The house of broken memories
Four walls, inside which every night had been filled
with food, laughter, and good company
May 10, 2003
We spent the summer I turned eighteen in Iran.
Stepping inside the sliding glass doorways of the house which had
been my grandfather's wedding gift to my parents, I took a deep
breath and smelled the house to remember. It was as if I was being
transported back in time. The scent of ghorme sabzi filled my nostrils
as I saw them all, gathered around the table, passing torobches
and onions, laughing as my younger cousin spilled the orange soda
everywhere. We were home.
Looking around at the fancy furniture and the giant guestrooms,
I had a startling realization. Walking across the elegant carpets
and gazing past the burning candles enclosed in pomegranate-red
glasses, I knew that home was not that apartment back in the San
Francisco Bay Area where we went to bed at night. Home wasn't that
place where your neighbors acted like strangers and where it was
frowned upon to throw loud parties on Saturday nights. Home was
not that place where nothing was sacred.
Home was here. The house of broken memories. This place where my
been raised. The kitchen where she had cooked her first meal as
someone's wife. The yard where my dad had practiced his karate.
Four walls, inside which every night had been filled with food,
laughter, and good company.
That very first night revisiting Tehran was a memory that I wouldn't
trade for anything else. I sat on a chair in the corner of the room,
setting up the video camera as I watched all the people who were
dear to me in life gather around my grandmother's antique dining
room table. It was a table as old as she was.
I pressed the record button as I watched her set each plate, then
the silverware, then the food. She hadn't seen her entire family
sitting together under one roof for 24 years and now, I witnessed
tears of happiness flowing down her wrinkled cheeks. Happiness mixed
with regret. Regret that my grandfather wasn't with us. We hadn't
all come back home until it was too late.
I wondered what she was thinking that very moment; What happens
when they leave and I am alone here again, remembering?
My grandfather's chair was empty. He had passed away a few years
back. "The good ones always go first" holds true when
I think of him. They were all waiting for me before they began to
eat, ushering me into my grandfather's chair.I had always been his
favorite granddaughter. He said he loved me the most because I had
laughter in my eyes. Back then, I did.
So I went and I sat with them, and I watched.
My uncle was the same as I remembered him, a little ponytail in
the back, greying along with the times. He was the one family member
who never changed in my eyes, not even his hairstyle. I giggled,
remembering the time my aunt had tried cutting his hair and had
lost track of what she was doing because we were watching "Santa
Barbara" reruns, and she ended up giving him a premature bald
spot. Everyone around me burst into giggles. Even
She held her hands tightly together and I reached over to grab
her pinkie finger, the same as I had done back when I was little.
My mom, who had been watching us, grabbed onto her other frail hand,
and the three of us girls, for one single moment in time, were bound
together in harmony.
No one thought about what tomorrow would bring.
I knew that when morning came, I would start fighting with my
mom about the color of my roosari or about going out with my cousins
alone. My mother would spend each day pulling her hair out of her
head, screaming in frustration as she ran from one government office
to the next, trying to win back what the revolution had taken from
I don't think the money or the property was what was important.
They had lost so much time and so many loved ones, that this way
was their only way of resisting, not wanting to
lose anything else.
As we recalled old memories, my uncle's wife poured us all some
tea, a chestnutty-brown liquid with tiny crystals of sugar lying
at the bottom. I noticed how hard she was trying to fit in with
us. Tomorrow, with our arrival, she would no longer be the ruler
of the house. My grandmother wouldn't need her as a shopping companion.
And my mother wouldn't easily accept her as the sister that she
longed to be.
I smiled at her, a warm smile of reassurance, and grabbed the tray
from her hands. Her dull eyes momentarily glimmered as she silently
The one instant of that night that I will remember forever is when
I dropped my dinner glass and it shattered to the floor. My mom
began to freak out, yelling at me for my clumsiness, but we looked
around and noticed everyone else breaking into laughter. Tears once
again filled my grandmother's eyes. I wasn't sure whether they were
for sadness or for joy. I had just done something that grandfather
had been famous for. He had broken more of those little glasses
during family dinners than most people owned. It was that
very moment that I felt so close to the person that my mother described
as the greatest man she had ever known. He was with us, and we were
all together, even if it was just for the night.
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