have to pool money together just to buy a soccer ball to play in the streets, or even having to fill a large sock with rags and whatnot to make a ball. Furthermore, he talks of a war torn country, and being stranded in a different country for months with his brothers until an uncle was able to retrieve them. And of his father giving shelter and a job to a son-in-law after becoming extremely poor.
He told me that for all the hard times he experienced when he was younger, his brothers and he had fun; which really threw me back. Obviously I knew things were different back then, and over there, but their social network was actually talking to people around them, including family. And while I may be close to my family, I have to assume there’s a certain bond that can only be forged, by picking wheat out of cow shit to clean and eat as your only source of food for days.
There’s still one question I haven’t built up the courage to ask, but won’t be able to properly finish this without. How my grandparents died? That, and if my dad can confirm my memory of Cedo and the fart joke.
The following week I had a second conversation with my dad, and holding nothing back I asked how his parents died, thankfully there was a death at the time in the movie we were watching so there was some kind of segue. At least one of my memories is correct, Tete died of Alzheimer’s, however she died after I was born. The timeline is sketchy, but she visited America around the time I was born, she died a few years later overseas. My dad believes she saw me as a baby, but he can’t confirm this.
Cedo died several years after suffering from a stroke in 1976. Also, as with Tete, one of my memories is confirmed, Cedo was a jokester. Unfortunately, Cedo did not tell the fart joke. My dad tells me a different story involving Cedo, farts and a rooster, that isn’t appropriate here (ask me and I’ll gladly tell you about it). He also tells me that Cedo was excellent at playing the oud, (*ah-ouhd) an instrument that resembles a cross of a guitar and a banjo (Google it).
* * *
Maternally, I knew my grandparents fairly well for most of my life. It would be at their house that every major holiday was spent. The house is big enough for any typical family, but with my mom being one of ten children (that survived) we had anything but a typical family, but somehow that house always seemed the right size. No matter how cramped it would get around the kitchen table or T.V. room table, there was always room for one more cousin or sibling.
My grandmother would spend countless hours cooking a meal that seemed to have no end, while my grandfather would silently sit in his favorite chair, with a sly smile on his face watching his grandkids scurry about. A trickster in his own right, whether it was purposely miss-calling Justin – Jackson, or nonchalantly pulling an ear of a passerby, he was always able to bring a smile to others.
My favorite story of my grandfather is when he was driving me home after I had borrowed his car because mine had broken down. He was known for being a notoriously bad driver, I say it with a smile on my face and mean it in the best way possible. He’d driven onto people’s lawns, had to have the police bring him home, but most significantly (at least for this story) was how slow he drove. He wasn’t just ‘old man’ slow, he drove like molasses going uphill in the winter slow, which is surprising because of how young hearted he was. So on the return trip home, he had decided to drive, and being the respectful grandson that I am, I didn’t interject. We were driving, having a good conversation, while he drove 20 MPH, in the fast lane of Route 17 South, all throughout out the conversation I’m wishing I were driving. All of a sudden he stops the conversation, and points ahead of us on the road, and tells me (in Arabic) ‘This is how close you should be to the car in front of you while driving.’ I actually had to struggle for several seconds to even locate the car in question. Upon seeing it, it was safe to surmise that two Mac trucks could have fit between us and the other car, that was quickly and steadily expanding the gap between us. It’s a simple story with a punch line worthy of a chuckle, maybe, but thinking about it brings a bigger smile to my face now then when it happened in the car. It entails everything worth noting about him: reliable? Check, he took the time to take me home while in the midst of his chores (and anyone who knew him knows how important they were to him). Bad driver? Double check. But most importantly, brings a smile to my face? Check.
Unfortunately, that’s not the only story that comes to mind when thinking about him. My cousin, Anthony, and I were at my brother’s house watching a football game, when Chris got the call. Upon instantly seeing his face, I mouthed the word ‘Cedo’ to Anthony and we both knew without another word that he passed. He wasn’t sick. Yes, he was in the hospital several times in the last few years of his life, but he wasn’t ‘dying.’ He had no terminal illness, and was still putting smiles on the faces of all those around him. His was the first death I’ve had to experience, and unfortunately, in the few short years since his death, too many have joined him. His were also the first initials I had tattooed on me, as part of a memorial cross tattoo.
Together my grandparents kept the family together. Him, a carpenter by trade, working till the day he passed. And her, always quick to point out ones flaws, and sometimes a plus. However, when my grandfather passed, it had a major affect on the family. Suddenly, Thanksgiving dinner is no longer held at the house, while the new location is equally inviting, the food is just as good, and family is still the epicenter of the event, it’s not my childhood memory. Easter, has become a nonexistent event, lucky if three of the families show, and not likely at the same time.
Most dramatic of all, is the affect it had on my grandmother. She tries to be the matriarch of the family, tries to be ‘big momma’, but she squeezes too hard, and many of us have slipped through her fingers to go a different direction, myself included.
Reading that last sentence, I tell myself that I’ll see her more often, but deep in my heart, I know chances are I won’t see her until Christmas. I write this in March.