My Grandmother called me when I got home. She’s the only one who can call me by my childhood nickname without annoying me these days. She and my Grandfather. But he’s no longer here.
She called me with a voice vividly, and reminded me of a story, of how she was at her deathbed when I was born, and because I looked at her with my curious wide eyes, she gained more energy and survived. Apparently, that’s why she used to call me “Her Savior.”
She broke her hips a few years ago, and had to walk with supportive instruments. But whenever I came home, she starts to jump around with those instruments. I used to laugh and ask if she learnt to fly while I was away.
In the car to her house, my aunt told us that my Grandmother has been showing a very bad temper. My mom and I both started laughing unstoppably.
I asked my aunt in disbelief: “Grandmother has a bad temper?” Because she’s always so nice to me. In my opinion, she doesn’t even stand up for herself in situations where I would have, which is why I would do that in my subtle way (and sometimes less subtle when that called for it), especially after Grandfather died. To make sure that no one would forget to take good care of her and to take her wishes into consideration when making important and time-limited decisions affecting her daily life. My mother said: “Grandmother always had a bad temper, she was just too ill to show it.” “Oh,” I said, still struggling to believe, “so that’s where you got your temper from.” I laughed at my mother, who didn’t reply.
The women in our family are all quite something, starting from my Great Grandmother, whom I had the pleasure of meeting when I was very little. I always thought my Grandmother was the softest, with a difficult Mother-in-Law and a daughter who is the apple of her husband’s eye – though my mother too has become softer over the years. After my Grandfather died, we asked Grandmother what she would like to do with his room and the formal picture used at the ceremony. She asked me what I would like to do with them. I think because I was the closest to my Grandfather. I told my Grandmother that it is her decision how she would like to live in her house. She said to my Mother that she doesn’t know and asked my Mother what to do, who also didn’t know. That’s when I realised, they never had to make such decisions before. So I gave my suggestions as I am probably the most used to making decisions from our three generations.
This time I saw my Grandmother regaining her spirit by seeing me. I know that she feels closer to my Grandfather when she sees me, because I had lived with them every time when I visited. Especially during one summer, after I went to Beijing to study Chinese, when I visited them at the end of my trip. I would practice writing Chinese every evening, when I had the most meaningful conversations with my Grandfather, who would take notes on what he had learnt that day. He told me he would write down the things he learnt each day before going to sleep, and that day he learnt the difference between two characters that looked similar but are not.
After Grandfather died, Grandmother was consoling me while I came to console her. She would be more optimistic to me than to my older cousin, probably trying to give me strength, like I was trying to give her comfort. This time I said hi to my Grandmother, before going to my Grandfather’s room. I saw his picture on the wall, when I noticed his absence. So I sat down on his chair – the chair he would read his newspaper in, the chair he would fall asleep in, the chair my Grandmother protected because she said I would be upset if they would throw it away – and cried.