Thursday, 1 April 2010

Why I could never run away with Gypsies

My grandfather was an amazing person. Of course, I know that from my mother, and she might be a little biased. But still.

He was an opera singer and an actor. His gestures were grand, and his gifts- extravagant. Once, my (then a child) mother woke up late at night because, after a successful performance, my grandfather came home with a whole tabor of Gypsies.

NB: Gypsies, (Roma or Tsygane in Russian) back home did not just have a reputation of stealing horses and children. They were famous for their musical talents. Their women, dressed in long flowery skirts, with bare shoulders loosely covered with shawls, could dance and sing like nobody else in the Soviet Union. I have no idea about the ethnic origins of that rich culture; all I know that Soviet Gypsies were one of a kind.

That night, my grandfather brought them to dance and sing in our flat. On the 5th floor of an old Soviet building, at 2am in the morning. What was the occasion, I hear you ask? None. He did not need one.

A person of a (as we say in Russian) great soul, he could not stand petty people. It was not easy to offend him; but, once offended, he would be deeply hurt.
Once, my mother told me about her sister’s husband and a bottle of expensive wine he was given by somebody. My grandfather loved his drink. So, when he came over for dinner that night and saw the bottle, he got quite excited.

“I say, Mahmud!” he exclaimed excitedly, “Looks like we are going to have a fun dinner tonight! “

“Mmm…....." said Mahmud. "Actually, I was hoping to save this bottle for a special occasion”.

“OK then”, my grandfather replied, “You can keep that bottle for when I die. Place it on my grave”.

I despised Mahmud for his pettiness. Every time I thought of that incident, I imagined my grandfather’s smiley, excited face and how the expression on it must have changed with Mahmud’s reply.

And then this happened.

The friends who stayed with us for a couple of weeks recently, gave me a little thank-you gift. It was a set of Molton Brown hand wash and a hand cream.

To be honest, I don’t usually buy myself posh hand washes. I just cannot bring myself to spend that much money on soap. This, however, does not mean that I would not want a posh hand wash. To be sitting pretty right there, on my windowsill, above the sink. Especially, when I have visitors. You know what I mean, don’t you. I know you do.

So, I was pleased with the gift, and displayed it proudly over my sink.

My in-laws were visiting for a while, and one night, as they got up to retire to bed, my mother-in-law suddenly said something that caught me completely off guard.

She asked if the father-in-law could “take” my hand cream, because his hands were feeling dry and sore. And, before I could think this through, before I even analysed what was being asked, the words just flew out of my mouth.

"My hand cream???? You mean my Molton Brown hand cream?!"- I yelped in horror.

You see, I was completely unprepared for such a shocking request. Somebody, who did not actually care which hand cream he used as long as it was moisturising enough, wanted to casually take my gift away from me. Every little cell in my brain protected with passion.

"Can I give you another hand cream?", I asked cautiously, trying to soften my answer with a sheepish smile. But it, of course, did not work. He got offended.

“It is just a hand cream”, he said. Not really, I thought, it is not.

I could not sleep that night. I lay in bed, analysing my actions, and feeling pathetic. I am no different, I thought, to my uncle with his precious bottle of wine. My dead grandfather is probably turning in his grave. How could I sink this low?

I have to add that I love my father-in-law. As far as fathers-in-law go, you could not get a better one. Helpful, kind, funny and supportive, he is the one to happily check my attempts at writing, when husband has no time, and friends would get bored. He is the one to fix my shower when it leaks and read to my child when I am busy typing away on my laptop. And for that, this is how I pay him. I am a horrible, horrible person. I am a sad chushka germemish.

I tried to justify my actions, of course. There is plenty of people I knew who would keep things for a show. A friend with Jo Malone candles on the dresser- never to be lit. Mother-in-law’s pretty soaps positioned on the glass shelves in the bathroom, still packaged nicely, with a ribbon tied around them. But then I stopped myself. It did not really matter how many people I knew who kept stuff hidden from others. Or, rather, openly displayed, but clearly not to be used. It did not matter that my father-in-law would never bear a grudge against me because of some hand cream. It mattered to me.

And I could never bring a bunch of Gypsies into my house to sing and dance in the middle of the night. They might nick my hand cream.


  1. Genes are great power,your grandpa had excellent descendant.

  2. Dear Scary Azeri,

    You've made think about the things people buy that have a functional nature but are treated as decoration or display... Interesting... Not the case of the wine, though. Probably your aunt's husband only wanted to actually save it for a special occasion, even with the same people, just a different time... and he'd actually drink the thing!

    In the DR to avoid giving away things that are precious to us we say something along the lines of: "I'm sorry it was a gift from a dear friend and I wouldn't want her to come here and not see it.." Not enterely untrue, isn't it?

  3. @Rosalina: Yes, well that would not quite work in my specific case...the friend would probably not be back for a while, and the hand cream is not meant to last that long LOL
    But I will keep this one in mind for another time. I am sure I will need it!

  4. Your grandparent sounds like a great person, although I can tell from your words you didn't get to know him. My mom's dad died in 2006 at age 99, so all of his granchildren got to know him very well. And yes, he was an extraordinary self-made man.

    About your post, I'm pretty sure your father-in-law understood your position, being as kind as you said he is. Just in case, I guess Rosalina's advice can be useful.


  5. "sad chushka gormemish" :-) oy ne mogu, smeshno ochen, loved it. As per father in law's broken heart over the lotion - well at least you are being honest, it is a big thing in itself :-)

  6. As I get older, I get better at “beating down” the petty little person inside me. I mostly forget about it, until it comes out to complain about something petty of course. Usually it’s not about stuff, but about respect or attention or some other nonsense. So when the petty person throws a fit, I beat it down until it finally shuts up.

  7. Those who have never been a germemish, can throw a stone at me:) It happens, it is normal.

  8. Have just remembered the Russian word "vitsiganit". Just some allusions;)

  9. @Anonymous: :) Yes...approptiate? maybe. who knows.

  10. Love your grandfather! What a man!
    REgarding the hand cream, hmm! some darkness still lurks in our nature des it not?

  11. @tasteofbeirut: Oh, yes. There is plenty of darkness in mine, that's for sure. :)