Sunday, February 10, 2013

My Grandfather Died

My grandfather died in the afternoon on October 17, 1968. I noticed something different about my grandfather. I couldn’t tell what was different. I was standing across the room staring at him and I just couldn’t move. My mom noticed me standing there for a long time. She came back to my uncle and my grandmother’s apartment only a few days before since my youngest sister was to be born anytime. My mom decided to check on my grandfather who was sitting on his chair reading his newspaper. She called to him but he didn’t answer.
     My grandma came and started to cry and said, “Oh, I should have noticed when I helped him out of his bed this morning and he kept sliding back into the bed. I thought I was tired and needed help.” “Poor thing, he left so quietly.” Then she turned to me, “Ying, go tell your Grandpa Hou (贺) that your grandfather is “old.” I never understood why we all called him “Grandpa Hou” (贺), yet his wife “Aunt.” Maybe because Hou (贺) was older, tall and strong, and always helped us. That was part of Chinese culture, when men received more respect, so he was called grandpa. I started to run and I could hardly catch my breath once I got there. Grandpa Hou (贺) dropped whatever he was doing; he ran ahead of me to my uncle’s. The same night, my sister was born. I was sleeping in my neighbor’s apartment for a few nights because all my uncles and aunts came for my grandfather’s cremation.
     It was early morning. A big truck from my uncle’s company came. First, they put my grandfather’s body in the center of the truck so all of us could stand by the side and hold onto the bar. Since my grandfather had been bedridden for more than 40 years, he was supposed to be lying down but his body looked like it was neither lying down nor sitting on the way to the cremation site. The road was so bumpy and the cold wind was howling onto my face and my hands. I had trouble standing and I kept trying so hard to hold onto the bar so that I wouldn’t fall onto my grandfather. I was so cold and scared since it was the first time for me to go to cremation site. When we got there, I didn’t notice anything scary at all. It was like a park with lots of flowers. The only difference was this huge tall towering chimney. I never saw a chimney that high. Then I understood whenever my friends’ mom shouted to their kids a warning whenever they did something dangerous. “Do you want to climb that high chimney?” which meant, “do you want to die?”
     That night I was so scared that I could not sleep even though I was sleeping in my next door neighbors’ house. I wouldn’t dare touch anything my grandfather used. But my younger cousins did not understand death yet. They were still calling for my grandfather even though he was gone.
     My newborn sister was a little distraction for me. I insisted on holding her and I did drop her once, it was a good thing that I was sitting on the floor. After a few weeks, my mom took her back to her city where she worked. I was not upset at all because I seemed to know that they came only for a short stay. I knew they were my parents, brother, and sister. I had my grandmother and that’s all that mattered.
     Like other kids, I liked to play hide and seek, play in the sand, jump rope, and run up and down hills. We did not have a playground but the whole hill was our creative play yard. I played with my cousins and we had a great time. Whenever it rained, right after, we went up the hill to collect freshly soaked rock tripe (foliose lichens) for dinner. You couldn’t see them when it was dry. There was also a small ditch, which was paved to let water come down the hill. We used that as our big slide and slid down when it was dry. However, our pants soon had holes in them and became very dirty. Sometimes we raced up and down the hills for fun. We did sometimes fall and get scratched and scraped. Another fun thing for us was looking for grasshoppers and trying to catch them with our hands. Every now and then, we found some empty exoskeletons left behind by locusts that outgrew them. For awhile, we had our own silkworm farm in a little paper box. We couldn’t believe how much they could eat. It seemed that was all they did. We had to go out to collect mulberry leaves for them. It was fun to watch them grow and ready to make a cocoon.
     I sometimes walked a mile to my youngest aunt’s house to see her daughter. While I was there, I also played with kids in her courtyard. I liked to be in charge. When we played “make-believe,” I liked to be the teacher and they were my students. I wore my leather boots every time that I went to play with them. I warned them not to try to fight with me because I could kick them with my boots and they would be very hurt. We did play very well. One day one of the kids had a very nice pencil box to show us. I did not have one nor did my other friends. I wished I could have one and so did my friends. So, I told them that my parents were in the capital. They would buy one for me and one for each of them. Of course, I forgot my promise but they didn’t. They reminded me when my parents returned later on. I told them that I did not even get one, so maybe next time or when we were going to school. 

Guan family, the year my grandfather died in 1968. Back row: from left to right, me, my older cousin Guan Zhong Wei (who is teaching in University of Liverpool now), my youngest aunt (died), my oldest uncle.  Second row: from left to right, my cousin Guan Suo Ping (Accountants and auditors), her mom held her younger brother Guan Yu Hong (works for SIMMON), my grandmother and my cousin Liao Zhu Juen(editor), my mom and my youngest sister(Chinese teacher in GA).