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In memoriam

The humble gardner
Grandfather was sure that God was keeping score, and everything would work out in the end

December 22, 2004

Long before chick flicks showed women drowning their sorrows in a pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, I was the original Ice Cream Girl. Ice cream has been there to cool my nerves ever since I can remember, and I remember pretty far back into my childhood. I inherited my father's sweet tooth, but I think it was Baba, my grandfather, who really connected me to ice cream.

Baba was a simple, humble man who said little, and what he said usually got him in trouble. But he liked walking to the baghaali, holding my little hand in his calloused, hard hand and buying me an ice cream cone... And so, I grew to love ice cream. I loved it when it was warm out, I loved it when it was cold and snowy, I loved it on top of my pies and cakes, or just out of the box. I loved what it was, and what it reminded me of.

On December 10, my uncle called and said my Baba was in the hospital. He didn't need to tell me that this was probably his last visit to the hospital. I knew. I knew that this time would be different. Different from the time he fell off his bike and broke his hip; or the time he rode his bike into a truck, and was in full body cast years and years ago. While he was in his cast, my grandmother forbade him ever owning a bicycle again. Different from his stroke that brought to light his fight with Alzheimer's disease; and different from his fall two years ago, that broke his hip-- again.

All those times, he hung in there. But this would be different.

When I came home, crying and telling M stories about my Baba's (mis)adventures, M handed me a bowl of silky cold ice cream. For the first time, it did not taste right; bitter from the big tears that would roll down my face and splash into the soft surface. Each spoonful melting away on my tongue--before they could numb the pain in me. I just sat there, blindly eating my bitter strawberry ice cream.

My brother called me tonight; harsh, abrupt and factual, "I know you have company, and mom doesn't want you to know, but Baba passed." And he hung up, just like that. I stood with the phone in my hand, the sound of Hafez being read in the background-- mixed with laughter and jokes, a table full of food and desserts staring at me-- and I had turned to stone. I knew that my brother was shattered. He was just alone in his home, with his grief as I was in my full house.

I walked to my room and cried. Not as much for Baba's death, as for his life. For the life of a man who was too simple to know that people were taking advantage of him, and too humble to complain about being taken advantage of. "God sees everything. It is as He wants it to be". He was sure that God was keeping score, and everything would work out in the end.

And perhaps his memory loss was a strange gift. He no longer had to look at those who had betrayed and humiliated him, remembering their words and deeds. They all became strangers that he had no obligation to. He didn't recognize me 6 years ago; but he remembered me. He remembered my eyes when I cried; he remembered our walks to the baghali; he remembered my love for him. If he looks down on me now, perhaps he will recognize me and my tearful eyes.

And so, I am up again tonight; writing as I do on many other nights. Only this time I cry as I try to write. I cry for my loss, and for his peace. I cry that only a few people truly appreciated him when he lived; only to pretend to mourn his loss now. I cry because he was always there; quiet, faded in the background -- just out of sight, but never out of mind. I cry for all that he suffered; and when he could suffer no more, his reward was forgetting the pain. I cry because the last time I saw him, I held his hand and said, "I love you, Baba." He looked at me closely for a moment and nodded; he accepted that as a fact.

He was a gardener to some of the most affluent people in Shemiran. When I spoke to my mom, she said so many people had sent flowers to the house, that they had to fill the stairwell, and eventually the street they lived on.

It seems every flower he ever planted had come to bid him farewell, one last time.

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