Halloween Nostalgic for Iranian Immigrant Family

As Halloween approaches, Jasmin Darznik shares why October 31st brings fond memories of her late grandmother who migrated to the United States from Iran.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

In just a few minutes, the politics of skin color - not race, skin color. Why some people of color still get worked up over skin tone. It's a Behind Closed Doors conversation.

But first, Halloween is just a couple of days away. For kids, it's a day memories are made of. Getting dressed up like a super hero or a princess, going door to door for as much candies as their little fists can hold.

But as writer Jasmin Darznik tells us, it can be a special day for grown ups, too, especially grown ups seeking an escape from the narrow confines of a foreign world. She told the story in this week's Washington Post's Sunday magazine, and she's here with us now from member station KQED in San Francisco.

Hi, Jasmin. Welcome.

Ms. JASMIN DARZNIK (Writer): Nice to be here, Michel.

MARTIN: Now, Jasmin, we've all heard about parents and grandparents taking the kids trick or treating. But your grandmother actually went trick or treating. Why did she want to go trick or treating with you?

Ms. DARZNIK: That's right, Michel. When I was younger and we just come to America, she would come out trick or treating with me and she would actually wear a costume. Now, her costume was quite special. It was her prayer shawl, her veil. It wasn't the black chador. It was a - really like a sheet with a flower print. I think it had daisies on it. And she would pull it over herself. She was a tiny woman, about four-feet, eight-inches tall. And she'd draw it over herself and cover her face and pretend to be a ghoul.

And as I say, when I was younger, we'd head out together. But over the years, of course, I realized this was an unusual partner to have on Halloween night. So I refused to go out with her, but she continued going out by herself.

MARTIN: By herself.

Ms. DARZNIK: And she would make her rounds. That's right. My mother would actually drive around town in our yellow Cadillac convertible. And she'd go from house to house and get her Halloween candies.

MARTIN: Did - now, I should mention that your family came here from Iran. And did she - you mentioned in the article that this was reminiscent of a Persian holiday, Persian New Year holiday.

Ms. DARZNIK: That's right. There's a very old Persian tradition. It happens at the time of the Persian New Year, which is celebrated each spring. And in this tradition, children go around their neighborhoods with sheets over their heads, make hairy pots and knock on doors with spoons.

Now, she had, of course, done this when she was a child. And I think Halloween to her was really a version of this. I've read, also - I can't confirm it absolutely - but I've read that our Halloween, in fact, has its origins in this very old Persian tradition of going round and knocking on doors with spoons.

MARTIN: Now, she couldn't speak English.

Ms. DARZNIK: No.

MARTIN: What did she - she didn't - could she get trick or treat out? What did she say?

Ms. DARZNIK: You know, I think the fact that she couldn't speak English really worked to her advantage. She would croak out her best approximation of trick or treat, which sound something like trick, trick, and, you know, very much kind of enhanced her ghoulishness.

MARTIN: Did anybody ever catch her on?

Ms. DARZNIK: Not that I know of. I caught on…

MARTIN: Did they think she just had a really excellent costume with the little hands? Or they're - because her hands did not look like, I mean - the hands are the one thing you can't hide, right?

Ms. DARZNIK: Right. I guess under cover of darkness, perhaps, even her hands were not anything to give her away.

MARTIN: Now you mentioned that after a certain point, you became, you know, a teenager and refused to go with grandma. But before that, did it create a special bond between the two of you, a special memory?

Ms. DARZNIK: Very much so. I mean, she had a great sense of mirthfulness to her. And it wasn't something I saw when we were out together in public. She, I think, you had mentioned she spoke no English. She didn't drive a car. She spent most of her time here in America kind of sequestered in the house and was very shy and fearful of Americans.

So there was a grandmother I knew at home, who had a great, great sense of fun to her that never came out to play except on this one night. So it was a great, great treat, really, for me when I was a child to see that with her on Halloween.

MARTIN: You know, sadly, you had to report that your grandmother passed away earlier this year, I think it was.

Ms. DARZNIK: Yes. She died in Tehran this year.

MARTIN: And I'm very sorry for your loss.

Ms. DARZNIK: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: What do you think that Halloween will mean to you this year? I mean, you're probably not going to go trick or treating yourself.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DARZNIK: I think - yeah. Well, I haven't been in there in many years. And, you know, as we get older, of course, Halloween recedes in our minds. It's really child's play. I think for me, really, is a holiday now that invoke - evokes the loss that I felt continually as I was growing up. She would leave us for Iran time and time again, and that's what I feel very keenly now as an adult, and what Halloween really sharpens in my mind is that feeling of loss.

MARTIN: Well, if you could dress up for Halloween, what do you think you'd be?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: If you ever got - if the spirit moved you, what would it be?

Ms. DARZNIK: I think I would be something tremendously exotic - for me, like a geisha or something like that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DARZNIK: I don't think you'd find me out in a chador, in other words.

MARTIN: I think you should go for Spider-Man.

Ms. DARZNIK: Yeah?

MARTIN: Okay.

Ms. DARZNIK: Do you think they make those?

MARTIN: Yeah, I think you should. I think you should go for Spider-Man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DARZNIK: All right.

MARTIN: Jasmine Darznik wrote the piece "Masquerade" for this weekend's Washington Post Sunday magazine. She joined us from San Francisco, California.

If you want to read the piece in its entirety, we'll have a link on our Web site, npr.org/tellmemore.

Jasmine, thanks so much, and thank you for your piece.

Ms. DARZNIK: Thank you so much, Michel. Bye-bye.

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