GRANDMA TOTY'S STORIES

   While Father and my brother were gone to rescue the cow, Grandma Toty came to visit. Taking a seat on the carpet, she pulled out a spindle and some tow, and was soon spinning yarn.
   "Have some tea first, Mama said. "The soup will be ready soon.
   Just then I caught a whiff of the pheasant soup Mother was making from Father's latest catch. While Mother went out to the hearth, we all gathered around Grandma Toty. She knew what we were waiting for. Setting aside her spindle, she took a sip of tea and began her story. First she told the story about the sly fox who helped the young boy slay the gluttonous king and become a king himself. Then she told us about Lukman of the Lukman tribe.

   "Lukman had a father who was very, very old," Grandma Toty began in her soft voice while we sat holding our breath, "and finally he grew so old that his son, according to the ancient laws of the steppe, was bound to take the feeble old man to the other side of the mountain and leave him there to die. And everyone saw how one day Lukman went off to the mountains with a full sack, and when he returned later, the sack was empty. 'He carried away his father; the people assumed, and then they thought no more about it, for this cruel custom was the law for everyone. Old Lukman had had a talent for healing the sick, and soon people began to notice that young Lukman too knew all the right herbs and remedies for any disease. Lukman became famous throughout the steppe for his skill as a healer. Once he was asked:
   "You're still young; how is it that you know about all the herbs and healing potions?" 'Have you forgotten about my father?' young Lukman replied. 'My father knew how to heal every disease. I didn't take my father to the other side of the mountain to die; I took a sack of old sheepskins! And my father has told me all his secrets.'
   "The people began to ponder, trying to decide whether or not to banish Lukman together with his feeble old father, but they  were afraid to be left without a healer able to cure any disease.
   "And so Lukman became the elder of the Lukman tribe, and the people grew ashamed of themselves and from that day on they revered and looked after the elderly until their dying day."
   I loved listening to Grandma Toty's stories, but this time I listened with ever mounting impatience.
   "Grandma," I asked, "have you ever seen a genie?"
   "Allah have mercy!" Grandma replied.
   "But Grandma Toty, do you know any magic?" I persevered.
   "I only know," Grandma said, "that we Turkmen people have maybe a hundred or two hundred names, while the snakes have a thousand. A snake never reveals its name to anyone. If you learn the name of a snake, it will bow its head and become your faithful servant."
   I would have asked more, but just then Mother came in carrying a big tureen of soup. We began to eat, but Grandma Toty ladled out a few spoonfuls and began chewing so slowly on her churek.
   "Take some meat," Mother said. "It's pheasant - very delicious."
   "Thank you," Grandma said, but she still didn't touch the meat.
   Then Mother put some meat in Grandma's plate herself, and Grandma began to eat. Grandma Toty was very old, and she observed very, very old customs.