Grandma like a Child

You break my heart. There’s me on the left and you on the right. Ten minutes after we took this shot, you’d already forgotten the moment. I only smile to make you happy.

Inside, I hurt.

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You’re 90. Vulnerable. Fragile. You are grandma like a child. When I was young, you held my hand. Together, we faced an angry world of snow and darkness in that tiny corner of the Canadian North.

For fifty years, you had lived in the raging heat and tropical humidity of Hong Kong. The sweat that wouldn’t stop dripping. Laundry lines, rooftop huts, a passel of five boys who wouldn’t sit still. An endless row of day upon day of hard labor, days upon days marching like little toy soldiers through a dream from which you could not wake. I imagine it must have been an infinite slog of “wake up, feed my five boys, get them to school, work hard at the factory, save money, teach them the best I can.”

Then to spiral into this? A frozen land at the tip of the earth, barren, forsaken? Everything numb but the small warmth of your one-year-old grandaughter’s hand in yours and the crunch of your strange new boots on the Canadian snow and the promise of immigration dreams.

My parents brought you to this this new land around the time that I was born. They sponsored you to fly across the world in the days when the first Trudeau’s mosaic was piecing together, and immigration laws were lax.

I imagine you would have balked at the newness of it all (the pizza, the English, the dogs, the emptiness, the sheer space of everywhere). But difficulty and struggle were for you old companions. So you would have accepted the novelty with gladness. You’d have faced this newness with whatever courage had been gifted you by the vicissitudes of one world war, a gnawing belly, a sometimes unfaithful husband, separation from your first two babies when they were a mere 6 & 7, another dead baby, and childbirth eight times over.

If life had taught you anything, it would have been to fight.

And now it’s my turn. Shall I fight for you?

With my North American gait and my beginner’s Cantonese, my laser eye surgery and my fancy degrees. Shall I fight for you with these trinkets? They are trinkets next to the rivulets of grace that I’ve inherited from your sacrifices: a faith in God and a little family that I call my own.

How shall I fight for your memory that flies away? For your shaking fingers and your balding head? For the foregone pleasures of a well-cooked meal or a well-tended garden bed?

I’ll tell you your story, grandma, that’s how. I’ll fight. It’s my turn now.

You break my heart. Now listen.

 

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