There was nothing I couldn’t talk about with Granny, who died two years ago at 103. I asked her when she was in her early nineties. If she could have chosen a different life, if she could have been with women, would she have? “Yes, I think so” she said.
“So did you ever think of being with a woman?”
“No – I hated sex but I never knew anything about lesbians, or things like that…” And then she continued: “But there was this woman, she was a friend of my close friend…”
“When?” I interrupt, “where”?
“In Baghdad, I had a friend. We liked each other very much. She and her husband were Syrian, Muslim, they were very friendly with me. They didn’t care that I was Jewish. They told me I was different (from the other Jews in Iraq), I spoke English with them, I played piano, I came from Singapore, and I felt very free with them.”
They entertained artists and heads of state, they were sophisticated and internationally connected. Granny was not going to refuse their invitations even though she was supposed to socialize only within the large extended family she married into. Her husband’s family resented her. She was an “outsider,” an Iraqi Jew from Singapore. She wasn’t a relative. The family only married distant and sometimes not so distant relatives. And Granny, on top of it, was a rebel. She fought all the rules. To the day she died she talked about how she was forbidden to play her piano for months every time a relative died and the family went into mourning.”
Prayers, all the time prayers, why did they have to do it in MY house!” She yelled.
“They didn’t like me and I didn’t’ like them. Family, family, family, HIS family, mine were in Singapore where I wanted to go back. I couldn’t’ stand it there.”
But she already had my mother and her other daughter, she was stuck. One evening these friends had a party where Granny was asked a question she never forgot.
“Meeda, do you do finger exercises”? A woman she hadn’t met before asked her. “’Be quiet, she doesn’t know about such things”, the woman’s friend added, giggling.
“I was trying to understand what kind of finger exercises do you do for the piano” Granny said, “I was so naïve!”
One day, it came up, Granny didn’t remember how exactly, but her friend, the hostess of the infamous parties, informed her that the “finger exercises” had nothing to do with playing the piano!
“They were lesbian! Maybe they thought I was one because I never came with my husband. Efraim, never came with me,” she added, still thinking about that time laughing. Its one of her favorite stories.
She looks at me smiling the same smile she had on when she asked me a question long ago in 1976 after taking one look at my new butchy lover.
Way past putting it in code, she said , “You’re with women now aren’t you?” She was no longer a naïve 29 year old in Baghdad, Iraq. We were in San Francisco, California where it was all happening, and this time she didn’t miss a beat. And then she added “don’t tell your, mother she’ll blame me!”