Tayta, Teta or Teyta to a Levantine is how we fondly call our grandmothers. Jiddo or Jiddi is the grandfather equivalent. I never knew either of my Jiddos, but I grew up with an official Tayta on call and a few auxiliary ones (great aunts mostly) or what I call Sous-Taytas. I find myself often drifting back in thought to the times spent with these delightful members of my extended family who were chiefly responsible for dishing dollops of unconditional love to us, the hyperactive, mischievous children with scraped knees, twinkles in our eyes and a well-developed capacity for ‘up to no good’.
The good-natured ladies were the love and care providers in addition to their more official duty of imparting knowledge earned by the multitude of wrinkles they dutifully collected while forgetting how young they once were. My favorite grandmother was not my official one. She was my father’s aunt, Tayta Mariya. A twice widowed miniature of a person with an ever-present smile, a legendary sense of humor and a bottomless well of love that reminds me of ‘old faithful’. She lived with my grandparents and was lovingly referred to as Tayta by many. She was often criticized by her sister-in-law, my ‘real’ grandmother, as being too easy on us kids, letting us drink sweet coffee and always teaching us bad words when we asked for her support in the vocabulary department.
My official grandmother and proud authentic holder of the name ‘Tayta’ was my dad’s mother, Tayta Zahiyyeh. I find myself remembering her recently. She passed away more than two decades ago yet I can still hear her voice clearly if I let my memory drift back that far. She wore a black headscarf and black clothes since I can remember-to honor the memory of her dead husband – my Jiddo. I can still visualize her dark silhouette sitting on her bed. She was immobile for years from two hip fractures gone wrong and one – or more – broken thigh bones. She came to my consciousness when I was squinting to try and thread a needle last week, trying to fix my shirt button. “Come thread the needle for me, Tayta” she would repeatedly yell when I was whizzing by, stopping me in my tracks. (Why does she call me ‘Tayta’? Well, that’s a whole other story, please read my blog post about this topic ‘I am not your Mommy’) https://brigittekm1.wordpress.com/2010/05/16/you-are-not-my-mommy/
I used to try and pretend not to hear her calling for me to thread her needle, to hold the yarn suspended from my arms for her to roll it into a ball for her tricot, to fetch her water in the jug with the crochet top, to get her a glass of water to soak her dentures, yet the chore that I must have performed most was getting threads of every color through that needle. I wondered time and again about the simplicity of the task of threading a needle, and objected loudly at her insistence for me to ‘aabree el ibreh’ when she can surely do it herself. She would smile, touch my hair, and say :”You’ll grow up and understand why I can’t see the hole of the needle but you can”. I was too impatient to try and understand, thinking of all the play I was missing by doing chores for her. I knew I would earn rock candy from her black cardigan pocket at the end of it, or a few Lebanese coins to spend at the neighborhood store, a strong motivation that brought me back to her bed time and again.
Last week it was hard for me to see the damn tiny needle hole. The thread was going in all directions, and while struggling to get that elusive piece of yarn into the little opening, I could almost hear her voice. I suddenly understood. I smiled.
I miss you, Tayta. I hope you’re still finding someone to help you ‘aabree el ibreh’.
Below is a trailer of a great documentary film called ‘Teta Alf Marra”‘ by a Lebanese director called Mahmoud Kaabour. It so reminded me of the Taytas or Tetas I was lucky to have in my life.