There’s an Iranian word that is used in Arab circles,” Taraf”! A great word, it means a false proposition of offer, for example you might say, “Come to Qatar and stay with us, you are welcome to visit anytime”, this is Taraf!. Of course I said this plenty to people, even before I knew what the word Taraf meant. The kind of visitors I was used to having , were kind that arrived on Sunday around 4 o’clock and were on their merry way again by half six, after a few sandwiches and a packet of Viscount biscuits, not the kind that arrived for 2 weeks with a couple of Bella’s and a pair of flip flops expecting to be entertained.
Of course the only visitor that’s always welcome is an Irish Mammy. There’s nothing like a visit from an Irish Mammy and her endless pleas before she departs Ireland, “are you sure there’s nothing else you want”, “do you want tea bags or anything” .My wish list has changed significantly over the past years, In my early twenties it would have been fifty euro until payday, this changed as my means increased to a few choice items from the Meadows & Byrne catalogue, at the height of the boom as my tastes and my residence grew more lavish, I went on to request her 40 year old china that she received as a wedding present. Today my list has reverted to the list I remember my Aunts and Uncles bringing back to Chicago during the eighties on one of their (once every 5 year) visits home. rashers, sausages, Barry’s tea bags and taytos. If only my wish list were this simple over the past five years, maybe emigration wouldn’t have been a necessity.
The trick with the Irish Mammy is being able to read between the lines, for example, when she arrives she may say something like, “the place is lovely, so spacious and easy to keep” translated, this means, “this house is small and could do with some furniture and finishing touches”. She may then follow this with, “you look great, you hair is all changed, are you keeping up the walking?”, translated means, “you’re letting yourself go, I preferred your hair the old way and you’ve put on weight”. Of course all this is forgotten when she stocks your kids wardrobe full of socks and undies from Penneys, cleans out the drawer of your washing machine which has been caked with detergent for the past 4 months without making you feel bad for letting it get in such a state and insists on giving you the new shoes that she brought with her, to keep, just because you admired them. The only downside to a visit from your mammy is that she must leave, “take care and mind yourself”, she’ll say as she’s going, translation, “take care and mind yourself”.
It’s when the Mother-in-law arrives that the real holiday begins. My mother in law belongs to the cult of “my son, my son”. It would be impossible, to draw her out of her reverie about her son, so unless I fancied joining the cult (out of the question), I had to find a way for us to co-exist for 14 days. Like some kind of rare African ritual we danced and pranced around one around other and the fortnight passed without any fatalities. Never short of a gesture, positive or negative, it was when she gave us going away gifts that all became clear, my husband, my husband, opened the beautifully wrapped gift that lay before him, to reveal a gorgeous “Hugo Boss” shirt, with an added gift of platinum cufflinks to set it off, and then she gave me my gift, a baby bouncer for our unborn child with a special support for his/her head. I kept the wrapping paper in case there was a Kenneth Cole bag or bottle of Kenzo hidden inside, but nothing. Feeling like I was accepting an award, on behalf of someone that couldn’t make it on the night, I felt I did a good job expressing appreciation.
This gift and her parting words of “now you look after yourself and be able to take good care of my Grandchild until I come back”, completed the scene. I was the conduit. My baby (her Grandchild) was the prize. It all flashed before me. I’d come home in summer, and she will have the baby whisked away and paraded around for all to see, people will gasp and stare open mouthed at the child that was created by man alone.