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Grandma Maria

My late grandmother, Maria Abu Dayyeh

A psychic recently told me she's around me, worried about me, watching over me. I was so surprised; I couldn't help myself and cried. Long before she died, I stopped believing she loved me. Mother once told me grandma really resented the fact that my father was Muslim. "Your grandmother just could never accept that three of her grandchildren carried a Muslim family name." I took it to mean she did not accept me.

Grandma Maria made me wish I had never stopped being a child. Back in those early, formative years, she meant the world to me. So many things about her are stubbornly carved in my memory:

She always smelled of soap. She never swore. Her face blushed easily. She was a well-respected nurse. She and my mother chased me around the house when I was due for a shot. She baked the best cakes and cookies. She read the Bible a lot and never missed church. She neatly wrote her recipes in school notebooks. She loved my grandfather so much that after he died, she spent the rest of her life in California placing a flower or rose by his framed photo every day, and telling him about the latest happenings in her life. She had the cleanest house I had ever seen. She never dried her face with the towel she used for her hands.

I used to quietly follow her when she hid the Easter eggs outside her house on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem so I would know exactly where she hid them and end up with more eggs in my basket than my brother or cousins. Her ginger bread cookies were my favorite. She made us wash our hands before every meal and then she would sniff them just to make sure. She would not let us come to the table disheveled. When I turned 16, she hated it that I started to smoke. She didn't think I was lady-like. She didn't like it that I was a tomboy. She was strict and punctual. Meals at her house were always served at the same time everyday and we always had afternoon tea. She was one of the very few beautiful, dependable, and stable things I had in my life.

She had an operatic voice and sang in German like an angel while grandpa played the piano. She always blushed like a virgin schoolgirl when grandpa complimented her. She didn't like my father. The gold bracelets on her wrist jingled as she rapidly beat the cake batter. I didn't want to leave her side when she was in the kitchen. The mixture of aromas was intoxicating. She was fluent in Arabic, English and German. She always scolded grandpa in German so we would not understand.

She was born Maria Nassar in Beirut, Lebanon. She said words like salt with a Lebanese accent though she lived in Palestine most of her life. She was buried Maria Nassar Abu Dayyeh in Cypress, California. She spent twenty years in exile. She wanted to be cremated and her ashes buried next to grandpa in Bethlehem.

No one listened to her. I would've. It is where she belongs. Over there at the Lutheran Cemetery on the road between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, next to grandpa Attallah's grave, under those old pine trees that keep his grave full of fallen pine needles and a lot of shade.

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