My grandmother was the daughter of a Chinese Imperial Scholar. She was born in 1915, four years after China declared itself an independent republic. From an early age, she would sit alongside her brothers and sisters, copying from scrolls that her father had written, so that she could learn fine penmanship. It was uncommon at that time for both genders to be educated in such a manner. This was good practice, and helped her to read and write. One time, someone who did not know her remarked about one of her letters that her penmanship was so fine he thought a man had written it.
She gave birth my mother in the midst of World War II, while the Japanese were invading the country. They would eventually flee to Taiwan with a second daughter and have a third daughter and a son. During this time, China and Taiwan would go through a lot of turmoil, and it wasn’t an easy life.
My mom was the first to come to America for graduate studies. On the night my sister was born, my grandmother came to this country. She would live at the houses of her children, until coming to live with my family permanently after I was born.
I spent my formative years with her learning and singing songs in Mandarin, watching her meditate and exercise, playing card games, or knitting me sweaters. She was bedridden for a period of time, but always had a stocked desk from which she would feed me Reese’s peanut butter cups, slices of Velveeta, bananas dipped in hot water (as she couldn’t tolerate anything cold), peanut butter with extra sticky congee, and a cocoa noodle concoction. We called her Abu (Shanghainese in origin), because when my sister was younger she couldn’t say wei-po properly. She called me Bao-bao, which means”precious treasure” in Chinese.
She was more like a mother to me than a grandmother, at times. While doting on me, she was very involved in my rearing. But she would always sit at the window and watch as I waited for the school bus or watching for me when I got back. I was her favorite grandchild, and I loved her.
There are many things that can be said about my grandmother. She was a distinguished, giving, and highly intelligent woman. She had a presence and an unmistakable sense of self, to the point of seeming almost regal. Whenever I think of the life she is lived, I am amazed at everything she went through and everything that she was able to become. I am blessed to have had someone who cared for me so much and made me who I am.