Tea with my grandmother

I sat across my grandmother in her one-bedroom apartment, a city-funded seniors’ residence relatively well-maintained and affordable on the upper edges of Toronto. Next to her, a black-and-white photo of her and my grandfather. He had died well before I was born in an accidental fall on a frozen sidewalk in Nevada. In the photo they both stood tall and proud. Before me, my grandmother sat, her deep brown eyes the only part of her I felt I still really recognized.

I was visiting on bad news. My uncle, her son, had just called 911 for an ambulance to take him to the hospital. My uncle, who suffers from gout and lives with his mother in a 1-bedroom seniors’ residence, estranged from his wife and children for 20 years, if not more, is in a hospital bed with no health coverage. I speak to my grandmother in my broken Farsi, to her broken ears and yet we still communicate, or rather, she speaks, and I listen.

My uncle, who lives with his mother, lived in a taxicab in Arizona before he came to Toronto, without status and with not much else either. My uncle is the same uncle who received his PhD in Chemistry from Nebraska — the very state that killed his father — who examined the structure of a hexachloroquadricyclane dicarboxylate as well as the absolute configuration of tauremisin, and now struggles with gout and does crosswords to pass the time. Meanwhile his children, who are adults (one is even a neurosurgeon), who owe, if nothing else, half their genetics to their father, have not spoken to him in 20 years, if not more.

Here I sit across my grandmother as she relives her lifetime in front of me. She too has sons and daughters (my aunts, my uncles) that no longer speak to her. But she has no more time left for sadness, just resignation to the constant tragedies that run through our family.

I pour some tea. Tea is always ready here, even if she finds it hard to stand she always finds a way to make sure tea is prepared. Everyone needs some constancy in life.

I sit down and drink it far too quickly. She thanks for me visiting, I kiss her on the forehead.

As I leave, I remind myself that I haven’t spoken to my father in years either. It seems some things run deep in our bloodline.

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