Dad named our villa ‘Buck Hill’ . It sat on the side of a small hill overlooking our village and in the distance Beirut, mountains, and the Mediterranean Sea.
It had a long steep driveway from the garage to the main road. The house had a tall wall made of stone around it, and a rolling steel gate at the bottom of the driveway. The gate was pink.
We used to stand at the top of the drive and roll stuff down to the street. We had walnuts and piles of pine cones from the trees in our garden, so my cousins and I used to have races by rolling these down the driveway.
My favorite tree in the yard was a Weeping Willow. Its branches touched the ground like a big umbrella. In the winter when it snowed, the tree froze and looked like an igloo. Oussy and I used to hide inside. Sometimes his little sister and brother joined us.
Dad bought a swing set for us. He put it at the bottom of the garden. I was good at flipping over on the gymnastic rings and jumping out of the swing.
Behind our house, Mamma had a chicken coup built. It had a small room for the chickens to sleep in at night, and a fenced in area where they could run around in the daytime. Our chickens laid eggs, so we always had fresh omelets in the morning.
If they stopped laying eggs, Mamma would call her sister, Aunt Souad, who knew about chickens. Aunt Souad was strong and sturdy. She always wore a long navy skirt and white blouse. She could tell what was wrong with the chickens by squeezing them. I called her the Chicken Doc.
One year Mamma bought a small herd of sheep and a few goats. She hired a shepherd to take them to pastures where they could eat. He used to sheer the sheep once a year and bring us the wool. My clever Aunt Souad spun the wool into thread.
In the spring, the sheepherder would come by to tell Mamma how many new babies were born, and would bring one to show us. When I was 9 years old, I brought a baby goat into the house, and put a pair of underwear on it so I could have it indoors for the afternoon.
Aunt Souad was an excellent coffee grounds reader. She loved to tell our fortunes. Aunt Souad lived in a small house that my uncle built when they got married. She was widowed before I was born.
The walls inside were curvy, like cave walls, and the three tiny steps that led to the bedroom were formed by hand, they were narrow and slanted. The rest of the house was one very large room, sectioned into a kitchen area and dining area by long pretty curtains that hung from the ceiling. She lived there with 2 of my cousins: a son and a daughter. I loved to visit. My cousin won the lottery one year, and built her a small kitchen in part of the small front yard.
Mamma the Cook and Entertainer
Mamma loved to be busy. Sometimes it made me tired to hear about all her projects. But her favorite things to do were sewing, knitting and inventing new recipes. Our dinner table had at least 5 – 6 dishes every night. You see, she tested her recipes on us! Luckily, they were always yummy. Later she wrote the most comprehensive cookbook of Middle Eastern and North African dishes. which sold in several countries. A picture of my nephew Ouss and me was on the first page. We were kneeling next to a dessert she decorated with colored rice to look like the Lebanese flag.
Mamma had to make enough food for 30 or 40 people. She would spend 3 days preparing things. Since my sister Gida and I were the only ones home, we had to help. My brother had moved away by then. I did not mind helping for parties. The kitchen was very busy and I liked tasting everything. I also enjoyed learning how to fold dough into little turnovers stuffed with meat and onions, or cheese.
Mamma carefully decorated platters of rice pudding with almonds, walnuts and pine nuts. When she was finished, they looked like mosaic art. She wanted her guests to know that she cared about them. Taking her time and making things beautiful was one way she did that. She said it was just as important to make food look good, as it was to make it taste good, because the eyes tasted it before the mouth did.
Mamma’s funny stories made her popular and her friends loved to hear them. She could remember every little thing that happened to people, which sometimes they wished she had not. She would mimic the voices of people in her story. She was so good at it, that once she played a trick on a friend over the phone, and her friend did not find out until much later. First, she was upset, but when Mamma called to tease her about it, she could not help laughing. Mamma did it in fun, and never to be mean, so her friends did not get mad at her.
Dogs, chickens and sheep
Dad was fond of dogs, so he bought a German Sheppard and named him Rex. Later we gor him a companion and named her Lucy. They had a litter, but were all given away. I liked Rex, although for a while I was scared of him.
I guess he did not like it when I ordered him to Go, and then Come, and then Go, and then Come, and then Go, a bunch of times, because once, after a few minutes, he jumped on my shoulders, and I thought he was going to eat me! My knees felt like jelly, and I was finally able to run inside.