The Unbreakable Bond
In my life, many people bear the title, “Grandma”. There’s the Grandma from my mom’s side, that I used to call the “Boston” grandma and Grandma Ingrid, a kind, elderly woman that has cared for me since I was a baby, and in China, all elderly women are addressed as “Grandma” in some sort of way. But the grandma I speak of is my grandma from my dad’s side, the grandma that has cared for me since I was born, the grandma that I call 嬤嬤. She abandoned me long ago.
It’s been years since I’ve seen her. Yet still, her warm smile, steady posture, her arms full of bracelets, poofy gray hair, and her kind, calming eyes linger in my mind. I will never forget all she’s done for me. Since I was born, she was there for me, she was the caretaker for the family, and meant so much to me. She fed me, she took me to bed, and she cleaned up after me, ever since I was a baby. The slimy, mushy Gerber food was always unpleasant to eat, but when she fed it to me, I gurgled in happiness, slurping it down with joy. My happiness was her joy, as hers was mine. I always listened to her, as she had always been kind, accommodating, and patient. But I didn’t understand her pain. Each and every day she suffered through mental, and physical pain – pain I was oblivious to. She had to take medication every day to keep her body running, to keep her safe. Despite her many sufferings, she didn’t give up. She stayed active, going on morning walks, making friends, and visiting the market.
Later on, as I started to learn to speak, I remember the countless car rides we took my grandma on to drive her over to Oakland every Sunday after my piano class. Every other Sunday, we also picked her up from Oakland and drove her home. Oh, how I loved those days! My parents explained to me how much it resembled China – the busy streets full of people bustling back and forth, and the food markets spread out along the sidewalk, and catching the flowing aroma of freshly baked pastries no matter where you are. Sadly, I never did get to go to China with my grandma. We dropped my grandma off to a kind of retirement home for the elderly and I still remember her room to this day – small and humble, with a single portable electric fan as well as a tiny kitchen and a small bedroom. I still remember the honking cars in the distance, and the whirring of the fan, as the heat lashed out In that small bedroom was all her jewelry and a single portrait of her young self. I kept staring at it, entranced. Her hair was in a pearl-studded bun, and her rosy cheeks were flawless and bright. She looked as if she radiated happiness, and I could feel the warmth of her smile. Her entire face glowed, like a pearl in the sea with the sunlight. She was beautiful, I thought, Like a queen. At that moment, she walked in and smiled.
“Do you know who that is?” she asked me.
“Is it you?”I asked softly.
She smiled wistfully, and nodded, “I used to be so pretty, didn’t I?”
I nodded, but in my mind, I thought, you still are, inside and outside and from head to toe.
She glanced at the picture, “I’m so ugly now, but at least I was beautiful before.”
If only I had the chance to tell her what I thought.
Then, she walked me over to the small table near the fan, with a simple plastic bag in her hand. Inside it, was a bright pink cardboard box. I smiled, and knew immediately that it was from the pastry shop. She slowly untied the knot, and popped open the box. Immediately, the aroma of sweet egg tart filled our noses, and my brother ran over, excited. I smiled, excited to eat one of my favorite treats. My parents came over, and nodded to give permission for us to eat some.
“Thank you!!”, we all cried, and we dug in, our faces cakes in egg tart and custard.
My grandma smiled, watching us, “You’re growing up so quickly, I can’t wait until you’re old enough to treat me to a day out for tea. Soon, you’ll be able to drive me around wherever we want!”
I smiled then, but I never did get the chance to.
In only a matter of moments, all that was left was an oily, greasy empty cardboard box. We were all happy, as we got ready to leave. My grandma went to her room, and pulled out her familiar rolling backpack with the week’s ingredients for dinner inside. Then she turned to me and handed me a bracelet.
“For you, as a gift,” she smiled, slipping it onto my wrist.
The beads were cold as ice, but the clear stones gleamed like the starry night sky. Each cold stone reflected in the sunlight, and the colorful bracelet shone bright as day. I was stunned that she entrusted me to such a valuable item. What she did next surprised me even more. She reaches into her pocket, and fishes out a jade fish.
“Oh, don’t give that to her, she’ll lose it,” my parents laughed.
My heart dropped. Of course my parents wouldn’t let me. They turned to head out the door, as my grandma smiled.
“Here, just take it”,clasping my hand firmly over the bracelet, closing my fingers around it. I was shocked. But I nodded as I headed out, promising to myself, that I would never lose it. To this day, I still have it in my jewelry box, ready to be taken out to admire. Although there was that one day, when I thought I had lost the bracelet. Now that I look back, it was quite funny, and I was worrying so much over nothing!
My grandma was in Oakland, when I realized I didn’t have the bracelet anymore!!! My face started to burn with shame, beads of sweat popping up on my forehead, as I frantically searched my mind, Where could it possibly be? I flipped the house inside out, looking for it, but no such luck. I then grabbed a piece of paper and wrote in chinese, Sorry, I lost your bracelet. Love, Nadine. I was so upset, and worried. What would my grandma think once she saw that note? I left it on her bed, hoping she would find it. I wanted to find something to make up for it, so I went to my jewelry box, and ran my fingers along the smooth, glossy, polished wood, and lifted the golden handle. I dug under several layers of protective tissue, and lifted the paper carefully out of the box. To my surprise, the paper was heavy, and a bracelet slipped out through the paper onto the floor. I bent down, and picked up the bracelet. I nearly cried out in joy – it was my grandma’s bracelet!!! It shone as bright as ever, each and every clear bead reflecting the sunlight. I was so relieved, and I quickly grabbed the note back before my grandma got back. All those memories the bracelet carries are a part of who I am today.
When she was the caretaker at our home, she did so much for us, and I quickly learned to appreciate it. Once I woke up every morning, breakfast was ready, although sometimes it was cereal or oatmeal, and I got to watch a silly chinese show before preschool started every morning. In my elementary years, when I got home from school, a bowl of fresh, hot udon was awaiting me at the dining table, and she even let me watch TV! (A secret kept between us and us alone).
When I was younger, at bed times, I remember cuddling in a warm, cozy bed, restless but bored. So she locked my legs with hers and she kept me close to her so I couldn’t escape! It was frustrating at times, but I did learn to enjoy the rest and enjoy the comfort of her company.
At dinner time, she was the reason why there was food on the table. Her dishes were always traditional chinese food, and we all loved them. One of my brother’s favorite dishes were steamed fish, and my grandma always brought home a fish to cook for us. Fresh and delicious, covered in soy sauce and onions, it lay on the table, ready to be eaten. The steam carried the sweet and salty scent that wafted around the house, calling the family to the dinner table. My brother always liked the head, and we always “fought” for it after my grandma fished out the tender fish cheeks, one for my brother, one for me. The cheeks were always my favorite part, tender and boneless, I didn’t have to worry about choking on it. Since then, fish cheeks have always reminded me of her, and her love for me.
Piano is and will always be my lifelong joy, thanks to my grandma. Every time my fingers touch the cold, smooth, milky white keys of the piano, I am reminded of her love for me. I’ve been playing for so long that the piano studio is practically my second home. As a really young child, even before preschool I played piano, when my mom asked me out of nowhere,
“Do you want to play piano?”
I thought it would be fun and easy, so I decided that I should give it a try. Boy, was I wrong. The first couple of years were a breeze. I really enjoyed the songs I played on the electric piano, and the challenges were few. But one day, my teacher, the owner of the company, told me that I was getting more advanced and should switch to another teacher. And my next teacher was quite an experience. She reminded me of Mrs.Umbridge from Harry Potter. Her hair was short and curly, always above her shoulders, and her eyes were sharp, and toadlike. She walked with purpose, with a firm and tight posture, every step was a swift and sharp movement. When she looks at me, I feel a pang of fear, and a shiver down my back, like a million black widows crawling up my spine. She could be kind and helpful at times, but when you made a mistake, she slammed your hand down on the piano, threw loud temper tantrums, and screamed in your face until she had vented all of her frustration and anger on you. I experienced her fury every single lesson, meaning once every week. She scared me, but I learned to be strong. I didn’t cry often until I got older, when I decided that I could not allow this to continue any longer. Only after many years had I began to realize that by refusing to practice, frustration ruled me as my parents scolded me, telling me I should quit if I didn’t practice. I cried after almost every lesson, and I cried almost every time my parents talked to me about it. Sometimes I even wanted to give up on piano altogether. But my grandma was there to keep me going, and she kept me strong. So I made my decision, and although I knew my teacher loved me as I loved her, I knew that if this went on, I wouldn’t be able to love piano. Since then, I went from teacher to teacher, went to many competitions, won many awards, and passed many tests. Some teachers were kind but didn’t teach well, some weren’t kind, but taught very well. But every time my grandma was there for me. Finally, only a few years ago, I ended up with the perfect teacher. She was kind, and could be strict and scary, but was also very kind and good at teaching. By that point, I was advanced enough to understand how to play things when told to. Although her hand was paralyzed from multiple surgeries and she couldn’t play with accuracy, she found out that I could learn well, and I was hard-working. She pushed me pass my limits, and I went from level 5 CM to Level 8 ABRSM, which is where I am today. Thanks to my parents, and grandma’s support over the years I could finally turn piano into an aspect of enjoyment. I’ve won many awards since then, and done so many performances. I wish she were there to see me – the keys flying, my fingers dancing, as the music filled the room. The awed audience applauded and smiled, as my heartbeat steadied, and my legs stop shaking. My fingers, still sweat covered and twitching, shakily pulled my dress into a curtsy, as I carefully stepped off stage. My smile as I walked back to my seat, thinking, This is for you, 嬤嬤.
Her health was always failing, and she was always in physical pain. It hurt her to even walk. Despite all her struggles, she pushed past her pain and went on long, morning walks every morning, and made friends with our neighbors. When we lived in Pleasanton, she walked us over to the other park where we could play on the huge play structures, and she told me that even as a baby, she took me there and I loved to hang out with older girls. Once we moved to Dublin, she still took long walks, and even made friends with our neighbors. When I tagged along, she brought a basket of fruit, with some snacks for us to munch on along the way. When we took trips to Positano Hills Park, she always talked to her friends, chatting away. On these days, she always wore baggy, yet fancy clothing, and her simple, white sun visor around her poofy gray hair to block the sunlight, her arms dangling with bracelets.
When she wasn’t out and active, or busy cooking, she sat in her rocking arm-chair, the color greenish-brownish, like a turtle’s shell. She held a beautiful hand-fan, just sitting there, and relaxing. The hand-fan is made of cloth, and has detailed flowers on it, like flowers blooming on a tree branch in the forest. There was a day she came up to me, asking for glue to fix the fan, and when I said I didn’t have any, she said she would just have to toss out the fan. But I asked her if I could have it instead so it became mine, and it is still hanging from my mirror with a necklace hung around it, representing good luck.
My grandma cared a lot for my father. But there were times when my father fought against her, banging his head on the wall, scaring her. I could tell both of them were frustrated and upset, but as I was young, I didn’t understand what they were arguing, or what was happening. I just remember standing there confused and worried, feeling clueless and helpless. My eyes were welling with tears, and when my dad saw me he grunted and stormed up the stairs, looking angry and hurt.
It was my birthday that day, and although I don’t remember how old I was turning, I remember that it was just me and my family going to a sushi restaurant to celebrate. I was so happy, and I enjoyed every single bit, cherishing every single chewy bit of raw fish. The sticky, flavored rice filled my mouth, and the miso soup warmed me to the bone. I was so content, and so… present. I felt in the moment, enjoying every feeling I felt – happiness, pride, yet also a tingle of wistfulness, as I knew that this moment wouldn’t last much longer.
“The bill”, the waiter said, placing it onto the table.
I stared at it, and I told my dad, “I want a bit more sushi, though!!!”
My grandma chuckled, saying, “It’s enough for one night. Don’t worry, there’s always a next time! I promise that next year, you can eat all you want!“ she glared at my dad, who was getting the bill ready, “No, no. This meal is on ME!”
I smiled, nodding my head. Unfortunately, there never was a next time.
I wish she could stay with me forever. But no matter where she is, her memory will live in me. She left us on April 12th, 2016. That day, she was alone in her apartment, and it was like any other normal day. She woke up, brushed her teeth, took a quick shower, and ate a quick meal. But she forgot to do the most important thing – she never took her medicine that morning. I was 10 years old, and my brother was 7. Her rocking chair disappeared, her hospital bed no longer in the guest room. Her old bed frame remained in my brother’s room, and was now occupied by my brother. All her clothing, her jewelry, and her ointments seemed to vanish from the house, and I started to notice how we no longer took trips to Oakland to pick her up or drop her off. I suspected, yet even so, I was too afraid to ask. I scolded myself, Don’t think that way, it can’t be true.
But one day, I remember my father calling us into the living room, and we sat down in front of him, waiting for his words. The solemness of his words were unsettling.
“Listen… I don’t know how to say this, but your 嬤嬤 went somewhere far, far away. Even I don’t know where she is. But she’s gone, and… she won’t be coming back”.
My brother, clueless, confused, and supremely unconcerned, shrugged and went back to playing. But I knew what he meant. Tears welled up in my eyes, as her face came into my mind. I could feel her warmth fading, her warm, soft eyes that would never look at me affectionately again, and her voice that could no longer comfort me. If only I could see her smile. If only I could say goodbye. If only I had cared for her. If only she were still here. I looked at my father. How could he not care? Did he not feel anything towards his own mother? Only many years later did I realize he was only being strong for me. I learned this when I wrote him a letter, explaining how much I missed my grandma, how much I wished she were here. And he replied in his neat cursive, explaining how much she meant to him as a child, explaining how much he misses her. He then told me, “What is important is how we live, not how we die”, and I have cherished my memories of her, rather than mourn her death. Only then have I realized – she had never abandoned me.
2 Likes | 2 comments
4 Likes | 5 comments
1 Like | 0 comment
2 Comments on “The Unbreakable Bond”
Quite a touching story.Well narrated.I like it…………..kranand
Comments are closed.