My mother was going through old books and papers of my father's not long after he died. She was showing me things to see if I wanted them or she should get rid of them. One day we were going through his stacks of books on Egyptology and antiques and she found one that held some family history, little did I know there was a strange piece of the puzzle of who I am.
The book was Shepheards Hotel written by Nina Nelson in 1960 and the last chapter starts with Jan 16, 1952 when the world renowned hotel was burned during rioting in Cairo. My grandfather's best shop and most prized jewelry and antiques were in his shop in that hotel. Though the shop in the Khan Khalil Bazaar and the one in the Semiramis Hotel remained, my father's life changed that day. But this is not about my father's characteristics, this is about those of a man I didn't know, my grandfather.
I met my father's parents, gueddo Mansour and teta Bella, once for a few hours when they came to visit in the states and came to our little apartment. I was very excited to be meeting my grandfather but he was old, blind and grouchy about being helped. He yelled at my father and it scared me, and teta Bella was nothing like my beloved teta Kamal. I had such a bad reaction that I took a strong dislike to them both and wanted to get out of the little apartment and away from a large and noisy group of aunts, uncles and a scary old man. I asked my mother to take my bike downstairs for me. She told me to wait so I went out and tried to ride the bike down the wrought iron and concrete stairs. I didn't make it very far and there was quite the scene as I was bleeding from my hands and knees. I had a very bad day. Every story my father has told me of his parents has not changed my affections for them, if anything I was glad not to have interaction with a man who sounded like a not always benevolent dictator. I know nothing of my grandmother except she cooked.
When I ran away from home I decided never to be like my family, and yet, here is something that says I am. In many ways I'm generous to a fault as has been pointed out repeatedly by family and friends alike. But there is this selfish quirk I don't like and don't seem to be able to change. My father was in no way like this and having only met my grandfather one time for a few hours, I have to wonder if this is genetics. Other bloggers really make me think, jlsathre wondered about the exact likeness of her and her sister's hand writing in her post Nature or Nurture or Sibling Rivalry made me wonder about just that. Is the quirk an innate part of me, and how can it be?
The bottom paragraph of the first image (page 5) shows the extreme difference between my grandfather's station in life, the types of people he did business with, and mine.
There it is in the first paragraph, my grandfather didn't like to sell an item to someone at any price if he thought they wouldn't appreciate it. I am like that.
My father and grandfather both had to love an item to purchase it to sell, they did not want to sell something just because it was popular or they would make money. They sold lower priced items too and wanted others to have beauty at whatever price they could afford. But my father was generous with beauty and if someone was selecting something just because it was popular, he had the ability to help someone see the beauty in something he loved. He could spend endless time with one small piece to do just that.
I wish I was like that. When I was designing jewelry for my father's wholesale business I would cringe when a buyer wanted to know if something they thought was ugly was a good seller. Then I would have to discuss the selling points and though I would try to pass on the beauty I lovingly put into each design, I always had the inner urge to rip it out of their hands and tell them "it's not for your store!" When I created the necklaces for submission to the Smithsonian mail order catalog I made 4 that were personally not my style but they were each ones I would be proud of. The one they selected was the one I was least likely to wear and the one I knew was most beautiful. It would have made me feel bad if I'd done less just because I knew it would sell. My accomplishment was the beauty, not the high sales.
If I designed something very unique and beautiful I'd hide it in back and pretend I'd forgotten to display it and bring it out for customers I knew would appreciate it. Worse were the pieces I hated to make that were popular as accessories and would compliment the latest fashions. The year pale pink and green were a hit I thought I'd lose my mind combining exquisite hand carved antique jade pieces with pale milky rose quartz which washed each other out. I hate to think how many lovely pieces of jade have been tossed in a drawer because that accessory is passé.
When I was struggling as a single mom I started making jewelry on the side to sell on my own. That was a greater joy because I only did one of a kind items no matter how low the price. I didn't feel bad at all lowering a price to near cost if someone really loved an item but couldn't afford it, there is always a customer with more money than they know what to do with. Things even out. In the same way it made me crazy if someone bought something made with antique pieces just because it matched their new dress, it made me happy to know that someone had something that gave them joy and would treasure it.
I've had many jobs lately that were meaningless: bookkeeping, admin assistant, banking, medical billing, all things where it's of the moment and there is no fear of wasting beauty. It's just grinding out production impersonally. I had forgotten that selfish side of me until I started to write on Open Salon, I justify it by saying it's not really hurting anyone, but, it's still selfishness. As my head has cleared I've begun to write more things that are precious to me. When I see another blogger reveal something beautiful or painful and a comment is dismissive or denigrating I shudder inside for the blogger. I become reluctant to post. When the same thing happens to me it's not the comment that bothers me, it's that I wish the person hadn't seen that part of me. I don't know how to describe it. I often miss the days a few years ago when just a few people read my posts. Sometimes if I write something that is too meaningful or beautiful to me, I delete it. I don't want to share it openly with the world. And yes, I know, it's selfish.
Maybe the author didn't have the story about my grandfather right, I really know nothing about him. There are other errors and appearances are deceiving, my uncle Emile was the eldest of the 7 boys not the youngest. My father was capable but he was the 3rd son and took over the business because he wasn't one to play, he was the one who stayed in Egypt to take care of his parents when the hotel burned and the business had to be rebuilt. I wasn't one to play either, I was a little too capable my entire life, I'm like my father in many ways. It's funny, I got as far away from my family as possible so I could be myself and make my own life. I didn't want to be like them and yet I'm discovering late in life, in many ways I am.