Memorial Day is a day to remember. A day to honor those who have died for our liberty, freedoms, our secure and happy future. For me, this day has been riddled the last few years with thoughts of a new war, new soldiers dying on foreign soil, different so-called “liberties” being fought for. I’ll make it no secret that I disagree with President Bush and his politics, and that I have openly protested the Iraq war since the beginning. However, today is not a day for anger or frustration. It is a day for remembering. And so I’ll remember.
Something I’ve always associated with Iraq is my paternal grandmother. I never had the chance to meet her, as she died before I was born. But she has represented to me, through most of my youth and teen years, an abstraction of a heritage lost. My Grandmother was Chaldean. Her parents came over from Iraq to Dearborn, MI in the early 1900s. She was born here, and raised here. Her family owned a small grocery store. She met and married my Grandfather, and had five children with him (my father, the oldest). Then, in her forties she suddenly died of a brain aneurysm. My father was only 19.
It took me a long time, when I was a child, to get up the courage to ask my father about her. We never spoke of her. And so, I was left with my own imaginings of who she was, how she spoke, acted, how she looked. In my mind’s eye, she was a sweet, kind, beautiful woman. Larger than life. She had a smile that radiated. And she filled a part of me I didn’t know was empty. She was a part of me. I inherited that smile, those eyes. My family says I look like her. She became, to me, a part of my spirit. She was my strength when I was down. She was who I prayed to. She was my guardian angel. I do not have her here with me in body, but in spirit…she is always with me.
We had one other thing from her: my dad’s box of recipes written in her handwriting. The only thing that was left from my grandmother was the food. We’d make it, occasionally, for big events. Yuppra (stuffed cabbage), Meat Bread, and other delicious dishes. I started to request these dishes, eventually. My father taught me how to make them for my high school graduation party. This is all I had left of her, physically: this food.
And to me, that was important. We’d eat this food as a celebration of her, as a celebration of our ancestors, our past. We’d eat this food to remember. To feel the love. It was a reminder of who we are and where we came from. And it was a reminder of her. I can image her, in the kitchen, cooking. Her hands in a large bowl of meat, spices, onions, kneading them together, like dough to create the filling for Yuppra. I can image her smiling, I can imagine her hair falling into her face. And I can image her tossing her head back. I imagine she took joy from this food, her parent’s food. Her grandparent’s food. I imagine she enjoyed sharing it with her children. I imagine for her it was a celebration, too. It was a part of who she was. It was a part of her life.
And so I sit here, thinking about the meaning of this day, and I remember her. She taught me to love food, celebrate with it, and enjoy it. She gave me courage and confidence. She means so much to me. I’d like to ask her, somehow, what she thinks of our war. But I can see her, in heaven, welcoming those souls as she was welcomed. Arms held out, the smell of spices on her hands. And maybe she can ease their passing. From Iraq, the cradle of life, we all have roots. Mine are in her smile, her food, her open arms. I honor those fighting there. I recognize their suffering. I recognize their sacrifice.
But I can only hope that this war will end soon, that our men and women will come home, and this day will not be about memories that are as fresh as aching wounds, but rather memories long past, like that of my grandmother. Memories of a past that created our future. Memories like a phantom embrace from an angel. Memories to hold dear. Memories to celebrate with feasts in their name. Memories sweet like spices on the wind.
To all those who have died under our flag, may you rest in honor. To all those suffering such a loss, may your tears be dried by the hope of the future for which they fought.