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 mother had 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 grandmother.
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 them.
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 thanked me.
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.