She reaches into the cabinet behind her and pulls out two wafer bars, one for me and one for my sister. “There you go,” she says with a smile.
“Thank you teta,” we reply in unison. “But teta, you know I’m trying to watch my snacking,” I add.
“Never mind, keep it. You’ll have something with you for work tomorrow,” she replies, before moving onto an entirely different conversation with my mother.
I nod politely. Long ago, we learned if teta offers you anything, especially if it happens to be food, you simply don’t say no. You say thank you and take it, like the good granddaughter you are- it’s even become a stereotype of Lebanese grandmothers.
Never mind that you’re 26 years old, married, and employed.
At teta’s house, you’ll always be that naughty toddler who attempted to climb the space heater or the overly enthusiastic schoolchild who replicated the long jump she had just learned at school by removing all the cushions in the living room and laying them all over the corridor. So you’ll always need a snack too.
It’s unfortunate that life gets in the way- you find that weeks have passed without a single visit to your grandmother’s house, even though you know how happy the visits make both of you. So when your mother finds out your schedule is empty on one particular afternoon and suggests you should go, you jump at the opportunity. Not the long jump though, those days are long gone.
After all, our family has always been close. I cannot remember a weekend that we didn’t spend at our grandparents-often sleepovers were thrown into the mix. For as long as I have lived in Lebanon, I’ve known that family is the cornerstone of our existence. And after the difficult year the family has gone through with the sudden illness and passing of my uncle, those words couldn’t be truer.
I walk into her preferred sitting area and her face instantly lights up. I lean in for a kiss and take in her perfume, the same one she’s worn for years though never really bothered to learn the name. I take my usual seat by the balcony door and our visit begins with the customary questions “How’s work, how’s Ahmad, how are your in-laws?”
It’s a good chance to glance at the house I’ve known forever. It’s the house I always look for as the plane is landing, whether coming back from Jeddah or the Netherlands or a vacation. Those unmistakable blue curtains, they’re my sign I’m home.
Not a lot has changed since the last time I visited, except the room seems a bit more spacious because the dining table has been rotated. The rest, all the pictures, the trinkets, the china, they’re all where they have always been.
The balcony, which had always been our playground, hasn’t changed either, except our toys have made way for an array of greenery in the concrete jungle. I would have loved to sit outside, but the unbearable humidity rules it out as an option.
In an ever changing world, grandma’s house hasn’t changed- and I don’t want it to.
We talk about current affairs and gossip about other family members. I make fun of my sister and they both laugh their hearts out. She shares my perspective on many issues and I realize there’s no better example of a strong female role model.
There are so many of her qualities that I wish to emulate but especially her perseverance through hard times, her unyielding love for family, her charity, and her wit. These characteristics stand out whenever I think of her, how she never shies from speaking what’s on her mind, how there’s always a place at the table even if you arrive hours late to Sunday’s lunch.
Despite the generational gap, I can never have enough of our conversations, and I feel thankful enough to be old enough to appreciate her wisdom and insight.
But sooner or later, life gets in the way again. I grab the wafer from earlier and place it in my bag. Tomorrow when I find myself feeling tired at work, I’ll have that snack and remember my afternoon with teta, while making a mental note to visit her again sooner.