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The Truth About the Fact: An International Journal of Literary Nonfiction

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Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

The Truth About the Fact: A Journal of Literary Nonfiction is an international journal committed to the idea that excellence in the art of letters can play a vital role in transforming the planet we share.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Wafts of a Woman

“Babies! You’re my valentines!” My mom’s yelps echoed through the house as my brothers and I pulled the covers over our heads and dove underneath our pillows. But it was no use. She climbed into bed with us, hopping from my brothers’ room that they shared back to mine. She kissed us all over, somehow dodging our palms attempting to press away her face. Then she sang. By “sing” I mean she screeched in melody, “Aannndd I will always love youuuu!!!!” Her accent somehow only supported the volume and force of the sound.
Every morning she would be in the kitchen cooking. I never understood that other families weren’t like us. In our house, it was Lebanon, and the door was always open. I mean that literally, the knob and lock were broken. We may be good in the kitchen but we are not the most efficient at building and repairs. Onions, garlic, cumin, pepper, turmeric, we had boxes and bags of spices in the big brown cupboard in our old kitchen. My mother kept a large box full of every spice and when you opened the cabinets, they opened toward you like the Middle Eastern brown version of French doors, the smell would coat your face and talk to your senses.
One day when I got to school a girl turned to me and asked me if I had eaten an onion bagel. I told her “no” and made a note-to-self: tell mom to cut back on the morning cooking. She never did, and I still thank her for it. What I did not tell the girl was that I had actually eaten a bean dish that morning. A Lebanese peasant dish of garbanzo beans, olive oil, and yes, onions, eaten with fresh mint, tomatoes, and, yes, more onions, in pita bread. Pita bread was my toast. I ate my eggs with pita bread. And by eggs I mean “sunny side up” eggs with cumin, paprika, and mint with olive oil and possibly more onions.
My mother fed me. She fed us. She never cared for Christmas and its consumerism. We didn’t decorate eggs on Easter. A house of Arabs with fireworks would have been suspect enough so the appeal of the Fourth of July was lost on us. But she always cooked. We sat and ate. I squeezed 23 lemons for the hummus until my arms were sore and the tiny cuts I didn’t even know existed on my hands burned. She was the best cook. She is the best cook. The Lebanese community bows down to her, and if she knows I have exposed the secret of excess lemon in her hummus she might kill me or threaten to send me to Lebanon, but I feel confident that no one would be able to find a child that will sit and squeeze that many lemons.
In my grown-up apartment, in the land of Veganism that is West LA, I miss the wafts of cumin. Sometimes it comes back when I cook lentils for my roommates or when I force feed my friends insisting that they should eat more. Sometimes one of them will lean in close and warn me that my hair smells like spices.
When I’d leave school on February 14th I would walk a little bit faster to the lot to meet my mom. I would tuck my head down a bit as she pulled up yelling my nicknames in Arabic as belly-dancing music reverberated out of her car. Up in my room would be a tiny bear with chocolate and a flower. “Mama, you’re my Valentine.” I would tell her, running downstairs to her as she chopped parsley to make tabouli. She would smile so big her almond eyes would disappear in her high cheeks and she would devour me with kisses. I would laugh and push her away only after taking in her scent a few more times, “Mom! You smell like onions!”


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