On a rainy day in Southern California, you can’t help but think sad thoughts. And if it just happens that a good friend has recently passed away, those thoughts may be even sadder. However, it is precisely on such days when you need your laughter the most. I’m trying to remember funny incidents, but all can thin k of are stories that have to do with “death.”
A lot has changed in the way we Iranians grieve. I should know because my first experience of a funeral goes back to Iran and when I was too young to understand tradition.
No sooner had the bad news of my mother’s passing arrived than we found more relatives than we needed. The house was filled with people who seemed to love halva, fresh dates and Turkish coffee. Except for my sister and I, whose dresses had white little flowers on a black background, all women wore black. Men either used black neckties or an armband in that color. Seeing them unshaven and women with no makeup, we did not seem as attractive a nation as presumed.
Without any ready-made clothes in stores, no sooner had someone in the family passed away than big pots of water were filled with boiling water and black dye. In went the shirts, pants and dresses while someone stirred the smelly potion with a big wooden stick. Soon, there would be a clothesline across the garden with black items on it that from a distance resembled giant crows. To this day, I remember the shrunken wool sweaters that were not meant for such heat, cardigans that diminished from adult size to baby clothes made out of thick felt!
I never understood why the furniture had to be moved out of the living room, or why all of a sudden shoes were left outside and women sat in a circle on the rug. As a child, I assumed that was to give them enough backache to cry real tears.
Crying was a must because on top of all the tears that were shed, they invited a clergy to tell stories that made people cry even more. Old ladies sat around, drank tea and Turkish coffee, while alternating their cry and gossip. When they seemed unable to get up and leave, I wasn’t sure if it was because of their cramped legs or the volumes they’d eaten.
Back then sending flowers wasn’t as customary. People just came, cried a little and ate a lot. Sometimes they seemed to forget why they had come because they huddled in groups and I could hear them chatting, giggling even. Maybe that’s why they needed the clergy, to remind them of crying.
Sometimes I’d eaves drop and listen. There were many funny stories to be told. Looking back, I realize that laughter was a benign form of self-defense. Maybe it still is, otherwise why make jokes about Ahmadinejad? Nobody seems to cry over the loss of our nation’s dignity. Indeed laughter has to be the best medicine for such incurable disease.
I try hard to remember funny stories. Years ago, a relative went to someone’s funeral. His wife couldn’t accompany him on that day, but she asked him to tell the family how sorry she was and to promise she’d be there for the ceremonies of the seventh night. Sadly the message was not delivered in the best way. When asked where was the wife, he told the grief-stricken widow, “She’s sorry she couldn’t make it, but promises she’ll be there the next time!”
I try hard to laugh, but the rain is pouring and the sky is just too gray. Maybe I will laugh tomorrow. Maybe there’s a clergy with a funny story somewhere.