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Life

From elders
Lessons learned the old fashioned way

July 28, 2004
iranian.com

My grandmother was a simple soul, but one with convictions of steel. She has been gone many years now, but I still miss her dearly and it still often brings a smile to my face when I  think of some of the axioms of life by which she lived. One of those was that she did not ever permit anyone to use 4-letter words in her home. She was a religious woman who prayed day and night. I don't know what all that praying was about, but now I hope some of it may have been for me.  She used to say, if she heard someone using bad language, that the devil had hold of their tongue. It goes without saying, all of her children and grandchildren knew that they had to watch what they said when they were in Grandma's house.

In what now seems a lifetime ago, I went to visit my grandmother in the lush green pine covered countryside of southern Georgia. I guess, I must have been around fifteen years old then. I knew the two teenaged boys who lived just down the dusty dirt road from Grandma fairly well since I had been on many visits before. Every time I would visit they would make sure to stop by everyday, so that we could hang out and talk about things that teenage boys like to talk about. Just like teenagers of today, our conversations always seemed to quickly find there way to the topic of the opposite sex; for us that meant girls. This was one topic that we just never seemed to tire of.

While on my visit, one evening my two partners in crime came over. We decided that we would go outside and sit on my grandma's large and comfortable front porch. Like many homes of that time in the deep south, the porch was not merely a entry into the home, but it was a place to welcome visitors, greet guests and sit in sturdy pine rocking chairs, rocking the night away under the stars with laughter, warm and pleasant conversation, and glass after tall glass of the sweetest and coldest ice tea imaginable.

As teenagers so often do, we went there to find us a little place for some privacy, so we could talk freely without adult ears perking up. We talked and we talked and we laughed and we laughed. We talked about girls and we lied to each other about girls, but if the truth be told, none of the three of us had the slightest idea as to what we were talking about. We were certainly old enough to be aware that life had some interesting mysteries ahead for us to unravel, but we were still innocent and clueless.

After about two hours of non-stop conversation, my grandma came flying out of the front door onto the porch, her face as red as an Iranian pomegranate (anaar) and all of her 4 foot, 8 inch frame shaking in anger. She eyeballed at me with a look that could kill. She bellowed in a voice that that was much larger than her small body, "you know the rules of this house, young man. I do not allow the use of profanity and filth in my home." My two friends put down their tea glasses and quickly excused themselves, running from my grandma's front yard all the way home.

Their hasty departure left me all alone to face the consequences which I knew were coming. I looked at my grandma and as meekly and as innocently as I could, I asked, "What's wrong Grandma, what did I say?"

"We were just talking... I didn't say anything bad."

She looked at me and said something that has haunted me, even to this day. With a look on her face that betrayed both anger and hurt, she said, "I was married to your grandfather for 52 years and I never heard him once say that word that just came from your mouth. Your grandpa may not have been an educated man, but he was God-fearing and never allowed that kind of filth in our home and I am not about to tolerate it either, just because he's gone. He's probably looking down on you right now boy, hanging his head in shame. I can't believe that you would dishonor his memory and his name, which you carry, by cursing in the home that he built with his own two hands."

I looked as bewildered as I could and asked, "What did I say?" She scowled at me and said, "the B-word." My mind was racing trying to replay what my friends and I had been talking about and then I remembered. I was guilty! I had been so lost in laughter and conversation that I let slip from my tongue the word bitch, when I was lying to them about one of my imaginary dates. Now after all these years, lying about that date seems so ridiculous given the fact that I was too young to drive at that time and still peddled my way around life on two wheels.

I looked at my grandma as repentant as I could and told her that I was sorry. My grandma had another axiom in life by which she lived. That axiom was that sorry just wasn't good enough sometimes. She lived her life by what people today would call old school values. She was born and raised in a simpler time where values were not something that change with the wind, but were rules of life set in stone. She believed that people needed to learn lessons in life to live a life by what she called the "Godly way." "The only way we're going to get that filth out of your mouth boy is to wash those 4-letter words out with soap" she snapped.

I knew she was serious and I also knew that I was going to have to face the music. In a southern family, in those days, youngsters never considered the possibility of challenging or refusing the decisions of one of their elder family members, especially a parent or grandparent. Their word was the law and we knew it. She said, Come with me." I followed her into the kitchen trying to think of some reasonable excuse that might save me and buy me a reprieve from the fate which awaited me. Then, like a bolt of lightening from the sky it dawned on me. As she reached for that bar of pink soap, I cried, "Grandma, bitch isn't a 4-letter word, it's five." Much to my dismay, she was not impressed. She thrust that bar of soap under that running water, and looked up at me and said something that I'll remember until the day I die. She said, "The t is silent, now open that mouth."

As you might guess, I never used profanity in my grandma's house again. If you've never had a bar of pink soap thrust into your mouth, please take my word on it that there are many more pleasurable things to do in life. Sadly, I must admit that although I have always tried to limit my use of expletives, I have not been perfect. I certainly hope that my grandparents haven't hung the head's in shame too many times as they've looked down on me during my life. The values that they lived by are still very much alive in me although I can't say that I have lived by all of them to the best of my ability.

The reason this even came to mind was that a few night ago, I sat down at my computer and I clicked on the history tab so that I could quickly access a website. I saw an address in the box that I'd never seen before, so I clicked on it. It took me to a website that had all kinds of profane words that one could use in Farsi. I knew that my wife would not have been looking at that site because, although she never uses that kind of language, she would certainly not need a website to teach her how to curse in her own language.

I called my son into the room and asked him if he had been adding to his Persian vocabulary and he said yes. I asked him why he would ever need to use the kinds of words on that list and he said that he's learned a lot of swear words on television in English, but that his mother had never taught him any in Farsi and that he never heard bad words on Iranian TV. He went on to add that since there were no Iranian boys where we live that he might be able to learn such words from, that the only way he could learn them was through the Internet.

I sat him down and I told him about my encounter with the bar of pink soap when I was only a few years older than he is now. He asked if I was going to do the same thing to him. I told him I was not, but I went on to explain to him that a man with any self dignity would certainly not make it habit to use such words in English or Farsi as a matter of daily life. I think that he understood what I was trying to say to him.

Although, my dear grandma would have certainly taken a different approach, I believe that my son cannot be held accountable if he is unaware of important values by which he should live. It is my responsibility and that of his mother to teach him those things that our parents and grandparents taught us. These values and traditions are the only things that tie us to those who came before. With values and traditions children can grow up to be proud of who and what they are. Without them, however, they are lost to the wind.

One can see in America and Europe today, countless tens of millions of young people, including those who come from Iranian and mixed-Iranian families who have never been taught about those core values that form the bedrock of their identity. How is it possible for a youngster to know and be proud of who he or she is, or to take pride in living a certain way, such as by using language appropriate for use in polite society, in valuing and respecting elders or in cherishing traditional holidays and gatherings if their parents never thought it was important enough to teach them?

I hear many people nowadays, both Iranian and non-Iranian, lamenting the sad state of the younger generation. I, personally, don't believe that any of us have any reason to heap scorn upon these young people unless we have done everything that we could in our homes to teach our youngsters those important lessons in life about values and where those values came from.

Any child that learns these lessons will never lose his or her way. They will be tied to their forbearers in a way that always allows them to hold their head's high wherever they may go in life. These values are the only thing which will allow them to live in dignity and respect, treating others the way they would want to be treated. These values and lessons of tradition are the only thing that will allow them to hold onto the identity of their parents and grandparents.

Whether a child grows up in an American family, a European family, an Iranian family, or a mixed family, it is incumbent that we, the adults in their lives, stop all the bitching (I hope Grandma didn't see this one) about how they lack values and start doing our jobs better as parents and community members.

I heard an Iranian friend one day saying how sad it was that so many teenage Iranian-Americans didn't know the beautiful poetry of Iran's great poets. I asked him what he had done personally to help any of those teenagers learn about it. He said that he'd done nothing. I asked him how they were supposed to learn about the beauty of such poetry if everyone was like him and just left it to someone else to teach them. If everyone is trying to shift the responsibility away from themselves then sadly no one assumes the responsibility for anything, ever.

Whether American, European or Iranian, it is our obligation to both our descendants and our ancestors to make sure that we have done everything in our power to give the next generation the values, customs and traditions in life that were given to us and which we hold dear. If our children do not learn from us that there are some things in life that never change or should never change, then please tell me who will teach them?

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