My Grandmother's Lesson: Courage
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07/27/09 | Angella M. Nazarian, Author | 30 Comments

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Angella M. Nazarian, Author

I remember the first time I went to New York to pitch my book to a prospective publisher. I stood on the busy sidewalk two blocks from the office, tears streaming down my face, a scrap of paper clutched in my right hand. It was a chilly spring day and I’d slipped on the stylish 70’s black overcoat that was a keepsake from my maternal grandmother who had passed away eight years earlier. When I put my hands in its deep pockets to ward off the icy air, I discovered they weren’t empty. I pulled out a handkerchief, a small piece of the candy she always used to stash away, a note she had scribbled to herself. In her familiar quivering hand she’d written two words: Mint. Apricots. It was a grocery list. That’s when the tears came.

It took me back to the day, soon after her passing at the age of 84, when we’d gone to clean out her apartment. I’d asked my mother if I could keep two pieces of her clothing: the tailored black overcoat, and the green and burgundy checkered dress that she often wore to Friday night Shabbat dinners. She had been known as an impeccable dresser. She was petite like me and very spiritual. But the similarities stopped there -- or that’s what I thought at the time.

My grandmother was raised in a deeply patriarchal Iranian culture, where women were expected to be supportive wives and devoted mothers only. Having influence beyond the sphere of family life was uncommon and looked down upon. My grandmother rarely spoke up in front of people, and sat in what I jokingly called, “the Siberia,” or most peripheral corner of our family gatherings. Even so, she was regarded as a wise woman. If she were asked for her opinion in front of others, she would deflect the attention, giving elusive answers. “Only God knows,” she often replied.

Her behavior felt too passive to me, as if she could not break out of the feeling of being invisible. I had had a vastly different experience than she did. I immigrated to the U.S. at the age of eleven, right at the start of the Iranian Revolution. During my first five and a half years here, my parents were stuck in Iran, so I lived with my older siblings. This early experience encouraged me to be self-sufficient, determined, and independent, while being raised in the U.S. afforded me opportunities the women of past generations simply didn’t have.

I am the first woman in my family who not only graduated college, but who also went on to graduate school. In our traditional culture, it is not expected that women will work outside of the home, especially if there is no financial need. I worked because I wanted to, and much to my family’s surprise, continued teaching part-time at the university until four years ago, when I left to work on a memoir. It was when I started writing about our family experience of escape, exile, and our eventual adjustment in the U.S. that the old notions of self-censorship and self-repression surfaced in my life. Who would care about what I have to say? I wondered, finding it hard to believe that others would even be interested in my experiences. That’s when I realized that my grandmother and I had more in common than I originally thought.

But the similarity didn’t stop there. When she was forty years old and her children were grown, my grandmother, unhappy about her minimal education, asked my grandfather to get her a tutor. He did, and she worked diligently for years on her reading and writing, until she felt confident enough to write correspondence and reach out to others. She had a real zest for learning that seemed to grow and flourish. In her 80s, she hired a tutor who visited her twice a week to work on her Hebrew.

On that day in New York, wearing my grandmother’s overcoat, I felt fully embraced by her presence. As I walked toward my meeting, I somehow knew I was carrying her essence -- all her dreams, joys, loyalties, denials, doubts, and disappointments -- within me. It was astonishing to think that my grandmother began to fully read and write at the same age as I was hoping to publish a book. Mint, apricots, it meant so much to her to be able to write those words, just as it means so much to me to write about her. I knew then that others would be interested in her story, our story, and that maybe she wasn’t so invisible after all. That’s when I realized that writing our family memoir not only impacts future generations, it also has the power to bring honor and heal the unfulfilled dreams of women of generations past.

Angella M. Nazarian teaches psychology in local universities and facilitates adult personal development seminars for women. Her writing and poetry have appeared in the Hufffington Post, MO+TH and Milllenium Literary Journal. Her new book, Life as a Visitor, is due to be released in Oct. of 2009 by Assouline Publishers.

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  • I love reading touching stories that are so real that you feel like you can relate to it. This one seems unique and I can't wait to read it! SO beautiful!!

    Posted by Valeryjac , 17 August 2009.

  • Excellent post. I am waiting to read your book. Hope it will come out soon. Thanks

    Posted by jamesharrington07, 4 August 2009.

  • Apricots and mint, one silent whisper, what a playful hint.
    Passive, yet gentle, granny achieved, a desire long, so well received.
    Dearest Angela, just finished reading the touching story of you, and sweetend with memories of your grandma.
    What inspiring story of love, faith, and existence without form.
    Fascinating it is how a gentle invisible soul like your grandma still
    travels through time, through a black aged rain coat, in the palm of your hands, and into your hearts longing. just to convey a message of hope, trust, and a yearning of beyond.
    One yearning that never forgot her promise. life for sure is beyond the visible. just like each breath we take.
    God bless your grandma, and every soul she travels with, so they can always inspire and instill courage in us all to forth in life, and follow our dreams.
    congratulations with your upcoming book, looking forward to reading it.
    Shirley pourbaba


    Posted by shirlry, 3 August 2009.

  • I loved your story and I can't wait to read your book when it comes out. The image of you standing in your grandmother's coat and pulling out the shopping list from the pocket gave me the chills

    Posted by diarrhea, 3 August 2009.

  • What a beautiful story, touches every ones heart who is reading this blog, I look forward to reading your book soon to be released.. Congratulation Ms. Angella ,You won many peoples heart sharing your special moments, your love connection between your Grandmother and your self, " Finding the shopping list written by her own hand riding, in her overcoat's pocket ", You are so blessed that You were able to experience those special moments , I am sure many of us did not have the chance to find out how strong and how special is a Grandmother's love,!!! Thank You for sharing with us this wonderful story on this blog. Posted by Irene Varadi August 02, 2009

    Posted by iren varadi, 2 August 2009.

  • Dear Angelina
    Your beautiful words immediately brought to mind wonderful memories of my mother, may she rest in peace, who passed away 4 1/2 years ago. Each day, I wear a piece of her jewelry, so there's always a little part of her with me. What a lovely visual, seeing you on the a busy NY street, with your hands reaching into your grandmother's pocket to find a handwritten note! I would love to find a handwritten note by my mother each and every day!
    Thanks for evoking such blessed memories and for sharing so deeply from your heart! Looking forward to your book!

    Posted by Donna Weiser, 1 August 2009.

  • Thank you Angella, for having the courage to share a small part of your story on this blog . . .I believe it really does take courage for anyone to share who they are because ultimately, it is a risk . . . and at the same time, with that risk you are enriching not only your life, but the lives of all whom you touch. The images of you in New York wearing your grandmothers overcoat painted a beautiful picture in my minds eye. How special it must be to have her coat, which I'm sure represents a symbol of strength, connection, encouragement and inspiration for you. Once again, thank you for having the courage to share who you are. I so look forward to reading your book in the very near future!!

    Posted by Sue Brucker, 1 August 2009.

  • nice entry.

    Posted by Paul Adams, 1 August 2009.

  • I loved your story and I can't wait to read your book when it comes out. The image of you standing in your grandmother's coat and pulling out the shopping list from the pocket gave me the chills - but it wasn't until you told more of the story, and the significance of her own education that allowed her to write those words, that I really was deeply moved. I like how in a very short piece, you were able to convey the dramatic differences between generations in your family, and your love of them, as well as confidence in your own path. Since moving to LA 4 years ago for rabbinical school, I have become very interested in Jewish-Persian culture. I very much look forward to learning more from you on your blog and in your upcoming book. (Your writing is beautiful, also.) Best to you with all your endeavors --

    Posted by jillbz, 31 July 2009.

  • I am so touched by all the comments that I am reading. Really, truly I am. Thank you for taking the time to give your feedback to me. For those who had questions about when the book will be available and speaking engagements, please do check my website. I will post and update all information weekly. Warmly, Angella

    Posted by angella, 30 July 2009.

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