I Didn’t Even Know Her This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

I expected the usual “Anything new happen at school today?” when I got home that freezing winter day. To my surprise, I saw my mom’s face drenched in tears as she spoke on the phone with a distant relative in Hong Kong. I didn’t know what to do – I had never seen her cry like this. I wondered if I should cry with her or ask what was going on. I didn’t want to do either.

I put my things down, sat next to her, and hugged her. She cried loudly, and whispered, “Gary, your great-grandmother died today of cancer.” She continued to sob mournfully as I sat there dumbfounded.

“Oh,” I replied, somewhat casually. I immediately scolded myself mentally. “Oh?” That’s all you say when your great-grandmother dies – the first family member to die during your lifetime? Have you no heart? Do something!

I instinctively hugged my sobbing mom tighter. I ­didn’t cry. I didn’t even know my great-grandmother. I guess that’s the price I pay for being born in America with parents who were born in a distant country. I hardly know my relatives. And so, while my mom cried over her memories of her grandmother, I thought, My who?

Of course, there were things I knew about her that a boy would know, or should know, about his great-grandmother – that she loved me. I vividly remember seeing her one of the two times I went to Hong Kong. She gave me a red envelope with 100 Hong Kong dollars in it. I took the envelope with both hands to show respect, and gave her a kiss on the cheek, thinking, I’m rich! But my great-grandmother wasn’t, so why was she giving me this money? While the gift would be the equivalent of $20 to an American kid, to me it was the equivalent of care, good will, and love.

I remember when I was little, I would sometimes brag about having a great-grandmother. “You have a grandmother, while I have a great-grandmother!” I thought it was cool to have a great-grandmother. And it was. It was like having history built right into your family tree, having a living relative who was born before World War II.

Two years ago, when she died, I didn’t know her. I still don’t know who my great-grandmother was. And yet I want to get to know her, even though it is too late. I have a hundred questions for her, a thousand things to talk about. Which wars did you witness? How does it feel being old? She is a part of me, after all. I’m supposed to know every part of myself like I know the words to my favorite song.

Though I didn’t know her, at least I knew that she had two eyes that sparkled with age and endurance. She had a smile that shone like the sun: bright, warm, and everlasting. And, above all, she had the heart of a great-grandmother, someone I wish I had known.

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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This article has 5 comments. Post your own now!

beautifulspirit This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Mar. 9, 2012 at 8:47 pm
This was a really moving article---makes me wish I knew my relatives better.
AnimalGirl said...
Jan. 9, 2011 at 1:20 am
this is really good. its how alot of people feel when they loose a relitive.....
Agnes Wickfield said...
Nov. 10, 2008 at 2:43 pm
Wow, that was powerful, and moving. Thank you so much for getting me thinking.
morbidxsordid said...
Oct. 13, 2008 at 7:27 pm
kenny c. said...
Oct. 13, 2008 at 5:11 pm
This was absolutely moving!
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