Adonis Diaries

Introspection: Mother Julia, and aunts

Posted on: December 18, 2008

Introspection: Mother Julia, and aunts

Julia, my mother

When single, mother (Julia) lived with three other sisters, alone in her home for several years: Her mother Eugenia left in 1939 to join her husband Tanios in the town of Segou (In current Rep. of Mali in Africa).  The four sisters were to join an intern school, but the WWII started and they had to skip school for the duration. 

My eldest aunt Josephine was 13 and mother was11 year-old at the time.  One of mother’s aunt (they were many) and her extended family lived across the street for the duration of the war. When Josephine eloped (got married “khatifeh”) at the age of 20 with late Asaad Ghoussoub, the other three sisters were interned in a school in Beit Chabab for two years.  The story goes that Asaad threatened to jump off the roof of the house if the wedding is not “facilitated”. Aunt Josephine had a harsh life: She had six kids who were raised mostly in Beit Chabab, in intern schools. I attended the male intern school of Beit Chabab for six years while my parents were doing commerce in Africa.

In the meanwhile, my grandmother Eugenia gave birth to many other children in Segou and at least three died in child birth or shortly after.  

Mother told me that she had scabies “jarab” at age 18, when she was in a girls’ school in Beirut.  This story came about when her niece Joanna called from London saying that her physician was uncertain about his diagnosis of her catching “jarab” as sign of the rash in her body after a trip to a British shore; the diagnosis turned out to be wrong. 

Mother said that “jarab” starts in the hand and is very itchy and very contagious; she secretly spent an entire week in an upper room at her sister Josephine’s who got married recently.  Mother said that nobody in the village knew about her ailment, a convenient assumption for this dreaded disease at the period, and she washed her clothes and bedding everyday.  

I really have no idea what mother learned in school, except cutting patrons and learning sewing and fashioning clothes. She always said that she got dizzy when reading. Nowadays, a girl of 18 is already in universities but the sisters did not attend school for 3 years during the WWII, because all schools closed, although our district in Lebanon was not directly affected.

Aunt Therese

I do not recall seeing my folks reading a book; dad read dailies and lately, when I specifically borrowed books for him.  Thus, we never had a library except what my Aunt Therese bought for me when I was a kid, because I was a voracious reader and still am; the books were French since Therese could not read Arabic. 

Aunt Therese was still single and lived with us in the apartment on General Chehab Street.  Therese could barely speak Arabic because her education was French.  Therese was patience incarnates (externally), teaching me my homeworks that were in French, like French history, French geography and plenty of “dictees” (French spelling). She used to take us to movies like “The sound of music” or “Doctor Zevago” or other French movies. 

Therese used to join mother on purchasing expeditions for the shop dad ran in Ain Rumani (three miles away from home).  She had many suitors who used to take the whole family out.  One suitor used to get drunk and sing and recite Arab poems:  These behaviors (of too much Arabic poetry) didn’t rime with Therese.  She finally eloped with Edward Fakhoury on the night that my cousin Aida Ghoussoub was consecrated nun. 

Edward was usually served whiskey by dad as he assiduously visited Therese.  Edward barely touched the glass; dad was under the impression that Edward does not indulge in alcoholic drinks, until we found out, after the wedding that Edward loved “arak”.  Therese spent the best years of marriage life preparing the “mezzeh or Taska” to Edward after a day work.  These sessions of slow nibling on a variety of dishes while drinking arak lasted for hours.

Thus, Therese married and has two daughters and two sons and grand children.  All her children got married except the youngest son.    

Most of my library was burned by my parents when I was away in the USA, even the benign French collections of “Livre rose” and “livre vert”….  My parents were apprehensive because the civil war targeted suspicious individuals who read specific ideological manuscripts.  There was this potential that the books may contain political and ideological lines not appropriate for the location and place of the strongest militias on the ground.  

Not an artistic family

We are not an artistic family by any stretch of the imagination; no singing, no dancing, no music, no laughing… Mother learned to cut “patrons” at school and was the designated sister in her large family who fashioned and sewed clothes to her remaining six other sisters, and their kids later on. Actually, in our larger families I cannot single out a member whom I could select as artistic, except maybe Bernard who sculpted on wood and later on stone and marble.

The new generation is leaning heavily toward the new major of graphic design, which didn’t exist in our time, because basically personal computer didn’t exist or was not powerful enough for the requirements of that discipline.

I do not recall that I ever communicated with my parents, not around the eating tables or anywhere else for that matter.  Dad never shared his plans or any anecdotes with us, though he was voluble when in a gathering of adults.  Mother also is voluble in gatherings, but mostly at our expense, on account of our limitations and asocial behavior. 

Our crude verbal outbursts are symptoms of our lack of verbal skills and weak initiation to talking and expressing our feelings: We, the kids, were not permitted to join the adults when they were paying us visits. No wonder that the atmosphere at home is not that cheerful and we ended up, my younger brother, sister and I, dumb socially and never succeeded in being social and interacting like normal people.

I joined many bus trips with acquaintances in the village, of the same age range, during summer vacations, but I didn’t join in the singing or dancing or conversing or attempting making close friends, simply because I didn’t know how, and was not prompted intelligently and skillfully to befriend others.

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adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

December 2008
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