August 16, 2010
Teta Mommy's Creativity
I was clever enough, at a very young age, to concoct a bicultural name for my maternal grandmother. The first part of the name I chose for her was "Teta" for the obvious reason that I am Lebanese and was living there the first 5 years of my life. However, Aileen Mehra, or Teta Mommy (as renamed by me) is not an Arab, but a tall and beautiful American woman of Irish/French ancestry. I therefore added Mommy after the Teta, to americanize it more, probably having heard my own mother calling her affectionately "Mommy". Teta Mommy is the name my siblings call her as well, although my maternal cousins call her "Mommy Aileen" or "Big Mommy", translated literally from the Persian "Maman Bozorg".
My grandmother, still healthy and robust at the age of 86 (she was born on the 24th of December, 1924, and her middle name is Noel), has a sense of creativity that served her during her married years in Iran in the 1950s and 1960s. She managed to recreate her personal little America within her household. She had married an Iranian technocrat, whom she met while he was getting his medical degree in the United States, who had a modern mindset and respect for her American ways. It was a love story only novels could have imagined: she was a nurse and he was a doctor. I couldn't read John Irving's "World According to Garp" without thinking of their story.
Her cuisine consisted of Julia Child recipes. She also learned Iranian recipes, which she always tried to cook with less oil, in order to make it a healthier meal. Her spaghetti with meat balls accompanied by garlic bread are famous in our family. She made creamy peach ice cream in the heat of Iran, that my mother remembers fondly. For me, her eldest grand daughter, she used to bake Raggedy Ann shaped birthday cakes. She managed to continue her tradition of cooking when she returned to the United States with her family in the early1980s, but soon her kitchen was taken over by her daughters, who now cook up a storm for family get togethers, mixing Iranian and American recipes with perfect ease.
I like to think I have a very special relationship with Teta Mommy. Along with the delicious cakes she made for me, she also encouraged me to read by gifting me enchanting Fairy Tale books. She always signed the front page with her cursive handwriting. The same handwriting she used to write her letters with. For twenty years we corresponded regularly. Receiving her letters was a great consolation when I was attending boarding school and then college. I also used to share all my thoughts with her, the books I read, perhaps a precursor to my blog writing.
Another talent my grandmother had was doing crochet handiwork. She has abandoned this hobby now. I am fortunate enough to own a whole collection of Irish sweaters she has crocheted (ranging from the ones I wore as a baby and toddler then handed down to my kids) to the ones she created for me as a teenager. My favorite one is a gray sweater she made for Dai Rahim and which he eventually gifted to me. I always remember him when I wear it.
Her crochet work extended to the magnificent thick and multicolored throw blankets she made for many of us. They consist of squares of crochet sown together. They kept me cozy during my many naps in the long Swiss winters and Boston ones too. She used to sit in front of the TV, while watching her favorite movies and shows on AMC, usually oldies or detective series, and crochet. Her TV guide was always sitting beside her, and she was organized a week ahead for what shows she would watch. Now that she has given up on crocheting, her gifts are even more special to me.
Teta Mommy may also have been one of my main encouragements to work out, as I remember her exercising till she was in her early 80s. Aerobic classes, STEP, even kickboxing and yoga. Nothing scared her. She is health conscious and lean, and took exercising with the same intensity she takes in cooking, reading and crocheting. All her instructors knew her by name and encouraged her at the Canyon Racquet Club in Sandy, Utah where she lived many years with my grandfather. I know that she is still quite active, going for walks with her daughters in San Diego.
Her creativity, her love for books, her readiness to participate in anything fun, mostly with her children and grandchildren, continue to inspire many. She has ten children and a larger number of grandchildren (the youngest one is 4!) and a considerable amount of great grandchildren. As a teenager, my first (and perhaps only) act of rebellion was to change my middle name, when I received my US citizenship: I chose her name Aileen over the random Bettina, but that is a whole other story.
Posted by PinkTaxiBlogger at 6:14 PM
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only one act of rebellion?...i think we can point to a few others as well...:)ReplyDelete
What a great post Yasmine. I think it's one of my favorites. You captured her exactly and made me reminisce about the days in Sandy and the summers and winters you would visit. You did and still do have a very special relationship with Mommy Aileen and I remember that you and she used to write to one another all the time. A fact which I was very jealous of when I was younger!ReplyDelete
Writing such a sensitive post about one's grandmother,makes it very sensitive task to comment on one's mother in law!I always joked with Aileen that my real mother in law was my wife's Iranian grandmother,and that Aileen was only an incubator for the strong lady.In fact my wife's character is much closer to her maternal and paternal grandmothers than to her own mother.What I am trying to say before I get myself into deeper water,is that Aileen has been the ideal mother in law without the frictions and pressures that go with the title.ReplyDelete
It was autumn 1967 when Aileen visited Beirut for the first time,to what officially was called "window shopping",a word that I never heard before.Later I realized ,the trip was made to check on the future possibility of a son in law!My mother and family embraced the 42 year old American mom of 10,that my mother insisted she moves from her hotel to our house as a guest.
I visited Tehran for the first time in summer 1968,after getting engaged the spring before.I was welcomed warmly to the household of a large family who ranged in age from 23-5.I saw the mechanism of running a huge family,and realized that the young woman spent almost 20 years of her life pregnant or rearing her kids.The children were very polite,open and beautiful,taking the best from each of their parents.
My relation with Aileen goes back now to over 43 years built on love,respect and trust.Her home was always open,warm and hospitable,an experience I still cherish till this day.
As usual, Yasmine, your blog is full of sentiment and nostalgia and your writing skills stimulate the imagination and has the reader searching for more. At least this reader feels this way and this post on Mommy Aileen is beautiful. I am fortunate that at this stage in my life I have had the opportunity to spend precious time with her, time I didn't have as a child or during my early adult life since I left home so soon. Now Mommy and I are not only Mother and daughter, but more than that, best friends, shareing in each other's joys and sorrows/ups and downs. She advises me at my age and I relish it because somehow her advice, for me, is the most sensible and down to earth. In her quiet way she now looks at life with a chuckle and a pinch of salt and I swear, not only has she come to her own in these past years but she has kept the spirit of Daddy alive in everything she does. I love her for her and I love her for Him.ReplyDelete
May she rest in peace. God give you all strength during this time. This was a very nice posting to forward on a day like today. May everyone always have nice memories of Teta mommy. Allah yirhamahReplyDelete