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Collection of Memories of Granda Tom
I was in the back seat, with my sisters Saori and Rie seated next to me. Outside my window, things were losing their golden tinge from the setting sun and the colors slowly fading into an ash-grey world. Happily swinging our legs, my sisters and I spend the car drive home goofing around and asking Grandpa questions.
No matter how many times we called, he would always answer in that patient, kind tone and smile back at us in the rearview mirror. To be honest, my sisters and I were asking him silly questions just to see when he would get tired of us, but to our amazement, he never did.
“Yes honey?” Always that same, loving answer.
“Why does it get dark at night?”
“Because the sun sets, honey.”
“Are we there yet Grandpa?”
“Almost there, honey.”
We kept it up until we ourselves got tired, and spent the rest of the drive singing “ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, ninety nine bottle of beeeeeer!” Laughing quietly to himself, Grandpa turned the radio down softer, listening to our boisterous singing.
There was another time where Grandpa took us off into a fairy tale world. After brunch of his special homemade bread (he was a magnificent baker and made the best loaves of bread in the world, served to us straight from the oven), he led us to the backyard. We could tell from this gleeful smile and glint in his eyes that he was taking us somewhere very, very special.
“What is it Grandpa? What is it!” we pounced around excitedly, tugging at his clean shirt tucked in his trousers and yipping like pups at his elbows. With the soft grass tickling our ankles and indivisible insects chirping all around us, it was as if we were already in an enchanted forest. A cow mooed some distance off, as if agreeing with our building anticipation.
Grandpa laughed at our childish eagerness. “You’ll see, honey. But don’t be missing all this around us.” He waved, acknowledging theã€€myriad of crab apple trees surrounding us.
Our impatience suspended by new interest, my sisters and I busied ourselves picking up fallen crab apples scattered across the green floor. Red-orange ripe and the right size for our small hands to grasp, it was as if we entered a world that was just our size. The sweet smell of crab apples floated in the warm air and the rough bark of the trees seemed to charge us with more energy and excitement. Giggling and singing terribly off-tune, my sister and I counted aloud how many we picked up along the way. Grandpa chuckled pleasantly and encouraged us on. “Ten already honey?! - ooh, see this one here, don’t eat that, there’s a nice fat worm living in that one.” With that our eyes widened with surprise and disgust, but his jolly laugh blew the thought away.
It wasn’t long before we were completely absorbed in picking apples, and we nearly jumped out of our skins when Grandpa whistled to us, the sound ringing loud and clear from between the two fingers he had in his mouth. Looking up, our surprised gasps at the sudden sound turned to squeals of delight. There, in midst of the wealth of crab apple trees, was a little wooden hut.
Rushing to the little house, we were close to exploding in excitement, tripping over ourselves and shouting and laughing. Grandpa was smiling ear to ear now, youth sparkling in his eyes as if he wasn’t a day older than we were. Playful clouds floated white and puffy in the wide open sky and the bright summer sun shone above our heads, sharing our excitement.
We spent all that day clearing cobwebs from our secret house. Yanking the single tiny window with mighty pull, millions of specks of dust captured light from the sun and sparkled like magic dust from Tinkerbelle. With brooms and damp pieces of cloth we worked harder than we ever had to create our perfect little hideout. Our imagination kept expanding with every sweep of the dusty floor boards, every child’s dream fulfilled with the discovery of this new adventure.
We had a little snack of crab apples after cleaning, pretending to be hiding from the big bad wolf. Grandpa stood watching us through his spectacles with his white hair catching the light and his hands folded over his round tummy. To me he looked like Santa Claus on summer vacation. For an eight-year-old like me, that house was so special, the delight and awe of feeling a part of a magical world like a dream coming true.
The wooden house was not the only thing Grandpa had in the yard. Grandpa’s house had a pool on the other side of the house, and with my cousins Tara, James, Philip and Thomas, we’d go splashing in. He would stand over us, watching, making sure we were protected from harm. Though my sisters and I were on the swim team and could swim perfectly well, he would always be looking on at us as if it was the only thing he wanted to do in the world. His had on his sunglasses reflecting the rays of bright sunlight and his usual loving smile, occasionally waving back at us from the poolside.
“Grandpa, Grandpa!! Look what I can do!” We all took turns showing off to Grandpa. Bounce-bouncing on the diving board, we dove off in silly poses, popping up to the surface with a proud grin across our faces. “Look Grandpa! I can touch the bottom … !” With a noisy mass of bubbles we’ll disappear from the surface, making our way through the blue-green chlorine water and creating spontaneous splashes of water. Underwater, I could see a blurry shape of Grandpa, a part of that shiny and bright world that existed above me and the rippling surface.
Late that night, he set up “Fantasia” for us to watch, falling asleep in the middle so we were all in a fit of giggles from his deep snoring. It was after he had checked all our teeth, using the tiny mirror dentists use. Tusk-tusking with a humorous smile, he’d carefully move around the small mirror, the smooth cold surface occasionally clinking against my teeth. He would always be gentle, peering into our small and mischievous mouths with care. “Okay, now bite down, honey, that’s a good girl.” I can still remember having my head on his lap, feeling for the first time that dentists aren’t anything to be afraid of -- that they were actually the nicest people in the world.
There are many more stories of his love and generosity … just like there’s a story behind Grandma’s two wedding rings and Aunt Vicky’s little blue car and my mom’s golden tooth. People who knew him will tell you about his generous contributions to the Church and what a gentle and congenial dentist he’d been. He was my mom’s host family when she home-stayed at their house in Oregon during high school, and even decades since they first met, my mom still thinks of him as her second father.
I myself have only met him four times. But I know I was blessed to have him as my god-father, and am proud to have known him as one of the most loving people I’ve ever known. The memories of him are still alive, as if preserved in a timeless golden cage.ã€€I remember his patient smile, his glasses … his big round tummy and outstretched arms always ready to envelop us into his huge bear hug. His big hearty laugh booming over the rest in our evening barbeque, the warmth of his loving smile. All this is still real, just as I still remember his generosity and patience, his gentleness, and more than anything, his unwavering love toward anyone.
It’s not how much time we spend with someone, but the quality of the moments that we do that make them a special person in our hearts and in our lives. To capture eternity in those moments is what it means to truly live, and Grandpa taught this to me through his love. He will always be a special person to me as well as to many others who were blessed to know him.
Thank you for these memories, Grandpa, that I’ll never, ever forget.