Beautiful dancing ladies, my grandmother Malia
Tassels remind me of my grandmother's house. She had beautiful passementerie on her impeccable curtains. As a young girl I imagined they were lovely ladies, dancing in their beautiful gowns. I would twist the rope several times and then throw them outward, watching them twirl away dancing.
When the grandkids played hide and go seek, I always hid behind the curtains, because I could look at the tassels while I waited for someone to find me.
In my early twenties I remember arriving at her house by car on the weekend, and calling her name out loud even before entering the house - "Oh Vó, oh Vóooo!!!" (Grandma in portuguese). She would reply from the other side of the house and come out laughing to greet me.
Then we would sit together in the kitchen for a long time, where she'd be cooking something special for lunch, and she'd always have an unusually gourmet treat waiting for me in the cupboard or fridge, a bit of imported dried fruit, an unusual piece of cheese, or hard to find cherries. I'd tell her about my week, and she'd give me pearls of advice that I still consider the jewels of my life, even if they are not exactly pearls of optimism.
"Find someone who loves you just a teeny bit more than you love him, this way he'll still be in love with you when you're older and your beauty has faded"
"The hard part of choosing a career is not selecting one, it's letting go of all the other hundreds of possibilities"
"When cooking, always add a tiny bit of sugar to everything, this way you'll make every one addicted to your food" (which she did)
Then we'd have lunch with my grandfather, and end the meal with dessert which always included a fruit compote and her amazingly addictive pletzalech sugar cookies (shaped like little flowers, and powdered with poppy seeds and crystal sugar).
After lunch, we would all take naps in the afternoon. When we would wake up, she'd show me something she was making, some beautiful clothes from my aunt or some of her exquisite jewelry. Since it was the weekend, many times I'd stay till the next day, and leave with a huge care package of food for my barebones refrigerator.
At times, I remember being so broke that I had one of two choices: go to the market with $30 I had left in my wallet, or fill the gas tank of my beastly car and drive to her house to be fed and pampered. Of course, I usually chose the latter.
Many weekends and holidays we'd go to the condo at the beach in Guaruja'. My grandfather and 20 of his friends and family had built a beach front high-rise to bring their families down during the holidays. We'd go to the beach and spend the day lounging under the beach tent watching the ocean, or walking along the seashore. My grandparents always held hands while walking. I thought that was the most romantic thing ever.
My grandfather would show me how to play racket ball and when faced with my ineptitude, he'd kindly blame it on the color of my eyes -- light blue, which I inherited partly from him -- "you can't open your eyes properly in the sun and see the ball, it's too bright for your blue eyes".
At her prime, my grandmother was a force to be reckoned, an extraordinary cook and superb craftsperson. She took care of my grandfather and his permanently failing digestive system all of their lives till the day he passed at 92 years old. I think most of my arts and crafts genes come from her, she showed me how to make lace, how to crochet and knit and more. Her house was so impossibly clean, I can still remember one of her habits of walking around the house, and picking up a tiny piece of lint from the floor, something no one could see but her.
She had an uncanny way of preparing a meal where everyone felt like they got their favorite dish, no matter how large the party.
Today in 2017, my grandfather long gone, my grandmother is 98 years. She has dementia and she no longer recognizes me or anyone else, not even my mother, her own daughter. She is the eldest daughter of 7 children, all of them gone except her and the youngest, my great aunt Zilda, who looks almost like her twin at that age.
My grandmother hasn't recognized me since 2015. The last time I spoke to her she was capable of talking and responding, even if sometimes the answers didn't make any sense. I asked her if she remembered Eni, and she replied, "No, you are not Eni, Eni lives far away". She hasn't cooked in over a decade and all of the grandkids still reminisce about her cuisine. Luckily my mother and my sister both inherited her cooking genes. My sister is a top-notch nutritionist and creates everything from scratch in her incredibly pristine kosher kitchen.
And even though my grandmother modernized the curtains when I was in my late twenties (3 decades ago) and hasn't lived in that house for years, I still remember the tassels of her house and my childhood.... The beautiful dancing ladies.
I made this picture yesterday while thinking of my grandmother. This is one of those rare pictures which is not entirely abstract, done on a rectangular paper measuring 4x6 inches.
UPDATE: I wrote this article on my ipad yesterday, Monday, March 27, 2017 at 2pm Pacific Standard time, after sketching the "dancing tassel ladies" in my sketchbook. This morning, Tuesday the 28th, I got a call from my brother saying my grandmother passed away in her sleep during the night.
I want to believe that we could all feel that her body was slowly leaving us, that her passing was imminent. I thought about her quite a bit over the last weekend after talking to my mom on Friday, we were just so sad that she no longer recognized anyone. I kept muttering under my breath and saying to myself, "it's alright Grandma, you can go now, it's alright, I will see you in 50 years."
I debated long and hard if I should post this post, and my cousin Flavio convinced me to do it. "Death is a gradual process", he said, "not an instant moment".
Copyright 2017 Eni Oken