It’s pretty safe to say, I am not in any danger of being the Sohie family Matriarch
Decembe 21, 2005
By now, you’ve probably figured that I was a fairly imaginative child. Frankly, comparing my childhood (as well as my adolescence, young adulthood and where I am now) with that of my friends, I think I was a bit “unique”. I’m not saying that to brag, it’s just how I see it. Notice, as tempted as I am, I don’t claim to have been gifted, insightful or funny -- just unique.
So, sometime between childhood and adolescence as I realized the responsibilities that come with being the oldest grandchild on both sides of the family, I suddenly had aspirations of greatness (another theme that comes up in my thinking). I was not going to be any old cousin, I was going to be a grand matriarch of the family. At one point, I was even daydreaming about parties at my house during holidays, me in a lovely black dress, strings of pearls playing hostess to a slew of cousins, spouses and their children. I would set the tone for formal events, plan the appropriate gifts for weddings, birthdays, etc. I would represent the family in times of joy and sorrow. It was a beautiful dream.
Of course, I was realist and knew things like this didn’t happen by accident. I had to work at socializing -- learning the rights and wrongs; I had to be wise, funny, grounded, firm and yet kind. I had a plan. Unfortunately, I ran into some roadblocks from the beginning.
I could never get the hang of taroof. It’s not that I wasn’t good at it, I just didn’t get it. Early into the time we moved to Iran, we had a lovely family friend who came to our house and saw me for the first time in almost 10 years. She looked to her daughter and said,
“Akhey. Ma’shallah! She looks just like Morvarid.”
I smiled, like the polite young lady that I was, and reciprocated for being compared to a pearl: “Thank you! Your eyes see me as beautiful. You look like Morvarid as well.”
If you’re confused by this exchange, you’re not alone. She looked at me with this look on her face: “?!”
You see, in Farsi, unlike English, there is no ‘a’ or ‘the’. Which means that when she said I look like Morvarid, she was referring to someone by that name. I took it to mean I looked like a pearl -- some kind of new compliment. The other problem with this exchange is that I am -- relatively speaking -- fair with light colored eyes. This lady’s daughter was a beautiful girl with dark doe eyes and jet black hair. There was no way in the world that the two of us could look like the same person. My stock answer, carefully prepared and rehearsed was not only inappropriate, it was downright comical. My career as a dignified matriarch was off to a very bumpy start.
Another problem was, I took grown ups far too seriously (and literally) -- because otherwise, it would mean that they weren’t taking me very seriously. That was an unacceptable option. Once, I took a perfect tray of tea to present to one of our relatives (a lovely, lovely man whom I’m very fond of). He was an architect who had studied in Italy and was very fond of Italian art. So, when he looked at me and said I have a Mona Lisa smile, I immediately imagined the Mona Lisa: a fat, big nosed woman with an invisible smile. I was not amused. I looked at him with as much dignity as I could muster and flashed him as many of my teeth as I could fit in a single smile. This may have come across as a snarl, which made him laugh so hard and so loud, he never got to drink his perfect tea.
Then there were my interests. Tragically, my interests interested no one but myself. How many twelve year olds do you know who are obsessed with the French Revolution, English literature and Greek Mythology? If you knew someone like that as a child, were you impressed or bored silly? Most people had the latter reaction. It’s not that I bragged about it, it’s just that when my cousins and classmates were talking about going to parties, meeting boys and clothes; I was in a different world of Guillotines, hooped skirts and angry gods smiting each other. Yes, indeed. I was Miss Popularity.
There was the family history thing. As you know, every Iranian family comes with extended family histories. There are the truths, the perceptions and the myths that have been created around certain family members. Stories that are told in hushed whispers, or accompanied with loud laughs. Scandals that are not told in mixed company, yet everyone knows. This was my favorite part of my matriarchicical duties. It was also the part that I was officially banned from. Whenever I entered the room, the conspiratorial whispers would stop. I could bear fruits, sweets, teas, or my own sweet smile. Everyone would start talking about nonsensical topics or just stop talking. They didn’t fool me for a second.
Fortunately, I still had the wisdom thing going for me. After all, no one in my family read nearly as much as I did and if that didn’t make me wise, well, nothing would. Unfortunately, my cousins never got to benefit from my wisdom and knowledge as I left Iran at 18 and did my best to stay put for as long as I could.
It’s pretty safe to say, I am not in any danger of being the Sohie family Matriarch. Which is sad, considering how much I was looking forward to it.
All this brings me to a sad reality: my cousins and I have all drifted apart. Because of my age -- and my particular interests -- I never bonded closely with many of them (I was twelve when half of them were born). I babysat them, changed, fed and played with them, but wasn’t there as they grew into accomplished, rebellious and otherwise ‘normal’ members of society. Therefore, when I see them every few years, there is polite conversation, catching up on each others lives; there are jokes we exchange and candid moments about life in our respective homes. But there is no thread, no tie that binds us. They don’t know the life I live, the things that interest me, things I dislike. Nor do I know them. We’re but caricatures to each other, collages of vague childhood memories brought together by parental ties and occasional holidays.
Removed further is the relations with friends and neighbors. Fortunately, I have found some of my high school classmates and friends recently, but so many people that were a part of my life growing up have faded in the background. I hear of their accomplishments and achievements; their joys when they marry or their tragic and untimely passing, but I’m no longer a part of their lives. I will not be dancing at their weddings; and when I cry, mourning their passing, I cry alone. In my mind, they will be forever little girls climbing up garden walls, giggling and asking if we could come to play. Or little boys walking down the street with a noon barbari under their arms, and mischief on their faces, little pranks brewing in their minds. These ties are fading away slowly, naturally.
Perhaps things would have been the same if I had stayed in Iran, watching them grow up, seeing them daily. Perhaps we would not have been friends, even if we had been geographically convenient. I may have been the person they called when they needed a favor, or a cup of flour. They may have been as ambivalent to my interests now as they were then. I would be seen as the ‘funny Sohie girl’, the one they’d talk about in hushed voices; changing conversations when I came back into the room.
People move on everywhere, but from where I am right now, I see the strings that attached me to people in my past slipping. And it’s so sad, sadder than knowing I won’t be the wise Sohie matriarch I dreamt of as a child.