“This is my country, that is your country; these are the conceptions of narrow souls – to the liberal minded the whole world is a family.”
― Virchand Gandhi
I grew up without grandparents. Well, not exactly – I had one grandmother. Unfortunately she didn’t like the idea of being a mother, let alone a grandmother. Therefore she was unavailable.
I never much thought about it before; the whole no grandparent thing, until about eight years ago. I met a woman named Doreen. She was in her late seventies, British, strikingly beautiful and full of fire. We sat on a non-profit board together and I got to know her well. Sometimes she would be gone for a month or two – taking her grandchild to far off places like Africa and Thailand.
I once got a butterscotch life-savor from Katherine, my “grandmother” when she was staying with us a few weeks (until she got enough money for another apartment.) My mother always helped her. Us kids gave her her space. She needed a lot of space.
Don’t get me wrong, I grew up happy with the butterscotch life-savor. I had a very loving family life. I didn’t need Africa or Asia. Although after meeting and spending time with Doreen I concluded that I should like to have Doreen as MY grandmother. She was so cool, so interesting, so devoted to her grandson who happened to live thousands of miles away. I felt gipped all of a sudden. It wasn’t fair.
And so began my search.
From that moment on, every place I visit I’m secretly looking for my grandparent. When I meet them, I daydream about what it would be like to have grown up with them. To have eaten their butterscotch candies. To have been told all of the family stories and secrets while we ate homemade soup.
I’ve compiled a short list of perspective candidates from my last trip to Spain:
The sweet Lebanese man from Vancouver, BC sitting beside me on the flight to Seattle yesterday: He wore a light grey suit. Not enough men wear suits anymore. His white hair was thick and combed neatly with a side part. His face was calm; serene. He didn’t watch movies or do anything but rest his eyes softly beside me. He had a special diabetic meal so they served his meal first. I hadn’t eaten much in days and when I looked to see what food he had been given he tried to hand me his utensils and asked if I would like to share. I almost started crying. The nice old Lebanese man who’d never met me was offering to share his food. I declined and he asked “sure?” and then waited until my meal was served before he would begin to eat. I worried about his diabetes.
He and I would meet on Saturday’s at the local Lebanese restaurant for lunch. I would take his arm afterward and we would go for a nice walk – my Jidi and me.
The old woman with dyed brown hair and burgundy lipstick who helped me when I was lost in Eivissa: She was a small woman, with a stern face. She spoke no English. I showed her my map and pointed to the hotel that I was staying at. She pointed her crocked finger in the direction and then gently touched my arm and began her march with me. She had been going the opposite way before I asked her. Once in a while she would say something and then point. I felt protected by her. She stopped suddenly at an apartment building and another woman came out. She was heavy, with a sweet face, a hunch in her back and a bad limp. The old woman looked at me, said something sternly to her friend which made her look softly to me and smile and we were on our way – all three of us. She left me only when I was safely in front of my hotel. Her face soften again before she turned to march away.
She and I would cook together. Me following her directions and her sternly telling me not to cook the potatoes so long. Although a hard woman, I would see that my Abuela loved and protected me.
Mary Lou – The old woman who lived down the road from the finca I stayed at: After being introduced to Mary Lou I was immediately in awe. She was in her eighties, loved her garden, originally from France but had been living in Spain for thirty years. She also spoke no English but invited us in her house to see the photo of her husband that hung over her bed. He had died almost thirty years ago and she was still very much in love with him. She never remarried. Her eyes were as blue and bright as the sky. I was captivated by her beauty and her sweet energy. She would touch our arms to follow her to her windows, to her photos. She was so obviously proud of all of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I longed to be in her photos too.
Mémé and I would sit for hours while having tea. She would tell me stories of growing up in France, of meeting my grandfather, the man of her dreams. I would take her to the nursery to buy more flowers and she would insist I stay longer.
Today I’ve been invited by a dear friend to visit her in Sicily. I wonder how my Sicilian grandparents will be….