My mothers family is from Sicily. My fathers family, my grandmother, from Iran. I look Iranian, which is apparent to both Middle Eastern people and others, anytime I am in a room with a relative, these Middle Eastern genes extremely strong. When I was little she would cup my face and tell me that I was a Persian Princess, the most beautiful of women to be found in all the world. Even down to these last silent days, she puts her soft hand to my face and smiles.
It was not until I was in my late twenties that I met another Iranian outside of her, my father and uncle (whom I barely know, one absent mostly, the other living in Boston and visiting here and there). My grandfather disappeared when my father was a teenager, so we have never met and only recently have I come to gain any knowledge concerning him.
She is this incredible wealth of broken English stories about far away places in distant times. As a youth she was a total hellion. Leaping from school house windows to run home when bored and destroying everyone's material in sewing class during final exams having not paid attention to any lessons on shirt making; her jokes, wit and humor disrupting studies often though always a favorite among peers and teachers as charm repeatedly outweighed any punishment for her actions; diabolically sabotaging internal heating pipes, so that school would close for the day while workers cleaned up soot. She once pulled this little trick in order to come rushing to the aide of a distraught teacher, battling the rooms smoke like a true champion to fix the pipe she had earlier wiggled loose, thus saving the day and becoming the hero of the classroom for a day. Yes. This, is my totally awesome tiny Armenian grandmother: Badass Knucklehead Squared.
During WWII she remembers German troops occupying her town and the relief they all felt upon waking up one day to find the British had seized control of the area. There was happiness and celebrations in the street she said.
As a young woman, she attended nursing school, one of the first in the area. She crossed the Euphrates river in a boat that resembled a circular bathtub to get married in Iraq.
She was a guest in the Iranian Kings palace on the Caspian Sea for two weeks after my grandfather saved the Kings brother by landing a plane safely with him on board. Paris, London, New York, and many others large cities throughout the world she had visited before she was even in her thirties.
She can speak over eight languages fluently, and understands even more than that.
When revolution came to her homeland, she had been on vacation in America, unable to ever return home again. She lost everything but was grateful to the US Embassy and all the hard work they did in order to get her mother out of Iran during this time. I have a picture with my great grandmother, when I was just a little girl, a woman, who I am told, survived the Armenian Holocaust when a Doctor friend of the families helped them escape and relocate to Tabrese, Iran where my grandmother was eventually born.
In America, she lived in Kansas City, New York and New Jersey, until her husband disappeared and she migrated to Lake Mary and then Orlando, one of the first people to work for Walt Disney World, as a floral designer. She is an amazingly competent artist, pictures of large sculptures she created in New Jersey in her spare time, shocked me with their intricacies and beauty.
The environment she created for my sister and I growing up, contained peace like no other. We danced and sang, and listened to her tell us stories of being a little girl and laying in hammocks under trees to watch the stars, her homeland the most beautiful and mystical place on earth. Lunch was always a smorgasbord of fresh fruit and vegetables, cheeses and finger food, laid out on gorgeous china platters usually reserved, in other households, for adult company only. We had tea parties with real tea sets and suitcases full of clothes, silk scarves, hats and jewelry in which to play dress up with. Dinner would cook for hours while she laughed and played with us. Her home swirled with the most amazing smells.
As adults, she reveled in being able to do it all over again with a new set of great grandchildren. Age made her a bit slower but even in her late eighties, she would cook a favorite Iranian dish we call Sabsi for hours, just to serve us all dinner and be surrounded for the evening. Our children, have been so blessed to have spent so much time with a relative so full of life and love.
Up until she went into the hospital last month, she was an extremely active woman of 90. After retiring from Disney, she volunteered full-time at a state run childcare facility in Winter Park, taking the bus to work at 6am and returning after 4pm, 5 days a week. When that stopped, due to government paperwork beyond her control (the staff and kids were devastated to see her go after so many years), she joined a local Seniors group in her 80's, traveling to meet friends for coffee, arts and crafts, trips around the city and then lunch, 5 days a week. Last year alone, she was on the Casino cruise three times. I haven't even been once. She has lived in government assisted housing, behind a grocery store for the last 20 years doing her own shopping and paying her own bills; if she could walk there she did and if not she learned what bus could take her, and went that route. Active in her church as well, she has worshiped every Sunday and joined countless groups through them, helping when asked and even, when not asked.
A few years ago, she learned how to play solitaire on the computer. Curiosity and a need to keep learning, she figured out how to navigate the internet and send emails. She was an avid reader before macular degeneration began to take her eyesight, later buying books on tape in order to listen to The Bible and other religious teachings.
This was not a feeble, frail woman in front of a television the last years of her life. In fact, last year she broke her foot (her first broken bone) when she leapt out of a van instead of waiting for the driver to get her a stool so she could step down with assistance. Temporarily stuck in a wheelchair as it healed, she maneuvered on her own around the apartment (her arms very strong) like a caged rat waiting to be released. And when the doctor approved her boot, she was off, visiting, moving, and living, once again.
She never complained about being poor, and never wanted for much, other than to see everyone she knew happy.
Adapting to time and circumstance, while retaining an incredible sense of humor and sharp as knife wit, my tiny Armenian grandmother is a testament to everyone who has ever had the pleasure of meeting her.
When I see her now, curled up quietly in the nursing home bed waiting for death to finally take her, I have to remember that this person I see, right here, right now, has only been like this for the last 30 days.
She has lived for 90 long years, whatever the circumstances, through war or peace, when rich or poor, to its absolute fullest, seizing every day and all it had to offer.
She is the coolest person I have and will ever meet and how lucky I am to have been her granddaughter.
And when she is finally gone from this earth, her soul departing on its next glorious adventure, I am going to miss her so very much.