My Assyrian grandmother passed away on March 21st, 2015. I had the opportunity to speak at her funeral in Florida. Below is a typed adaptation of the speech I delivered.
For my Assyrian Grandmother
The earliest memory I have of my Assyrian grandmother centers around the phrase “bah-tee bah-tee.”“See, bah-tee means daughter. You’re my daughter’s daughter. You are my bah-tee bah-tee.”I was her bah-tee bah-tee, her one and only grand-daughter. I remember hearing stories about her life. I found them fascinating. My nannee living on a farm with no electricity? My nannee, with parents who spoke absolutely no English? My nannee, living in Chicago? My nannee, raising my mom and her three sisters? My nannee, such an incredibly strong woman.
A picture of my Assyrian grandmother. I am unsure of the year.
She was my nannee. And I was her one and only bah-tee bah-tee.She absolutely loved serving people. Any time I entered her house she would immediately ask me, “Are you hungry, bah-tee bah-tee?”“No, not really.”“Oh, ok. Well here. Have this small snack.” I would be forced to sit down at her dinning room table as an entire feast was set out before me. “EAT bah-tee bah-tee! Ack, you are too skinny.”
“EAT bah-tee bah-tee!” Photo from February 2011.
I remember dearly her teaching me how to make dolma, or Assyrian stuffed grape leaves. “See, if you hold the leaves in your hand like this, it is much easier. No. Bah-tee bah-tee. This way. There you go. That’s better.”As I continued to grow, her instructions continued to change. At first they were “No. Bah-tee bah-tee. Do it this way.” Then they became “There you go bah-tee bah-tee! That is much better.” The summer I lived with her, I heard “Wow. Bah-tee bah-tee. Those look like my mom’s. Those are beautiful.”
The assembly station for the dolma. Photo from August 2012.
I treasure the memories I have from living with her during the summer of 2012. I didn’t quite know what to expect. The reality slowly sunk in that it would be just me… and her… for the entire summer. I had never spent that much time alone with my nannee. What adventures were in store?
My Assyrian grandmother just loved this sign. Photo from July 2012.
Summer of 2012 allowed me to step inside my nannee’s life. I was able to meet many of her friends. Oh, how she was popular! Everyone knew her. And she loved introducing me as her bah-tee bah-tee. I learned more about her as she would share stories with me during our meals together. She attempted to teach me some of her native tongue, but I must confess the phrase that stuck with me the most was “Ta-touy!” She told me it meant, “Come. Sit!”I would commonly hear, “Ta-touy! And eat! Bah! You’re too skinny bah-tee bah-tee!”She would feed me fresh watermelon, squash, and zucchini as she’d share stories of the food they grew on her farm. We would love to grab a bowl of fresh cherries and sit in front of her TV.Now here is where I confess a dirty little secret. My nannee and I loved to watch the Bachelorette together. This led to me learning another Assyrian word: ba-chee.“Ack! Ba-chee! Ba-chee! Ba-chee! That’s all they do on this show!” After her outburst, she turned to me to explain, “Ba-chee means kiss in Assyrian, bah-tee bah-tee.”I remember one episode in particular where my nannee fell completely asleep on the couch so I changed the TV channel. She just happened to open her eyes to see a completely different show where the two main characters were kissing. “SEE! More ba-chee ba-chee! Ack!” I chuckled as she dosed back off. But the next day, she approached me to ask, “Is that show you like on tonight, bah-tee bah-tee?”“No, Nannee, we will have to wait a week for the next episode of the Bachelorette.”By the way, no, I do not normally watch that series. However TV channels at her house were extremely limited. Also, I greatly enjoyed the running commentary she provided. “Do you think you can actually find love on a TV show? Ack! That woman is so fake! Ba-chee! MORE ba-chee!”My knowledge of the Assyrian language now consists of three phrases that I shall never forget. Ta-touy! Ba-chee! And bah-tee bah-tee.There would be times where for fun she would start rambling off to me in Assyrian. I would ramble back to her in Spanish. She’d laugh, come up and give me a hug, and go “Oh, bah-tee bah-tee. Neither of us knows what the other is saying!” I’d respond with a shoulder shrug and a simple “Lo siento, Nannee.”
We treated ourselves to milkshakes one day. Photo from June 2012.
That summer, she kept stating how she wanted to watch me run a 5k race. One Sunday, she ditched church to watch me “Run Thru Hell.” Have you ever visited Tampa in July? That’s how the race got it’s name. Boy, was it one hot and muggy race! However, it was the perfect course for my nannee to watch because it looped around three times.The first time I ran past her, she was alone. “YAY bah-tee bah-tee! Run! Go bah-tee bah-tee!”I completed a mile and looped back past her again, this time to see that she had made a friend. “SEE! There she is! There is my bah-tee bah-tee!”By the third time, as I sprinted towards the finish line, she had mustered up an entire cheering section for me! I leave my nannee alone for thirty minutes and return to find her surrounded by new friends cheering me on. You better believe I sprinted across that finish line to the sound of her cheering, “Go bah-tee bah-tee! Yay! That’s my bah-tee bah-tee!”
Immediately after the race. Photo from July 2012.
I ended up placing third in my age division, which allowed me to receive a plaque telling me that I won the “Run Thru Hell.” Nannee was so proud of me. She kept bragging about how she was able to watch me Run Thru Hell and win!
I printed a copy of this picture for her to keep on her fridge. Photo from July 2012.
Forgive me, but we watched my nannee run through her own hell.I cannot think of a single time in her life where she had it easy. No. She was faced with some incredibly difficult things. But that never stopped her. She never gave up fighting. She never gave up living. She was unbelievably strong. She was extremely independent. She was incredible.So Nannee, congratulations on finishing your race. I bet you had quite the cheering section when you crossed that finish line.And I look forward to the day when I can share your stories with my own bah-tee, and then eventually my bah-tee bah-tee.
When people look at me, I want them to see me as different. But I do not want them to see me as different because I am diseased. I want them to see me as different because I am Clearly Alive.