I have these memories from my childhood (usually of situations that have puzzled me the first time round) that I revisit at different times in my life and find new meanings in them. This is one such memory.
I’m four or five and I’m sitting on the backseat of my uncle’s car in between my mum and my grandmother. My aunt and my uncle are in the front. All the women are wearing black. My uncle is wearing a denim shirt and has his sleeves rolled up. His left arm is resting on his rolled down window. It’s very tanned and brown. His other arm is much lighter. Every so often he smiles winks at me in the rear view mirror. We’re on a dusty road making our way to prison to visit my grandfather. The grownups are chatting about stuff I have absolutely no interest in. It’s all, blah blah confiscated blah blah executed. It’s grownup-speak.
They all look very serious but as soon as they look at me they smile and pass me orange segments or bread. All is well with me but then suddenly something happens. And this is why my brain decides that it should record and file this incident so I can go over it later. I notice that the biggest blob of snot is making its way out of my nose.
“Tissue,” I say to my mum, pointing to my nose, “I need a tissue.”
My mum starts rummaging through her bag and saying, “Does anyone have a tissue?”
My aunt starts looking through her bag too but my grandma doesn’t. Straightaway she holds a part of her headscarf between two fingers and says, “Blow!”
I’m horrified. I don’t want to blow my nose on someone’s headscarf. But before I can say anything she pushes my head forward and wipes my nose. I pull my head back and see the most enormous blob of snot in all its yellow-green glory dangling from her scarf. She smiles at me and quickly and expertly, folds that area of her scarf and ties it in a knot. The snot is now cocooned in her scarf and dangling in front of her chest where it stays all day dangling in the prison waiting room and in the visiting room and all the way back home again in the car on the dusty road. And no matter how much I stare at it, I can’t work out why someone would voluntarily wear someone else’s snot.
The next time I visited this memory was as a revolutionary teenager. When I looked back I was embarrassed for having been such a stupid little kid. I had been there with these people whose lives had been turned upside down. They had lost everything and all I was interested in was why did my grandmother wipe my nose with her headscarf!
After the revolution, my grandfather had been put in prison and my grandmother had come out of her home one day to visit her sister and had never been able to get back into her home again because it had been confiscated along with everything else they owned. They hadn’t done anything; it’s just that the general rule after a revolution is that the rich and the poor swap places. Our home had been taken too. As if that wasn’t enough, there was talk of my grandfather being executed. In fact one day his name had been announced on the radio as one of the people who had been killed that morning. It had been a mistake but these were the kind of things that these people were dealing with at the time of the great “snot in a knot” incident! These people were sad and anxious, scared and worried but they still had to give me fake smiles and winks to keep me happy in the car and in other places. That must have been very hard for them. Just the thought of that made me cringe with embarrassment.
When I talked to my grandmother about all this, she would say, “Yes but I’m much happier now than I was before the revolution. I have a better life now,” she’d say, “I never liked living in that mansion.”
But did that matter? It was great that she was happy but what had happened to her was still wrong and very bad. I wished I could go back in time and somehow stop that from happening. When I grew up, I would make sure no one suffered from an injustice. I would even give my life to protect people’s rights.
The next time I revisited this memory was as a mother. I had picked Dara up and he had thrown up straight down my cleavage and so once more (yes this happened more than once) I found myself trying to make my way to the bathroom while carrying a baby and trying to stop a large quantity of sick from sliding down my top, down my trouser legs and onto the carpet. I looked at Dara and I thought to myself, “You little man are the only person in the whole world who can get away with throwing up on me. And not only that but when you do this my first thought is not, “Oh I have sick on me, how horrible I think I’m going to throw up”, but it’s, “Is he OK and how can I make him happy.”
And suddenly I was in that car again on the dusty road, with a runny nose. But now the memory was no longer about the injustice or sadness or who executed whom, how, why and with what effect. Yes those people were upset and worried and anxious, and yes they had lost everything but the smiles and winks they gave me were real. Most importantly, someone (who was not my mother) had once loved me so much, that she had worn my snot in a knot like a crest on her chest for an entire day in Evin prison. That is COOL!
Finally, this is what I’m seeing now when I take a trip down that dusty memory lane as a woman approaching forty.
People always said my grandmother was the kindest person in the world. They couldn’t understand how she could lose everything and still be happy and be able to laugh until she had to excuse herself and go and change her outfit or say things like, “Our house in the village has been turned into a school, isn’t that great?!” and really mean it. But she herself said to me time and again when I was older that the revolution and losing all her stuff, had actually, if she was absolutely honest, been good for her. Before the revolution, they had been very rich. They had lots of land and lived in a great big mansion with a huge garden. They were far away from their family and friends. People visited them once a week for Friday lunch. Lots and lots of people would come which she loved but she didn’t really get to sit down and have a nice chat with the people she missed; she was running around most of the time, being a good hostess.
After the revolution when she lived in a flat in Tehran, her friends and relatives visited her almost every day. My uncle and cousins lived two minutes away and we went there all the time too.
Her relationship with my grandfather (I don’t want to get into the details but let’s just say it) wasn’t good. After a few years when he was released from prison, he was a completely different person. The two of them began a wonderful relationship and stayed together until the end.
So this is what I’m thinking about now:
If as a direct result of a great injustice, the person who the injustice has been done to ends up begin happier than before, do we still call it a bad thing or is it a good thing now?!
If I could go back in time now and stop that from happening, would I do it?
Is it disturbing that I can’t even agree (on a simple matter of right and wrong) with my own self over the course of my own lifetime?!
Now what I’m really looking forward to is revisiting this memory as a grandmother. I’m hoping that I will then find out the true meaning of Snot in a Knot. I’m secretly hoping to find out that grandchildren’s snot has some kind of healing power and can be sold for a good price at a special grandmothers’ bazar in downtown Tehran.