Today she celebrates her 100th birthday. Happy Birthday Mom!
She was born on December 3, 1913, the last of five children, three boys then two girls. There was a difference of four years between her and her older sister, and much more between the two girls and their three older brothers. But the bond between all five was extremely strong and lasted till they met their Maker. The bond between the two sisters was especially close and lasted till the elder passed away in my Mother’s arms.
As a child my Mom was the apple of her family’s eye, and a little terror. A very pretty, bright little tom boy at the time when tom boys were not fashionable. Her parents had one of those family houses where not only my grandfather lived with his family, but where his sister and brother lived as well. It was one of those rambling houses that easily accommodated three large families, with numerous children, and the army of servants needed to serve them. The house had an enclosed garden, and was very near the royal palace in downtown Cairo. It also had a stable where the horses were kept. These were used for transporting the girls to school and back, and were used by my grandfather, who was a physician, for his house calls. Though my Mom told me she was always nervous around the horses, I grew up with a love for those creatures. Funny how things like that jump a generation, my grandfather loved them.
My Mom was only six years old when the 1919 revolution took place, yet she still remembers some things about it. She remembers the demonstrations, especially those by the students, as both her two eldest brothers took part in them. She remembers the strain at home waiting for the boys to come back safely. She remembers the noise and the chanted slogans, though she does not remember the words.
The next traumatic event was when she was 19. They lost their Mother. She fell ill and though her husband was a doctor, he still could not save her. This was very traumatic for the two girls, my Mom and her sister. But with the help of family friends, and the extended family, they got through it. Though from what I understand, my grandfather never did. He had loved his wife very much. But all the children were now adults and he lost interest in life. The second son married a cousin he had loved all his life, and my Grandfather lived to see his first grandson.
The things my Mom told me about that period of her life are mainly about what Egypt was going through. We were occupied by the British. Egypt was a monarchy, and had just had a social revolution where the women revolted against wearing a veil, and started demonstrating on the streets, demanding equality with men. That was from 1923 till the 1930’s. With all the unrest, the occupying British forces were brutal in their oppression of the uprising youth, many a demonstration that passed before their house was dispersed by force, with many a young man shot to death. My uncles were always going out to demonstrate, and my grandfather, as a physician, always helped those wounded. All this had to be done in secret, as the British occupying army was ruthless in its dealings with anyone thought to participate in the revolt, or help those participating. She also remembers many a time that they had sudden, unannounced house inspections by British soldiers, looking for leaders of the revolution or any seditious leaflets. She remembers clinging to her Mother’s skirts when she was young, but when she got older, of her and her sister being smuggled in a secret storeroom as the British soldiers could be drunk then no female was safe.
She does not really remember the First World War, but she most definitely remembers the Second World War. She was in her twenties, and by that time the family moved out of the old home into a “modern” apartment building in a southern suburb of Cairo, overlooking the Nile. The middle brother was married and had two children, and eventually, during all those years the rest of her siblings married.
Her turn came towards the end of WWII. Marriages at that time were arranged. She met my Father a few times in family gatherings, and several outings. He had just come back from England after earning his doctorate in chemistry, and was working for the Mahalla Spinning and Weaving Company. He was in charge of setting up the plant for medical cotton. On February 15, 1945 they got married, and after a honeymoon in Aswan, settled in the house in Mahalla. Life settled for her but she missed her family, so visits were frequent. In due time she had my brother who was toasted by my Father’s family as the first son of the first son. But that same year she lost her favorite brother. It was a very hard blow.
Life then took an abrupt turn. My Father, the son of a landed Judge, was always brought up with the feeling of entitlement bred into children of the landed gentry. He was not exactly the most patient of men. When someone at work, who was senior to him, started being disagreeable, my Father resigned and threw it in his face, collected his small family and moved back to Cairo, to a new location, an island that was the best residential area in Cairo at the time. My aunt and uncles were also living there now, so were my aunts and uncles from my Father’s side. I was born 14 days after they signed the lease to that apartment. I lived there all my life till we moved out to the house in the desert.
It was in this apartment that my Mom spent the bulk of her life. In this apartment we went through my Grandfathers’ death, through the revolution of 1952, through the war of 1956. The birthday parties for my brother and I, then later the teenage dancing parties for our friends, the ups and downs of family life. The weekly lunches at my grandmother’s house with all my cousins on my Father’s side, going wild, playing hide and seek on bicycles all over the island which was very quiet and very safe. Then during the week, several times in the evening two of her siblings would come so my Father played cards with her brother, the husband of my aunt, and one of his sisters who took the apartment upstairs.
My brother and I grew up, and my parents grew older. My Mom’s second brother passed away suddenly when my brother and I were still in junior school. Her family was plagued with weak hearts, hypertension and cholesterol. My Grandmother passed away the year I graduated from school, and my Mom’s eldest brother passed away the year I graduated from college. So only her sister was left, and they became even closer, if that was possible.
After both my brother and I graduated and started working, we fell into a routine. In summer my parents would go to the north coast on vacation and when we could my brother and I would join them. Then I started traveling abroad. That was one of my dreams, to see the world. I had a very rich garden on the terrace in the apartment and my .mom always looked after it whenever I travelled. Every time I came back I would find a jungle. She was always a very nurturing woman. Not only did the plants thrive, her children and husband were always looked after and nurtured and loved.
We went through the war of 1967, then the war of attrition, till the war of 1973. Then
my brother got married and left on an exchange program to the States for a couple of years. There his son was born, and we saw my nephew for the first time when he was nearly one year old. We lost our hearts to him completely. They eventually came back to Egypt and stayed with us till they found their own apartment. Then later they had another child, a beautiful daughter. Those two children were the joy of our lives, and especially to my Mom. The same love and nurturing that she had bestowed on us was doubled in the case of her grandchildren. Quite often the kids stayed with us whenever the parents had something else to do. So in essence they were just as much my children as they were theirs. A few years later her sister, whose health had been steadily deteriorating, and who had lost her husband of forty years, passed away. This was very hard for my Mom.
Then things started to go wrong with my brother’s marriage, and more and more often the kids were with us. Then finally my brother moved out of his house and came and stayed with us. A few months later he divorced his wife and married someone else. It was quite a blow to my parents, and especially my Father. It was at that time that my Father’s health started deteriorating and we found out that he had an advanced case of lung cancer. Three months later he passed away, leaving my Mom shattered. After being married to him for 45 years. She felt totally lost as well as a bit frightened at being alone. She became totally helpless and very dependent on me. I had to cope with taking care of all matters of the inheritance from my Father. It was a dark time for both of us. But eventually we both recovered. The final blow came a couple of years later when my nephew was killed in a car accident. We never recovered. To both my Mom and I it was nearly a death-blow. God only knows how my brother survived it. Though we kept breathing, we were not really alive for a very long time after that. Time dulls the pain. Though the scar gets opened very easily still. It is the one thing no human being recovers from. Ever. The loss of a child.
We supported one another. We got closer, and our grief cemented our family love for one another. And time went on. But my Mom never got back to her old fun-loving self. Bit by bit I started noticing a deterioration. I thought it was grief, but it was more. It was a few years later that she was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. But before that I found that she could no longer be left alone, and even though we had a woman in daily, I was not comfortable leaving her. So when the Regional Office that I worked for was closed, and even though I was asked to stay on, I opted for early retirement to be with my Mom.
The one bright spot at that time was the gift of a little niece which my brother gave us. A lovely new addition to the family.
My Mom recovered a bit more when I spent time with her, and we started building the house in the desert and she was getting more cheerful but the disease was still creeping up on her. When we finally moved in she was quite happy and very grateful to God for allowing her to spend the remainder of her life in such beautiful surroundings. But she has been getting progressively more and more forgetful and disoriented. She attended my older niece’s wedding, but she was a bit confused though very happy whenever she remembered. The birth of her great-granddaughter was another happy occasion, that she sometimes remembers.
I thank God that she is not always aware, although she still has lucid times, especially when there are strangers around. Then she becomes quite alert. Though whenever she remembers that she is going to complete 100 years she would joke with me and ask if I would throw her a party if she makes it, and I promised her that I would throw her a huge party to which I would invite all our family and all our friends and get her a belly dancer to celebrate. Her response would usually leave me doubled up in laughter, for with typical feminine vanity she would ask me not to mention her age at that party!
Today is her birthday, but the party is over the weekend so that her granddaughter and her husband and her great-granddaughter can attend. I am looking forward to celebrating the life of this very special lady, one who has lived through a great deal of joy and a great deal of tragedy, but who was always a loving nurturing person, beloved by all for her kindness, her fun-loving attitude towards life despite all the upheavals she had been through.
An authentic brilliant jewel.