The black-and-white photo I held in my hand shook excitedly as I peered closely at the man within. He was tall, with an exceptional jaw line and eyes filled with wisdom and cunning, wearing a crisp black pinstriped suit, loosely holding a black hat to match in the crook of his arm. He was standing with his other arm around a beautiful, dainty woman, who smiled nervously at the camera. She looked exactly like my mother, and therefore I saw myself in that delicate captivation of the past. My grandparents were a pair of extremely good-looking people, and they looked happy.
“I’m sad I didn’t get to meet him,” I sighed, as I handed the photograph back to my mother. She just nodded and smiled, carefully placing the picture back in its place on the mantle. I used to wonder what it felt like for my mom to have lost her father at such a young age and her mother just that week. Glancing back at the picture, I was suddenly gripped with a haunting fear of the inevitable aging and death of my mother, and I sadly observed the lines of stress and pain etched into her face.
In total, I had three sets of grandparents in my life. I don’t have a relationship anymore with my stepfather’s family, but I do recall the stories they shared about their experience living in a Japanese internment camp. It was fascinating, and even with her fluency in Japanese, my grandmother refused to speak “the language of [her] oppressors,” and even scolded me harshly when I said something that apparently came from Japanese roots, and she gave me the correct Korean term for it. I used to dread going over to their place, because I was surely to be punished for my ignorance.
Because of all the drama that occurred with my biological father’s family, I honestly feel like whatever good memories I had with them were distorted and lost in the void of forgotten-ness. But one thing that stuck out to me was the year that I was determined to be Donatello, the Ninja Turtle for Halloween one year. I was staying in Dallas with that family for a few months, and my grandmother actually sewed together a costume for me. I sprinted around the room, hooting and hollering in ecstasy, whacking random objects and furniture in the room with my flimsy bow staff which I had made out of duct-taped cardboard from used up paper towel rolls. I hugged my grandmother tightly, thanking her for making my Halloween dreams come to life.
Lastly, my mother’s mother. Like mentioned in the introduction, my grandfather had passed away before I was born, and my grandmother was sick and hurting immensely for many years before she passed away as well. I wrote this entry about her a while back, and really owe a lot of my baby memories to her. Even though I was so young, I remember her hands, and how they felt as she lifted me, played with me, rocked me to sleep. The leathery, yet delicate paper of skin that collected a multitude of “sun spots,” as I was told. “The more you have, the more the sun loves you,” she instructed me as I lifted my hands to the sky, pleading the sun to bless my skin with its dark kisses. I appreciate the help she provided my mother, and I am sure in the midst of the craziness my mother was going through, she really did appreciate it too. I tease my mother at times, telling her I am going to pop out a handful of babies and have her take care of all of them for the first five years of their lives. She blanches at the idea, but I know that she is going be a wonderful grandmother.
Years down the line, when my children are asked to tell stories about their grandparents, I want them to respond excitedly, sharing the richness of the ample amount of memories they possess. They won’t have to rely on photos or wishful thinking to feel like they knew their grandmother, but she’ll be right there creating the present and future beside them.
(photo © stephanie beaty)