May 22nd, 2018 | 12:38pm
My grandma passes away. Or as I called her, my paupau 婆婆.
My earliest memories involve riding on her back in a baby sling. I’d bounce up and down as she gardened and attended household chores. After meals, my paupau lined me and my cousins up to literally feel our stomachs and tell us if we were full enough or not. That was legitimately one of the most anxious moments of my childhood — I’d sit on her lap with baited breath, worried that she was going to tell me that I wasn’t full enough… then I’d be forced to go back and eat more food.
She was always busy and active making sure everyone else was taken care of. Even if she wasn’t.
Paupau was also the sass queen. She always spoke her mind.
Being an immigrant in a small rural Southern town wasn’t easy. She didn’t know any English – save for thank you. She couldn’t even properly communicate with her own grandchildren. I interviewed her for my documentary a few years ago. When I asked how she felt about the about the language barrier, my mom translated her words for me: she felt like she was practically mute. I feel a lot of guilt about that. Why isn’t my Chinese good enough? I’ve tried learning more Cantonese. The reality is that I don’t have a community/environment around me that speaks the language and I get very little daily use out of it. My efforts were futile.
During the summer of 2016, I lived with her alone for a few weeks in NYC. That’s one of my favorite memories with her. We walked down to Chinatown together and she’d buy me Chinese food to eat. As we strolled around, she’d stop and talk to some of her friends. I didn’t know she had friends. I was too used to seeing her isolated in NC. At this time she was becoming very frail. She had a cane and had to lean on me for support. It made me wonder how she walked around alone when I wasn’t with her. She kept walking around until she couldn’t shortly after. Until she started falling and we told her she wasn’t allowed anymore. It was hard seeing someone so strong lose her mobility.
Without language, food was our biggest connector. I loved her food. My last memory eating her home cooked meal was that summer in 2016 when I got back to our apartment after a particularly long and emotionally tough day. I even have footage of it. I’ll never forget that bowl of rice. When I got home, I took a much needed shower and I was welcomed back with sight and smell of her cooking. Her food was the most comforting thing I had ever tasted. The salty chicken, the garlic green beans, the oil, and the rice. It was delicious.
Every time I said bye to my grandma, I made sure to say I love you.
Those were our last words to each other: I love you.
Even if there are a lot of things I can regret, at least I made sure she knew that.
Those were my last words to my grandpa as well. He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said “What a smart girl.”
Thanks to both of you for coming to America and helping raise me.
I am so grateful.