suk ching lau. november 1915 - february 2006
when my grandparents first arrived in the States from Hong Kong, i was 6 years old. my father was so proud to have been able to bring them here, and i remember eagerly anticipating their arrival, thinking that i would have the kind of grandmother who would cook chicken noodle soup and bake chocolate chip cookies. well, my grandmother didn't bake cookies, though she did make all kinds of soup (not chicken noodle), and my grandfather always kept a tin of cookies on hand to give me.
my grandmother was always a feisty, headstrong and stubborn woman. she truly lived life richly and to the fullest. Though the quality of it degenerated in the last two years, she never complained, and always kept trying. she never enabled herself to wallow in self-pity due to her condition, and she never succumbed to depression. my stubborn streak, my argumentative nature and my penchant for exploits in bizarre culinary experiments come from her. (though i don't think i'll be making any fish gut omelettes anytime soon) my earliest memory of her is this: early when they arrived here, my mother soon tired of having two children and my grandparents in the house all day. she directed my brother, then fourteen, to take me (I was six) and my grandparents to the mall. we took the bus, which was soon to become my grandmother's main mode of transportation. i don't recall what happened there, but i definitely remember the trip back. my grandmother always walked quickly, but my grandfather, who was a bit older, walked slowly with a cane. she grew impatient with his pace, and they began to argue. as we were making our way to the bus stop, she'd decided she'd had it, and sprinted ahead to catch the incoming bus. my brother was shocked, but thinking quickly, he grabbed me by the hand and hauled me onboard. unfortunately, my grandfather refused to quicken his steps and subsequently missed the bus. i still remember watching him slowly make his way to the bench, as he disappeared from sight. I burst into tears, inconsolable. how was grandpa going to find his way home? he didn't speak the language, this was is first time in the country, and he'd never taken the bus before. how were we going to find him? i was certain that we'd never see him again. my mother says that when we arrived home, my grandmother stomped in directly to her room and slammed the door closed. my brother arrived, pale and shaky, and i was bawling. she got me to my room, and when she turned to my brother to get an explanation, he burst into tears as well, fearing a spanking from my father. Fifteen minutes later, my grandfather strolled in as though nothing had happened.
"we argued all my life," my aunt whispered by her bedside. "telling me to save my pennies for a rainy day. when i was younger, i didn't understand. i resented it. now, i do. she just didn't want us to be poor and suffer." my mother sadly combed an errant strand from her face. "she was always a fighter. that's how she survived." my father said she loved life, but when he asked her if she feared death, she replied "no," belligerantly, "only the pain from the sting of a needle". it was difficult for my father to let go, but we all knew that she would never want to be confined to a bare brain-dead existence of tubes and machines. in his eulogy, my father recalled his earliest memory, which was of her. when he was a toddler, his father, my grandfather, fought the japanese occupation as an officer with the nationalists during the world war 2. my grandfather's squad was constantly on the move, and the family would follow behind and hide. somehow, my grandmother and father had gotten separated from the rest of the camp. they took refuge in a trench as an explosion went off. my grandmother, who was then pregnant with my aunt, threw her body over my father to shield him from the blast. frightened, my father looked up through the smoke to see her face, calm and serene, and comforting. as she faded into oblivion, i took her hand. he said she wore that same face again.