We’re often told to spend every moment we have with those we love, that is while we can. And to be honest, I never realized how true that is before I lost my grandfather.
You see, old people are like treasure boxes that look rusty on the outside but inside they hold rare gems you can hardly find anywhere else. They hold hidden truths, stories you can’t find in history books, memories of a times gone by. They are witnesses to the events that shaped our history, and that we still try to understand until this day. This was the case with my grandfather, a man who lived long, did a lot and saw a lot. And no having not spent more time with him listening to all the stories he had is one of my most genuine regrets. Yet, I still have a lot to be thankful for, as my grandfather left me with an abundance of the fondest memories.
People in the family sometimes joked about how many times my grandfather, told the story of his father coming all the way from Turkey to Haifa on a donkey – Mind you, he’s my grandfather from my mother’s side, I’m not from Turkish origins, my mother is -. And then there were the stories from Ma’an, where he was born, and the stories about the army, where he served, and I all the names those stories contained from King Abdullah I to family names like Kabareety and Talhouni, I was too young to ask or care for details. Oh, the waste of it all!
I remember him telling the story of the assassination of Riyad Al-Suloh in the 1950’s. He, my grandfather was serving in the army, while his cousin, a member of the Syrian Social National party back then, was one of the assassins. That story remained one of the most interesting personal historical accounts I’ve ever heard, but I’m not sure I can divulge it here, even if all the people involved are dead now. I’ll just say my grandfather thought the assassination was a terrible idea.
Away from all history and politics, my grandfather was a warm, light-hearted kind of person. He used to pull pranks all the time, like the time when my cousin went missing and they looked for him everywhere, only to eventually find him hiding inside my grandfather’s cloak. And there was the time when we were all gathered at my grandparents’ living room, then he went inside and suddenly I saw a huge scary person coming out of the room. That scary person was none-other than my grandfather wearing my grandmother’s gown and scarf, which made him look scary, at least to me, but obviously he didn’t mean to scare anyone as he was laughing whole-heartedly. He also loved to listen to Abd Al-Wahhab, and singing for him. One of his best moments in my memory was when he sat beside my grandmother and started singing for her “Ya wardet elhob el Safi”. Recently, a tape dating back to over 20 years ago was rediscovered, where my grandfather and other family members sing. He was the best amongst them all.
Yes, he loved it when we were there, and he loved it when we went to sleep over during summer breaks. He used to play cards with us, take us out for errands. He was an active person and he loved to have people around. One time my 2 cousins and I were visiting him and grandma, and he went to bring something from the kitchen, then when he sat down he said: “See? I like to do everything on my own. You can ask your grandmother, I never ask her to do anything for me, I like to stay active because when I die I want to die standing”. I vividly remember this scene, as vividly as I remember him on the wheel chair when bone cancer was starting to take a heavy toll on him. He didn’t die standing but at least he was surrounded my many, many people who loved and respected him.
My grandfather’s legacy goes beyond intangible memories. His stack of books is still intact in his room, actually I managed to move some of them to my shelves. Perhaps the most important of them to me was the one he wrote himself. Well, actually it was a booklet for teaching driving, since after retiring from the army my grandfather opened a driving training center. His manual was adopted by the Traffic Department as the official theoretical material for learning driving. I also still have his gray wool jacket that I refuse to give it up for anyone. They say it’s good to wear things bequeathed from those who passed away, good for the deceased that is.
But perhaps the piece of legacy that touched and affected me the most was a small poem he wrote for his youngest grandchild at the time, few months before he died. My cousin and I were going through some photos and paper s when we found the poem printed on a picture of him and the young granddaughter he wrote the poem for.
I have so much regret over all the time I could spend but didn’t with my grandfather, mixed with some guilt for giving him any hints that I wasn’t interested in the things he said. But I was young, and I didn’t know better. I like to think he knows that now, and knows how much I would like to sit with him one afternoon for a cup of tea to listen to all the stories he has to say. I also like to think that he forgives me, because the other day I saw him in my dreams, and I hugged him, and he cried.