It was not the shock of seeing Mr. Anderson's eldest son Scott electrocuted, resulting in a fringed hairline, that surprised me, but he was still standing and saying, "oh shit! that was awesome!"
We had managed to coordinate, leaving our Iranian apartments together and ending up on the north side of our wall, forbidden for good reasons, without our parents knowing. This lot is where it became an illegal dumping ground filled with really cool stuff and rats, lots of rats. As kids, we thought it was entertaining to hunt and find things that made no sense to us but looked cool. Scott had seen a live wire lying on the ground, and for some reason, I can't remember why he picked it up. As he did so, white light surrounded us both and seemed to stay there before lifting and heading above our heads. I thought it was beautiful, looking like a bunch of angels circling us. The angels suddenly vanished. Looking back now, it was odd that I thought it was normal.
I don't remember my parents' or his parents' reaction or getting into trouble, but I remember we did not return.
Returning to chapter 3 and our Iranian Mother's helper, Zinaot, brings me more memories after reflecting on Scott's electrocution. What I remember about her may not be what my parents recalled, but I will do my best to tell you about her as seven or eight years old. She was kind. She never was cross with us. We watched her cook a lot of rice, and if you remember, fill my sister's mouth with sugar cubes. The aroma was intoxicating and made me want to eat rice all the time. Something about her cooking made my mind calm and perhaps become the amateur kitchen chef I am today. I am especially fond of exotic spices like curry, turmeric and saffron.
Zinaot's toothless smiles and constant chatter of words I tried to decipher with fascination made me feel I was experiencing something unusual, a moment in time that I did not want to forget. Sometimes I would watch her while sitting on the counter. I was not supposed to, but Zinaot did not mind. She told me stories about her boys, of whom she was very proud that I could make up in my mind as living adventurous, influential and exciting lives. Strangely, I believed I understood her Farsi and thought I was sometimes appropriately responding to her. She would laugh and say "yes" a lot. As my adult years roll on, I can see more clearly. My seven-year-old self was indulged and loved and therefore, my mind must have been open to believing without obstacles or fear of failure. It was a beautiful time in my life.
I learned from Zinaot how to read a foreign language without ever knowing it. When I was in my early twenties, I once sat and listened to my friend's grandmother speak Lebanese while other family members and my boyfriend (soon to be my first husband) watched on, a bit confused by what she was saying. But I responded to her with my gestures and she conveyed to her son that, indeed, I understood. Later on, I was asked how did I understand her? I said that I just did.
In translating Zinaot's words, her sons were adventurous, mountain climbing sons searching for hidden valuable gems and stones in the mountains that we could see from our kitchen window. They gathered these precious minerals to sell at the local Bazaar and would be rich someday and have their own shop to sell their finds and eventually get married and have many children. It all sounded fantastic to me. Sometimes I thought she was telling me they were in the military or worked for the Shah building more secret palaces. Anyhow, Zinaot was very proud of her sons. I remember my Mother would often give her extra clothes, food, blankets and anything else she could to take home to her family. I am sure my parents paid her well at the time, but it was clear she was struggling and never complained about it, at least not to me.
One day, towards the end of our time living in Iran, Zinaot showed up crying and sobbing and talking a lot in Farsi. I understood her feelings. And I translated in my seven-year-old mind, "My son, my son; he is dead!", "They shot him!" We were all sad for her. I was confused about how this was possible when her sons were on the path to great wealth while gem hunting. I thought he was only mining for gems in the mountains and not stealing from anyone.
I am not sure whether I was playing in the living room or our bedrooms when a loud crash was heard. I am sure all of us ran out to see. My Mother ushered us away. But I saw the shoe. Someone had thrown a shoe through our window. Glass was everywhere, and my poor Mother was shaken. I don't remember if my Father was home on or between his important job, helping bring modern Iranian people communications.
My parents later shared with me that Zinaot had three sons. Two died in the military because all young men were to enlist at a young age, and one died from a police officer, probably because he did not go into the military as expected.
Today when I cook rice, I think of Zinaot. I keep trying to make the same intoxicatingly wonderful exotic aroma. It is not possible because she was the only one in my life who knew how to do this. Still, I like to think the angels gladly took her to her perfect heaven where she could be with her son and fill the spirits of others with her earthy, rich, aromatic aroma rice meals.
The hose was sitting there for anyone who needed it. I needed to catch a pet. I desperately wanted one. I loved birds from as early as I can remember. We tried to have a pet in Iran once, but he did not last. Humphrey the Hamster must have escaped through a hole and into the illegal dump lot because he saw an opportunity as we did. When he returned to bed that night, we could not figure out how he blew up from the inside. My Father put him in the bathtub as we all watched him bleed from his bum-bum. Later, Mr. Humphrey returned to the illegal dumping lot next door, never to return. Back to my rooftop adventure, catching my first bird.
I am not sure my parents knew I made it to the rooftop, or even if my memory is correct that it was our rooftop or one of the many exciting adult dinner parties we attended? Grabbing the hose, I pretended I was going to capture my first wild pet. I was so excited as I turned on the hose quickly and hid behind a fan unit, which hid my noise with its swirly, whirly sounds. I aimed and fired at the beautiful exotic *Nightingale. When I returned to my parents, I proudly displayed my Nightingale and assumed I could keep it since I told them someone gave it to me, and it is rare to have a Nightingale. My Father said, "that's a sparrow, and they are all over the rooftops along with the dirty pigeons." "We can't keep that." Abruptly I had to return the sparrow to the rooftop, even though I knew it was a Nightingale, and my parents did not appreciate the value a Nightingale could bring by letting us know when there was danger.
I didn't care if it was a sparrow. I could never trick my Father. He was sharp, and I was too creative and outlandish to be believable. But I kept trying over the years to bring home more pets that could have kept our home safe.
Today, I remember only three words in Farsi; Booghalamoon: Turkey, Khoda Hafez: God Protect (corrected by Mr. Anderson as I had been saying my whole life, excellent to meet you.), and Buss: Kiss. I remember well trying to understand the children we interacted with in our travels around Iran and on the streets or Bazaars we frequented. I wanted to learn a second language as a young person. It was something I wish to this day I had pursued despite being told by a well-meaning adult somewhere along the way that it was not a good idea since I could not master the English language. I was moving on.
As a child, I knew nothing about short, punchy headlines to use in conversation. Still today, I dislike my long-winded answers, so now I am working on making them short and trying them on my teenagers. For example, "Yes" or "No." Some excellent models of one-liners referring back to The Shipping News, introduced to me one evening from my ESPN hockey reporter boyfriend. The Newfoundlander reporter, while educating the Kevin Spacey reporter on how to be more succinct, "Imminent storm threatens village! But what if there was not an imminent storm? Then say, village spared from deadly storm!" A perfect analogy for my own life.
If only I could communicate with fewer words and with smooth confidence, like Clint Eastwood in his Spaghetti Westerns, I would have been a master at something. But somehow, I managed to always land on my feet and with more luck than I deserved.
*Photographs from Iran are property and courtesy of Mr. Anderson (based on a real character), a world traveler and lover of the Middle East culture. They were taken in the late 1970s with the author and her family sometimes in tow. *The first photograph is the author and Scott's younger brother in Damghan with new friends. The second photograph is the author hiding behind her Mother shopping while at the local Bazaar.
*This fictional story is based on actual events, written by The Stymied Optimist, a proud dyslexic. Please make contact if you see any grammatical errors or an overall opinion.
* The Nightingale has a long history with symbolic associations ranging from "creativity, the muse, nature's purity, and, in Western spiritual tradition, virtue, and goodness." Coleridge and Wordsworth saw the Nightingale more as an instance of natural poetic creation: the Nightingale became a voice of nature.