10 Stories About Grandmother

Millie Ho Young Happy
In 1996, I wiggled out of your hands in heavy traffic. You hadn’t forgotten me then, though you will soon.

Hot Pot Millie Ho
I said something I shouldn’t have in front of dinner guests once. Blood pooled into your cheeks and I hid in the garden with the cactuses when you rose from your seat.

I emerged an hour later with needles stuck in my arms, a four-year-old porcupine your anger couldn’t touch.

It turned out you didn’t like porcupines.

Chinese Painting Millie Ho
I wonder why no one ever framed the paintings in your room.

Chinese Boys on Bicycles
You were the youngest of many daughters. After he learned of your gender, your father abandoned you on the operating table. You will never see him again. 

“It was common at the time,” someone tells me.

Your father was a commoner. I wish you didn’t take it personally.

Chinese Street Millie Ho

The last time I saw you was on a train to Beijing. I sat in my mother’s lap and waved when the steam started to roll.

“Goodbye,” I said.
“Goodbye,” my mother said.
“Goodbye,” my grandfather said.

You didn’t say anything. I could see every wrinkle on your oval face pulled forward in tiny mounds, as though you were shooting lasers into my skull, or trying not to cry.

Chinese Funeral Smoke
It was my first time seeing a dead person up close. Your face was cold and hard, but your hair was soft.

Dramatic Window Blinds Millie Ho
“Resilience above all else.”

My mother shivers in your bed, and I wonder if you did, too.

China Grandmother
“Make sure you Photoshop out the stars on her shoulders,” my uncle says.

We’re sitting in the living room and going through the photos to be projected at your funeral. The one we’re looking at shows you in a military uniform, all grim-like.

“Are they not pretty enough?” I joke.

My uncle chuckles, and waves away my question with his jewelled hand.

Chinese Tower
We only remember what we want to remember.

Chinese Shrine Millie Ho
I wonder when you became a porcupine.

23 thoughts on “10 Stories About Grandmother

  1. kvennarad says:

    The first sentence stayed with me – why do kids do that? I thought.

    Then the second sentence dawned on me, when I suddenly realised what ‘forget’ meant in this context. It was a jaw-drop moment, like I sometimes get when I realise how clever and how natural someone has been with language.

    • Millie Ho says:

      I really must thank the wonders of photography. You look at an image and realize there’s a whole backstory that’s more or less unsaid. I’ve been adopting this blueprint for writing more and more.

  2. Karen Wan says:

    Millie, I love the concise way you tell the story of your grandmother so beautifully. It makes me want to know more about her and Chinese culture.

    My sons’ grandmother, Sui, comes from Hong Kong, and also lived in mainland China. Unfortunately, she now has dementia, doesn’t always remember her grandchildren, and can’t really share much about her life’s journey anymore. Before I divorced her son about ten years ago, I got to know her a little. I was amazed by her life story that she sometimes shared with me. Sui was somehow part of the Chinese revolution, riding on horseback, with a gun over her shoulder. She married a gambler in Hong Kong who was several years younger than she was. He caused her a lot of heartache and turmoil over the years, but she devoted herself to caring for him through his last days when he died of lung cancer. She was in her 70’s when she moved away from Chicago to the suburbs to live closer to her son, and was independent for many years before her body started to fail her. She loved to paint, which she stopped being able to do several years ago. She was very talented, and I have a few of her paintings. It’s sad that I probably will never see Sui alive again.

    It’s amazing how people can come into our lives for only a short time, and affect us deeply.

    • Millie Ho says:

      Thanks for sharing Sui’s story, Karen. She sounds like a spirited person with much to live for and give to others. It’s also interesting that she painted. I’ve know a lot of people from mainland China with chaotic lives that have found “the eye of the storm” through art. The devotion to marriage is a common denominator in classic Chinese society. While the stories are interesting, they also serve to remind us how good we have it today.

      And yes, I agree.

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