Another picture: goodbye Afyon, welcome Sinop! Goodbye black and white photographs, hello color! My aunt (my father’s only sister, who could have used some physical features of her oldest brother) still underneath her head and shoulder cover as in the Afyon photograph, was looking up with eyes half-closed. She was sitting next to my mom who had my newborn brother in her arms. Several photos later, though, my aunt’s hair was in full sight, her face was a canvas for color-rich make-up and she was clad in a notably fabric-shy dress. Sinop, however, was a tiny town! “How come my aunt shed her head-and shoulder cover?” I asked my father the minute I got a chance.
“Well, Huban, the Turkish sea towns have always been different in many aspects. Afyon is what it is: a place right in the heart of the rugged Anatolian land. If my family had lived in southern Turkey, or at the Aegean coast, they would have dressed like those in Sinop. That’s how populations adopted to the different landscapes of our country. But in all honesty, I must tell you how I always coveted to be like the Sinopians: very comfortable with their way of life and what their women and men wear. Afyon was never accepting to any variety in clothing for women. So, when your aunt came to live with us, she didn’t know anything beyond what was there in Afyon to see and to do; she hadn’t seen anything beyond her birthplace. Unlike me. I lived and worked in Istanbul. You know that. I changed quite a lot after my life in the big city. Especially, after meeting your mom, long before we were married, during our long waiting period. Living with your mom changed your aunt also. She opened up. By the way, did you know your mom made her that summer dress?”
“She wanted my sister to keep up with the times.”
“I had no idea she could do that!”
“She could and did. However, she wouldn’t even put it on at first. Then, a couple of days later she wanted to try it on, only in her room and only to show your mom. After a while, she wore it all the time!”
“What about your parents, Dad, and your brothers? Weren’t they mad about how different she began to look?”
“Oh yes, they were all upset to get such pictures of your aunt. But you see, as the only college graduate in my family, everyone always respected me very much, in what I did and was doing. In any situation, for that matter. So, they let your mom and me be; and let your aunt dress and live like the Sinopians. You know your grandmother and all her female cousins were wearing skimpy bathing suits whenever they went on a boat ride with boys? Not only your mother but her grandmother before her as well? And this, not only as children but also as teens and beyond? The locals have a saying: Sinop is the best place in Turkey for a woman to live in peace and full safety. I am happy and proud my only sister was also able to learn modernity from us and this town.”
Since the subject had just come to my mom’s sewing skills–one among her numerous other talents-my father said: “In summer, when you have no classes, you should learn how to saw, to knit, to cook and to bake from your mom. Like your mom.” A proper upbringing must also mean to have sawing, knitting, cooking and baking abilities, I had concluded back then and wondered what my father’s advice was for my brother. Didn’t Tamo deserve a proper upbringing?
My brother…With his birth weight of close to ten pounds, his simply beautiful, unwrinkled and white face, cute little nose –almost a duplicate of my mom’s, fully developed body –unlike my premature one, and gorgeously bald head (yes, baldness in babies was a must attraction back then, I was told many times), I was no contest for this darling creature who arrived here three years ahead of me. At some point in my early years–but only after I had safely grown out of my ugly, hideous, hairy and skinny birth-shell, had my father confessed how my mother first greeted me in an almost muted utterance: “Oh, my unfortunate girl!”
I always concluded her reaction was about the obvious difference between Tamo’s beauty and my intense ugliness. My father, though, would not say much on this matter. Every time the subject of my birth came up, he was overcome with sadness for his wife and for his mother-in-law whom he had dearly loved and respected. I, too, was overcome by sadness: my grandmother–only 48 years old–was at her deathbed with ovarian cancer at the onset of my mom’s pregnancy with me. There had been too many records of deaths by this type of cancer on my mother’s side. Still, she could not have ever imagined her own mother as a victim to this disease. She could not talk with us about those days without stopping in the middle of her first sentence, not being able to collect herself to go on beyond. She must have been traumatized by severe sadness, fearing her mother’s fate would also be mine–or her own, as it turned out to be. This morbid sentence had struck her three female cousins around the same age as my grandmother. I would have to eventually encounter the tremendous loss of my mother–she must have concluded, an ordeal she herself was facing when she was supposed to feel elated for expecting a new life. In the way she must have felt while she was pregnant with my brother.
My brother’s favorite pass-time activity was to make fun of me about the type of novels I read (not very different than what I later found out to be our mother’s all-time favorite–pre-dating my birth). It didn’t matter to him whether my choices were translations of the world classics, or the work of our own classical literary greats. Sometimes he would almost scold me, announcing my disappointment would be of tragic dimensions if I kept dreaming up life’s realities under the influence of those “ridiculous stories,” as he called them again and again to my face.
I am no longer in contact with my brother and haven’t been for a long while. If I had been, I would have told him in what striking ways my life events mirrored and continue to mirror those “ridiculous stories” he persistently frowned upon. Moreover, I would have let him in on one most vital fact about me, one for which his most imaginative moment won’t suffice. What a surreal extent our mother’s affection for and sorrow over the fate of the protagonist in her most favorite novel did and continue to intertwine with his sister’s–the life of his one and only sibling…
(Only this essay stops here. As for Huban’s tale, it will continue.)