Me and the Grandmas of Baghdad

by marthastephens


grandma cover 2

FRIENDS, I’m writing today about my new book, Me and the Grandmas of Baghdad.  It’s a work of conscience, and solidarity with oppressed people, but also simply my life story, and some of it will make you smile.  

I notice people have stacks of books to read, and I don’t know if anyone will read this one or think it’s of any importance.  If you google the title, you’ll see it on various book sites, and if you happen to like ebooks, you can download it for a few dollars.  (Maybe it’s worth that much, but who knows, and by the way, I’d much rather not have partnered with our monopolizing pal Amazon.  At least I’ve been able to report there that any profits from this work will go to the Cincinnati Homeless Coalition and its paper Streetvibes, which I write for from time to time, and which has beautiful anti-war stories in almost every issue.)

Me and the Grandmas of Baghdad begins in present time and arcs back to my alleged birth in Waycross, Georgia.  (“An Unexaggerated Claim to Have Been Born.”)  I was born during the Great Depression to a working class family in Waycross.   My mother went to work as a secretary so I could go to college.  I studied at a woman’s college in Georgia, taught high school there, married one of my fellow teachers, and went off to graduate school with him.

GRANDMAS opens in 2006.  I’ve survived, somehow, to old age, and am walking up a long gravelly road to a community garden in Cincinnati, Ohio.  I’m a new gardener there, and our plots are way up on a wooded hill near a nature preserve.  Very secluded.  I like that and don’t mind the walk, for I need in my life a hiding place.   I want to hide from all the news of the broken world.  In a garden there’s no email, no radio or t. v., no pictures of the grandmas of Baghdad and all they are suffering.  In my garden, I hope to forget for a little while my shame, my grief, over what I and my country have done to the people of Iraq. 

People sometimes ask me if I have known personally any grandmas of Baghdad.  No, I haven’t, and I wish I had been brave enough to travel there with groups like Voices in the Wilderness or The Christian Peacemakers.  These grandmas, though, have been part of my consciousness ever since our first invasion of their country in 1991.  I tried hard, like many people, to stop that invasion.  I marched, I rallied, I spoke.  Talk not Bombs! said my signs.   On my campus we organized mass protests, with beautiful music and poetry on the terrors of war, but the evil empire we live in paid no attention to such events, and for myself — I felt, finally, there was nothing else I could do but compare, in my writings, my life daily life in Cincinnati to the lives of the grandmas in the war-torn country of Iraq.

As I walked each day to my garden, I posed, sometimes, various questions to myself, and on a certain rise, with a brilliant view of a fat willow by the way, I might pause in a sudden state of arrested thought.  I would see on my mind’s screen the grandmas of Baghdad.  I saw them huddled near a spigot in a courtyard, but a spigot from which no water came.  The water-pots lay nearby, full of dust.  The tiled courtyard itself was dry and dusty-looking and needed a good washing down, but it was plain to see that in the city of Baghdad washings down were no longer part of life there.

muslim mother and child

Muslim mother and child in war-time.

Yet I knew that the needs of these grandmas were the same as mine.  I knew they needed, and need today, a tap which would flood out a silvery stream onto their hands and into their pots and tubs.  They need my morning walks through groves where no bombs fall, no sirens wail, where the clank and roar of old generators does not disturb the peace.  They need the fresh fruit I have for breakfast; a vegetable garden in a safe and secret place; my old canvas bag to sling on their shoulders as they go; the fine thick salad I make from the contents of this bag when I get back home.  They need the comfort of the fat willow along my path, not befogged in the smoke of combat, but blowing lightly in the breezes of a clear spring day. 

Indeed, I wish I could pass on to them the gift of nature I saw this very morning on the green: flocks of young robins twittering their little stick feet to and fro across the grass.   ##


THIS BOOK has a sub-title — did you notice that, my friends?  Its name is Me and the Grandmas of Baghdad and a garden of hope and repose. 

I can tell you that entertaining things happen to new gardeners — and sad things; and I hope to insert soon a second post from Grandmas called “The First Frost Comes to the Garden.”  As I write this, we’re all very cheerful here in the month of June, but look, before many months, our gardens will be scenes of tragic desolation.  We will grieve that the cultivated plants we humans have composed out of nature’s bounty of wildness are indeed mostly annuals — that dread and deadly term again — and don’t know what they are until a crisp day in fall when they don’t feel quite themselves and rather wish they had a nice dose of calomel or castor oil.

Their fruits still developing will seem, at best, rather thin and small, and it will become obvious in time that they will always be thin and small.  It’s like the failure-to-thrive syndrome of human babes trying to grow in a time and place unfriendly to human growth.

And we humans in fact — what of us?  

We come only once, after all.  Or at least we are annuals of a kind in this: when we die, we die; it is not for pretend.  Our bones do not sprout again one opportunistic day in spring, when it is just warm enough, just moist enough, to stick a finger out, then a head, and cry, Hel-lo, you guys!   “First Frost” includes a dreamy tale about a grandma who dies and then returns one day, like a perennial, and not necessarily to the delight of her children.  It’s called “Mom’s Back!”  ##

My friends, if you’ve read this far, I thank you for caring about the grandmas of Baghdad — and of Afghanistan as well, and all the other human places of the world that are not really homes any more.  ##

Preface to Me and the Grandmas of Baghdad

READER, laugh and exclaim with me about my days in Waycross, Georgia, where I grew up, and about Cincinnati, Ohio, where my present grandma life is happening.  Laugh and exclaim with me about all the curious happenstances of daily life and the vegetables in my garden who try to speak with me.  

Laugh with me, my friends, but do not forget to grieve with me over the grandmas of Baghdad and the great bombs we have dropped on them, and let us not presume that because a thing is happening, it is natural and must happen, and that nothing can ever be changed.  ##

What do you think, my friends?  If you’re already reading Grandmas, please leave a Comment.