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When Vicky Met Sally

Ever wondered where Sally Sampson got her bitch gene? Read on as she pays tribute to her awesome grandma...

I remember being five or six years old and dancing around the room with my grandmother, in a very lively re-enactment of the ball scene in Cinderella when she meets her prince. My grandmother back then was trying to teach me how to waltz, not knowing that my feet (despite being particularly big for someone of my stature) would forever be the source of my instability and that the closest thing to grace and elegance that I would be able to the muster for the next twenty or so years of my life, would be comparable only to the grace you might imagine Daffy Duck having, once he’d had a good litre and a half of vodka.

I think it’s safe to say that whatever genes were passed down to me, I never got my grandmother’s grace or elegance or poise; all of which she had or at least exuded almost effortlessly.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandmother recently, partly because it’s been about six years since she passed away, but more so because it still feels like she never left.  And I’m not thinking about her in the miserable ‘I’m going to wear black for the rest of my life and cry a river every time someone mentions her name’ kind of way (yes, mom, I’m looking at you!), but because every day I find myself in circumstances and situations whereby my grandmother somehow materialises before me.

The thing is, although, I didn’t quite inherit the ‘grace’ gene that my grandmother owned (and I mean OWNED), I got something else that my grandmother had in spades…I got balls! And no, this is not me admitting that I come from a family of hermaphrodites… (we have fully-functioning healthy vaginas, thank you very much…), but God help me, there really is no other way to put it.

My grandmother, Victoria a.k.a. Vicky was one of eight siblings living in Fayoum, born in the twenties into a society that really didn’t demand too much of her, outside of getting a basic education and being as eligible a bride as possible to the best possible match.  

This is how my grandmother told those expectations to go fuck themselves:

1. At the age of 16, she practically ambushed an English officer or soldier in the street, ended up sharing a ride with him and gave him her contact details in a desperate bid to get a job at the height of World War II. She was subsequently contacted and got the job.

2. She needed to learn to use a typewriter for her job, but had never seen one in her life before. So she went out, bought a typewriter, (becoming the first person to ever bring a typewriter into her village) and would practice using it for hours on the roof of her house to make sure that she was up to par. She could still type the socks off of most people before she died at the age of 82.

3. She moved to Cairo to work in the city, leaving her family home and living with her eldest brother for a while.

4. She got married in her late twenties (during the fifties in Egypt!) to someone of her choice, waited almost five years before she had her first baby (my mother) and then had her second (my uncle) two years later. She only ever had two children.

5. She could skate, swim, dance, jump rope and ride bikes….and she worked and never stopped working until she retired at the age of 60.

When my grandmother died, it was tough for all of us. She was the first feminist in our family, even though I don’t think she ever thought of it that way. She was a woman of vision and a woman of integrity, but most importantly, to me, she was a woman of unshakeable optimism.

The day she was due to go to the hospital for the final time, I remember her barging into my room in the early hours of the morning, dragging her walking stick behind her, and shuffling through her wardrobe, moving things around noisily, left and right.

This was the exchange between us:

 “Teta, what the hell are you doing?”

“Looking for nail polish.”

“Why? You’re going to the hospital!”

“Well there’s going to be doctors there…”

I laughed surprised at the answer and fell back asleep incredulous as to how my grandmother, a woman with multiple health problems, barely able to stand, in her eighties, could even think like that. How and why did she care?? I was 19 and I didn’t give a shit!

 That short exchange between us was the last real conversation I ever had with her. And when I look back, I’m not sad, because I think how fucking suitable

My mother got angry at me when I wore pink to meet those paying their respects at her commemoration service. “You’re always wearing black to fucking everything! And you choose pink for your grandmother??!”

Everyone was sitting around crying or comforting my mom who literally should’ve won an Oscar for the most melodramatic show of emotion ever produced by any human being EVER…but I didn’t care to be a part of the farce. I just couldn’t imagine honouring the awesomeness of my grandmother, my Teta Vicky, by being a part of the dull, black, heavy cloud of sadness that people had to sit through. I couldn’t and I wasn’t going to.

She was a vibrant ballsy woman, and if I had adhered to the misery that others were trying to impose on me, it would’ve been comparable to me pissing on her grave. My mother still hasn’t let it go though…she still thinks I’m retarded…

I won’t go on about it. My grandmother was an amazing person, but she didn’t change the world, she didn’t make any discoveries or win a Nobel Prize. However, she effectively followed her instincts, took risks, opened her heart to everyone, disregarded the unsuitable and challenged the unreasonable.

She was the change she wished to see and was so active, she gave most people a run for their money. She wasn’t afraid, she was persistent and no matter how bad things got, she always looked for that silver lining. And that’s everything I aspire to be.

So smiling and grateful, I am assured by the two biggest lessons I learnt from her:

Be yourself and fuck the rest.

Always have nail polish at hand, just in case there are doctors around and you need to sort your shit out!

So although, I didn’t get the ‘grace’ gene from my grandmother, I sure as hell got my fair share of the ‘BITCH’ gene, which I wouldn’t swap for the world.  

So thank you Teta Vicky.

I’ll try to get the waltz down before our next reunion. Until then…you know what I would say to you, so let’s leave it at that.