I Remember Grandma
I was lucky enough to remember both of my grandmothers and thank them both for the love they gave me and the lessons in life, that they taught me...
The picture attached is of my 3rd birthday party. Behind me is my sweet, Lebanese grandmother. Her name was "Salemie" and was loosely translated into Sally.
I was named for her.
She was 66 at the time and would die within the next few years. She was 3 years older than I am now, in this picture.
I know that I never heard her complain or raise her voice. She seemed to always be smiling or cooking. Many of the Lebanese recipes I now prepare for my own family, came from her, my "dahti" which is Arabic for grandmother. There are times when I am rolling grape leaves that I see her in my memory, stooped over the old, red kitchen table, rolling grape leaves or pounding spices in the old, wooden mortar and pestle that she had. There was a big machine that would grind lamb for kibbeh and in addition to the one in the kitchen, there was a big stove in the basement where she made bread. Todays version is what we know as "pita bread", but hers were big, flat loaves of bread that we would eat with hummus or Tabbouleh or dip in olive oil. I have her old rolling pin and I will keep it forever and pass it on to my own children along with the memories that go with it. It is now encased in a shadowbox frame, along with a photo of her holding me as an infant, and it hangs in my kitchen. I reminder, every time I look at it, of this sweet woman.
I love that I remember her cooking and I love that I can bring her back to life when I recreate her food.
There were always Jordan almonds around. Hard, candy shelled almonds which all of us grandkids would steal from a gallon jar, locked away in my grandfathers chiffarobe. There were gallon jars of pistachios and dried, salted chick peas too. In those days pistachios were dyed red and so, even though Grandpa had that chiffarobe under lock and key, we kids knew where the key was hidden, and we would open the doors and feast. Our red fingers were a dead giveaway to what we had been doing.
My grandmother always smelled like mint to me. Probably because she used it often in cooking. I grow mint now in my garden...more out of sentimental reasons than to cook with. I guess it just takes me back to see it growing and remember how it flourished in her garden.
Like other women of her generation, her life wasnt an easy one. I know that she and my grandfather traveled back to Lebanon when she was pregnant with my Aunt Sarah. Im not sure why they went, but that trip had to take months by boat in those days and then the sheer difficulty of the mountains of Lebanon and being pregnant had to be hard.
She kept an immaculate house. I remember smelling bleach in her kitchen and bathrooms.She used real lemon oil to wax the furniture and the sofa and chair were always covered in those god-awful plastic slipcovers that were so popular in the 50s.
She always wore "house dresses" and black, sensible shoes and I think she was old before her time.
On hot, summer nights when I was very young and couldnt sleep, I remember wanting only my "ddahti" and she would come and pick me up from my crib and walk me outside in the alley, between our houses, until I fell asleep.
I knew her a very short time, but she made an impression on me and left me with great memories of a simpler time when life seemed so sweet. And she gave to me a legacy of cooking and preparing food as a way to show love.
Her lessons were about family and love and patience and kindness.
Thank you Ddhati