Grandpa was an… interesting character. He is technically not my grandpa by blood, as I have never met my biological grandfathers. Though he is my cousins’ grandfather, and we all live together, so for simplicity’s sake, I consider him my grandpa. The only things he does worth describing are: sit outside with a book, garden, and teach me how to garden. (His own grandchildren are too busy blasting pop music from their iPods, which was a serious business for seventh graders at the time.)
I was just about three years old, the kind of time where you want to know everything about the world. The way my grandfather explained the things I wanted to know to me was through metaphors on gardening. That day after lunch, when my mom had finished fussing over the mess I made when I ate spaghetti, I ran to the garden behind our house. There is a low balcony with stairs that lead to it, but I usually just hopped the shorter part of the fence that connected with those stairs. I learned that doing so was not a good idea when I lost my balance and fell? face-planting on a mound of fly-covered compost. My grandpa would be waiting for me by the tomatoes, saying “What took you so long?” in Chinese. Throughout the years, no matter how fast I ran to the garden, I was always taking too long. Upon my arrival, Grandpa would then teach me the way things are in the world, using sometimes very strange metaphors on the status quo. (This was well beyond what I could comprehend at that time.). That day, it was on family. He handed me some strawberry seeds to plant and said, “Family is like this flower,” he spoke pointing to a morning glory , “when you don’t pay enough attention to what is happening to it, the beautiful petals would fall apart.”
I looked up from trying to sneak in a bite out of a green tomato and asked,
“Is that like ours?”
“Yes, and sadly so.”
When I was little, I did not understand that typical families are supposed to have a mom, dad, siblings, and everything should “have ups-and-downs but always end okay”. The only thing I knew was that my mother was lurking around, mourning my distaff aunt’s death.
“Cancer”, she said,
“why did she have to get it?”
I remember the crying, the papers that the people from the court passed to my mother and her teary eyes, and also a few words that are not words that should be spoken around three-year-olds. Grandpa silently pruned the fruit trees rustling in the wind, while I succeeded in tugging away the parasitic plants choking a morning glory flower withering away on the wooden fence. We said nothing for a few hours, tending to all the plants, and me occasionally plucking up a pillbug from the ground to see it roll in a ball. (PETA please don't get me arrested.) I would then gingerly place it back among the soft mounds dirt, something I strangely felt satisfied doing. After several suffocating hours of quiet, my grandpa put away his dirt-covered gardening gloves and lifted me up the balcony.
“You should go have a snack.”
Being a small child who doesn’t like listening to higher authority, I waddled away shouting, “Nope!”
I heard him sigh, and he closed the sliding door and left for his own little house with his own family.
I was reading a book hanging upside down on the couch in our new home, which smelled of fresh paint. My uncle was talking about something serious with my mom, judging by her concerned expression. She nodded, closed the door, “Jeyika”, she spoke turning towards me, “do you remember grandpa?”
I looked up from my book, scrambled to sit on the couch upright, and replied, “Umm… yeah.”
“Well, he is dead.” My mother said matter-of-factly.
I was still confused by what “dead” meant, but having been taught to not be rude, I asked,
“Oh, it’s just cancer.”
After a noticeable amount of uncomfortable silence and eye contact, my reply was,