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Amma This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

First there were butterfly crackers and squares of cheese at the kitchen table. Amma spoke Tamil and I didn't understand, but I knew she got out the crackers and that she cut the squares of cheddar for me. I liked adults who did this. I was four, and I liked Amma.

Next there were nightgowns at Christmas – beautiful and lacy – fresh off Amma's sewing machine. “Thank you,” I said when my parents nudged me, and I hugged her, feeling her stiff, silky sari under my little hands. It was so unlike what my mother and aunts wore, but it felt right on her, because she was Amma.

Later, there were dresses and stockings, sewn and knitted, even as I started to notice Amma's bony brown hands and wondered, Should they still be sewing?

Lastly there were stories. “She married for love,” my mother told me. “She married for love, even though she had an arranged marriage like everyone in those days in Sri Lanka. And that husband she married for love left her when the children were young, leaving Amma to raise them on her own. So Amma arranged a marriage for her only daughter, Ann, but Ann came to college in the United States and fell in love too.”

“What next?” I asked my mother, wondering how Ann had wound up married to my mother's brother.

“Amma came to the United States and Ann introduced her to Noel, who took her to the movies and showed her around as no one else had. Over time, Amma came to like Noel, and Ann and Noel got married, and you know the rest. Amma's lived with Ann and Noel for 15 years now.”

There was another story, too. “She hid guns in her house,” my mother told me. “In Sri Lanka, the Tamil were the minority. They were fighting the majority, the Sinhalese. Amma and Ann are Tamil. They were displaced from Sri Lanka because of the fighting, but, while they were there, Amma helped the Tamil.”

The Amma I knew spoke broken English and sniffed people as a way of saying hello. She talked to my Aunt Ann in Tamil, shuffled around in a sari, carried hot sauce to spice up our bland Minnesota food, and cooked amazing Sri Lankan curry. She sewed and knitted and took care of her grandchildren – my cousins. When I was nine, Amma taught me to write my name phonetically in Tamil.

Amma's dying now, and I'm sorry I didn't ask her more about her life. I attended her citizenship ceremony, but I don't know what it was like for her, coming to the United States and experiencing a different culture. She's watched her grandchildren grow into Americans who speak only some Tamil and rarely wear their traditional Sri Lankan clothes. Yet she reminds all of us of the Sri Lankan culture through her traditional cooking, her clothes, and her presence in our lives.

Amma means “mother” in Tamil. She has only two children, yet she's Amma to us all. Mother, grandmother, aunt, immigrant, cook, tailor, teacher of Tamil – and quiet love murmured in her second language. Amma.

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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Helena.of.KarathaThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jun. 25 at 12:11 am:
Amma died on Saturday morning. It was peaceful, and she was only in hospice for about a week. She lived several months longer than the doctors expected, but she eventually died of a specific type of lung cancer that comes from cooking over open fires in badly ventilated areas. The funeral is on Thursday. Thought you might want to know.
 
ClaireWritesStuff replied...
today at 11:51 pm :
This piece was beautiful! It was well written and your voice was brilliant! I'm so sorry for your loss :(
 
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MandaLarkThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jan. 30 at 11:29 am:
This is lovely! Well done :)
 
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RedheadAtHeartThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jan. 29 at 11:07 am:
Oh my. Beautiful. Just... heartbreaking. So lovely.  Yeah, I have nothing constructive to say about that; all I can do is marvel at the wonder. Exquisitely crafted. Your voice is perfect. Just... ah! 
 
Helena.of.KarathaThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jan. 29 at 7:03 pm :
Thank you! I'm glad you liked it. This actually started out as a poem, interestingly enough, but I realized it was prose with line breaks and made it into a more memoir-ish piece. Thanks for your continued feedback.
 
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