Monday, August 08, 2005

My mother

Nezhat Rashid Versen, 1934-2004.

My mother's life started with much promise. Even though you might think that a girl growing up in Iraq in the 1940s probably only has marriage at a young age and childbearing in her future, my grandfather insisted that she go to college here, and she did. My aunt Nabila tells me about how she remembers seeing her off at the airport with their parents in 1951, and my grandfather saying, "you probably wont see me again", and my grandmother scolding him, telling him not to frighten and upset his youngest daughter, as she's frightened enough by leaving home for the first time, and going all the way to America. I imagine she was frightened, and excited.

I knew my grandmother Gohar, as she lived until the early 70s, until I was 8 or so, but not my grandfather. He died in 1954, the year before my mother finished her studies, so he was right.
I don't know very much about this picture, other than it was taken in 1955, which means it was taken in Beirut or Baghdad, or Indiana.(My mother's degree: a BA in English, from Hanover College.)

After my parents divorced in 1965 my mother's life was hard, for a variety of reasons, some of which I don't feel comfortable discussing in cyberspace. In the late 50s when she was still single she hosted a children's TV show on Iraqi television, which she often told me about. I have 2 photos associated with this, which I only saw for the first time in 1998. For the longest time I thought my mother was making this up. When I was growing up she forbade most comic books as she saw them as vulgar, but I was permitted Asterix and Obelix, and Tintin. She liked the Tintin books, and saw them as positive.

My mother liked to reminisce about her days on tv, and about when my father courted her. She tried to get me to like the poetry of Whitman and Pasternak, and bought me a copy of The Sun Also Rises when I was 13, which is probably a bit too soon for Hemingway. When I called her on Easter Sunday in 2004 she wanted to sing to me, as she often sang "Over the Rainbow" over the phone to me when I called her on Sundays. That day I told her not to, because her voice sounded rough, as if she was sick, and I didn't want her to strain herself. I asked her if she was sick, and she insisted she wasn't. When I woke up that Tuesday morning there was a message on the machine from my aunt that my mom was dead. She didn't really accomplish much, besides raising me. I was her life's work.