The Head of the Lebanese Table

My father’s father, “Jido” to me, was a man of integrity and great character. When he is remembered, it is with love and admiration. He lived with my family in the United States for a time. We were in Oklahoma. I was three and four, and my younger sister was just born. Jido along with my father’s mother, Tayta, and my aunt Ghada, were layers in our household.

Perhaps it is rare, but I wonder if this is not true for everyone: I had a person in my life who never showed me anything other than kindness. Jido was that person. He was firm, and he demanded respect, but never with shouting or a raised hand that incited fear. If he spoke loudly or made as if he might swat me, he followed his words with a twist of his lips or a twinkle of his eyes so I knew he was always on my side. He was rooting for me. No matter my rudeness, he enjoyed me. That security was and is invaluable.

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Jido pretending to nap on the balcony at midday. Kayfoun, Lebanon 2003.

The Jido I knew as a child was different than the man I met again as an adult in Kayfoun in 2002. He had aged. He was no longer the energetic man who took me for walks with my younger sister on his shoulders, hunting snakes on the dirt road, his eyebrows crooked with the promise of adventure. By 2002, he shuffled, body bent over a cane no matter how he stretched himself. He walked up and down the road every morning, pushing trash to the side. In 2003, I often walked with him, making use of my small vocabulary by counting the laps with him or repeating the names of weeds or identifying which beit belonged to whom. By then I had lost the Arabic we had spoken fluently together. (This was evidenced when a man slowed his car on the mountain to ask which home was Beit Ayoub. I told him I did not know only to realize that Beit Ayoub was my family’s house. Was I not Shawna Ayoub?) When Jido left America, he took the language with him. He also took a lot of the laughter.

Forgive me if these words do not convey images distinctly. Here is the truth about what I am writing: This does not flow from me. I am struggling. I loved my grandfather with a depth and sincerity I did not experience again until my first child was born. Even my love for my husband has not been as constant or secure. One reason is that Jido had to leave the United States before he could ever reveal himself as other than delightful. Another is, just after I came to know him again and was able to plumb the depths of his character, he left this life.

As an adult, I have much greater clarity than a child who looks upon an influential adult as capable of hanging the moon. Since Jido’s passing, God rest his soul, I have examined his son’s imperfections, tracing them back to a man so glorified by family and friends he never appeared less than excellent. I do not have a desire to cast aspersions on Jido’s character; I simply long to see him as human. Certainly there were mistakes on his part as a man and parent. Perhaps he was too harsh with the strap. I do not know. Perhaps he chose not to see a traumatic moment in his child’s life–perhaps he thought ignoring it would make it smaller and less hurtful. I do not know. In truth, I do not even know if there was such a moment to ignore, although when I examine his son- my father- I wonder if my dad is not more like me than he knows.

But what I learn when I dig deeper is the same as what I am told. Jido was a teacher in a developing country. He excelled in educating the Lebanese youth. He was the principal of a well-reviewed school. He brought Boy Scouts to Lebanon. He travelled with troops to Europe and some areas of the Middle East. In fact, the Boy Scouts led his funeral procession when he passed. Jido was the voice of Ramadan, top in the country for reciting the Qur’an. During the holy month, it was his voice his countrymen tuned into on the radio. He was pious. He valued his wife and children. He kept ties with his neighbors. He shared the best fruits of his orchard first, keeping the misshapen and marked fruits for his home. He was eager to gift, easy to love, and quick to laugh. He accepted my American mother with joy rather than the disdain many other Lebanese–especially those in America–offered. And whenever possible, he treated us to ice cream.

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Dancing with me in 2002. Kayfoun, Lebanon.

I share these thoughts now because Jido is as important as my aunt in my recipe collection. Meals in Lebanon are a family event. At the table we come together and look into each other’s faces and celebrate life with our tastebuds. When I look at the dishes to be shared here, I see his face. While I lost most of my Arabic speaking skills, I retained the language of food. At the table, we were able to converse without barrier. Whether with a single word such as riz or djaj, or a pleasurable sounds (mmm), we understood one another. With understanding comes comfort and security. It is no surprise that in group situations, where I experience social anxiety and the fear of rejection, I silently devise menus I believe will inspire love in the masses. And in private moments over a dish well-loved, I recall Jido and the other great loves from whom I am exiled, so I am never eating alone.

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0 Discussion to this post

  1. […]  conjunction with sharing a bit about my beloved Jido, here is a dish I had the pleasure of enjoying with him. This meal is soft and flavorful and pairs […]

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  2. fyrdraca says:

    Awww! I really love this! You paint a picture of a man who must have been magnificent <3

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  3. Dina Ayoub-Marks says:

    I remember going to work with him when I was little…. I remember coloring at his desk and being amazed by all the old keys he had hanging up behind his desk……I remember going with auntie Ghada to her classroom where she was a teacher……I can remember so much that can never be forgotten.

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    • Wow! Dina, that’s amazing. One of my favorite memories was how, on walks when I was four, he woukd realize I had to pee and have everyone circle with their backs to me while I squatted on the side of the road. Pardon me if this is crude. Again, I was four. He always checked for snakes first and made a big deal of keeping my precious walking stick safe by holding it for me, and then he would joke when I was too shy to pee. I wish I could remember the words. He was hilarious. Literally would make me laugh until I peed, then gave me leaves to wipe.

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