A Lesson From My Grandmother This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   My grandmother rocked back and forth on her chair, humming as she looked out at the rain. A small folding table was beside her. The blue dragon on the white tea pot glared at me as a cloud of steam drifted toward the ceiling. Two matching teacups were placed side by side on saucers, next to a plate of sugar cubes and rice cakes.

"Ah-po? Grandmother? What are you doing?" I asked as I poked my head in.

"So-Kim," she greeted me in her Taishanese accent. She motioned to sit on the stool beside her. "I was just thinking. I have been waiting for you. Have some rice cakes."

She poured green tea into my cup. "Look, you have good luck. The steam from your cup is rising straight up." She added five sugar cubes and a dash of milk. "How was school, my granddaughter?" Her hands shook as she took a sip from her cup. She drank her tea plain: no sugar, no milk.

"Ah-po? Why do I have to go to school? It's so boring." I reached for a rice cake.

"If you stayed home all day, you would drive your poor mother crazy."

"Did you like school when you were young?" I reached for another rice cake.

"Most of it I did." Ah-po stood up, went to her dresser and pulled out a small red book tied with a ribbon. She untied the it and handed it to me. The pages were crinkled and yellow. "What are these funny shapes?" I pointed at the odd lines.

My grandmother laughed. "So-Kim, silly, these are Chinese characters. This was my journal when I was little."

"Ah-po, Ah-po, please tell me what it says. Tell me about the olden times."

My grandmother laughed again. She seemed so young, her eyes sparkling and her wrinkles disappearing "The olden times were not that long ago."

She paused as she lit the jasmine candle on the table. The smell filled the far corners of the room. I took a deep breath. This was the way my grandmother smelled: sweet, strong, and wise. My grandmother took a sip of tea before she closed her eyes and began her story.

"I was born in a small village in Taishan county. Most of the people were either fishermen or farmers. My father was a farmer, as was his father and his father before him. Sometimes, your great-grandfather would take a wagon full of vegetables to the city market, where he heard of the Great Golden Mountains. His head was full of ideas about America, freedom and opportunity.

"AWhen I was eight, we boarded a boat for California. My mother was sad to leave. The only thing she brought was this tea set, which she carried on her lap. This is the only thing I have left of my mother.

"The food on the boat was terrible, cheap cabbage and rotten meat. A lot of people didn't make it. I was one of the lucky ones.

"We moved in with my Uncle Chang. I didn't have any brothers or sisters, but Uncle Chang had five children, four boys and a girl. Mei-Mei was the closest to my age, two months older. She was the one who taught me how to make rice cakes and sweet cakes for the New Year celebration.

"It was hard for my father to find a job. We didn't have a lot of money. In fact, I only had two dresses, both blue, one for school and the other for home.

"My teacher had a terrible time with my name, Xian Sheng. My classmates would giggle everytime she called me "Sand-Sand." I did not speak English, so I had a terrible time in school. I would dread waking up in the morning, but my mother made me go every day. My mother always said AYou don't want them to think our people are lazy and stupid, do you? You go to school and learn English, then show them how smart you are.'

"Once, when I was walking home from school with Mei-Mei, a group of children followed us. When we walked faster, they walked faster. When we turned a corner, they did, too. They taunted us with shouts of AChink' and made AChinky eyes' at us. They tugged at my braids and spit in my face. I ran home angry and crying. My mother hugged me and gave me hot tea. She explained that people are afraid of anything different. AYou have to get a good education if you want to succeed. That's how you can get back at them.' Your greatgrandmother was wise woman.

"That's why education is so important to me. That's why I want you to have a good education. You have it lucky, my So-Kim. You live in a more accepting time."

My grandmother stopped speaking and we looked outside. The rain had stopped and the sun was out. The rice cakes were gone, the once-steaming tea pot was cold.

I looked at my grandmother. She looked so peaceful, her eyes closed and snoring slightly. I closed her journal and placed it back in her dresser. Then, I quietly closed her bedroom door. Our special time together for today was over. 1


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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