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January 15, 2009


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January 15, 2009

I watched as her back moved around the kitchen, her hands dexterously juggling the pots and pans. I watched as the sun baked her back, forcing sweat streams down her face.
She was my grandmother, 92 years old. While my father and mother were busy operating a clinic, a set of two white rooms filled with instruments I was not allowed to touch, I read to my grandmother everyday after dinner ever since I entered grade school. She never commented during the stories so I listened to the steady flow of my voice.
So absorbed was I in the fluctuations of my tongue that the song of the cuckoo clock, the sirens of the firetrucks, and her silent tears went unnoticed.
I closed the book and found myself alone in the living room. I was fumbling for my slippers when she returned, a book in her hand. The book had a smooth cardboard cover, frayed at the corners and thinned by time. I turned to the first page, saw my mother's name in messy handwriting, and began to read: January, 15, 1975, Mother had taken in another child to help with money. She says she can handle a little work but babysitting is no small task, is it? Moreover, I've seen her knitting sweaters by the lamp in the middle of the night when I woke to use the bathroom...
There my grandmother stopped me, pointed at me with her wrinkled finger, and disappeared into the kitchen.
That night, I turned on my bed lamp with my grandmother snoring by my side and read from the soft aura of light in the laconic darkness. The words gripped my heart, unleashing a world inside me, a world of passion and fear, of love and awe, engulfing the tiny patch of my blue sky.
March, 31, 1975, I visited Father at the hospital today. Big Sis couldn't get a leave from her supervisor at the factory. Mother, Jinny, and I talked to Father. Although he could not speak anymore, we knew he understood. We did not stay long because clouds were patching up the sky and we still had a two-hour walk home. I turned eleven today.
May, 5, 1975, President Chiang Kai-shih died last month and today was his memorial procession and ceremony. Our teachers gave each of us a piece of black cloth to pin onto our clothes and we lined up by the main road and waited for the procession. Old soldiers wore their uniforms and wept. Teacher said that President Chiang Kai-shih was their last hope to return to Mainland and reunite with wives and children. I was sad because Father and Mother liked Chiang Kai-Shih. Mother said Father would dig out his uniform if he weren't in the hospital...
The next entry was two years later.
January, 15, 1977, Father died today but Mother did not cry. She worked quietly. Auntie Jung accompanied Mother to the hospital to make sure Mother knew what the papers said. In our room, Jinny and I took out our pieces of black cloth from two years ago and cried. Father fought so hard but he'll never have a procession or a national holiday. He couldn't even speak these last years of his life. He couldn't tell us anything...we guessed and we believed. I'm going to become a doctor and nobody will have to die again...
The Chinese Civil War had ripped the souls of not only my orphaned grandmother and the expatriate soldiers but also their children, grandchildren, friends, and country. I was a part of a chronicle of lost generations shaped on an archipelago, a small insignificant dot in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, perhaps never to emerge from the veil of fog.




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