Sophie: This is my Tata (grandma) Mathilda. She lives in Jouret el Termos in the mountains in Lebanon. She comes back here to America every year and stays at my Amti (aunt) Jeanine’s in San Diego. Sometimes I go visit her in San Diego. I will get to see her in San Diego this Christmas. I love my Tata so much. She works hard. She is the best cook, and she makes me zatar every year. She taught me to pray in Arabic. “Abana lazi bi sama wat…”
Lisa: Yes, your Tata is very special. She is my spiritual mentor, as she has a strong faith in the Lord and beautiful devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Last week, we celebrated the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. This feast day is very important to Lebanese Catholics. To those protestant friends of ours, here is my explanation of our often misunderstood devotion–not worship–to the Blessed Virgin. We all have someone in our lives whom we really love. How do we treat that special person’s mother? Like a queen. So it is with the mother of our Lord. And beyond her well-deserved respect as the woman who gave birth to the Savior of the world, she performed many miracles herself.
My mother-in-law Mathilda has had a very hard life. Her mother died when she was only 4 years old. So she was raised by her sister. Despite this hard childhood, she is neither bitter nor lacking in sage advice to those who are honored to be in her presence. She was college educated and went on to teach Arabic and other elementary school subjects in Lebanon for over 30 years. As the wife of my dear father-in-law Souheil, she raised 5 children. And let’s face it, in the 1960’s and 70’s back in Lebanon, dads did not routinely sport dish towels over their shoulders, push mops, or help their kids with homework. Most still don’t! Mathilda did all of these things and more. She worked everyday, kept after her children to study hard and assisted them with their homework, made a fresh dinner for her family (sometimes starting well before dawn so it would be ready right after school!), made her own jams, knitted sweaters, and comforted her children during fierce periods of bombing as the Lebanese civil war ravaged the streets of Beirut. During these frugal and dangerous times, there was sometimes no one to babysit her young children, and she had no choice but to feed a baby, put her down for a nap, say a prayer, and return a couple of hours later after a break from school. Such actions would get you in trouble these days, but at that time, she had no other option. How did she do it? Divine intervention.
When Sophie was born, I was obviously distraught with fears about her future and how ours would be affected. I still remember her wise words verbatim, “Oh Lisa, strengthen your faith. Rely on the Lord, and pray to the Virgin Mary for her intercession. I remember when I was raising my young children. I don’t know how I did it alone, alone. All I know is that there was a hand, stronger than my hand that helped me get through it. Those with true faith do not fear.” Mathlida, may God grant you many, many years!
Sophie: Tata is a strong woman. I do miss her. Ya3 youni, ya Tata. (Mom helped me with that phonetic Arabic line! Tata she always says that to me.) Goodbye folks!