This is a photograph of my grandfather and me in a city called Izmir, Turkey. It was a summer afternoon, and I had said to my grandfather, “I will put these sticky notes on a line with a copper wire, then I’ll put the line under our eyes, is that alright for you?” It was alright. He enjoys my art. I think he is proud of the direction I’ve taken my life in art, and he definitely loves this photograph.
I dedicate this photograph to my grandmother whom we lost eight years ago to breast cancer. She has always encouraged me to see colors in life. I think that’s the subconscious idea behind this photograph.
My grandfather is 82 years old. He has defeated Stage 4 gastric lymphoma in the last four years. He was hospitalized in the same hospital I work in as a student. Back then, when my classes were finished, I would just go to his room, and we would talk, have fun, watch TV, and solve crossword puzzles. We both love crosswords; it’s a hobby he has passed down to me.
The whole treatment procedure took almost two years, but he always kept a positive attitude about his situation. He showed up to every chemotherapy and radiotherapy session, and he has been going to all his controls and check-ups ever since. He has defeated a type of cancer that is very hard to treat.
My grandfather had a very full life. He started a career in sports and began in the Turkish football leagues in Istanbul when he was 14. He moved on to working in a fabric factory and later changed cities to focus on his education while transferring to different football teams. He came to Izmir in 1958, and while being in a football league, also finished studying economics at the university there. After marrying my grandmother in Izmir, my grandfather became a soldier and worked as a military bus driver for two years. Later, he started a job in the poultry business, and my mother was born. My grandparents settled their lives until there was a fire, and their business went down. With all the money my grandparents had earned, they took the family on a trip to Europe. One day they stayed at a hostel; on another day, they slept in the car. They traveled to Sofia, Nice, Budapest, Zurich, and Genova. It wasn’t until they hit San Remo that they learned there had been a military coup and a revolution back in Turkey. It was around the ’80s. Because of the state of emergency and all the confusion, they could not return to Turkey until about a month later. When they returned, my grandfather became a chef and food products manager for tourist hotels around Izmir. Now he is retired and enjoying life.
As a fifth-year medical student, there is one thing that scares me the most about getting older: dementia. I see that my grandfather has done everything to protect himself from dementia. He has always been a sports person and has traveled a lot. He has seen many different places and has worked in many different occupations. He is always keeping himself busy with crosswords and mind games. And, most importantly, I think he is open-minded. To be stuck in societal norms and inhibit ourselves from doing the things we truly want, keeping ourselves in a closed, black box—I think that is the start of an unfulfilled life. Take your life into your own hands. Don’t let society own it. This is the healthiest advice I can pull from my grandfather.
Photograph and words by Alp Peker
featured in the 9th Issue of Undo Magazine.