My father's parents lived in Tehran.
My grandfather wore a short white beard he cut with clippers. His head was bald. He never shaved. He never shaved because it was against his religion. I don't remember him being angry. Nor do I remember him laughing more than once or twice. I remember him praying on a prayer mat. He did so quietly, and slowly. He spoke the Arabic verses clearly and smoothly. When I say the first few lines lines in my mind, it is my memory of him speaking them makes me feel at ease. He never encouraged me to pray, nor discussed it with me. He never described the benefits of prayer. He never tried to teach me the lines from the Ghoran. It was my father who taught me the first few lines, at my request. But once he said to me, as we were sitting around a bowl of fuit. "Who made this chair? Someone made it. Who made this table? Someone made it. Who made the world? God made it." He went back to peeling his orange.
When my grandfather sat down, he sat still. He did not finger his beard, or twitch. He always looked comfortable. If he was sitting down, it seemed to me that sitting down was what he wanted to do, and he was giving it his full concentration. He smiled at my sister and I frequently, and I felt welcome in his house.
My sister and I, and my cousins also, called him Aghajahn, which means Mr. Dear if you translate it directly into English. I don't even know what his real name was. His surname was Hashemi, like mine.
When he went out, he took a walking cane, although he did not really need it. He stood up straight when he walked, with his head balanced comfortably atop his neck. I remember him as being tall. He put the cane down with every other step. I went to the store with him once. He took his time choosing a melon. He held it in front of me so I could see the one he had chosen, and the ones he had not chosen. I don't recall him putting the melon to his nose, which is what I do at the store. Putting the fruit to his nose would be unlike him, so far as I recall. Squeezing the fuit would be unlike him also. Despite being limited by his dignity, my grandfather's ability to pick good fruit was undisputed in the family.
A pomegranite is a difficult fruit to peel and prepare. You can squeeze it to break the seeds inside, and then cut a hole in it and suck the juice out, but if you want to have the shiny red seeds in a bowl, and eat them by the spoonful, you have to peel it and separate the seeds from the white dividing walls whithin. In my house these days, it's my youngest daughter Alice who has the patience to separate the seeds. In my grandfather's house, it was he who had the patience. He did not hurry the job, and when he was done, his hands were unmarked by the red juice, and the seeds were perfectly clean.
"When Azizjahn peels a pomegranite," he said, "the juice makes her hands turn black, every time. But when I do it, my hands don't turn black at all." He smiled. "So I peel the pomegranites, because if I don't, Azizjahn will have black hands."
He had to speak in simple terms for my sister and I, because we did not speak good Persian.
My grandmother, whom we called Azizjahn, made the best Ghorme Sabzi I have ever tasted. It may be that my own Ghorme Sabzi can in fact rival hers now, after twenty years of study. But in my mind, it never does. If I give my Ghorme Sabzi a ten out of ten, Azizjahn's would get an eleven. She had a big pot of tea ready in the kitchen at all times, and served it in small glasses with lumps of sugar. It was bitter, and needed the sugar. That's the way she liked it. Sometimes she put milk in the tea. I think that may have been for my mother, but I recall her trying it.
Azizjahn was a small woman. She moved quickly about the house, or so it seemed. Perhaps she moved no faster than the rest of us, but because she was so small, she seemed to be moving faster. When she sat down, she shifted around with a smile on her face, and her legs tucked beneth her, as if she was ready to get up and start some kind of mischief.
We took a British couple with us to the mountains one weekend. We sat around a long mat on the floor eating lunch. Angela was a few places down from Azizjahn. My grandmother picked up a plate of cucumbers and offered it to her.
"No thank you," Angela said.
"They are good, have one."
"No thank you, I don't like cucumbers."
Azizjahn leaned forwards across the person sitting next to her, a big smile on her face, and looked right into Angela's eyes. "I bet you like your husband's cucumber."
My cousin Ric was with us on that trip, visiting from England. He spoke only a word or two of Persian. At night, we lay beneath thick comforters on the floor. When she was tucking us in, Azizjahn sat sideways next to Ric and talked to him and laughed at him for a good ten minutes, even tickling him. He was probably twelve at the time. Ric did not understand a word she said, but he laughed also. I probably understood only half of it, because Azizjahn spoke so fast, and never showed much concern about other people understanding her or not. I don't remember what she said, that's for sure, just her smile. She was happy about something. In my memory she was happy almost all of the time.
When we left Iran in 1980, she was on the other side of the glass from me in the airport. We had passed through some checkpoint, leaving her behind. This was just before the war with Iraq broke out, and about the time that my Math teacher was executed. She was crying. My cousin told me Azizjahn was crying because she believed she would never see me again.
She was right.