Lessons learned the old
July 28, 2004
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.
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
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
never allowed that kind of filth in our home and I am not
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
so lost in laughter and conversation that I let slip from
my tongue the word bitch, when I was lying to them about one
my imaginary dates. Now after all these years, lying about
that date seems so ridiculous given the fact that I was too
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
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
where values were not something that change with the wind,
but were rules of life set in stone. She believed that people
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.
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,
never considered the possibility of challenging or refusing
the decisions of one of their elder family members, especially
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
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
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
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
that although I have always tried to limit my use of expletives,
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
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
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
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
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
on that list and he said that he's learned a lot of swear
words on television in English, but that his mother had
taught him any in Farsi and that he never heard bad words
on Iranian TV. He went on to add that since there were
boys where we live that he might be able to learn such
words from, that the only way he could learn them was through
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
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.
dear grandma would have certainly taken a different approach,
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
grandparents taught us. These values and traditions are
the only things that tie us to those who came before.
traditions children can grow up to be proud of who and
what they are. Without them, however, they are lost to
One can see in America and Europe today, countless tens
of millions of young people, including those who come
families who have never been taught about those core
values that form the bedrock of their identity. How is
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
for use in polite society, in valuing and respecting
elders or in cherishing traditional holidays and gatherings
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,
believe that any of us have any reason to heap scorn
upon these young people unless we have done everything
we could in
our homes to teach our youngsters those important lessons
in life about values and where those values came from.
that learns these lessons will never lose his or her
way. They will be tied to their forbearers in a way
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
want to be treated. These values and lessons of tradition
are the only thing that will allow them to hold onto
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
doing our jobs better as parents and community members.
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?
goodbye to spam!