Aziz the Story Teller
Aziz, my father’s widowed aunt, lived with us in grandpa’s big house. She not only helped my mother with household duties but also served as my baby sitter when my parents left me at home under her care.
Throwing tantrums when my parents left me with Aziz was normal routine. But as I got older, Aziz used her story-telling techniques to keep me occupied. We had no children’s books in the house. Those leather-bound books that were kept in the Zir Zamin, the cellar, or the ones that my father read to us were mostly for grownups. No wonder the very first novel my father read to me was The Count of Monte Cristo
, by Alexandre Dumas.
But Aziz had all the stories in her head. Her fascinating tales kept me mesmerized. I could sit quietly and listen to her attentively for hours. That is exactly what she wanted - to keep me quiet and entertained.
Aziz was a devout Moslem and her stories had religious background and undertone, though I didn’t know it at the time. From Aziz I heard, for the first time, about God, Adam and Eve, heaven and hell, the forbidden apple tree in paradise, and a vicious and double-crossing serpent. I heard about a boy who did not do as God told him and was swallowed by a great big fish. No worries, she would say, the boy came out unharmed and followed God’s command. She told me about a prophet who parted the sea and that he could turn his staff into a snake. I learned about Noah and the flood and the ship Noah built and all the animals in it. I also learned about a prophet who was asked to sacrifice his own son for God. But she would hastily emphasize that God spared the son – it was just a test of loyalty! And many more stories.
As a good Moslem, Aziz had opted to wear chador to cover herself when she left the house, she never missed a prayer, and always fasted during the month of Ramadan. She was a bit on the fanatic side. Aziz was a good person, but she and my father clashed sometimes bitterly on ideas and plans for Homa’s education. Homa was Aziz’s only daughter. I witnessed such clashes come head to head when my father insisted that Homa had to continue her education and become a teacher, and Aziz wanted to keep her daughter at home! Of course my father won - he always did!
Homa went on to become an excellent math teacher and later on won citations from the ministry of education for the work she had done. Besides, Homa became financially independent and was able to take care of Aziz in her old age. My cousins were the recipients of Homa’s mathematical talent when she tutored them off and on. By then I had already left Iran and was living in the U.S.
When my son was born he received, as a gift, a “Bible Story” book for children. Night after night, as I read those short stories to him, I realized I had already heard them all from Aziz. Yes, the book of Genesis in the Bible is similar to the story of creation in the Quran. Aziz, by telling stories, was teaching me about the creation.